Baby Jeremy was napping, and four year old Atom was making a model airplane with Davey. Well, Davey was glueing the parts together while Atom climbed on his shoulders and asked, “What is this? Can I do that?” I heard Davey tell Atom, “Here. You hold the propellers while I put glue on the engine.” For a few rare moments, I would not be missed.
I slipped away from the weathered shack we lived in. I closed the cracked wooden door behind me, and headed down the hill to main street, walking the same rocky path prospectors took in 1916. I passed the now rusty hulk of a shed where they once took their gold to be assayed, and headed toward the abandoned theatre where their families once watched silent movies. I stepped onto the one paved street in Oatman, old route 66. I skirted the sun dried burro droppings and dodged the few burros that weren’t hanging out by the General Store hoping for a handout from some obliging tourist.
It was Saturday, still early in the tourist season. A few swap-meeters were set up beside the road, also hoping for tourists. Across the street, The sun glinted on turquoise jewelry set in silver, displayed on a dark blue velvet cloth. Ye Old Photo Shoppe offered to take your picture as a gold rush dance hall girl, a snappily dressed gambler, or a gun swinging cowpoke. Judy’s Pottery Shop was just opening up.
Under one awning, an ancient rocking chair caught my eye, along with a card table sporting collectables (salt shakers, sugar dishes, creamers), and an open steamer trunk with colorful fabric spilling out of it. I took a closer look. Quilt tops! I had been wanting a real quilt for sometime now, something with a well thought out orderly pattern, not one of those crazy quilts with patches of all different sizes and shapes sewn haphazardly together, like the one Davey got me.
I picked up the blue and white one. Every little 3 by 4 inch triangle was carefully hand stitched into a pattern of squares and triangles. The other quilt was made of hexagons, one inch to a side, also hand sewn. There were yellow hexagons, red with white flowers, cream with red or green balloons, blue with white circles, and many many others, all arranged to make a repeated pattern of diamonds with stair step edges.
My neighbor Mac McKenny was running the booth (in Oatman we are all neighbors, as we all live within shouting distance). I asked Mac how much he wanted for the quilts. “$25 for the both of them” he told me. Ten minutes later I was carefully putting them away where the guys wouldn’t spill beer on them and tiny hands couldn’t reach them, where they would be safe until I had time to finish them. Only then did I notice the blue ribbon on one of the quilts. Printed on the ribbon, in gold lettering, were the words:
Crowley County Fair
Sugar City, Colorado
The note with them was too faded to read.
Almost forty years later, I still had them, still unfinished. Every once in awhile, I would take them out to admire the meticulous hand stitching, and the careful ordering of pattern pieces. I would imagine the quit maker in an old farm kitchen, baking fresh bread, soup simmering on the cast iron wood burning cook stove, or canning vegetables from the garden, so many years ago.
Last week I took the quilts out again, remembering that time in my life when my home was anything but orderly, and the longing I had for a home that welcomed friends whose lives did not revolve around beer, marijuana, and dreams of mineral riches, a home I could invite the pastors wife into if I chose. I have that now. My house is beautiful. It has welcomed a wedding, Quaker meetings, music and laughter.
I hugged to myself the colorful quilt with the hexagons in so many different patterns. Then I picked up the blue and white one, the one with the blue ribbon. I went to the computer and googled Sugar City, Crowley County, Colorado. I learned that Sugar City, like Oatman, was a boom town in the early 1900’s, but instead of gold, it’s fortune was build around the manufacture of sugar from beets. Like Oatman, it now has only a tenth the population it had then.
I took a close look at the faded note pinned under the blue ribbon. After several tries I was able to decipher a name, the name of the quilt maker: Amalia N Bates, age 77 years. At least that’s what it seemed to say. Back to the computer, I found the Crowley Historical Museum, and through that, Annette, the contact person for the Historical Society. Then I knew. It was time for the quilts to go home. If I could find Amalia’s descendants, I would give the quilts to them; if not, I would send them to the museum.
A few days later, my email was answered. Annette and her resources had located the great-great grand daughter of Amalia N Bates! She gave me contact information for Shelia Burns, and I called. Shelia was in tears of joy when she heard about the quilts. She told me her Aunt Lois and husband “Uncle Bud” (Mac McKinney) had moved to Oatman after they retired. Lois died in Oatman. Apparently Mac, in his grief, didn’t realize the quilts value.
I packaged up the quilts, wrapped them carefully in plastic, wadded up newspaper to take up the extra space, taped the box firmly shut, and took them to the FedEx office. They were on their way home!