Soul Rain ... Kelli Sorg

a little rain refreshes the soul

Tag: Kentucky (page 2 of 2)

life at the “tips of our fingers”

 

When the Princess coal mine closed, the little town of David, Kentucky was devastated.  The income of the families in that secluded, mountainous part of the Kentucky had depended on the mine for the majority of their family budgets. It was a bleak outlook for any of the miners to find work anywhere close to home.

In the magnanimity that is characteristic of the Catholic Church, the St. Vincent de Paul Society stepped in to do what they could to relieve the poverty of the area.  But they brought much more than second hand clothing and a soup kitchen.  They brought an enterprising young nun who had a brilliant idea.

She put her sewing machine in the back of her little car and went up and down the hills and hollows, reaching out to the women who were a forgotten, suffering part of this tragedy that was being repeated across the coal mining country.

Pulling up outside a mountain cabin, she ingratiated herself with the women. It’s a mountain tradition that you stop outside the fence and holler hello before you march right up to the front door.  I can imagine the questioning, suspicious looks that young lady must have gotten as she stopped by to visit with the “woman of the house” But she wasn’t daunted by their initial distrust of strangers and new ways.  She used her sewing machine when she could, when the cabin had electricity.  She taught them to use the machine but more and more she was astounded by the creativity of these isolated women, some of whom had never left the hollow where they were born.

The quilts they made from the fabric available to them were amazing.  Colorful, intricate, showing ability in geometry and engineering from women who had never had the opportunity to go to college, some who had never been past the fifth grade.

Bit by bit, she encouraged them out of their isolation to come down to the mission house that had been built within a stone’s throw of the now silent coal tipple.  And they came, using the skills their mothers and grandmothers had taught them to sew, to quilt, to draw and paint and express their creativity in ways that, until now, had always been just part of what they did to keep house and body together.

I came on the scene 20 years later.  “From away” as those mountain women would say.  I had seen crafts and quilts bearing their name in state park gift shops and I wanted to know more about who they were and what exactly was happening in the little town of David.

As a content producer for Kentucky Educational Television, I had a good enough reason to drive down to David from my home in Northern Kentucky.  What I eventually experienced was literally life changing for me.  It was a re-education in the things in life that are really important.

I visited David several times and eventually produced a short segment for KET (Kentucky Educational Television) about David Appalachian Crafts.  One particular memory has stayed with me and is the impetus for writing this.

One of the ladies at the shop in David was named Anna.  She told me that growing up she had wanted to be a nurse but being the youngest in a large family, there was no money to send her to school.  She had held various jobs as far away as Prestonsburg and Salyersville but was lucky to have found a place at the craft shop in David.

On one of my visits, Anna shyly showed me a three dimensional quilt she had made.  On a blue background was a lovely yellow rose, whose petals reached up from the quilt top.  I was fascinated by her work and by the creative process that went into making such a thing.

“Anna,” I asked, “How did you do this?”

“Well,” she answered slowly, “I was out in my yard of a morning and noticed that yellow rose that grows by my back fence.  It was so pretty.  And I came here and was fooling around with some scraps and I just did it on the tips of my fingers.”

I could never get her to give me any more detail than that.  She couldn’t give me any fabric yardages, folding techniques or advice about batting or pressing.  All she would say is that she did it on the tips of her fingers.

I remember hearing folk music legend Emmylou Harris say that she felt that “the living-room” had gone out of country music, that “we have all gotten so technical, so caught up in getting everything ‘right’ that the living room is gone.”

I think the same thing has happened in quilting, we have gotten so caught up in other people’s patterns and techniques and fancy sewing machines we have lost the ability to create on the tips of our fingers. It is precisely our creativity, our inspiration that makes a quilt beautiful.  Certainly a quilt made from designer fabrics, perfectly constructed according to a designer pattern is a beautiful thing but it lacks the heartfelt emotion that comes from within the quilter.

That is why I love scrap quilts.  I love the magic, the mystery, never knowing how it will turn out.  I am addicted to the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from seeing that quilt top finished. I am always surprised by the amazement that “I did that!”  It is wonderfully exciting to connect with the creativity and bounty that exists within all of us.

I have made fancy, intricate quilts and I have made simple, easy quilts that went together without much thinking but it is the patternless scrap quilt that I love the best.  It is in that kind of creation we can discover the endless well of creativity within ourselves.

Rember Me – a short story

It was a clear October day.  The kind that only comes once an autumn in Kentucky.  The trees were clothed in their brightest.  The sun and wind worked miracles of light and shadow across the treetops on the far bank of the creek.  It was a day made for poets and lovers and dreamers.  And here in the 21st century, a day made for television producers.

That is why I was here in the silence of the Kentucky woods in autumn.  I wanted to record with the technology of my time what was so good and wonderful and worth preserving.  But in spite of my best efforts, or perhaps because of them, the day was not to bring about the kind of remembrance that I hoped for.  It was to become a memorial to something else entirely, something over which I had no control.

After shooting videotape for what seemed like hours, fly-fishing in the icy waters without a caught fish to my name, I wandered away from the camera crew for a little relaxation.  I followed a once graveled road that led deeper into the hollow of hills formed by the creek.  The water ran past the side of the road and I never remember that day that it is not underscored by the music of the water.  It was a perfect sort of day, the sun’s rays cooled by the wind, little white clouds carded by the treetops.  I couldn’t have orchestrated it better myself.

Around a bend in the road, I came upon a little graveyard.  Most of the headstones by the front gate were relatively recent and bore the inscriptions to which we have all become accustomed.  The birth years ranged from the late 1890’s to the recent past.  The stones told the stories one would expect them to tell:  of old people finally being called home, of middle aged people dying of the world’s diseases and of little babies taken away from a mother’s aching arms.

The graveyard was triangular in shape. The widest part of the triangle was at the gate.  The creek formed the far boundary of the little cemetery and along the road was the other fencerow that enclosed the plot.  At the apex of the triangle stood a lone pine tree, grown large over the years.  There were no competitors around it vying for sunlight and water.  Its roots made the ground surrounding it rough and lumpy and the tree loomed large over the little weatherworn stones at its base.  It came to me, irreverently, that there was no dearth of fertilizer in a cemetery.

I wandered aimlessly from stone to stone, reading the names and calculating length of lifetimes.  It was a strangely personal experience.  This woman had been just my age, this boy the same age as my son, this man just a little older than me, or that one, just a little younger.  It came to me in that place that the lesson all graveyards have to teach us and why we so energetically avoid learning that lesson.  Life is short:  no matter how much time you have it is never enough.  Today, tomorrow or fifty years from now; the little bit of living we do, no matter how painful, is never enough.

The ground was soft beneath my feet.  Not muddy soft but unstable.  The subterranean layer was crisscrossed with thousands of more tunnels.  Every step sank into the soft grass.  It was hard not to imagine that it was not the first slide into the inner reaches of the netherworld.  Falling, falling without warning or without anything to hold on to that would keep you from tumbling into a grave ready-made for you.  But you, leaving this gorgeous, colorful, sunlit world, for you it is a grave for which you are not ready, for which you will never be ready.  Then the questions began to come to me:  Are we all drawn unwillingly into that hole?  Or is it the merciful release for which we all hope at the end of a long, long span of days?

I reached the small headstones at the base of the big pine tree.  They were really nothing more than fieldstones propped up to mark the burying hole of some long-dead pilgrim or pioneer.  They bore no mark, no names.  They were eroded from the rain and wind and weather but they had no identifying inscriptions.  The rough rocks stood as mute sentinels.

I don’t know what made me stop and drop to my knees to look closely at one small stone at the edge of the plot.  Perhaps it was a trick of the light, sunlight glancing off the back of a scudding cloud and bending down to illuminate the face of the stone.  I ran my fingers over the rock to make sure that what I was seeing was real.  My touch gave proof to the fact that there was something etched on the rock.  Just two words.  I thought for a moment it was a figment of my over-active imagination, or just simple erosion that teasingly looked like words.  But no, it was a message left by an unsteady hand countless years before.  There were no dates, no Bible verses, and no name to claim the bit of Kentucky earth.  Just two words: rember me.

The writing was fine and spidery.  The words had been graven into the limestone with a sharp object, maybe a roofing nail or another rock.  But there they were plain as day.

Rember me.  Remember me. Remember who?  Man? Woman? Child?  I do remember you.  I want to.  I want to pay homage to you in this quiet, bright glade.  Do you know I am standing here, trying to imagine who you are, what you felt?  I feel your need for immortality.  I feel it, too.  In remembering you, I make a deposit against the day that some unknown person, generations hence, stops at my little stone and remembers me.

The images rose in my mind of a young man, pale and consumptive, longing for a bit more living.  Or a young mother, giving her children one final command, asking one final thing.  Rember me who birthed you and nursed you and taught you to laugh.  I am gone now but I live still in the gifts I gave you.  Rember them. Rember me.

Coming down the road towards me, I heard the shouts of the crew, coming to call me back to reality.  There was a job to be done, memories to capture on videotape so thousands of people could see these Kentucky woods on this fall day and in some way, remember.  To remember that nature reminds us who we are and as the leaves burn brightly before they fall, so does the human spirit burn brightly at the last.  The lessons and questions of the graveyard stay with through all the days of our natural lives.  We can never fully answer the questions but they teach and remind.

Kelli Summers Sorg 2003

Sunday morning coming down

I came downstairs this morning to cold floors and frost all around outside. As a small luxury, I lit a fire in the fireplace as much for companionship as warmth. All of a sudden I was back at home in my teenage years, when we lived in the barn in Petersburg. As I sit here and look into the flames, it takes me back 30 years sitting next to the stove Wade created out of two oil drums, one on top of the other stacked long ways. That floor was concrete and those walls were galvanized steel. In those days, I would pull up a kitchen chair to tend and watch the fire and picture my future dancing somewhere in the flames.

 

Now it is 30 years later, and I have broken free. I’ve been free for years, the years it took to live into my freedom. I live in a brick parsonage with beautiful wood floors and rugs and I watch the flames from my leather armchair.  I am in the future I dreamed of then.

 

In these moments, I am visited by Sunday morning. I am visited by the way Sunday mornings used to feel. I am reading Thomas Merton’s Sign of Jonas. Merton’s ability to capture his surroundings-the Kentucky summer heat, the feel of a Kentucky springtime takes me back home. Back to the breath of fresh air as you step out of the house on the way to the car – nervous, expectant, waiting for something you know not what. All dressed up to bring your best to church. Often, I was a little hungry from my secret fasting before the Lord’s Supper.  Even then, I knew there was a rhythm, a way of being. Then later, leaving the church always wanting more but not being sure what that more was.

 

So, 30 years later. Sitting here, wearing my tortoiseshell glasses, in front of the Saturday morning fire. I am finding my home in the landscape of church leadership even as the institution of the church itself seems to be crumbling. I thought that by literally becoming part of the church, being one of its leaders, I would find the “more”. All I have found is loneliness, strategic planning and people who are strangling me, even as I tried to save them from drowning.

 

Once you get the sense of Sunday morning in your nostrils, nothing else will do. Every step is an attempt to live in the fresh air of promise, of old-fashioned holiness, in the reality of peace and love and joy and hope.

 

I used to think I could smell Sunday morning because I was a kid. I was innocent and hopeful. The world hadn’t yet completely knocked the wind out of me. I still catch a bit of that breeze as I step out of the parsonage to cross the street to the church building. I pull the door closed behind me and stand on the step looking up at the church’s huge façade of red brick and white columns. Like a horse, I sniff the air and glance at the sky. Outside the house, in that liminal space between two places,  I can smell Sunday morning in all its forms: Easter spring to winter’s cold, the heat of summer and the easing off into autumn. Being part of the historic church is living in the created rhythm of seasons of hope – Shabbat and shalom, tabernacle and festival, resurrection, and ordinary time. This is the created rhythm of life that fills us and nurtures us. It gives us freedom and structure, mystery, and plain speaking.

 

I have lived all my life hearing the echoes of a voice. I have spent years discovering the source of that voice and living, owning the voice I have been given. I have been given this voice to use now, just for a little while. Not shouting, not whispering. Saying clearly, musically, winsomely, firmly that there is hope and peace and joy, now and forever.

 

I waited patiently for the Lord and he heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bald, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.

 

More and more people are seeing this; they enter the mystery, abandoning them to God.

 

The results aren’t mine to count. All I am responsible for speaking and singing the truth and hope in every way made open to me.

 

A poem…   “A Sense of place”

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