Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Tribute to Roy Robertson

It was a different world.

The people living in North Alabama in the late thirties lived simply. Working without ceasing, they had little time or opportunity to keep up with world affairs. When they began hearing talk, sometimes weeks old, about fighting in Europe, about a crazed Nazi killing innocent people, they agreed it was awful, terrible, but it had little to do with them. When the news came that the Japanese had bombed the naval fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Pacific, a place as far removed as the moon to them, they wondered what they would hear next, wondered if this evil could reach their sleepy little river town.

Roy Robertson, 28 years old, was content with his life on the small farm. He and Mary Elizabeth Sharp were married in 1939, and he and his young wife were building their future, starting their journey together. He had just finished his spring planting when he was drafted in June 1942. He reported to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for his basic training.

A strong man who had hunted most of his life, Roy excelled in training, getting numerous badges and listed as a 'Pistol Expert'. Fort McClellan was less than 200 miles from his home, and while Roy was willing to do his part for his country, homesick and heartsick, he found a way to sneak home on occasion, staying until he was escorted back by military police. In October of 1943, he departed Fort McClellan for war-torn Europe. He said afterwards that once he was in Europe, he couldn't sneak back home, so all there was to do was 'soldier'. And what a soldier he became!

The following is part of an article published in a local paper in April, 1945.

Staff Sergeant Roy Robertson, the "one-man mortar squad" who won the Bronze Star medal for heroism in the Battle of the Bulge, is coming home to Waterloo, Alabama, for a 30-day furlough under the Army's rotation plan.

Qualifications for the coveted rotation furlough include length of foreign service, length of combat time, wounds and decorations. Except in the matter of wounds--he has come through a lot of flying scrap metal without a scratch--Sergeant Robertson was the best qualified man in his outfit, Company "M", 112th Infantry.

The Waterloo doughboy came overseas with the 28th "Keystone" Division in October, 1943, and landed in France shortly after D-Day. He was with the "M" Company mortars when they first were committed to action in the St. Lo breakthrough, and pumped hundreds of rounds into the Falaise pocket, where the 28th Division was part of the force which cut off the German Seventh Army.

Moving fast out of the Normandy hedgerows, Robertson and thousands of other Keystone soldiers staged their famed "tactical parade" through Paris on August 29, 1944. While the Parisians cheered in a delirium of joy over the capital's liberation, the doughboys were actually hounding the heels of the Germans as they hiked over the miles of cobbled streets. Next day, Robertson was again dropping mortar shells on the fleeing supermen.

He was on hand when the Yanks took Compiegne, where the first Armistice was signed, and in November he was "zeroing-in" on targets in the dank Hurtgen Forest, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of this war. After Schmidt, where the 28th Division stood off a reinforced Panzer division and two infantry divisions until forced back by sheer weight of numbers and metal, Robertson had a brief respite from battle. For a while the 28th occupied a portion of the "quiet" Belgian front and the men rested--until Von runstedt began his historic counter-offensive.

It was during the 112th Infantry's stand near St. Vith that the Waterloo heavy weapons expert distinguished himself. Operating a mortar alone while his buddies were pinned down by enemy fire, he dropped shells at dangerously closes range and captured a 'hornet's nest' for an estimated 150 Nazi casualties. (The lengthy article continues here with details of other battles.)
When he heard that he had been selected for furlough, Robertson had just completed a gruelling 12-hour march through enemy territory as the 28th Division played its role in the First Army smash across the Rhine. None of Sergeant Robertson's furlough time will be wasted in travel. The deluxe trip, with a stop-over in Paris, is thrown in extra. The 30 days won't start officially until he is almost home on his farm on Route 2, Waterloo.

Roy did make it home on that furlough, exhausted, bone-weary of battles and blood. After digging foxholes in frozen European soil, Roy was delighted to feel the warm, red Alabama soil beneath his feet. He just stayed home after the furlough officially ended. I suppose the military police just didn't have the heart to come and get a hero. They sent him an honorable discharge on October 9, 1945.

After he returned home and life settled around him, he was reluctant to talk about his metals or battles. To him, he just did his duty the best way he knew how.

He never left his farm or community again as long as he lived.

He and Mary raised two daughters and two sons. They had a granddaughter, followed by five grandsons. Illness came to Mary at an early age, and Roy buried his sweetheart in October 1976. He was never the same again.

In October 1979, Roy died suddenly of a massive brain hemorrhage. An American flag was presented to his 9 year-old grandson, our firstborn. The flag was new, the kind presented at military funerals, and it is treasured today. It is just like the flag that flew with the troops on the beaches of Normandy, in the snow in Korea, in the jungles of Viet Nam, and the deserts of Iraq. God bless that symbol of freedom, now and forever.

Thank you, Papaw, for your sacrifice and courage. Thank you for having the fortitude to do your job when fire and bullets were falling around you. Thank you for being an example of strength, strength that is now seen in your children and grandchildren. We remember you with joy.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Friday, May 28, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Rules for Good Health

I found the following in an old book about home remedies, Tommy Scotts Medicine Show.

The author is not listed.

They are amusing, and who knows, maybe they even work!

A Few Little Rules to Keep the Body in Good Shape

Fix deeply in mind the grand truth that life power rules the body, and that it alone can cure disease.

Life power lives upon air, water and food only; all else is hurtful.

Make cleanliness your motto, and watch against filth in both house and grounds.

Few starve for food, but many for air. Breathe deeply a hundred times daily. Wear no tight clothing. Above all, ventilate your sleeping room.

Beware of gluttony. If the appetite is dull, eat fruit only or eat nothing. Use no fiery condiments, but live chiefly on natural grains, vegetables and fruits. Never ask your stomach to chew your food--employ your teeth. Adorn your table not only with viands (food?), but with flowers and smiles and kindly words.

Deformity is not awkwardness only, but danger. A high chest will give freedom to breathing and digestion and help to cure many diseases.

Shun stimulants and drugs as you do pestilence. For tea and coffee, drink hot water, and in illness let the same magic fluid be your physic.

Thick blood causes colds and countless other diseases. Keep the lungs active by deep breathing, the skin by baths and friction, the kidneys by free drafts of warm water, the bowels by correct eating, and the blood will be pure.

Spend part of each day in muscular work, part in study and part in good deeds to men and in the worship of God.

How many of you think I am going to drink hot water instead of coffee?

Joyfully you'll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation. And as you do it, you'll say, "Give thanks to God. Call out his name. Ask him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what he's done, spread the news of his great reputation!
Isaiah 12:3-4 Message

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alabama Book Festival

On April 17, Hub and I went to Montgomery to the Alabama Book Festival.

It was as close to perfect as one can get in this life.

Even the weather cooperated; a sweet breeze that blew away the humidity, leaving us with an ideal spring day.

There were several stages, and since we can't be in more than one place at once, we had to choose which speakers we wanted to hear.

First was Carolyn Haines.

A southern writer who can make you feel like you are sitting on the porch of an antebellum mansion in Mississippi, sipping iced tea and talking to ghosts of the past. She has been on my "favorites" list for many years. She's a friend on Facebook, but it was wonderful getting to meet her face to face at last!
Ms. Haines was the 2010 recipient of the Harper Lee award. Look for her Bones series.

Rick Bragg, who wrote my life, was the next speaker. Even with his 2009 Harper Lee award and his Pulitzer, he has not forgotten his roots, and takes time to tell stories and talk UNA football with Hub.

Rick Bragg's books include All Over but The Shoutin', Ava's Man, Prince of Frogtown, The Most They Ever Had, and more.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson has been a syndicated columnist for about thirty years, and makes us think about serious things, even while we are laughing.

While at the Book Festival, she was promoting her newest book, Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming: A Memoir. She came to the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library recently, and I was fortunate to hear her again. A good Southern girl, if there ever was one!

We heard lots of others, but a favorite was Kathy Louise Patrick. You can meet her here.

We spent the night in Montgomery. The next day, while we were in LA, we drove to Thomasville to visit another good friend, Linda Vice. Linda, The Front Porch Philosopher, made us a wonderful lunch, then gave us a tour of her 100+ year old home and the gardens that surround her house. You can meet her here.

Can't wait for next year!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Apple Quilt

It was the seventies.

We lived near Savannah, Tennessee, a small town full of factories. They made uniforms, women's clothing, and shoes. All of the factories are long gone now, moved with NAFTA to places far removed from that sleepy little river town. But in the seventies, the factories hummed with women (and a few men) who didn't need a career, but money to buy groceries.

Scraps of fabric left after cutting out the garments were thrown away, or given to employees if they wanted them. Friends and relatives collected them, sometimes filling the trunks of their cars when they finished the day, bone-weary but glad they had made another day, another punch of the time clock that meant more money on Friday. Some didn't sew at all, but having been raised by depression-era parents who threw nothing away, they collected the scraps to share. Sometimes, they gave them to me!

It was thought that I wouldn't ever amount to much, because I 'kept my nose in a book' most of the time. One of the books showed a picture of a glorious quilt, with squares and apples. With my factory scraps and the book, I decided to make that apple quilt.

There was always quilting going on around me, with my mother, aunts, and grandmother working on them with every spare minute. The apple quilt was my first attempt to make it completely 'all by myself', and I did it. It was my first attempt at applique, and I was so proud of it. My quilting has improved somewhat over the years, and now I cringe when I see some of the work I did before the hair-color era.

We have used it over thirty years now. After we were blessed with grandchildren, it became the picnic quilt. Some of my better quilts are not allowed to be used at all, much less at the park or in the woods on the ground. The apple quilt has been shared by ants and sweat bees as we lay on our backs, naming the clouds. We have eaten fried chicken and funnel cake on it, then wrapped it around us after the sun went down and the night air cooled.

I must have made it really well, because it is still in wonderful shape and regularly taken on outings.

Ten-year old granddaughter and I were housecleaning, and straightened up the stack of quilts with the apple quilt on top.

"Oh, the picnic quilt! You know, we are always going to use that for the picnic quilt, even after you are gone."



A plus-thirty year old quilt was going to last longer than me? Something made with scraps and strings of cotton would exist after I did not?


Everything decays, everything dies. Over time, the tallest mountain winds up in the sea, one grain at a time.

This gift, this act of living, is dynamic, doesn't sit still for anything or anybody.

Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and some trace minerals make up our bodies, the houses of clay that we live in now. None of these elements will last forever. All will decay, some faster than others.

It is the real me, the God-breath, that is eternal, that will live in my real home long after every material entity on this earth is gone.

It's all part of the plan; it is all good, even when it doesn't seem so good to me.

Let the children laugh when their grandmothers tell them about the picnic quilt, and about the woman who made it.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Friday, May 21, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Planting by the Moon

The moon is not just for romantic evenings.

For centuries, people have used the moon phases to determine when to plant their gardens and fields. Our generation is forgetting this; we have planting guides, whole books on gardening, and the weather channel.

When I was a child, not so long ago, my parents and their peers always had a Farmer's Almanac that showed the planting dates for different kinds of vegetation. Drug stores and feed stores gave away complimentary calendars at the beginning of the year, showing the proper planting dates at a glance, knowing their name would be prominently displayed all year long.

My mother would try to explain it to us; the 'sign' in the legs meant one thing, in the arms meant something else. I never understood it, but she knew it as well as we know our birthdays or Social Security numbers. She planted according to the Moon signs, unless a flood or some other catastrophe prevented it. My daddy, on the other hand, believed in planting when the soil was dry enough. Whatever the method, they grew enough food to raise a large family on little income.

Scientists have studied these ancient methods and decided there just might be something to it.

The 'Dark of the Moon' is traditionally the last three days of the Lunar cycle, immediately preceding the New Moon, and the time when the moon doesn't appear in the night sky. During this time, plants orient themselves toward their roots. With the sap rushing downward, it is said to be a favorable time for planting root crops, like potatoes and turnips, and for transplanting.

During the light phases of the moon, sap is said to flow upward, filling stems and leaves and favoring the planting of crops that mature above the ground.

Another theory is that the gravitational pull of the moon raises ground-water the same way it does tidewater. If this is true, it suggests how the moon might pull soluble nutrients upward toward the roots of a plant and stimulate growth.

If the gravitational pull of the moon affects the tides and groundwater, what does it do to humans, who are composed of from 55% to 78% water? That's a blog for another day.

My friend, Tipper, is very knowledgable about planting by the signs. Check out her blog at

I usually plant when Lowe's has a new shipment of plants, or when the seeds I sow are big enough to transpant. I have had multiple plant failures, so my method is probably not the best.

And God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and the days, and years.' Genesis 1:14 KJV

Friday, May 14, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Quilting Class; Part Two

Violet gathered the things she would need for the day, and with eighteen-month-old baby on one hip and her bundle on the other, she set out walking to her mother’s house half a mile away. The morning was cold but clear, and the fresh air cleansed her lungs of the soot and smoke of the fireplace. She and the baby shared a quilt that had been used just enough to attain that softness that felt like skin. She walked quickly for a woman heavy with a child on her hip and another one growing inside her, watching the feather clouds expanding against the faded blue of January’s sky.

These weekly quilting bees were her rescue, her one chance for social interaction and communication. At least ten women would be there, willing to battle the elements for a chance to share joy and pain with a group of peers. Everyone in her group were struggling, each from a farm family that had depleted last year’s crop money by Christmas, with months of winter, planting, and working the fields before there would be any more. Violet knew that sharing pain makes it smaller, and sharing good times causes them to seem even better.

Her mother’s house was small. The living room furniture had been pushed against the wall to make room for the women to stand around the quilting frame attached to the ceiling. The space available didn’t allow for chairs to be brought in. The women standing on each side of the quilting frame had to squeeze in when someone needed to move. The women switched sides when it was time to roll the quilt; one side was near the wood heater and the other near the door. One group would warm up while the other cooled down.

Violet’s baby, among several others, were kept on a pallet beneath the quilting frame, where they could be tended to without the quilter moving from her spot. Her mother had started a pot of soup for the noonday meal, and it bubbled on the wood heater as the women talked and stitched.

It was 1935. The Great Depression covered them like a heavy blanket. The women heard or understood little of what was going on in New York’s stock market, about economics or soup lines. All they knew was that their farmer husbands couldn’t find any work to do during the winter months, and there was no cash for anything. They stuffed their shoes with cardboard, unraveled old sweaters to make smaller ones for the children, and recycled everything.

When clothing was worn to the point it could no longer be patched or reused, the women cut the usable parts, sometimes the back of the sleeves or the lower backs of shirts, and made the scraps into quilts. Hand-stitching the scraps together, they were able to create something of beauty, something to brighten the beds with color. After the quilt tops were done, the women of the community were happy to join together to do the quilting, the joining of the top with batting and a back.

They talked as they worked, these simple women who survived hard times and built families that thrived. They heard of husbands that were ashamed of their inability to provide, of impending births and deaths. Someone shared a letter they had received from northern relatives; the times were hard there, too. Another, exhausted, told of staying up
several nights with their little one who was burning with fever, bathing its hot skin with water and alcohol until the fever broke.

Violet and her peers made quilts to hide them from the cold and express some artistic need that hard times couldn’t extinguish. But they made much more than quilts. They laid strong foundations for women who would construct their lives in easier financial
times. They were the embodiment of fortitude, of pressing on when all seemed hopeless.

Most of the quilts from Violet and her quilting bees have long ceased to exist. They were slept under, used as pallets, and nailed over windows to keep out cold winds. They were carried to the fields in summer for the baby to play and nap on, and used as their tablecloth for picnic dinners. They made tents over chairs for the children to play in, and covered furniture when it was worn down to the padding. After the edges were too worn to repair, they were cut off and the quilt, with its new binding, became a smaller version that would last a while longer.

Violet didn’t wake up one morning and decide to become a quilter. It was just something all women of her time did, just like tending a vegetable garden or raising chickens for fresh eggs. She did what she could to make life better for her family. She did that extremely well.

Fast forward to January, 2010. A group of women meet on Tuesday nights to learn to quilt as Violet and her friends did. I wish she could have been there, could have seen how her progeny have prospered. Surely, Violet could not have imagined how different our lives are today.

We had a modern, comfortable room for our quilting frame, with rolling chairs and vented heat. We do not use anything recycled; all of our materials were bought just for the quilts. We arrived to our quilting bee in warm cars, wrapped in warm clothing. No one is hungry; no one is lacking medical care. We do not have to rush to finish a quilt so that our children would sleep warm that night.

Still, in many ways, we are the same as Violet. We grieve at the news of a sickness, of children making bad decisions. We laugh at ourselves, at our attempts to make perfect stitches and hide our knots so they will never be seen. We discuss moral issues, politics, and weight-loss, something Violet never worried about.

The quilt we are working on becomes our instrument to fulfill our need to create and surround ourselves with beauty, our vehicle to relieve stress and calm our souls, our place to find quiet and peace. I think Violet was searching for the same things.

Funding for this quilt class was provided by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quilting Class

There is nothing like quilting.

Creating beauty from scraps is very satisfying. Scraps of fabric that seem insignificant by themselves can be joined with others to make something useful, beautiful, and lasting.

Recently, I finished a class where students were taught hand-quilting for a twelve week period. We literally quilted the winter away. The world is now better because there are three more quilts in it.

Funding for this class was provided by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. Thank you!!!

Charlotte McDaniel (left) and Nancy Ledgewood work on Tulip Quilt, quilting around each piece.

Wanda Robertson works on the Tulip quilt. An antique quilting frame was used to keep the layers together while they were being quilted.

Left to right: Wanda Robertson, JoAnn Haeger, Charlotte McDaniel, Nancy Ledgewood works on the Tulip Quilt.

An excellent way to spend a cold winter's evening!

Left to right: Nancy Ledgewood, Jo Ann Haeger, Wanda Robertson

Tools needed for hand-quilting: strong thread, thimbles, needles, and glasses for most of us!

Left to right: Nancy Ledgewood, Charlotte McDaniel, Jo Ann Haeger, Wanda Robertson, and Mitzi Hatton work on Christmas quilt using the fan pattern for quilting.

Charlotte McDaniel, Jo Ann Haeger, Wanda Robertson, and Mitzi Hatton. The white chalk lines remind us where the seam goes.

Wanda Robertson (front) and Mitzi Hatton quilting on the Christmas Quilt. What concentration!

Star quilt, with quilting lines drawn in chalk, thread, thimble, scissors used in quilting.

Left to right: Wanda Robertson, Charlotte McDaniel, Jo Ann Haeger, and Nancy Ledgewood

Left to right: Nancy Ledgewood, Charlotte McDaniel, Wanda Robertson, Jo Ann Haeger

Star quilt was quilted with straight lines except in the middle, where it was quilted around the pieces.

Completed Star Quilt

Completed Christmas Quilt

Completed Tulip Quilt

Three finished quilts were raffled based on attendance. Jo Ann Haeger holds her Star Quilt.

Charlotte McDaniel was the winner of the tulip quilt.

Nancy Ledgewood was the winner of the Christmas Quilt.

It is said that hand work is for the past; an artifact that is no longer needed. This theory couldn't be more wrong. Quilting is more popular today than it has ever been. Could that be because in this fast-paced culture, we are seeking something to slow us down, to calm us? Or because the world of Walmarts and eBay doesn't gratify our need to create, to surround ourselves with beauty?

Will the next generation produce any quilters? I don't have any idea how many, but I know there will be a least one!

Ten-year-old Amanda Robertson quilts on the Christmas Quilt. Amanda couldn't attend the Tuesday night quilting bee, but did her work on Saturday.

We know people have been quilting since records have been kept. Roman women, who lived before Jesus walked their roads, may have formed a group to quilt soft garments that their men wore under armor. They may have gathered in a circle to work on the quilted mats they used for their floors and wall.

Women who traveled in wagons with all their family and earthly belongings found time to quilt at the same time they were helping build a country. When their country became a battlefield, women quilted so their sons and husbands wouldn't have to sleep on the dirt.

For some of us, it is just something we have to do and teach. We have to make sure the next generation, children of the 21st century, like Amanda, have the skills needed to continue. I am thankful for the small contribution I have made in preserving this beloved art.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Whippoorwills

Have you ever seen one?

Most Southerners born before air-conditioning shut off the world fell asleep to their plaintive cries.

They nest on the ground, sleeping during the day. From dusk to dawn, they use their superior vision to find and devour flying insects, repeating their name between bites.

They are the stuff of folklore. American Indian legend says their song was a death omen. Their habit of flying near cows and goats in search of insects caused them to be called "milk suckers".

My daddy would sit on the porch in the early spring and listen for the first whippoorwill's call. He said that it was safe to plant cotton without fear of frost killing the seedlings after the whippoorwills started singing. Because their breeding habits correspond with certain phases of the moon, he was most likely correct.

Somehow, the call makes us lonely, and has become a symbol for melancholy. Hank Williams mentioned the whippoorwill in his song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and others frequently use the emotion-evoking whippoorwill in their songs.

Sadly, they are not as common as they once were, due to loss of habitat and insecticides.

I have never seen one except in photos, but they are as much as part of my youth as blackberries and jumping-jacks.

I listen for them now, standing on the deck, trying to block the noise pollution of sirens and traffic and planes. On those nights when I am blessed and able to separate what is made by man and what is made by God, I hear them.

Those nights are precious.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review: Never Let You Go by Erin Healy

Never Let You Go is a suspenseful story about a single mother trying to cope while surrounded by problems, both natural and spiritual. Before I read this book, I read a review that compared it to Frank Peretti’s books about spiritual warfare. While there were some similarities, it didn’t really remind me of Peretti’s books. A book this good can certainly stand on its own.

The main character, Lexi, has been abandoned by her husband and family. Her daughter is the anchor of her life, and she is determined to make a “normal” home for them, even if it means working two jobs and having very little material comforts. Lexi is an example of how a person can depend on God, even when it seems things are hopeless. I don’t want to spoil the ending for new readers, but be assured her faith in God was her strength when it appeared Lexi would surely fail.

I finished this book in one night; there was not a place where I wanted to lay it down. Unfortunately, Lexi’s life parallels many women I know, and I could almost feel her pain.

This is a book that you won’t forget as soon as the last page is read.