Stitch by stitch, they sewed quilts and friendships

The reason that the members of the group continued to get together was because of the close relationships that formed.

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    PATCHWORK: Edna Pickett, a member of the Patapsco United Methodist Quilters Group in Maryland, applies a stitch to a colorful pattern.
    Kyle nosal/ap
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We met our friends because of food. Almost 30 years ago during the recession of the mid-1970s, my husband, John, and I joined a newly formed food-buying club. Like many of the members, we had recently settled in the small rural town where John had grown up. The "Morning Glory" club met every other month in the elementary school's cafeteria. There, among the posters celebrating the four food groups and good nutrition, we negotiated our orders.

"I'll take another pound of peanut butter," I said, "if someone else will pick up a pound of tahini."

"I'll take the tahini," Mary said. "Will someone also order olive oil?"

About 20 households congregated on those evenings to collaborate on how many cases of tomato sauce or pounds of navy beans to order. Pregnant moms, a single dad, teachers, carpenters, and a doctor's wife all joined together so we could collectively purchase high-quality food at reasonable prices. The ordering meetings often were laborious, but dividing up the food was fun.

Two weeks later, back at the cafeteria, we stacked the plastic chairs and arranged each family's box of food. Holding distribution lists, members placed toothpaste, sacks of beans, and jars of mayonnaise in the boxes according to what each family had ordered. Usually, I sliced 10-pound blocks of cheese into smaller quantities while other members weighed chocolate chips or spooned peanut butter into tubs. The fragrance of chocolate and peanut butter mingled, filling the room with the scent of peanut butter cookie dough. As we worked, everyone shared information about new additions to the family, the loss of a job, or someone looking for a house to rent. We also revealed our interests, including my passion for quilting.

"Would you teach us how to make quilts?" a few friends asked.

"Sure. How about meeting at Linda's house next Wednesday?"

Because of the recession, none of us had much income for entertainment, so a quilting club offered us an inexpensive ladies' night out. I toted along books, fabric, and the quilts I had completed. The other women obtained scraps from their mothers. We chose a pattern and created a quilted runner that still graces someone's table during potlucks.

While sewing and quilting, we consumed pots of tea and stacks of brownies or bowls of ice cream. Just like the morning glory plant that inspired the name of our food co-op, our lives wound together and sent out tendrils that drew in other women.

At first, we created quilts for weddings and raffles, but slowly, most of the women set down their needles. The reason to gather rested not in a shared activity, but in the relationships that formed. Over the years, people brought meals to a family when a husband was ill, planted trees when a parent passed away, and celebrated children's graduations. Every other week, we still meet and occasionally we assemble a quilt for a child's wedding, but as Lisa recently remarked: "Mainly we move our forks."

I reflected upon her comment while sitting on Linda's floor, savoring apple pie, inhaling the scents of cinnamons and cloves. Although we still refer to ourselves as "The Quilters," food has been the enduring ingredient shared by this group of women who have different religious backgrounds, various economic levels, and even ages.

At the gathering, we scraped our plates, commented on Linda's perfect pie crust, and discussed our concerns about our country's economic woes. We drew our loyalty and love around us like the quilts we once stitched. All of us knew, that no matter what Wall Street brewed, in two weeks at Patty's house, the teakettle whistle would call us together. And once again, we would gather and raise our forks to the future and one another.

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