Piecing together family ties

As a gift for mother, siblings track down relief sale quilt she worked on

Mar 30, 2015 by

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My mom loves to sew. When she was only 8 or 9 she begged her mom to teach her to use the sewing machine. She sewed all her clothes while attending high school in Henderson, Neb. She even sewed her own wedding gown, as well as mine and my older sister’s. They were all gorgeous.

Siblings Lois Wollman of Freeman, S.D., Karen Franklin of Wichita, Kan., and David Epp of Hillsboro surprise their mother, Rosella Epp of Hillsboro, second from right, with a beloved quilt. — Karen Franklin

Siblings Lois Wollman of Freeman, S.D., Karen Franklin of Wichita, Kan., and David Epp of Hillsboro surprise their mother, Rosella Epp of Hillsboro, second from right, with a beloved quilt. — Karen Franklin

A few years ago my parents, Norman and Rosella Epp, retired from my dad’s family farm near Hillsboro, Kan., and moved into town. Now that they lived only a few blocks from the church, my mom’s favorite hobby became quilting with other women from Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church.

Each year they would make a quilt to be sold at Mennonite Central Committee’s relief sale in Hutchinson. Each time they worked tirelessly to piece a beautiful quilt that would bring a lot of money for the charity.

Last year my mom especially liked the fabric combinations chosen for the project. The deep plums and sage greens were offset by natural tones and accented by a spicy salmon. The log cabin pattern was one of her favorites. This one was called “spinning logs” because the log cabin block was given a quarter turn for a pinwheel effect.

“I think it’s the prettiest quilt we’ve ever done,” my mom told me. I wished I could buy it for her but knew it would be way out of my price range. All of the women from mom’s quilting group were excited to see how much their quilt would sell for.

On the day of the sale, some quilts brought thousands of dollars. One set a Kansas rec­ord of $12,000. But when the one my mom worked on was up for auction, no one bid at first. Joyce Thiessen, who had worked on the quilt, got it for $500.

More complications

The relief sale day was the kind of gorgeous spring day in Kansas that you know you’d better not waste. So after returning home my dad decided to help his friend do a little light farm work. Unfortunately, while washing tractor windows, my dad fell and broke his hip. Thoughts of quilts were pushed far from our minds. Dad needed surgery and spent several weeks in the hospital, then rehab, then a skilled nursing facility.

When things finally settled down with my dad, and I learned who had bought the quilt, my mental wheels started turning. Wouldn’t the quilt be comforting for my mom while she was alone at home? The price the quilt had sold for was still more than I could afford. But maybe my siblings and I could buy it from the woman who had bought it and give it to mom for Mother’s Day.

I called them, and they agreed. My brother, who still lives in Hillsboro, said he would get in touch with Thiessen.

I had a day of panic, thinking she might have promised the quilt to one of her daughters. I encouraged my brother to call that night. He did, and she graciously agreed to sell the quilt.

We knew dad would want to be included, so we planned to give the quilt to mom at the nursing home where dad was staying. However, he responded well to therapy and was released sooner than we expected.

A perfect match

We three siblings gathered at mom and dad’s house. We told them we were celebrating dad’s first day back. When we brought the quilt out and presented it to mom, she stood speechless.

“Do you recognize that quilt?” my dad asked.

“Of course. I thought it was the prettiest one we’ve ever made,” she said.

“We bought it for you,” I told her.

“But someone else bought it,” mom said, disbelieving.

“I know. We bought it from her,” I said. “Happy Mother’s Day!”

I couldn’t hold back the tears as I hugged her tightly.

We took the quilt to their bedroom. The sage green walls matched perfectly with the quilt.

“Mom, I think if we went to the paint store to pick out a color to coordinate with this quilt, this is the color we would choose,” I told her.

We fixed their bed and made it ready for them to sleep in that night. They would be able to enjoy it together on the first night of Dad’s homecoming.

Like it was meant to be.

Karen Epp Franklin lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband, David, and their three children.


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