Summer, 2008

Judith Grogan-Shorb

The Tricksters' Wives Quilting Bee

The world's myths, legends, folk tales, and fairy tales are replete with stories about tricksters, how they are devious, mischievous, quick-witted, and most of all how they love irony. Many tricksters like to brag that they stole the knowledge of fire from the gods, and presented it as a gift to 'man'. How ironic that this knowledge that once helped mankind progress is the very knowledge that could destroy it.

Poor old one-toothed Ida, who lived on the middle floor of our house when I was a little one, used to tell me many stories. As mid-wife to the fairies she knew many secrets, how things came to be and how they were named. My favorite stories were those that concerned the animal tricksters; Mr. Coyote, Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Fox, Mr. Raven, and my favorite, Mr. Bear.
Occasionally, Ida and I would travel to Four Corners, a rather remote country road in Dutch County in upstate New York, on nights that the tricksters met for their weekly night out with the guys. They¹d drink all kinds of liquor, and tell bold-faced lies about their magical powers.
     "Look at the old fools, each one scrambling to get a corner." Ida whispered. "Watch them change shapes, why it¹s a wonder they even remember who they are! Sometimes they forget, and try to shape change into one another. Identity theft is a big thing among these wily creatures.

One time old Fox stole Rabbit¹s identity, but it was on the night of the great rabbit hunt and all the other foxes were chasing him. Boy, he really had a lot of talking to do to get his self out of that one.
    "They think they¹re the original shape changers. Why I learnt more from the clouds about shape-shifting then they¹ll ever know in a life time...all them, put together. Watch this."  

Ida took a deep breath, and suddenly created a Trojan Horse. The Tricksters stopped their prankstering, and headed straight toward the horse.
    "What's this?"
    "Who sent it?"  
They pulled it to the center of the cross roads, and decided that they'd put all their strength together, and rush it. At the count of three, they ran toward the horse. Just as they got there it changed into a big hole, and they all fell on top of one another.
Ida and I laughed as we watched them unscramble themselves, and then try to retake each other's corner.
     "Look, guys, this has to be our secret. Why if word got around that we fell for the old Trojan Horse trick we'd be the laughing stock of the trickster world, why our whole reputation would be shot," said Mr. Bear.

They all agreed.

     "That one's for their wives," said Ida. "I promised them I'd give the old blowhards a wee bit of a trick tonight. Their wives get tired of them going out drinking and trickstering once a week, or more if they want to. They come home drunk, why once in-a-while, they forget to change back into their original selves, and end up at the wrong house. The wives invited me to their weekly quilting bee next week, would you like to come?"  

Well, what would you say?
The following Tuesday night, after I dried the silverware and put them away, I went down stairs to Ida¹s. She had just replaced the wick in her kerosene lamp, and was sipping a fresh cup of camomile tea.

     "Are we really going to one of the Tricksters' wives' house? Which one? Are they really having a quilting bee? Grandma has two quilts that her mom's auntie made at a quilting bee, a long time ago. One was made with Susan B. Anthony. Grandma says that is where Susan started talking about voting rights for women because it was the only place she could talk without getting into trouble. Why didn't they let women vote, Ida? That's not fair,is it?"  

"No, it isn¹t fair, but I am afraid you are going to be saying that a lot in your life. Your grandma is right, quilting bees were a place where women could gather and talk as they sat around the quilting frame. Some quilts told stories, others gave directions to slaves who were escaping to the north, to freedom. Maybe they couldn't read words, but they could read symbols sewn in quilts at those bees. Are you ready to visit the tricksters' wives? Hold my hand."  
Pretty soon we were standing outside a cave covered with leaves. If you didn't know it was there, you'd never known it was there. You know what I mean. Ida rustled the leaves and Mrs. Bear answered.

     "Oh, Ida come on in. This must be your little friend you told us about. We were just sitting around this old broken down frame, and trying to finish this quilt so we can enter it in the Annual Tricksters' Country Fair. We are so annoyed at our husbands. We've been asking them to help us repair the frame. They always have an excuse not to."

     "Our den is the only place we can gather. . .with any great deal of comfort, that is. We tried the hare house. That's a joke, sorry little one, the raven's nest, the fox hole, and poor Mrs. Coyote never knows where she is going to be."  

"It is just about the best quilt we ever made, see it is the story of Tricksterhood from its very beginnings, the good, the bad. . .well you know", said Mrs. Coyote.
     "We worked so hard, this year. Each year at the fair names are drawn to see who works with whom or maybe that should be who works with what," said Mrs Rabbit.  

     "Right," said Mrs. Raven. "This is just the best possible mix. Not all tricksters' women get along as well as we do."  

     "We thought, that just this once, we could show that even though we are different, we could unite. Even if it was just for one brief moment in the shining annals of Tricksterhood," Mrs. Fox added.
     "Hmmm, I have an idea. Let's get to work. Now each of you, sew
exactly what I tell you." Ida instructed. Their needles never stopped moving, and within a few hours they were through."   

     "Oh, it is far too wonderful for words. Such needle work, I have
never seen. I promise you, your wood frame will be fixed in no time at all. Everybody go to her home and leave an urgent message on your door to come to the Bears as soon as possible."  
About an hour later we heard all this noise going on outside the den. When the male tricksters entered the cave they were greeted with a huge patchwork quilt stretched between the walls. On it was the whole story of how they were tricked by the Trojan Horse and fell into the hole.
I never heard such noise in my entire life. They pleaded and begged their wives not to show it to anyone, ever. As I recall their wives never promised anything, but I know their quilting frame was fixed, most solidly.
If memory serves me correctly, their wives won first prize in the quilting bee contest that year.