The Quiltin' at Mis' Roberson's
One night in the Christmas week Mis' Roberson give a quiltin'. It sot in to rainin' that mornin', but I ain't never seen so sorter weather that could back down this Settlement from gwine to a party—they'd go ef it rained tadpoles an' pennywinkles.
Ever'body in the neighborhood was axed to the quiltin'; Mis' Roberson never slighted nobody, feared they'd git mad; so she axed some she didn't want.
It ain't fur to Mis' Roberson's, an' we'uns mought've walked, but we didn't want to git our Sunday shoes muddy, so Buddy he hitched up an' driv us in the wagin, an' we had a sight o' fun, fer Jinsy Whetlock was along. She lives in town, an' never had been to a quiltin' in her life.
When we got thar the house was jam full, an' it looked like thay had come to meetin' an' was a-waitin' fer the preacher. You mought've heard a pin drap, they was all so still an' solemn, a-settin' up stiff like they was afeard to move. They had benches out o' the school house set agin' the wall, an' the crowd was a-settin' on 'em as thick as biscuits in a oven, the gals all on one side o' the room an' the boys on t'other. The gals had ther heads combed slick as ribbin, an' ther faces full o' skin powders.
The ole folks was all in t'other house across the piazza a-quiltin', an' the young folks was all to theyselves a-watin' fer the fiddlin' to begin. Ef Buddy can't stir an' mix a crowd, nobody else needn't try. The minute he come, he set 'em to playin' kissin' games. He tied a knot in the corner o' his han'kerchief an' let in to hittin' Iky Roberson over the head.
"Contented, er discontented, Ike? Say quick, er I'll beat yo' till yo' tell me!"
"What'll content you?"
"Fer all han's to play 'Johnny Brown'."
"I don't want to play that!" says Sallie Lou Strong. "It's got kissin' in it, an' Maw don't 'low me to kiss."
"Well," says Buddy, "you'uns can start you up a game o' thimble over thar in the corner. All o' them that's in favor o' playin' 'Johnny Brown' till the fiddler comes, jine han's in the ring."
"I'm discontented ag'in," says Ike.
"What'll content you?"
"Fer Miss Arminty to stop quiltin' an' come out'n t'other house in here an' jine the play."
That set the whole gang to gigglin'—they knowed he was jes' makin' fun. Arminty Pendergrass is a long-neck ole maid that goes ever'whar, an' talks about ever'body, an' her tounge is the occasion of a heap o' trouble in the Settlement. Don't let her hear yo' say nothin' yo' don't want tole, fer she is sho' to tell it an' git it all twisted.
I tuck Jinsy in t'other house to see the quilt. The room was full o' women, an' dim with tobacco smoke from the pipes. Some o' 'em was quiltin', but most o' 'em was doin' more talkin' than work. Mis' Turntine was doin' some good, honest quiltin', an' was too busy to talk. She'd wax her thread, squint her eye, thread her needle, reach way over in the middle o' the quilt, then twist her mouth aroun' t'other way an' draw out her thread.
Aunt Nancy had been a-quiltin', but laid down her thimble an' set to tellin' some long winded yarn. She
begins in the middle to tell anything an' keeps goin' back to the first an' never seems to git to the end.
Gran'maw Langford as settin' up holin' her needle in her han' waitin' fer Aunt Nancy to git thu with the tale she was a-tellin', an' 'peared to be the only one that was listenin'—t'others was all talkin,' 'cept ole Mis' Pinkney, an' she was a-noddin'.
Gran'maw Slacker was a-settin' in the corner by the fireplace, the busiest one o' the gang—fixin' scrops fer another quilt. She out all the dark scrops to theyselves, an' the light ones to theyselves. She never talks when she works, but she twisted her mouth with ever' clip o' the scissors, an' she never riz her eyes from her lap. She 'lowed:
"Some folks kin talk an' work at the same time, but 'tain't me; when I works, I works."
They quilted fast an' the quilt was mos' out; they was on the last rollin'.
Mis' Roberson went to a big ole chist over in the corner, an' tuck out a big pile o' quilt tops that hadn't been quilted an' showed 'em to the crowd. She said she'd had some of 'em since she was a gal. They had been packed away so long theywas ole an' yaller an' musty.
Ever'body stopped quiltin' to look at 'em. They was made o' pieces that had been give to her, an' she could tell you who had a dress like this one an' that one, an' ever scrop put her in a mind o' somebody. She had "The Fruit Basket", "The Yaller Rose o' Texas", "The Seven Stars an' the Dipper", "The Irish Chain", "The Saw Teeth", "The Hit er Miss", an' I don't know how many more.
Ole Mis' Freshours had left the quilt kase her feet
was cold. She drawed a three-legged stool up in the corner by the fireplace an' slipped her feet out'n her shoes an' stuck 'em to the fire to warm. She was tellin' about a dream she had about the comet an' the world a-comin' to a end; an' it was so mi-racklus ever'body helt ther breath an' never so much as batted ther eyes. She had a big snuff mop in her mouth, an' as she talked she spit on the haith.
Mis' Green sot fernent on t'other side o' the fire, with her elbow on her knee an' her chin in her han,' puffin' away at her pipe. She doctors the whole Settlement on roots an' barks an' yarb-tea mixtries, an' she can't be beat fer makin' a pine pitch plaster.
She'd been tryin' to tell 'em how sick Malisy Langford was las' year with the yaller janders, an' how she had cured her with mullin tea, but nobody listens when Mis' Green talks—but she talks right on anyhow; don't seem to know it.
The filddler had come, an' dancin' was gwine on in t'other house. We could hear Iky Roberson's big mouth callin' the dance: "Balance all! Swing corners! All promenade!"
Ole Mis' Freshours is plum agin' dancin'. She crossed her knees, give a big spit o' snuff over in the fire, an' said in a religious tone:
"Ah, Laws! All them ken dance that thinks thar hain't no fire an' brimstone hereafter. Ah, Laws! I thank my stairs dancin' is one sine I won't have to account fer."
Mis' Green had jes' filled her pipe, an' lit it with a coal o' fire. She said:
"I wish I had as many dollars as I have danced till after midnight. An' I'd a sight druther my gals would
dance as to play them kissin' games; but I don't see no harm in nairy one. Too many mi-rackles is made out'n mole hills now-a-days to suit me, anyhow."
Mis' Roberson had been out to see about the supper. She come to the door an' said:
"You'uns all come in the kitchen an' git a little bite o' supper. We'll let the ole folks eat first. There's a plenty of it, sich as it is, the backbone pie got a little grain scorched, but I don't reckon it's hurt. Iky fetched a few reesins from the Cross Roads store, but they was smack an' smooth out'n candy, sold it all out fer the Christmas tree. The gals has made some out'n 'lasses, an' as fer me, I'd ruther have it."
"Me, too, Sister Roberson," says Mis' Green. "I'm sorter feared o' this here painted bought truck—it mought be pi-zen."
They had supper enough to feed twice as many folks; piles an' piles o' spar' ribs, backbones an' sassages, an' I never seen the like o' ginger cakes an' 'tater custards.
Atter supper they started another play. Made all the boys go out, an' come in one at a time blindfolded an' guess which one o' the gals kissed him. He musn't have but three guesses.
They let Bill Gooden in first, give him a cheer in the middle o' the room, blindfolded him, an' the gals all marched 'round him an' sung. Somebody kissed him loud an' run. Then they tuck the han'kerchief off'n his eyes an' he guessed three times:
"I guess Jinsy."
"I guess Sissy Tucker."
"I guess Pansy Jane Green."
"No! Take your seat."
Then they let in another boy, blindfolded him, sung an' marched 'round him, when in walked ole Mammy Hester, who lives near there, an' had come in to he'p the Roberson gals wash up dishes. She kissed him an' run. They all hollered an' laughed. Bill Gooden looked cheap, but o' course he wouldn't tell, fer misery loves comp'ny.
The boys kep' a-comin' in one at a time, an' ever' time ole Hester would run in an' kiss 'em loud, then run in the entry.
The las' to come in was Tom Davis. Tom is so big-manish, an' thinks hisse'f so much smarter than any body else, they was all glad of a chance to take him down.
"Blindfold me good," says he. "I bet I kin guess."
They marched an' sung, an' in walked ole Hester an' kissed him.
He grabbed her by her ap'on, an' held fast.
"That was mighty sweet," says he. "It's Jinsy."
Then, as he jerked the han'kerchief off'n his eyes, he said: "It's Ji—dog-gone you!"
But Hester didn't wait to hear. She lit out fer the kitchen. Tom Davis grabbed his hat quick, jumped on his mule, an' went flyin' home, leavin' the crowd laughin' so yo' could er heard 'em to the Cross Roads.
It was a-gittin' sorter late an' about time fer the crowd to break up. They had set the las' stitch in the quilt, an' tuck it out o' the frames. Sissy Roberson got it an' run in to where they was all still a-laughin' at Tom Davis, an flung it over Jinsy's head.
Then the laugh was turned on Jinsey, fer it was the sign she'd be the next one to marry.
Source: Hamilton, Betsy Ward. Southern Character Sketches. Richmond: Dietz, 1937. 24-29.
Colin Tate prepared and Nicola Hart proofread this typescript.
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