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1 Remote Warehouse Literature- A to Z

How to Make an American Quilt


How to Make an American Quilt Cover




At first,I thought I ould study art.Art history,to be exact. Then I thought,No,what about physical anthropology?--a point in my life thereafter referred to as My Jane Goodall Period.I tried to imagine my mother,Sarah Bennett-Dodd (called Sally by everyone with the exception of her mother),camping with me in the African bush,drinking strong coffee from our battered tin cups,much in the way that Jane did with Mrs.Goodall.I saw us laid up with match- ing cases of malaria;in mother/daughter safari shorts;our hands weathering in exactly the same fashion. Then,of course,I remembered that I was talking about my mother,Sally,who is most comfortable with modernity and refuses to live in a house that anyone has lived in before,exposing me to a life of tract housing that was curious and awful.

Literature was my next love.Until I became loosely acquainted

with critical theory,which struck me as a kind of intellectualism for

its own sake.It always seems that one has to choose literature or

critical theory,that one cannot love both.All of this finally pushed

me willingly (I later realized)into history.

I began with the discipline of the time line --a holdover from

elementary school --setting all the dates in order,allowing me to fix

time and place.History needs a specific context,if nothing else.My

time lines gradually grew more and more ornate,with pasted-on

photographs and drawings that I carefully cut from cheap history

books possessing great illustrations but terrible,unchallenging

text.I was taken with the look of history before I arrived at the

"meat "of the matter.But the construction of the time line is both

horizontal and vertical,both distance and depth.Which,finally,

makes it rather unwieldy on paper.What I am saying is that it

needed other dimensions,that history is not a matter of dates,and

only disreputable or unimaginative teachers take the "impartial "

date approach,thereby killing all interest in the subject at a very

early age for many students.

(I knew,in a perfect world,I would not be forced to choose a

single course of study,that I would have time for all these interests.

I could gather up all my desires and count them out like valentines.)

The Victorians caught my eye almost instantly with their

strange and sometimes ugly ideas about architecture and dress and

social conventions.Some of it was pure whimsy,like a diorama in

which ninety-two squirrels were stuffed and mounted,enacting a

basement beer-and-poker party,complete with cigars and green

visors pulled low over their bright eyes;or a house that displayed a

painting of cherubs,clad in strips of white linen,flying above the

clouds with an identical painting hidden,right next to it,under a

curtain in which the same cherubs --babies though they were --are

completely nude.Or a privileged Texas belle 's curio cabinet that

contained a human skull and blackened hand.Or still another

young woman (wealthy daughter of a prominent man)who insisted

on gliding through the family mansion with a handful of live kittens

clinging to the train of her dress.

I enrolled in graduate school.Then I lost interest.I cared and

then I didn 't care.I wanted to know as much about the small,odd

details that I discovered here and there when looking into the past

as I did about Lenin 's secret train or England 's Victorian imperial-

ism or a flawless neo-Marxist critique of capitalism.

There were things that struck me as funny,like the name

Bushrod Washington,which belonged to George 's nephew,or the

man who painted Mary Freake and her baby,known only as the

Freake Limner.And I like that sort of historical gossip;I mean,is it

true that Catherine the Great died trying to copulate with a horse?

And if not,what a strange thing to say about someone.Did Thomas

Jefferson have a lengthy,fruitful affair with his slave Sally Hem-

ings?What does that say about the man who was the architect of the

great democratic dream?What does it say about us?Did we inherit

the dream or the illicit,unsettling racial relationship?

This sort of thing is not considered scholarly or academic or of

consequence,these small footnotes.And perhaps rightly so.Of

course,I loved the important,rigorous historical inquiry as well.

What I think I wanted was both things,the silly and the sublime;

which adds up to a whole picture,a grudgingly true past.And out of

that past truth a present reality.

You could say I was having trouble linking the two.

I wished for history to be vital,alive with the occasional quirk

of human nature (a little "seriojovial ");I imagined someone saying

to me, Finn,what ever gave you the idea that history was any sort of liv-

ing thing?Really.Isn 't that expectation just the least bit contradictory?

Then Sam asked me to marry him.

It seemed to me a good idea.

Yet it somehow led me back to my educational concern,which

was how to mesh halves into a whole,only in this case it was how to

make a successful link of unmarried to married,man to woman,the

merging of the roads before us.When Heathcliff ran away from

Wuthering Heights,he left Cathy wild and sad,howling on the

moors,I am Heathcliff,as if their love were so powerful,their souls

so seamlessly mated,that no division existed for them,save the cor-

poreal (though I tend to believe they got "together "at least once),

which is of little consequence in the presence of the spirit.

All of which leaves me wondering,astonished,and a little put

off.How does one accomplish such a fusion of selves?And,if the af-

fection is that strong,how does one avoid it,leaving a little room for

the person you once were?The balance of marriage,the delicate,

gentle shifting of the polished scales.

Let me say that I like Sam tremendously.I love him truly.

The other good idea was spending the summer with my grand-

mother Hy Dodd and her sister Glady Joe Cleary.Their relationship

with me is different from that with the other grandchildren;we

share secrets.And I probably talk to them a little more than my

cousins or their own children do.I think they have a lot to say and I

am more than willing to hear it.All of it.Whatever strikes them as


To me,they are important.

So my days are now spent watching the quilters come and go,

lazily eavesdropping on the hum of their conversation and drifting

off into dreams on my great-aunt 's generous porch;thinking about

my Sam,my sweetheart.Or lying on my back,in the shade,in Aunt

Glady 's extravagant garden,removing the ice cubes from my tea,

running them across my face,neck,and chest in an effort to cool

down from the heat.

I could wander over to the Grasse swimming pool,but it is al-

ways so crowded.Sophia Richards says you never know who you 'll

meet there --as if I want to meet anyone.As if I am not already stay-

ing in a house that has quite a bit of "foot traffic."

The quilters have offered to make a bridal quilt in honor of my

marriage,but I tell them to Please continue with what you are doing as

if I never arrived to stay for the summer .Sometimes I say, I can 't think

about that now (as if anyone can think clearly in this peppery heat).I

can see this puzzles them,makes them wonder what sort of girl it is

who "cannot think about " her own wedding..

This amuses me as well,since,at age twenty-six,I have lost

track of the sort of girl that I am.I used to be a young scholar;I

am now an engaged woman.Not that you cannot be both --even I

understand that --yet I cannot fathom who I think I am at this time.

Product Details

Otto, Whitney
Ballantine Books
New York :
Mothers and daughters
Domestic fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;quilting;novel;women;california;friendship;quilts;relationships;film;women s fiction;contemporary fiction;usa;literature
Edition Description:
1st Ballantine Books trade paperback ed.
Ballantine reader's circle
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
April 1994
Grade Level:
8.28x5.54x.53 in. .44 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Pacific Northwest » Featured Titles

How to Make an American Quilt Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 240 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345388964 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Remarkable...An affirmation of the strength and power of individual lives, and the way they cannot help fitting together."
"Review" by , "Intensely thoughtful...honest...intelligent....The book spans half a century and addresses not only (these women's) histories but also their children's, their lovers', their country's, and, in the process, their gender's."
"Synopsis" by , "Remarkable...An affirmation of the strength and power of individual lives, and the way they cannot help fitting together."


An extraordinay and moving reading experience, HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT is an exploration of women of yesterday and today, who join together in a uniquely female experience. As they gather year after year, their stories, their wisdom, their lives, form the pattern from which all of us draw warmth and comfort for ourselves.


-- with Maya Angelou, Winona Ryder, and Rip Torn

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