Landrum group welcomes 94-year-old quilting matriarch

Published 4:25 pm Thursday, April 30, 2009

Valree sews on her mother&squo;s old Singer, a peddle variety that has only recently been motorized. In the small bedroom that houses her hobby is a small table where rests her Bible, which she reads completely through each year. In the corner are other secrets of her longevity: a treadmill and stationary bike, both of which she uses daily. And those well-toned arms? As weights, she lifts two milk jugs filled with water.

One would expect mounds and mounds of fabric heaped up in her sewing space, as is the case with most quilters. But, no. Valree is frugal, acquiring only what she will use at the time. It is astounding to her how the price of fabric has escalated.

&dquo;Why, I&squo;ve seen cloth five dollars a yard,&dquo; she said, aghast. Hence, she has narrowed her scope of fabric down to sheets and sale-priced remnants. Her first visit to Mary Jo&squo;s Cloth Store in Gastonia will be a mind-boggling experience, her new sewing sisterhood has declared.

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&dquo;I tack my quilts,&dquo; she explained. &dquo;When I was a girl, Mama hung her quilts in a wood frame that she would lift up to the ceiling at night. In the daytime, we&squo;d lower the frame, you know, and we&squo;d sit along the edges and quilt with little bitty stitches.&dquo; She demonstrated with agile fingers the up-and-down sewing motions. &dquo;But now, why…, I couldn&squo;t handle that big ole frame in these little rooms of mine.&dquo;

So she &dquo;ties&dquo; the three layers of her quilts together with colorful yarn which resembles lively sprigs of grass dancing across the quilt top. &dquo;I use batting in some and blankets in others,&dquo; she explained, concerning the &dquo;padding&dquo; that goes inside a quilt. &dquo;Men like the blankets and women like the puffy feel of the batting.&dquo;

Valree has stacks of quilts which she stores in an extra bedroom and proudly shows off to visitors. She sells them at a minimal price, most on the &dquo;layaway&dquo; plan. Friends are sure to come away with small pillows which she makes just to give away. &dquo;I make these little pillows to bless people,&dquo; she shared. &dquo;I pray over each one.&dquo;

&dquo;I had a hard life,&dquo; she mused. &dquo;When I was a girl, I&squo;d get up at four in the morning, build the fire in the cook stove, milk two cows, and be in the field by daylight. I was the oldest, so I had to be strong.&dquo;&bsp; She went on to describe the heartbreak of quitting school in the sixth grade to work full-time on the North Carolina farm. &dquo;I loved school,&dquo; she reminisced wistfully. &dquo;I loved reading, especially. I just liked learning new things.&dquo;

Then she married, at age eighteen, had seven children (which she reared alone), cleaned houses for a mere pittance such as second-hand clothing for her children, and managed to get nursing credentials, the latter career at which she worked for fifteen years. &dquo;The government didn&squo;t help people much in those days,&dquo; she sighed. &dquo;My family urged me to send the six boys away to their daddy and to keep only my baby daughter.&bsp; &squo;You&squo;ll never raise that big family by yourself, Valree,&squo; they said.&bsp; But I answered, &squo;No, we&squo;ll all stay together. I&squo;ll find a way.&squo;&dquo;

&bsp;And she did. &dquo;I raised them on love,&dquo; she explained. &dquo;Sometimes the little ole things would want to buy me a present, but I&squo;d say, &squo;Just come give Mama a kiss, and that&squo;ll be present enough.&squo;&bsp; To this day, they still kiss me.&dquo; She went on, as she smiled in remembrance, &dquo;I taught them all to cook, to respect me, and to be kind. I taught them to express their love, something that was never expressed to me when I grew up. They every one grew up to be fine people.&dquo; Their frequent family get-togethers these days number about a hundred, a rewarding outcropping from those seven well-loved children.

When her fellow Landrum Quilters look at Valree Tallent, they look beyond the slightly stooped frame to the steel backbone from which many Americans like her are built. They see the feist, the doggedness, the faith, and also the humility and generosity. Her humble quilts represent more than mere cloth but harken back to the raw-boned, no-frills existence that defines an earlier America.

The Landrum Quilters say they salute Miss Valree, and all that she stands for, and they appreciate that she reminds them of their roots.

Concerning Tallent&squo;s &dquo;stalwart character,&dquo; the group says, &dquo;Of such are the Landrum Quilters made.&dquo;

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