Thoughts immediately after death of someone loved. Where do their thoughts go? Settling in Nebraska. “No Time on My Hands” by Grace Snyder (April 2017)

Susan's Thursday morning note April 20, 2017
No Time on My Hands by Grace Snyder
Detailed memories of settling in Nebraska by famous quilter

Good morning!  The sun wore yellow pajamas last night.  Light yellow pajamas matching our pastel Easter egg.  Words echoing in my mind from Easter, “Did the grass sing?  Did the Earth rejoice to feel you again?  Over and over in a never-ending round, did the earth seem to pound, “He is risen!”  Over and over in a never ending round, “He is risen…Allelujah, Allelujah!”  The bright yellow sunrise keeping the song playing in our minds.  Backdrop to the little wrens and robins already singing their hearts out on stage as I type.

I have been rereading a fascinating book an 80-year old woman’s memories of growing up in the late 1800’s & early 1900’s on the prairie in Nebraska, No Time on My Hands by Grace Snyder.  Her descriptions are more detailed and than any other author I’ve read on Nebraska history – page after page of memories.  She became famous for her quilts, being inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame at the age of 98.  One of her quilts has 87,000 tiny triangles.  You can see some of her quilts by clicking this link – Grace Snyder Quilt Exhibition.  Below are some of her memories.

Learning to quilt as she watched the cattle… One evening, after the longest, lonesomest day yet, I watched Mama setting tiny, quick stitches into the diamond-shaped calico scraps she was sewing into a Lone Star quilt top.  And right then I knew what I wanted to do.  I asked her for some pieces to sew while I sat in the straw all day, but she said I was too young to do a good job.  I knew I wasn’t, and I just had to have those pieces.  I begged hard and promised to be ever so careful, and she finally said I could try a little Four Patch.  “But you’ll have to do neat work and fasten the ends of your thread good,” she said, “for I can’t afford to waste thread and pieces on you if you don’t.”  She cut the little squares and showed me how to put them together in the pattern.  After that, when the sun had warmed the air enough that I could take my mittens off, I sat in the straw nests and sewed on the little quilt, making my stitches small and neat so Mama would let me have more pieces.   Young as I was, I knew that Mama’s needlework, even her patching, was extra fine, and that it wouldn’t be easy to learn to sew as well as she did.  But it was during those days into he big straw, when I worked so hard to keep my stitches even and the block corners matched, that I began to dream of the time when I could make quilts even finer that Mama’s, finer than any others in the world.

Silence on the prairie… I turned ten in April, and that summer the prairie had a new meaning for me.  Its quivering life was all around me, to be felt and seen and listened to.  I found that when I lay flat and still on my stomach, my ear to the ground, I could hear the grass growing, all its little roots pushing and digging like everything.  And if I held my breath, it even seemed that I could hear the very small sound that time itself made as it went by.  I liked to lie on my back, too, watching the whipped cream cloud puffs sailing across the sky to pile up for the sunset, and trying to imagine what it would be like to look down on them from above.  Sometimes my longing to fly above the clouds was strong enough to hurt; as my longing for a “boughten” doll with real hair, or for a sidesaddle like Aunt Bell’s, sometimes hurt.

An example of her detailed descriptionsOne of the finest times of the day came at sundown, when the cattle grazed toward home and the early dew began to fall and the cleanest, freshest smell in all the world came up from the cropped grass.  But all the hours seemed interesting now, and I spent a lot of them watching the lively affairs of the prairie creatures.  I watched thick, dark bugs kick wet balls of dirt along a cow trail.  Every little while they stopped to spit on the he balls, then kicked them along in the dust again, rolling them up until they were bigger than themselves.

Her thoughts on death when she first experienced someone close dyingUntil that day, I had never seen a dead person, and all the rest of the fall I thought about death a good deal.  I was alone all the daylight hours with the cattle, and all around me the prairie was dying.  The sound of death was in the wind that never stopped blowing across the whitening grass, or rustling the dead weeds at the edges of the fields.  There was a forlorn, lonesome note in the bawl of a calf for its mother and in the honking of wild geese down in the pale sky.  On still daysthe whistle of a train, far down on the river valley, seemed to carry a terrible grief in its faint, lonely wail.  I thought about Johnny, too, wondering what had become of all his memories and thoughts, right up to the noontime when he died, before he could even think about that.  Where were his thoughts now, and all the things he had known?  Did they just stop when his mind stopped, or did they go on somewhere?  I knew souls went to heaven, but where did thoughts go, or did they just come to an end and be wasted?  With death so much in my thoughts, I took a liking for grazing my herd near two little graves in the corner of Maline’s pasture.  I felt so sorry for the two little girls buried there, even though I’d never known them.  They hadn’t had time to do much living, and it seemed to me I was keeping them company, sitting beside their graves while I sewed quilt pieces, when I had any.

This Easter week the sunrise reminds us to look to the heavens and be grateful.  “I may never traverse the halls of art, yet the dawning day is mine, and the fading twilight, and the lake at eve, and the galaxy of the midnight sky.  I may never place in a Dresden vase one single hothouse flower, but I may have me a field of yellow buttercups.”  (1904 Muriel Strode).  Little wrens still singing for us.  Bringing us messages from the heavens if we stop to hear.  Fresh green carpets being lain daily over the brown earth.  Spring.  Again quietly making her debut.  Gold to us from the heavens.  Susan

Latin for this week:  
cento means 'patchwork,' and the verse form resembles a quilt of discrete lines stitched together to make a whole.

Works Cited:
Snyder, Grace.  No Time on My Hands.  Lincoln, NE.  University of NE Press.  1963.