“With the support of other women you can do practically anything!” – Lynn Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon
The road unfurled before my headlights like a strand of silver ribbon, and a golden crescent moon hung in the deep charcoal sky as I drove through the countryside. I was heading to a gathering of woman to start my Thanksgiving baking.
When I arrived the kitchen was already a flurry of activity. A young married woman was delicately braiding dough into a border for pumpkin pie. Her mother, a therapist friend of mine was chopping apples for Waldorf Salad. A 38-year-old graduate student was melting chocolate in a double boiler for French silk pie. A striking red head in her sixties was talking about her work with juvenile offenders as she kneaded dough for rolls.
I found an empty cupboard in the large bright country kitchen and began unloading frozen blackberries, carefully picked the summer before, to prepare cobbler.
This gathering of women to do our holiday baking en mass was not about increasing our efficiency or upping our production rate. This night was about sharing the company of other women. It was also a time to remember the women who had come before us and whose tradition we carried on—mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters.
As a small child growing up in rural Idaho, I remember my grandmother, Emma Landon Gibbs, setting up the quilt frame in her living room for a quilting bee. Silently I would sit listening under the shadow of the latest colorful quilt pieced together from the useable patterned fabric from clothes no longer worn. As needles quickly flew up and down through the stretched kaleidoscope of fabric, the women chatted cheerily about their children, their marriages, and running their households. Sometimes the mood turned grave as concern was expressed for difficult pregnancies, premature deaths, and poverty.
It was in that company of women that I was introduced to a world where women delivered each other’s babies, nursed the sick, and prepared the dead for burial. From swaddling to shroud, women were on the front lines of life lending support. Their sisters supported their own survival, whether by blood or bond.
Now we live in a world with automatic bread makers and microwaves. Professionals deliver our babies. Our connection is loosely formed by posts on Facebook and Twitter. . . or text messages with smiley faces. Quilting is an art form more than a necessity, but I’m convinced we need the support of other women more than ever.
It was women—Brenda, Jean, and Liz, who helped me get school clothes and supplies for college. It was new women friends who gladly shared their tips about pregnancy and childbirth. It was a woman with two bashful children clinging to her legs, and a pot of soup in her arms, who welcomed us into our first home. My mother-in-law, Beth, came to stay with us when new babies arrived, taking over the care of the siblings and the running of the house.
Returning to the kitchen of communal cooking…by 1 a.m. the counter was lined with a dozen beautiful pies and a cobbler, the fridge was full of salads, the smell of fresh rolls filled the kitchen. We had talked our way through the night exploring everything from rebellious teenagers to unreasonable professors. Now we sat at the table sipping raspberry cocoa and reminiscing about the first women we knew—our mothers.
“I was so amazed at how many people were at her funeral,” one woman said, “I hadn’t realized how many lives she had touched.”
“She always used to make jokes that weren’t funny,” another said. “And then she would laugh and laugh and everyone around her would start laughing.”
“She did everything she could to make sure I had the blessing of college since she didn’t get to go,” another added.
“Her pies were perfect!”
Diving home through the dark night I felt renewed and hopeful. The gathering had been holy. In the company of other women the deep essence of my womanhood had been nurtured and fed.