I once lived next door to a bootlegger.
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I live in the middle of Mennonite territory. With no TV, quilting is a way of life, and financial support. When I first came to town, I lived for about a year and a half, in a boarding house, run by a New Order Mennonite woman. She bought it with, “a settlement from my husband.” Like a lady’s age, I never asked if it was through death or divorce.
It was not unusual, especially in the winter, to come home to find the table pushed over to the edge of the huge, old kitchen, and four tiddly women, – her, her mother, and two friends from up the street – a couple of empty, home-made elderberry wine bottles and four crystal sherry glasses, in front of a quilting frame.
My father used to go out for 2 or 3 hours in the evenings, Monday to Friday. Back before TV, my mother made me a quilt, all by herself, with no frame. It kept me warm in bed, in our old, drafty, hard-to-heat house. How I wish I still had it! She also used to take threadbare clothing and bed sheets, tear them in strips, braid them into a ‘rope,’ and sew it together into an oval floor mat, to keep my feet warm on cold mornings.
The old lady’s house was at the bottom of a steep, block-long hill. There was a stop sign, at a one-way street. With the main street easily visible, a short block ahead, surprising numbers of drivers just didn’t stop. We had an accident a week, and a serious accident every month.
My brother rented parking on a tiny driveway on the uphill side. He left to go home one summer Friday afternoon. He had not been gone an hour, when there was a screech, and a huge crash. I looked out my front window, to see a car parked in his spot – upside-down.
The old lady complained about having to rake, and clean leaves out of the eaves trough, from the two stout Maple trees that stood on either side of the front door. I asked why she didn’t have them taken down. She replied, “Have you seen the scars on those trees??! If they weren’t there, one of those cars would be in your bedroom.”
It was a rough section of town back then – drunks, druggies, hookers. A prospering bootlegger lived the other side of the one-way street. One evening he accompanied a good customer out to the sidewalk – just as there was another terrific car crash, only, this time, the upside-down car was deflected his way, and crushed him.
Recently, with the installation of the LRT street railroad, and urban renewal, that old, brick, century-home has been turned into a Pupuseria, an El Salvadoran restaurant serving meat-and-cheese stuffed corn pancakes. I went in one day, to see if it was worth taking the wife to, and got into a conversation with the owner. (Of course I did!)
I mentioned that I had lived across the street, a half-century before, and told him about the bootlegger and his death. A little light went on. When they were moving in, and had to clean out the basement for their own storage, there had been hundreds of empty beer, wine, and liquor bottles.
But, back to the quilts. The local Mennonites have organized a Mennonite Relief Committee to raise money for less fortunate Mennonites, especially in South America. They have a second-hand, recycling store, but their biggest money-maker is the annual spring quilt auction.
Well-to-do people come from all over the world to bid, both in person, and now, online. These quilts draw fabulous prices, especially the winner of the judging contest, which can go for $10,000 or more.
This year’s featured quilt at the New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale, Little Brown Church, has been described as a giant puzzle with more than 3,000 pieces.