It's a quilt and a diary, and it's on blessed display at the Kansas Historical Museum in Topeka, on display for a thousand reasons at least. My guess is that a 150 years later--and more--no one knows much about a woman named Nancy Wright Wood any more. Even Google doesn't know she ever existed.
She kept a diary in a quilt she pieced together for years. Some of the blocks are inscribed with an awkward hand that probably says as much about her as it does her emotions when she wrote out the lines.
I couldn't do much better than this when I tried to photograph one of those squares. I can't give you the exact wording, but what is there will stick with you all day long, I promise.
At the very top is her son's name--one of her sons. She had 12 children, outlived nine of them in fact, lived somewhere out on the Kansas prairie. Two boys she gave to the war, the Civil War. Was ever a war so misnamed?
What follows is her son's birthdate--August 8, 1830, I think, and then something about his enlisting in the Federal Army. And then, just as jaggedly, the news that he was shot "Feb 16 1865" and, I think, where--Mt. Kennesaw. Historians know that two of her sons were wounded in that Georgia battle; one of them died.
It's a quilt, meant to keep loved ones warm; but it tells the chilling story of Nancy Wright Wood's life. She finished it when she was 80 years old, but the very last line of this particular block of fabric is the reason the image stayed with me all the home to Iowa. It's maybe the only line you can read easily. Look for yourself. "Oh this war" it says. No end punctuation.
What follows is an act of human courage that makes the whole thing resplendent somehow. She attached some kind of bric-a-brac, a little piece of embroidery across the square, a decoration, a smile, a determined symbol of the absolute need to endure beneath the stark and horrible news and her heartsick judgment about war.
The story is here in the quilt, just as she intended; but so is her mind, her thinking--"It needs something yet," she must have told herself. "It needs something here, something more." So she sewed in, by hand, a bit of bright orange and yellow embroidery, now faded slightly, but still smilingly beautiful.
A million people have written a billion words and thousand books about the war, but there's always more to be said, isn't there?
In this quilt she pieced together long, long ago, a woman no one knows once spilled her soul out in three words and an embroidered smile. "Oh this war" she wrote, and then added a single braid of embroidery in bright colors. It's not just her story that's here; it's her very soul.
This morning's thanks is for a square of quilt I saw yesterday. Just because it's still there in Topeka doesn't mean I didn't take it with me.