By ELLEN FENSHOLT SORENSEN
On the book give-away table at this year’s Danebod Folk Meeting, I saw an envelope with a note on it still sitting out on the final day. The envelope was addressed to Ardis Petersen at Danebod in Tyler, MN from Mrs. P. Sorensen in Oak Park, IL. The post mark was August 19, 1991. The note on the envelope was signed by Asta Twedt. It read "Does anyone know who Mrs. P. Sorensen was? These are three beautiful pieces she wrote for a writing class and sent to my mother. She had a son, Martinus. Please take these if they mean something to you. They are of historical value."
Though not personally meaningful to me through any family connection, I thought that, as editor of Church and Life, I could take the envelope and let it be known through the publication. I did some genealogical research and made the connection to Mrs. P. Sorensen’s daughter, Ardis (Sorensen) Cicchella, with whom I had corresponded last year regarding a memorial gift. The envelope and its contents have been forwarded to her, and she gave permission to print this piece.—Ed.
One of the pleasures of a long life is the fuller meaning it can give to language. Take, for example, the word quilt. One of my all time favorite poems is R. T. [Robert P.T.] Coffin’s “Ole Farmer Alone.” In it the word quilt has special significance. It denotes a way of life—farm life. Death has taken the old farmer’s wife, and so he has inherited all her quilts and comforters, among them the quilt that covered their shared bed.
When I was young, the word quilt had no special meaning for me. Then because of certain events throughout my life, that word took on deeper and deeper meanings. Each event had its own images.
When our first child was about to be born, Nanna Mortensen, our Pastor’s wife and my friend, made a quilt for the baby’s crib. “I’ve made the flowers yellow,” she said, “so it can be used for a boy or a girl.” Well it was a boy, then a girl and another girl, then a boy. Much later came a precious little “Princess come lately.”
It pains me now to remember that I didn’t really appreciate the time, talent, and love that went into the making of that quilt. I was just too young and inexperienced.
Many years later when I was about to retire from teaching, my colleagues invited me to coffee and to watch as they made a gift for me. They were sewing the large center block for a quilt. It was fitting that the pattern was of a schoolhouse.
It should have been a pleasure, but oh, for a former seamstress it was torture. It looked as though they had never had a thimble on finger of a needle in hand. Then slowly it came to me. These women, for a friend, had the courage to try something new, and for them, difficult. How dear they were. How I would miss our daily work and companionship.
With the passing years, comprehension grew. I remembered a quilt from long ago. I was five years old. My Mother had made a quilt from old woolen suits—you know how the knees and seat of pants wear out first, and there is still much usable material left. The quilt was made of blue and gray geometrical pieces. The diamond shape was the most fun for a small finger to trace. That quilt covered three little sisters who slept in a large black iron bed.
In a dream, soldiers in blue and gray marched with unsteady gait. Where had they come from? They came from the Memorial Day parade I had watched from the street curb—a curb lined with galvanized tubs filled with fragrant pink and white peonies. They were the last of the Civil War “vets” marching to Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, the cemetery where my Mother would soon be laid to rest. She died in June in the early summer of her life, twenty-nine years old.
The first cold night of the following October, the blue and gray quilt was taken out of moth balls. Once again it was placed over the three little girls. On one side of me slept my older sister. On the other side, my gently and beautiful little sister breathed softly. How could it be that before long I felt as if I was [sic] enveloped in the warmth of my Mother’s body?
In October of 1990, guests from Florida and Montana visited me. The Montana couple, Gerda and Jørgen had just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Gerda, a teacher and farm wife, had brought pictures of the making of a quilt. The quilt was to be a gift from their family for their anniversary.
There was love and pride and incredulity in her voice as Gerda told the story of its making. Three generations had worked together, Jørgen’s ninety-two year old mother among them. They were all busy homemakers. Think of the planning, the time, the shopping, and the skill necessary for such an undertaking! [Then think of all the sharing of memories in loving conversation.--handwritten in]
I thought about the symbolism of that quilt; the trials and joys and victories of raising a family. I thought about the uncertainties of farm life. What kind of harvest will we have this year?
And finally I thought about the quilt of that great mystery, the marriage bed. The place where a man and a woman, in love, join hands with the hands of God in the creation of a new life.
Thinking back on it all, I recalled a song we had played in our high school orchestra, a song my Father loved—“Oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you.”
And, I think, I cannot as yet fully comprehend you, but I accept and cherish you: quilt, the symbol fo [sic] that great mystery-life.
The dark glass through which the word is seen becomes clearer.
And I give thanks.
Bridget Lois Jensen