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Read Paul Born's latest book:
I’m guessing that Circle of Mercy, the congregation that I co-pastor, was the only church on the continent that had thirty pounds of llama poop sitting by the altar on the Fourth of July last year. A safe distance away, on the other side of the altar, were bags of flour, rice, and other staples.
This was our first “pounding”—a traditional Appalachian mountain wedding ritual, in which friends and family bestow a pound of something useful on a young bride and groom. The children who live on our farm with llamas were particularly excited about hauling our gift for the couple’s garden into church. A pound of fertilizer or flour doesn’t go as far as it used to, so we all stretched it a bit and blessed the extravagance.
The last couple to get married in our circle received a homemade quilt. Many hands designed, cut, and sewed, transforming a pile of fabric strips into an elegant work of artistry and love.
For their wedding, the couple borrowed other quilts and hung them along the fence in front of which they pledged their commitment to each other. Among these was a jarringly green, rose, and gold one that my mother gave to me several years ago. It came with a note in her handwriting, attached with a safety pin:
This quilt was made by my grandfather, Simon Hollinger, of Waynesboro, PA, during the winter of 1899, when he was 46 years old. He had a large dairy farm and had slipped on ice at the barn and broken his leg. Having watched the females of the family make many quilts, he decided to attempt one to help pass the long days of his convalescence. The patches came from dress materials of his older daughter, who was then 20 years old. He died 9 years before my birth, but it means a lot to me to have something he created. I was his only grandchild and so my grandmother gave me the quilt shortly before her death, when I was 13 years old.
I was proud of our little circle for pulling off the creation of a homemade quilt. We had attempted a few years ago to launch a prayer shawl ministry. The idea was to knit or crochet a shawl or lap blanket for church members experiencing a particular joy or sorrow—the birth or adoption of a child, an illness or family death—something to remind them that we were surrounding them with our prayers and love.
We had good intentions. We bestowed a few shawls. But before long, we realized that we couldn’t keep up. So we launched our prayer scarf ministry. A few months later, it became our prayer hotpad ministry. We made jokes about when it would become the prayer coaster ministry.
Something similar happened when my nephews and niece were born. The first nephew received a crocheted afghan from me. By the time the fifth one came along, he was lucky to get a hat. I was in my twenties then, and it seemed there were so many other important things to do.
This Fourth of July, I bestowed my great-nephew, born last month, with a crocheted afghan. I’m determined to do better by this new generation than I did by their parents. So far I’m four for four.
Lacking a broken leg that forces me to keep still, I’ve found that crocheting baby afghans makes me slow down, opening space to focus on color and creativity, listen to calming music, or gather with a friend or two. There’s always the temptation to believe that I don’t have the time or that there’s something more important I should be doing.
But then I think about my great-grandfather transforming his daughter’s old dresses into a cherished gift for his only granddaughter. And I imagine all the women he watched craft quilts, talking and laughing as they also wove community with one another. These amazing women sewed clothes, darned socks, hung laundry, hauled water and firewood, raised children and chickens, canned vegetables, baked bread, churned butter—and made quilts. By hand. What are we waiting for?