In quilting, as in life, you just have to follow your gut
By Roxy Todd
Two years ago, in Norma Mikesell’s home in Hillsboro, the afternoon light was shifting behind pale curtains. The sun was pouring in waves over Norma’s hair and onto the quilts surrounding us in stacks against the wall.
“There’s no science to what’s going to look good, you just have to follow your gut,” Norma told my friend, Emma, while explaining how she chose her quilt patterns. “And if it doesn’t look right, you take it out and rearrange the pieces.”
Norma leaned back in her chair and talked of her childhood. As the colors of her quilts glowed beneath the afternoon’s changing light, I felt honored to hear it.
On January 18, of this year, I was saddened to hear that Norma had passed away. The world was made more beautiful by this remarkable woman. This is part of our recorded conversation:
Norma: I was born October 19, 1920, on Beaver Creek, Pocahontas County. Beaver Creek is just outside of Watoga Park. I was a kid when they put the park in and when the CCC boys came. We had a well and the CCC boys used to come to our house for good drinking water. They’d come down and lie around in the grass and visit. My one sister made pies and sold them for a quarter a pie. I’ve seen those kids sit there and eat a whole pie!
I learned to row a boat over there in the Watoga lake when it got water in it. You could rent a boat for twenty-five cents an hour. And us kids would pool our nickels and walk over to the park and row the boat.
Dad was like most people in those days, he did everything. You know, if you needed something, you just did it. Dad built the house we lived in. He made furniture. He made coffins. He was a blacksmith and shoed horses.
Dad loved to visit. He loved people. They had no car and everywhere he went he either walked or went in the wagon. He never had to say “whoa,” to the horse. If that horse met somebody on the road, it just automatically stopped because it knew Dad was going to stop and talk.
I skipped a few years in grade school. I was only twelve when I finished eighth grade.
Two of my brothers and my sister had gone to school here at Hillsboro, and they had boarded with people.
So Principal Johnston knew there was another one still there at my home, so he came to recruit me. School had already been in session two weeks. See, they were about to close the Hillsboro High School because enrollment was down. It was during the Depression – 1933 – and the teachers had taken a cut in salary to keep the school open. And they were recruiting people to keep the school from closing.
And I wondered why my mother cried when I left. Can you imagine sending a twelve- year-old kid to stay with people you didn’t know and you weren’t going to see her till Easter or Christmas!
I stayed with Joel Beard that first year. They lived there where Joel Callison lives now. They had two daughters, Virginia Callison was their youngest.
Anyhow, that first year I was homesick. I would stand in their yard and look over toward the mountains and stand there and bawl. And I couldn’t let anybody know I was homesick because Mother and Dad would send for me to come home. I wanted to go to school. And after that first year, I was never, ever, as homesick like that in my life.
After high school, I worked in Lewisburg at the soda fountain one summer, making sundaes and milkshakes. I tell my nieces and nephews, every job you have, no matter how menial it seems, learn from it, learn everything. There’s always things to learn. And if people you work with know you want to learn they help you. I learned a lot working at the soda fountain, it was kind of fun. I don’t fret about a durn thing that’s coming, because I know I can handle it. And if I can’t I know someone else can. It takes a few years to come to that conclusion, but you just learn from all your experiences.