The quilt sits upstairs in the lighthouse at the Ridges Sanctuary along the shores of Lake Michigan.
It’s not really a lighthouse. The Range Lights, as they are known, are two buildings 930 feet apart that, together, function as a navigation tool to guide boats through the nearby Baileys Harbor.
From the website: “From the water, a sailor got ‘on range’ by vertically aligning the white light in the Upper Range Light, which shone at a height of 39 feet above the water, with the Lower Range Light’s red beacon, fixed at 22 feet above the water.”
Built in 1869, the lights are on the National Register of Historic Places, and they are the only lighthouses of this design that are still on range and functional in the whole country.
Since 1935, the land around the range lights has been designated parkland, which is why most people visit the Ridges today.
That’s why I was there in December, when our tour guide opened the Upper Range house for us to explore. Most of us headed up the narrow wooden stairs to the top floor, but en route, I got waylaid by this unsuspecting piece of folk art sitting on the bed.
Sandy Miller, who manages the range lights with her husband, Ed, said that the quilt is on loan from one of the Ridges’ docents, whose husband’s grandmother made the wool quilt.
This ancestor, Emilie Runge, was born in Austria in 1859 before her family immigrated to the U.S. She lived in Sauk City near Madison, where she died in 1935. The family believes the quilt was made in the early 1900’s when crazy quilts were hitting their peak popularity. “Everything was put to good use in those days, one way or the other,” Sandy says.
After having done all that feedsack fabric research over the winter for my own ancestor quilt, I can tell you that this quilt definitely pre-dates the one Esther made that I finished a few months ago.
This quilt is made with wool and corduroy, silk and linen fabrics pieced together without a pattern. A thin string — possibly reused from the string that sealed those feedsacks — is what the quilter used to tied the quilting together with the batting.
Emilie tufted this quilt more than a hundred years ago, and although I didn’t know her name when I stumbled upon the quilt, I felt her presence like a bolt of lightening and it stopped me in my tracks.
These electrifying experiences are happening more than ever. It’s like past jumps into the present and startles me, a haunt in a spook house shaking my bones to say “pay attention!” Like a satellite receiving signal. A spiritual download hitting my hard drive.
I don’t have to understand why these moments happen, but I do feel a responsibility to take special note when they happen. Writing helps me process them, and sharing those pieces helps me feel like I’m not so alone.
When I was working at the Statesman, I always said my mission was to help people feel like they aren’t so alone. I would always add, “in the kitchen,” but I really meant, “in their ever-changing lives.”
Now I can see that I write the kinds of stories I write so I don’t feel so alone, too.
That quilt might sleep alone, but it’s not alone. Not when someone on the other side of the country is still thinking about it and the woman who made it so many years ago.
Happy May, readers! This is one of the most special times of year for all kinds of reasons, and we’re kicking the month off with a bang.
First, a story I wrote about donating the Statesman Cookbook Collection to the Cookbook Cafe is running in the newspaper on Wednesday! I few weeks ago, I wrote on The Feminist Kitchen about my date with Kitty Crider, and over the weekend, our beloved hometown newspaper published a longer freelance story I wrote about the books in the collection and why we felt so passionately about making sure they had a forever home.
This is the first story I’ve written for the Statesman since I left last June, and it feels like such a healing process to both donate those cookbooks and publish on the platform that helped me find my voice as a writer.
Now, of course, I continue that practice on this website, and I’m so grateful to readers who have signed up to receive these stories in their inboxes each week. It’s been a slow process to convert print readers into digital ones, and although I don’t think I’ll ever reach as many people through The Feminist Kitchen as I did through the food section, my spirit is stronger now than it was then, and that’s how I’ll be able to continue writing for a long, long time.
The second piece of news is that I have two freelance stories publishing in Texas Co-op Power in coming months, and I’ll be head down over the next few weeks trying to finish them. I’m also writing my first forward for a book and hosting a number of tarot parties for Mother’s Day and helping the kids wrap up their school year.
And did I mention we’re going back to Costa Rica? My cousin is getting married in a few weeks and, God willing, we’ll be there to celebrate with him.
SO, I hope you all can get out and enjoy this beautiful weather and this beautiful, if busy season. (I think May is rivaled only by October as the busiest month of the year.)
Remember that May is a threshold, a birth canal, a gate to a secret garden, that we’re all walking through, together, so please be kind to yourselves and others.
Take good care and thank you for your support,
P.S. I made this post free for all my subscribers because I really want to get the word out about the cookbook collection at the Cookbook Cafe.
If you’re a free subscriber, I hope you’ll consider trying out the paid version! I included a link for a free 7-day trial so you can read the full archive for a week and see if it’s for you. At $6 per month, each paid subscription helps me write independently and publish directly to readers without seeking advertising or corporate sponsorship. Thanks for considering it!