Thursday, September 2, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail - Grandmother's Block


In the words of Marion Russell...

It was late in November before mother got us in school in Leavenworth.  This time she sent me to a Young Ladies Seminary that was conducted by a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Luther.  Mother had said, "I want you to go to a Protestant school this time.  You must not grow lop-sided in a religious way.  You have received training under the Catholics, now I want you to go to a Protestant school.  When you are grown-up you may choose for yourselves."

I was far enough advanced to attend the classes taught by Reverend Luther himself.  The lower grades were taught by Mrs. Luther.  Reverend Luther was a tall, lank man with a quantity of fair hair combed down on each side of his face that made his long features seem longer still.  At recess the pupils from both rooms would play together, watched over either by Reverend or his small, fat dumpling of a wife.  The green lawn sloped down to a white picket fence and here we gathered to play in a rough and tumble fashion at recess.

One game we loved was leap frog and the leapingest little frog of us all was Zeraldi.  Sometimes today I seem to feel the grasp of Zeraldi Mimm's hands on my shoulder; feel her warm, little body go hurtling over me.  In later years Zeraldi became the wife of the notorious Jesse James.  When newspapers all over the land were recounting, the wild, bad deeds of that Jesse, my heart would ache for his wife.  

Brother Will did not enter school this year.  It was necessary that he help mother a bit with the living.  Will was a big boy now.  He was past thirteen and going on fourteen.  He obtained employment in the newspaper office of the Leavenworth Times.  The editor of that paper was Colonel Anthony, brother of Susan B. Anthony.  Colonel Anthony became interested in my studious brother and did much to help him carry on his education.  Will said that Colonel Anthony told him that if one would always work a little harder and with determination and intelligence, no goal was too high for him.  Always Will had taken a more than normal interest in religion, although he had not been content to become a Catholic.  Yet I do remember how he was always repeating some of Father Lamy's inspired words.

Not long after our return to Fort Leavenworth mother received a telegram that her mother who lived in Orangeville, Ohio, was dying.  The message said, "Come at once."  Mother and I made ready for another steamboat ride up the Mississippi.  This time our boat was a stern-wheeler called the "Florilda."  It, too, resembled a Dutch windmill in full motion.  Mother and I were no sooner aboard than a man began running about among the passengers saying, "All those who have not paid their fares, please step up to the Captain's office and do so."  He made quite a merry song of it and pretty soon I was following him up and down the deck singing too.  I have a vivid remembrance of the boat pulling out into the middle of the turgid stream and of hearing singing from wharves along the bank.

When we were half way to Orangeville the Florilda struck a snag in the river bed.  Water began rushing in from a great hole in the bottom.  The Captain hastily disembarked all his passengers on an island mid-stream.  Then the little stern-wheeler was dragged out and repairs were in order.  I remember how mother paced up and down on that island, impatient  at the delay and anxious to be with her dying mother.  I remember how the mosquitoes feasted on us and how a fire was kept going for relief from them.  By the time we reached Orangeville death had preceded us.

A long black coffin stood on trestles in the front parlor.  Grandmother St. Clair lay there with her yellow hands folded, her wrinkled yellow face turned to the pillow as if sleeping.  We had our breakfast in the kitchen and folks kept coming and going.  They were all dressed in black like Catholic sisters, yet not one of them looked at me.  Not one of them spoke to me.  Something vital had gone from my mother's face.  Her wide eyes were grief-stricken.  I laid my head down on the oil-cloth-covered table and  wept.  If this was death I wanted none of it.

I remembered the trappers on the Santa Fe Trail and how we had wrapped them in clean sheets and sung songs over them.  I remembered how God had stood in the blue sky above us and held the two trappers in His arms tenderly.  As I let the tears run down my small nose onto the oil-cloth covered table I prayed, "Dear God, when I die let me be out on the trail, under the blue, blue sky."  Strange that I still find myself at times repeating the prayer of my childhood.  This conventional death where one sent yellow telegrams saying, "Come at once," and where folks went around all dressed in black without speaking or smiling, did not appeal to me; it still does not.  Our trip back down the river was not a happy one.  There were hours at a time when little mother did not know I was living.  Of course I know now of what she was thinking.

So four years went by in Leavenworth and I am eleven, then twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.  Long years filled with the lust of young life and with growing.  In the acquisition of more or less useless knowledge, soon to be forgotten, my childhood passed way.

The passing of Marion's Grandmother influenced my choice in this block ~ Grandmother's Block...  A simple two-color block emphasizing the contrast of Marion's pleasant childhood memories with those memories that seemed to have robbed her of her innocence.  The only cautionary item of note with this block is that you very carefully press this block because of the bias edges on the outside edges of the block.  Using some spray starch before making the diagonal cuts may help with preventing this block from getting skewed and wonky.

It appeared that Marion lost her childhood very quickly.  Her recollection of playing leap frog took me back to my own elementary school playground and the time spent playing on the monkey bars, the jungle gym, slides, teeter totter and swings.  I recalled my own days of playing jacks and jump rope.  Leap frog was never really an option for outside on the play ground because of the abundance of stickers that occupied the grounds.

What were some of your favorite games to play at recess?

Leave a comment... I'd love to hear from you!

Stay Pieceful,


Get your pattern, make your block and then share it!  Don't forget to use the hashtags #PiecesoftheSantaFeTrail #PiecesoftheTrail #PiecesoftheTrailSewAlong and tag me on instagram @MelvaLovesScraps or share to my fb page Melva Loves Scraps.  
Be sure to come back and link up your block for a chance to win a fat quarter too!

Linking with:

Scrap Happy Saturday at Super Scrappy
BOMS Away at Katie Mae Quilts
Oh Scrap! at Quilting is More Fun Than Housework
Sunday Stash at QuiltPaintCreate
Patchwork & Quilts at The Quilting Patch
Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt
Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts
Mid-week Makers at Quilt Fabrication
Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter


  1. Kick the Can was a big favorite for us. We also played a game on the slide (those old metal ones, you know) that we called Push Me Pull You, I think? The first one would slide down, then stay at the bottom, the next would slide down, legs over the side, to bump into him/her, and the next would do the same, etc. until we could successfully push that first one off the slide. We found it highly amusing.

  2. The merry go round always made me sick. Every year, at least once, I’d have to prove that theory was still correct. Red Rover was a favorite game. But I also remember playing jacks and jump rope. It was a requirement that all girls wore dresses. I did not play on the monkey bars. My mom told me to stay off of them and I listened. It was a popular place for the boys to hang out.

  3. I like your reasoning in choosing this block. What a treasure these notes are.

  4. Thanks for another pretty block and book excerpt, Melva. The only game I remember playing at recess was Red Rover, but I'm sure there were others! Oh, Simon Says was one too!

  5. That is such a poignant excerpt. I'm amazed at the depth of feeling contained in her simple words. I like her mother's attitude toward religious choosing. That is a pretty block, and I might give it a try. But I see a caution for "skewing" and I know I am susceptible to that!
    We used to play Red Rover, and I always felt so happy when someone would choose me.

  6. What an interesting block! I was fortunate to have great playgrounds at recess - lots of swings, monkey bars, teeter totters and plenty of space to run around and play tag.

  7. What a pretty block! Great tribute to those more innocent times. Thanks for sharing on Wednesday Wait Loss.

  8. Great block, thank you for sharing!

  9. Almost forgot to link up again, but here it is.