In December I began hand quilting a Grandma’s Garden quilt my grandmother began to assemble about a century ago. This month I finished the task. Throughout, I was literally wrapped in history as I held the quilt on my lap and took each stitch.
The flowers that comprise this quilt spent nearly 90 years in my maternal grandmother Mary Elizabeth Haylock Jensen’s trunk. After my grandfather died of the Spanish flu in 1918, Grandma packed many mementos of her family and childhood into a large trunk that moved with her from place to place as she worked to provide for herself and her two daughters. She never remarried.
Eventually the trunk found a home on the farm I grew up on in Jackson County, Iowa. Grandma Jensen lived with us during the summers and with her other daughter (my aunt Joyce) during the school months. After my grandmother died, when my parents retired from the farm to live in Preston, Iowa, they brought the trunk with them, moving it lock, stock, and still unopened into the basement of their home in town. My mother—Ruby Belle Jensen Denter—probably knew what was in her mother’s trunk, but she never dealt with the contents until after my father died in 1999.
Then she opened the trunk and out came a treasure of old quilt pieces, enough to assemble a dozen quilts of different designs. The products of not only my grandmother’s work before she married in 1914, but also of her mother’s work. We have reason to believe that at least two of them-a crazy quilt so fragile pieces of taffeta and silk literally crumble to the touch and a pineapple quilt-were made by my great-grandmother Lydia Belle Luckey Haylock sometime between 1875 and 1910.
At the time my mother retrieved the quilts from Grandma’s trunk, her eyesight was failing from macular degeneration. She wanted the quilts completed and she turned to me, though I have little quilting experience. I turned to my sister in law Anita Gogerty, an accomplished quilter. Anita consented to put the quilt pieces together if I would do the quilting.
The projects required a varying degree of work. The Grandma’s Garden, with its hundreds of hexagons required more effort than any other. It was one I actually never imagined would be finished. Anita took me totally by surprise when she brought it to me after Thanksgiving last year.
Almost every night, I sat working on the quilt, thinking about the colors, marveling at the hand stitching, imagining my grandmother’s life. Every night I worked on the quit, my appreciation grew for the vintage fabrics, for what having such a treasure meant to our family and our history. I felt a tremendous responsibility to my grandmother, to my mother, and to the quilts. And I felt honored to contribute to the history of these quilts.
I am pleased that some of my ancestors’ quilt story is finally outside the trunk for others to enjoy.
Grandmas Garden Quilt Genealogy
Carol Ann Denter Bodensteiner (1948 – ) & Anita Gogerty
Ruby Belle Jensen Denter (1916-2008)
Mary Elizabeth Haylock Jensen (1891-1972)
Lydia Belle Luckey Haylock (1857-1916)