Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “February, 2016”



When my older son was two, and ready to move from his crib, I made him a quilt for his first Big Boy Bed.  It was a simple nine-patch design in bright primary colors of calico, hand-tied with yellow yarn in the center of each square, and it stayed on that bed upstairs until the day when his daughter was in her turn ready for a Big Girl Bed.  It migrated to a new locale and a new generation.

When my grand-daughter  K was four the quilt was shredding from much use.  She and I went to a fabric shop and bought pink and purple fabric of her choice to patch the worst of the wear.   I cut the fabric into heart shapes and sewed the patches on by hand.

A few weeks before Christmas I got an email from my son.  “K asked me last night, ‘Do you think Grandma would make me a new quilt?”  Even heart-shaped patches had not managed to extend the life of the old one past an additional dozen years. 20160214_174750web

I called K and asked if she had a color preference (“My room is blue, but it looks cold – I like deep reds and purples” ) and if she had an idea about floral prints vs stripes vs solid colors. (“You choose, Grandma – you have good taste.”) Warmed by the compliment from a fastidious 16-year-old, I plunged ahead, setting expectations not for a Christmas delivery, but maybe by Valentine’s Day.

 It had been some years since I had thought of making a full-size bed quilt.  Walking into Eddie’s Quilting Bee was like entering Ali Baba’s treasure cave – so many beautiful fabrics and colors, in plaids, stripes, calicos, batiks, florals, oriental designs, silver and gilt overlays.  Fortunately my eye was seized and held by a stylized graphic print of flowers in shades of pink, deep red, purple, teal, and green against a dark blue background.  With this as a color template and the help of a shopkeeper who really knew her stock, I assembled an additional seven supporting fabrics. (“Isn’t that electric green a little much?”  “No, it makes the whole thing pop!”  “Is that swirl print too large?” “No, the colors are perfect!” )  I added batting – two layers, to make it cozy – embroidery floss in a rainbow of colors for tufting and tying, and was out the door, only slightly dazed by the hard cost of hand-crafting.

I took it easy.  A month later, with the help of my mother’s sewing machine, my sister who helped lay out the fabrics and sandwich the layers, and my mother’s caregivers who ironed seams and tied knots along with me around the dining table, it is done.  And it is beautiful.

Teen bed

Teen bed

February 13, 2016 – D-day (for delivery) She loves the quilt!  And it looks great in K’s room, for a nano second. ( Within moments it was almost invisible under the teen-age accumulations of stuffed animals and pillows.)

20160214_174733webAlmost immediately a new challenge : my 7-year-old grandson asks, eyes alight, “Can I have K’s old quilt?” But it is faded and worn to tatters.  Can any of it be salvaged? Let’s see what a doting grandma can do.


Read This Book (Los Altos Town Crier, Feb 3, 2016)

Imagine a dolphin swimming through the ocean depths, and suddenly becoming aware of the water’s being salty – something it had never noticed in the environment surrounding it every day – something it had taken as a universal fact. Then imagine that dolphin struggling with the concept of fresh water.
That would be something of the way I felt on reading Between the World and Me, Ta- Nehisi Coates’ award-winning exposition on what it is like to be “black” in America.51nX2wGTFXL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_[1]
It had never quite gotten through to me, despite reading a fair number of books by African and Afro-American writers, that the concept of “race” which so permeates our society is almost a uniquely American idea. Other societies also make distinctions by skin color, preferring light-colored skin over dark-colored skin in their ideal of beauty, but only America makes the abrupt unilateral distinction between “black” and “white” which places a segment of our citizens irrevocably on one side of a chasm which the rest of the citizens do their best to ignore.


Coates refers to “those who believe they are white” to remind us that pink, peach, ivory, yellow, honey, or copper –colored skin is no more “white” than tan, chocolate, coffee, or ebony – colored skin is “black”. He tells us that racism is part of our American heritage, the dark side of the Constitution, Mt. Vernon, and Monticello. And he offers no suggestion of how to rid our society of this pervasive poison.
My parents grew up in Salt Lake City Utah. Until they were in their twenties and moved to the Bay Area, they had few ideas about race, as they had seen almost no African Americans in their lives thus far. Ironically, their innocence was a direct result of the Mormon Church’s deep-seated racism of the time, a doctrine which identified black skin as being “the mark of Cain” and excluded anyone with this taint from participation in Mormon society.
When my parents moved to East Texas, with two small children in tow, they entered a segregated society, complete with water fountains labeled “White” and “Colored”, separate waiting rooms for “Negroes” at the train and bus stations, segregated schools, and a shantytown. They did their best to keep us innocent, but racism was in the air. My parents almost never resorted to physical punishment, but I can remember my mother slapping my 5-year-old sister for hollering The N Word out the car window at a passerby. I knew what The N Word was about years before I had a clue about The F Word.
Decades later segregation is officially gone, and everyone drinks from the same water fountains. But Coates’ book opened my eyes to the constant and enduring presence of the idea of race in our American lives. Last month’s headlines about the lack of “black” actors and directors in the list of Oscar nominations could be understood only in American newspapers. The “Black Lives Matter” protests could only have caught fire in a society that accepts an artificial distinction between “black” and “white”.
If a dolphin discovers that the water he has been swimming in all his life is toxic, he has no choice – he has to keep swimming in it, even though it poisons him. Coates offers no easy fix” to our deep-seated beliefs about race . But perhaps as he makes us aware of the poison we breath in with every headline, we can somehow purify our toxic environment, thought by thought, word by word, deed by deed. Read this book.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: