Friday, March 2, 2012

An Ode to Eleanor

Today would have been my grandmother's birthday. She was born in 1919.  Eleanor was an avid, and I mean avid, seamstress and quilter. Now that I look back on it, I'm pretty sure she sewed damn near everything she wore. And she crocheted, and she embroidered. Everything she cooked and baked was delicious. Her house was neat and well appointed. She was certainly a woman of her generation.

Eleanor didn't have an easy life, though. She had two daughters and two sons, both of whom were born with Muscular Dystrophy. Much of her time was dedicated to attending to the very labor-intensive needs of her boys. She wasn't lucky in love, either. Her first husband (my late grandfather) was cruel man and she eventually divorced him. She married her second husband for security, not for love, and it wasn't a happy marriage by any stretch of the imagination.

So, I envision her finding joy and escape in her beloved "yard goods." I can still remember her face lighting up with delight when she purchased a beautiful piece of fabric. My dear grandmother had an amazing eye for beauty. She understood the value of things and cared for them accordingly.

I have a number of little treasures that belonged to my grandma, but this is the only one that came with a letter. It reads:

Dear Annik,
I know how much you like beads, so I want you to have my amber necklace. I was 12 years old when my brother, Raymond Fults, brought them home to me.

It was May, 1931 when he was out of the U.S. Navy. He got them while in Panama. Traded for a pair of ladies' pajamas, silk ones! The other sailor wanted the P.J.'s real bad and my brother did not want to sell them. But the sailor said come back to my locker and maybe we can make a trade. They did!

I have cherished and loved those beads all these years. Wear them and enjoy them.

Your Grandmother,
Eleanor Fults O'Neill

I was in college when she died, so she never knew that I inherited the love of all things sewing and fabric. Regardless, I feel connected to her every time I sit down to my sewing machine.

I've spent the last week learning my about my new sewing machine - getting used to it much like a new car. Last night I started straight line quilting a whole cloth quilt with a solid backing.

Look at the quilt my grandma made for me before I was born (notice the gender neutral sashing!) -

The same machine sewn diamond pattern. And the backing is a solid. I just love those sweet faces. I bet I was entranced by them when I was a baby.

Every time I went to visit my grandma, she would always tell me that I was her favorite granddaughter. To which I would always follow up with, "but I'm your only granddaughter!" Now that I'm a mother, I tell my dear sweet Gwen, "you're my favorite daughter." She's too young to understand that she's my only daughter, but it always makes me smile.

Now I'm off to shed a few tears of sadness but also profound gratitude that Eleanor was part of my life for 20 years.



  1. Lovely story of your grandmother. Thanks for sharing. My grandmother was much the same and I even have several sewing tools from her that I still use today -- including an antique bobbin holder, scalloped scissors, and a bar of soap she used for marking fabric (although it's very, very small now). It makes me smile whenever I use her tools.

    My husband also tells our kids "You're my favorite son/daughter" -- we have just one of each. :D