Remnants of yesteryear's quilting bees

Last Saturday I took part in the semiannual kids' clothing sale put on by the women in my neighborhood. For the past nine years a group of up to 75 women have recycled their children's clothing in this popular community event.

I unloaded my three bags of clothes and 20 hangers of dresses from the car with help from my five-year-old daughter. She had worn many of the items a short six months before, now they were too small. Even the dress she wore on the first day of kindergarten was in one of the bags.

Even more poignant were the dresses from her first year. As I laid them out, I could almost feel my daughter's baby skin against my hand. It was so difficult to part with the tangible evidence of these memories that I relented when my daughter asked to save a few items to dress up her dolls.

Women I hadn't seen since the last sale were hurrying about picking out larger clothes for their children. As we pored over the piles, we chatted, catching up on our children, volunteer efforts, and work.

We met the newcomers - those new parents who were being initiated into this rite. And we compared our finds, marveling at how some outfits had become fixtures at the playground: moving from child to child, but never leaving the neighborhood.

It occurred to me why I have rearranged my Saturdays for the past five years to take part in the kids' clothing sale. This event is the closest I have come - and probably ever will - to an old-fashioned quilting bee. The camaraderie, sense of purpose, thrift, and coming together of a community of women is all here.

The money I make selling my kids' used clothes is minimal and barely worth the effort of sorting, labeling, and working on Saturday morning.

I come to the sale for a different reason: to acknowledge time's passage and share it with my neighbors. Quilters did the same. As they bent over their needlework, patching together patterns from discarded dresses and shirts, they too recounted stories of their children and their lives.

As the sale wound down and I tore off my name tag for another six months, I realized that if I closed my eyes and listened to the voices around me, I could almost imagine myself in a farmhouse 100 years ago, stitching a quilt, meeting with my friends, and discussing my family.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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