The school that I teach at used to have each of the new teachers tell something about themselves to the school early in that first year. I wrote about it here. But I recently, in a computer archeology moment, found the story that I told that day, so I thought I would share it here:
By Our Own Hands
I come from a line of extraordinary women. This quilt represents some of the threads that have come together to make my family. The top was made by my Great-great grandmother Edna Bowles and my Great Grandmother Emma Dougherty; it was quilted by my grandmother Ella Gartland Dougherty.
There are lots of stories that are woven together and sewn to each other, tracing back centuries, to make the fabric of my family, but I will tell you about four extraordinary women and the whole cloth they have made that I, in turn, pass on to my daughters.
Minnie Mariah Smith Potter was an extraordinary woman. Hard as steel, she was a circuit riding Methodist minister’s wife who raised her seven children in the strict traditions of Methodism. With my great grandfather Isaac Platte Potter on the road most of the time, Riah ran the farm in Garrettson, SD by herself, raising those children and starting a tradition of family gathering that still occurs, drawing up to 100 family members together every two years to celebrate family and community. We are an unusual family – we camp! Her daughter, Frances Willard Potter, is my grandmother.
Frances Willard Potter Tabor was an extraordinary woman. She was named, in true Methodist fashion, after the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was a large woman, almost 6 feet tall, who loved fashionable hats, red nail polish, beautiful dresses, and the color purple. She was the best lap you ever sat on. She knew that fairies live under toadstools and that if you leave them animal crackers, while you nap, they will eat them. She understood that childhood was for everyone, that life was too serious too often, and that a pink cake is the antidote for many troubles. Frances enjoyed chocolate chips in her oatmeal. Her gift to me was love, laughter, and my father and his brother, Tom.
Ella Gartland Dougherty was an extraordinary woman. As a girl, she and her three sisters must have been quite a team. Daughters of a wealthy grain speculator, they went to “sister school,” a Catholic boarding school in Minneapolis. She was married late, in her mid twenties – almost an Old Maid by the standards of the day – to a man who worked for the railroad. Because of his job they moved a lot, and she, hard as steel, survived the Depression and the Dust Bowl by wearing many hats. She ran a snack shop, played the piano for the movies, and taught school. Gram was a one-room school-teacher who became a 2nd grade teacher. After her retirement she played endless games of cards and learned to shoot pool. My mother is her daughter.
Joan Dougherty Tabor is an extraordinary woman. She raised three children, on her own, in Brookings, SD. She did a lot of things that women didn’t do. She never remarried, bought a house, and continued her education. Bravely she would load us into the car, almost every summer, for an extended road trip to see America. We traveled to Texas, Wyoming, and we spent a lot of time in the Black Hills of SD – Why was this an act of bravery? Because you must remember, this was when cars had 470 air conditioning – four windows down at 70 miles per hour. Mom also is a teacher, a librarian, and a journalist. After her retirement she learned to play the String Bass. Mom continues the traditions of quilts, and makes a tied quilt for each of her grandchildren to celebrate their birth. [And she sang in a trio in college – they were quite good so I am told – Mom still has a great ear and voice. She tells me that she kept time with her toe.]
These four women have handed to me a quilt of memories and qualities that I will pass on to my daughters. Love, laughter, family, strength, courage, and a sense of continuity, of connection. There is a certainty that the threads will keep spinning out, and that we will weave them all together.
Photos are mine and are the only part of this post that are not available for reuse. All rights reserved. Sorry – they are my memories and I just can’t let someone photoshop them.