Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Margene and Me

By Diana Carpenter White

          Before quilts, I did crafts and tried things out.  One crafter buddy was Margene, and it was for her that I made a non-quilt fabric wall hanging.  It was part of the progression of projects on the way to quilting. 

          In the 60s I made a banner for Margene Downs, my partner in many art projects for Dec Pres – Decatur Presbyterian.  She and I were always doing flyers for the church school or special programs, drawing or using clip art, designing logos or covers.  We made booklets of recipes for everybody after the church held an ice-cream social, cutting and folding and decorating covers for each.  I learned about half-tones and other arcane commercial art things when we did the flyers for Bible School.  Before her marriage Margene had been a commercial artist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (one or the other, before they combined into one paper).  She was Margaret Eugenie Dozier, and she met her husband Billy Downs at the paper where he was a photographer who did sports and action shots or covered breaking news. She knew Celestine Sibley and Eugene Patterson and Furman Bisher and all the AJC greats.  She was creative and funny and a little unstable; she had a breakdown sometime in the 70s, and I helped get her hospitalized on Emory's Psych Unit – she never fully forgave me, or maybe I found it hard to forgive myself, but she made a good recovery in time.  Before I can logically get to that non-quilt, I need to write a bit about Margene and me.

          For years she and I worked and played together, years of jaunts and day trips and creations.  We made crabapple jelly together; we gathered lots of crabapples from her trees, did whatever cooking needed doing in a monster stockpot, and hung the wet mass in a huge cheesecloth bag that we suspended over another large pot.  We put two kitchen chairs back-to-back, weighted them solidly down, hung a broomstick between them, hung the cheesecloth bag from that, and let 'er drip overnight.  The next day, we took the collected liquid, did the straining and added pectin and some sugar and jarred it up.  That jelly had the most beautiful pinkish-gold clarity, and a heavenly taste. 

For lady lunches, while the kids played we'd make finger-food trays, carrots, celery and dip, beets, pearl onions, cheese slices, pickles, Vienna sausages or tuna fish salad, crackers.  We served the kids sandwiches and chips. 

For our children, we made large, really large, bubble-blowers, when the ones supplied with the bottles were so ordinary.  We undid some wire clothes hangers and re-twisted and shaped them.  We had hearts and flower shapes and big rectangles.  I think our best bubble recipe involved adding a little bit of glycerin. 
We went on a picnic to the huge cemetery called Westview, and Margene told stories about the old Atlanta families buried there.  We loaned each other books, and returned one another's books to the library. 

          We had projects and our children had projects.  One was Reid's particular privilege.  He designed a herring-bone pattern for a brick patio Margene wanted to lay, and he did most of the actual brick placement.  The last step was sweeping sand mixed with cement between the bricks, and gently watering it down.  That patio may still be there. 

          One summer Margene found a Bible school for all our kids – they stair-stepped, Reid, then Scotty, then Robert, and then Kay, in ages and in heights.  The small country church was down southeast of Decatur in the Snapfinger neighborhood, not too far from the Downses, so she said she'd deliver them in the mornings and I could pick them up, and we could all go to the pool in the afternoons.  The first morning, she got home from delivering the kids, and she called me. 
          “Don't you ever do that to me again!” she scolded. 
          “Do what? Is something wrong?”
          “Don't you send me somewhere with Kay Blackwelder without backup!  We got there and all the kids went happily into their classes, and Kay wouldn't go into her class.”
          “Why not?”  O my, was my little one all right?  I grabbed for my purse so I could go get her and scrabbled out the car keys, while holding the phone out at the full length of its extra-long cord.     
          “We stood there in the hall and I asked her, 'Kay honey, what's wrong? Why don't you want to go in?' She's standing there, lip quivering, tears just brimming to the edge of her eyelids, eyes twice as large as normal, so sorrowful – and do you know what she told me, that little blonde blue-eyed mite?”  Margene was building up a head of steam.
          “Er – no, what did she tell you,” willing to play straight man.
          “She told me, 'They're all crooks!' That's what she told me.  And I couldn't think of a single argument!  What do you do with that child when she just puts her foot down?”
          “They're all crooks? that's what she said? What in the world does that mean?” I was trying not to laugh in her face.  Kay could always give you a why – it just didn't always come out in any sort of standard reasoning system one had any experience with. 

          And there is really no answer to that last question she asked, the “what do you do” one.  In tight corners, I’d just wing it, doing the best I could.  I'd usually manage not to get into that particular corner of total refusal, and if I did, I'd try an end-run around.  The trick was to get her launched into some part of the task she was being stubborn about, and not let the will you/won't you question arise, so as not make a confrontation about it.  I was the mama, and I planned for the only foot being put down to be my foot, if I was nimble and quick. 

          I didn't after all need to go fetch my child that day.  The teacher had come out and drawn Kay into the group, and Margene left my phone number with someone and high-tailed it out quick while the going was good.  Any other first-time thing the foursome was signed up for, Margene and I took them together.  I still think “They're all crooks!” is an unanswerable and perfectly sound reason for not wanting to go be part of some group or other, or knowing you'd better be ready to protect yourself.  It entered family code for a gut feeling you couldn't exactly put into words.  We all use it.   

          Some time later, when they were all somewhat further along in grade school, Margene's youngest, Robert, was planning to do a magician's act for some school event.  He needed, he said, a Beautiful Girl Assistant.  He asked Kay.  She agreed, with this proviso: “Robert, you're my friend, and I'll help you with your magic act.  But if you call me your beautiful girl assistant, I'll have to hurt you.”

          The non-quilted but definitely a fabric project I did as a gift for Margene one Christmas was my design version in colored felts of the Partridge in a Pear Tree.   It was made of many pieces of felt, many colors, hand cut mostly free-hand, glue-basted and blanket-stitched, and I count it in the progression of fabric art work leading up to my someday-quilting.  I designed that banner with several shades of greens so leaves could be shaded, and several browns, so I could do shadows on the trunk, and yellow-ochre-orange pears, and a wonderful sort-of partridge bird with a topknot, done in browns and purple and cream and black.  I think the background was a blue-violet felt, with a casing top and a wooden dowel and a gold hanging cord; it was about 2½ by 4 feet. She loved it.  So did I.  She hung it every winter holiday season, for as long as I knew her holiday routine.  Oddly, although I signed it (always sign your work) and probably dated it, I did not do a label – but then, Someday hadn’t come yet and I wasn’t yet doing quilts, and hadn't developed strong feeling about a label being de rigueur.