Yes, Virginia, there really was a Tuesday Afternoon Quilting group. In 1988 I had just moved back to Fresno, California after almost a decade as a seamstress on kibbutz in Israel, and that winter there was a terrible freeze. In an agriculturally based community, the suffering spreads outward, like ripples in a pond. The growers get hit, then the pickers have nothing to pick, then the packers have nothing to pack, and the stores that service the farmers and the pickers and the packers lose their customers. And it didn’t warm up very fast either. My friend Karen Lamb stomped into my house one afternoon and said, “They’ve got a sale on fleece at the fabric store on New Years Day. I’m going to buy a bunch and make a bunting for every baby who gets born in this county!” We looked at the list of births in the Fresno Bee, and I said, “I don’t think we can make that many buntings.” “Well then, every baby born in the county hospital.” I did the math. “We can’t make that many buntings.”
Karen picked up the phone and called the welfare office. “If somebody came in and applied for welfare and you decided that they needed it but it was going to take a few weeks to get the paperwork through, but the babies needed warm clothes right then, what would they do?” And, because this was Karen and not somebody else, the welfare lady didn’t blow her off. She said, “We would give them a note, and they could go to Catholic Charities Thrift Shop and take whatever they needed at no cost.” “Just on the basis of that note?” “A note from a social worker or a minister, that’s our arrangement with Catholic Charities.” So then Karen called Catholic Charities and they confirmed the arrangement. “And if,” she continued “we were to bring some new baby quilts, would you put them aside and only give them to the people with letters, but not sell them to people who were just shopping?” I held my breath waiting for the obstructionist bureaucratic mindset to kick in. “What a nice idea! God bless you!” And we pulled out the scissors and started to work.
Our group gradually grew to include Gail and Kathie and Jayne. In the early 90’s Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization to which Gail and I belonged, organized a shipment to break the siege of Sarajevo, and they put out the word for everyone to collect blankets and drugs. Blankets? You came to the right place. Half a dozen Hadassah ladies joined our group temporarily, and we formed an assembly line. We had eighteen quilts ready by the deadline, and Kathie knit half a dozen wool sweaters. In the end, Hadassah’s shipment was the only one that arrived safely without being captured by bandits.
For twenty five years we cut and sewed and tied off and bound the edges, shared our joys and shared our sorrows, drank endless cups of tea, and made periodic runs down to Catholic Charities with the fruits of our labors. My two younger kids finished high school and went back to Israel to do their army service, married, started families of their own, and as we approached retirement age, my husband and I decided to sell our business and our house and go too.
Once I had figured out how to navigate the streets of Rehovot, I decided to write a book. “Write about what you know,” they always say. So I wrote about the Tuesday Afternoon Quilters. But, prodigious liar that I am, I lopped quite a few years off everyone’s age and, abra cadabra, made Karen into a detective. And the Tuesday Afternoon Quilters live again.