Make every day count
When I was a kid, December and the days building up to end of the year were a blur of activity. Lots of birthdays and wedding anniversaries were celebrated. It started with my two BIL’s birthdays on the 4th and then the 9th of December, then things slowed until Christmas Eve. On that day, my brother celebrated his birthday, and my aunt and uncle celebrated their wedding anniversary. Another lull, and on New Year’s Eve my parents celebrated my Dad’s birthday, and their wedding anniversary. So you can see December was a big deal. Those of us, who celebrated in August and October were kind of lackluster compared to the fanfare of the last month of each year.
Christmas is pretty quiet now, no one is living in my family that celebrated those days except my aunt, who now lives in a rest home. Her husband was my Mom’s little brother. In my Mom’s words – he was a corker! To me a was a great guy for an uncle. Determined to strike out on his own and married during the Great Depression, he had worked any kind of job to earn money, from picking peas in Eastern Oregon to logging and farming, and finally as a licensed electrician.
Always a busy beaver, he was an accomplished woodworker, making dulcimers, and anything you could think of. He gardened, canned, collected antiques, and he built his own dark room so he could develop his own photos. His wife was a lifelong member of the garden club, so they would put on slide shows about all the wildflowers that were native to our area. He taught me how to hunt edible mushrooms, and took me hiking into the woods where long ago, logging towns had stood and thrived and he made those places come alive for me. I could almost hear the locomotives chugging along with their heavy loads of logs, heading to the mill, where the logs would be squared, and sent down the flume to the planing mill at the river below. He could sniff out a railroad grade by the doghair Hemlock growing there. So my Mom was right – he WAS a corker!
My uncle’s favorite fishing hole, and the flume that carried the rough cut logs from the mountain above to the planing mill at river level. A two mile trip. Note the size of the man at the base of the falls.
The “corker” and my Mom, ca 1919. I can only imagine a caption for this photo.
My uncle as a baby, ca. 1916.
All that being said, I was an avid quilter and my sister and I both wanted to make a quilt for my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. 1986 would be the year that the big celebration would happen, so we started in 1983. That would give us time to complete the anniversary quilt and allow me enough time to finish the birthday Bear Paw quilt I was making for my brother. The Double Wedding Ring pattern seemed appropriate, so we began our quest for scraps from every one we knew that sewed. We wanted it to be a true scrap quilt. My sister and I had made many quilts together, so it was easy to divide up the work. I would cut out all the pieces, and we would sew them together, and when it came time to quilt it, we would trade back and forth.
At this time I was working for the Forest Service as a seasonal naturalist, and on scheduled weekends, I participated in the folk art demonstrations at the Vista House. Sometimes, I made lye soap, and sometimes I hand quilted. The big problem – my aunt and uncle volunteered there too! We were keeping their quilt secret, and they were in on the surprise birthday quilt for my brother, and my brother knew about their surprise quilt. So many times, when a car would pull in the driveway, we would have to look and see who it was, and which quilt to pull out, since both parties always wanted to see the progress on THE quilt.
Vista House tourist viewpoint, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon Photo credit: Flicka97236
Folk Art Demonstration, Vista House, as you can see, we knew no one would show up and see these two quilts together! Or we wouldn’t have risked having both in plain sight at the same time.
1983 turned into 1984 and we were getting those quilts almost quilted. We had no idea how long it would take to complete these, but we had given ourselves plenty of time. Summer turned into fall and December was coming fast. I finished my Bear Paw quilt and decided to give it to my brother for his birthday Christmas Eve, 1984. With such a head of steam up for quilt completion we finished the Double Wedding Ring too! Then the big dilemma – we were so excited to be done early we could not contain ourselves. Should we give our Aunt and Uncle the quilt for their 48th anniversary? Everyone thought we should, plus we didn’t think we could keep quiet two more years! My Aunt and Uncle couldn’t wait for my brother to get his quilt, and he thought we should give them theirs and not wait. Neither knew about the other and so it was sure to be a great Christmas Eve.
Bear Paw, 1984
Double Wedding Ring, 1984
Christmas Eve, 1984. L to R, HD with broken neck, two BIL’s, my brother and my uncle.
You always think that only kids check out the packages under the tree, but my brother had noticed two large boxes that were the same size under the tree. He only mentioned it once, asking if the Double Wedding Ring quilt was under the tree yet. Of course, he only got a vague answer…
We always ate a huge dinner and then dessert, and coffee just to agonize all the little nieces and nephews before opening gifts, so the night wore on and my uncle noticed too that there were two large packages the same size. We had left the tags off just in case of such a thing like this happened.
I don’t have a picture of my brother opening his birthday present, but I can tell you he was VERY surprised. Everyone knew but these three and even the kids couldn’t wait to see the looks on everyone’s faces.
My aunt and uncle – very tickled!
Not to be all sad and everything, but the next time we saw my uncle for my Mom’s birthday in January, he was not feeling well. By his birthday in March he was diagnosed with cancer and he only lived until July. We were so glad we gave them the quilt early – the thought that we might have waited two more years, made us almost physically ill.
I learned that year to try and make the most of every day and moment, you never know when things will change.