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My grandfather served in the Army in the Great War. His letters basically consisted of vague travelogues. At one point he gave me his horse’s gas mask, which led me to assume he was in the cavalry. Hard to imagine, frankly. He gave me his letters as well. Years later, when I was in my twenties and wanted to know more about his experiences and what these letters meant, he teared up re-reading them, and said he wanted them back. Of course I said yes. But he did not then, nor at a later date, tell me a damn thing about those letters, where he was, what he thought about his experiences. The letters disappeared after his death – either my Uncle Jim or my sister has them, and I assume they are still a mystery of time, place, and circumstance. Not at all unusual for a war-time experience.

Jumping ahead to my real topic: For all the years my family visited on the holidays, he and my grandmother had an odd piece of embroidery on the wall of the living room.  It was in an odd frame, with glass on the back and on the front. There was an old photograph stuck in the back side. Here are the photos I took. I hope they embed correctly:

Flour Sack Embroidery Back
Well they didn't, not as I planned, but they are both available, and maybe somebody can tell me how to fix them.

Most kids, I assume, accept things in their grandparents’ houses as just weird old stuff. I sure did. My grandmother’s hobby was embroidery, and she gave my first project when I was 10. I worked on it diligently both at home and even at school (and started a minor fad – the only time in my life I was a leader of cool), and when I finished it she had it framed for me. This is basically an aside, to emphasize that this odd piece of embroidery in the double-glassed frame was one of many pictures and pillows that my grandmother had in the house that some long-ago ancestor, or she, or my mother, had sewn at one point.

This piece, as it turned out was different, and not just because it was two-sided and had a photo stuck inside the frame. This piece was not sewn by an ancestor at all.
My grandfather, as I said, fought in the Great War, ultimately known as World War I. He traveled throughout Europe, (not as a tourist, although the aforementioned letters could have given that impression), and ended up in France. There he was befriended by a French woman, who I came to understand was closer to his mother’s age. I have always wondered whether she had a son lost to the war who resembled my grandfather.

This French woman struck up a correspondence with my grandfather’s mother Libbie, and they were pen pals for many years. During the rough times after the war, when the American sent relief supplies, Libbie’s pen pal (yes, the French woman who befriended my grandfather) was fortunate enough to acquire a sack of flour. She thought the burlap sack was beautifully printed, and when she and her family finished using the flour, she embroidered every marking in the correct color on both sides of the sack, eventually sending it to my Grandmother Libbie. Libbie had it specially framed,, so both sides can be admired. She continued the correspondence, and at one point the French pen pal actually came to the US to visit Libbie. That was when photograph was taken and printed. The pen pal wrote a note on the back of the photo, and the photo was stuck in the frame with the embroidered flour sack.

My mother inherited the family treasure from her father, and passed it along to me many years later, because I am the only one of her children who embroiders for a hobby.

So here it is: a tribute to my grandfather, to my great grandmother, to the pen pal, and to the art of embroidery. One day I will try to decipher the note on the back of the photo in order to track her down, her name, her background. Maybe I can contact her great grandchildren, and reconnect this century-old relationship. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Originally posted to mww01833 on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 05:04 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Genealogy and Family History Community.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How totally cool! (12+ / 0-)

    That is such a treasure and you are very lucky to have it.  :-)  Thanks for sharing it with us!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 06:09:08 PM PDT

  •  I love this kind of history. (6+ / 0-)

    That's an amazing piece. Thank you!

    The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.

    by bastrop on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 08:02:21 PM PDT

    •  The photos don't do it justice. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's my favorite family story. Imagining my grandfather as a young man, a soldier no less, getting through a nasty war and ending up with a years-long relationship. So cool.

      Thanks for your observation. I completely agree!

      For every occasion there is a song, and for every song, an occasion.

      by mww01833 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 05:24:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When I was small, (6+ / 0-)

    I was helping my grandmother hang clothes in my grandfather's closet, and I remember seeing a large folded fabric piece stored on the shelves. I must have asked, because I remember her telling me that is was a quilt top her mother had. It was, at least at a glance, dark and brown and homely.

    Eventually, it came to me, and stuck away in a box for many years. Then came the day that I was organizing things, and there it was. Unfolded, it held a spectacular array of fabrics and stitches of many varieties and colors, a proper crazy quilt with the great, great grandmother's name embroidered over the year '1892', not long after that lady came to Texas from Ireland.

    I love fabric, and I especially love it when it has a story, as yours does. Thank you for sharing that!

    Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

    by postmodernista on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 08:38:51 PM PDT

    •  How wonderful! (0+ / 0-)

      My grandmother also quilted, in the most basic way of sewing together bits of cloth to make pillows and blankets, but embroidery was her gift to me.

      Fabric art is very delicate and often does not survive the destruction of humidity & temperature changes, much less the obvious stress of being well loved and constantly used.

      Your crazy quilt is a treasure beyond measure! Thank you for your story and for sharing your thoughts - lovely!

      For every occasion there is a song, and for every song, an occasion.

      by mww01833 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 05:32:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fun Read. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks and happy hunting.

  •  Nice diary, sister o' mine! (0+ / 0-)

    I have known about that burlap sack almost as long as you have, but you have provided details here I didn't know before.  Thank you!

    To everyone reading this, I need to say that my sister has embroidered a number of beautiful pieces.  She made a sampler for each of her three daughters, she fearlessly tackles projects our grandmother left undone, and she has encouraged me in my efforts as well.

    I can still picture her working on her first piece of embroidery, and the sentiment she stitched has remained in my heart fifty-some years later:

    Wherever you wander
    Wherever you roam
    Be happy and healthy
    And glad to come home
    I am so glad you did this, and (not for the first time) I am so pleased and proud for that mysterious accident of birth that made us sisters.
  •  caught this diary in my stream (0+ / 0-)

    ... and went back to read the others in your IIRC series--I very much enjoyed them.

    Thank you for sharing, and embroidering of an old flour sac -- making something so mundane beautiful..or is it seeing the beauty of the mundane...either way, more of should be doing that.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 09:10:15 AM PDT

    •  Thank you! You should see it in 3-D! (0+ / 0-)

      Love your thoughtful response. Life is hard, life is complicated, life is confusing, and eventually life ends in death. Seeking bigger and better thrills while missing the power and beauty of, yes, mundane things, is a kind of a premature death. The first time I heard the story was the first time I ever heard of relief supplies. Learning about the Great War, and what a horrible, deadly, awful slog it was for millions of people, punctuated by the flu epidemic -- well, I thought about the flour sack, and how desperate the life of Libbie's penpal must have been, and yet the factory imprint caught her eye, and she was inspired to make a symbol of her scary life into an tribute to her artistic eye and her needlework skill. A very special human being.

      BTW, What's a stream? How do I get one? :^)

      For every occasion there is a song, and for every song, an occasion.

      by mww01833 on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 03:49:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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