“My Aunt Peg”
By Trudy A. Martinez
How do I describe my Aunt Peg? I have difficulty finding enough adjectives. She once told me, “God broke that mold when I was born.” She was born on April 19, 1917 to her parents: Blanche Jones and David Smith. I think she was right–the mold was broken–because the Aunt Peg I knew was one of a kind.
Of course, she was always right! She said, “It’s my parents fault!” And when I asked her what she meant she said, “Anytime you put a blank-ka-de-blank Smith with a blank-ka-de-blank Jones–you’re bound to get something unusual!” And unusual she was! She made a lasting impression on everyone she met and I know she did on me.
In preparation, I was going to share a few moments with a collage of pictures. I needed something to put the pictures on. At first, I thought I’d use one of Peg’s quilts–but I didn’t want to take a chance of messing up one of her masterpieces. So I got into this box Aunt Peg had shown me that had some sample patterns she had fixed so I’d be able to figure out how to put them together. Beautiful Patterns–but they were put together where everything fit together perfectly–uniform like–you know what I mean?
But as Aunt Peg always said, “You can’t put a square PEG into a round hole.” The perfect patterns were Aunt Peg’s creations–Aunt Peg was not perfect. So I certainly couldn’t fit MY AUNT PEG on a uniform pattern–She’d look out-of-place!
So I dug to the bottom of this box, there I found–I found these unusual little squares that Peg made–they didn’t match–yet they did–what I mean–is the squares didn’t match each other–but when I sewed them all together–they matched my Aunt Peg! –as a result I had a peculiar quilt! I think she’d be proud–that the first quilt I attempted represents her life.
Those bunch of squares looked like they were put together without rhyme or reason! There are still rough edges on the quilt. But I think you’ll agree: My Aunt Peg had a lot of rough edges! The lines go every which way—in all directions. Her life did the same. I was asked what my Aunt’s occupation was. I couldn’t answer that question with one answer. Because in her life time, she had many occupations:
She told me once–she drove a one of those big trucks. The owner of the truck wired four by four’s to pedals, so her short legs could reach them. Texas had both wet and dry counties. She attempted to make them all wet by running bootleg in that truck over those county lines. I didn’t believe her. But her dad, my granddad, confirmed it.
She worked on the assembly lines during world-war II, making radios.
She drove a greyhound bus across the United States.
She sang in a Nightclub. Her favorite song was “Peg of my heart I LOVE YOU!”
She was a hairdresser.
It was 1936 when my mother and Aunt Peg’s life were thrown together. As my mom tells it, Peg thumbed (hitchhiked) her way back to Texas. When she got to Texas, she got Don Mac Kennzie’s (her second husband) Open Top T Model Ford, one of those one-seat-jobs with the rumble seat in the back and NO TOP, picked up my mom, and headed for California. To make a long story short, the highlight of their trip took place somewhere outside of San Diego on a hill or mountain with an elevation of 6,000 ft. It was freezing cold. And it was Middle-of-the-night. The brakes on the car went out. Peg, as stubborn as she was, was determined to make it down that hill, brakes or not. So she took my mom’s quilts and threw them over mom’s head, telling her to keep her head down and then she took off down the mountain without any brakes. That was only the beginning. Aunt Peg ran without brakes ever since.
The diagonal pattern that extends top right corner of the quilt to the bottom left corner represents her travel through life.
Very few of her occupations were rewarded with money. And very few squares in the quilt have the money green color. However, the PEA GREEN color (as she called it) can be seen through out the quilt. This color represents the occupations she took on without reward and the outward-stretched lines of the diagonal pattern represent her giving nature:
1. She was a Nurse. She cared for her sick mother, My Granny Blanche, for years–until she died in 1957 at the age of 63.
2. She was a relief mother to my mother, Nellie De Juan. The only vacation my mother ever got was when My Aunt Peg hauled all four of us monsters off with her for the experiences of our lifetimes.
The experiences we had on those trips could fill a book. Once, (and only once that I can recall) I gave her some problems. It all started with her sticking up for me and being protective of me like a mother hen. But My Aunt Peg, with her colorful speech and fiery eyes, got herself arrested for being drunk and disorderly when all she had had to drink was coke-a-cola–and it was my fault! My granddad let her sit in jail for a day to cool off, for fear she might kill me. On the way home that same trip, she stopped at a greyhound bus station, bought a ticket, and put me on it, thinking I was headed for home. However, that didn’t happen. The bus broke down, leaving me stranded in Las Vegas for eight hours. And when I finally got home–my mom had moved. It took me two days to find her. And then the feathers flew–I’m not going to go into what happened to me and My Aunt Peg when my mother got wind of it.
3. She was a seamstress and dressmaker. Every year a few weeks before school started, we all went to Aunt Peg’s and Granny’s. There Aunt Peg, cut and sewed our entire wardrobe for the coming school year. On one of those trips Granny told me, “Your Aunt Peg is all bark and no bite! She yells and hollers to keep control.” She said it had something to do with her being so short. Her brother, my dad, was 6′ 4″ and yelling and screaming kept him at arm’s length. And we were getting so big she was scared we’d clobber her someday the way he did. Granny, without Aunt Peg’s knowledge, egged me on to get her down in a hammer hold and make her say uncle. When I did, my Granny laughed so hard–I thought she was going to keel over and die laughing. However, now that I had her pinned, what was I going to do? I couldn’t get up for fear of death. You would have thought I had pinned a sailor who had been out to sea too long. Aunt Peg’s voice got hoarse before she said UNCLE–I still didn’t let her up until she promised she wasn’t going to kill me and I didn’t EVEN then –until she started laughing.
4. She was a teacher. My Aunt Peg and Granny had their own chickens in her backyard in Los Angeles. It was quite a sight to see her chase the chickens around the yard. I didn’t watch the rest. Then she brought the chicken in the house, minus its head, plopped it in a pan of boiling water, and told me it was my job to clean it. I plucked the feathers. I managed that feat and I thought I was through. However, Aunt Peg said I wasn’t. I had to clean it too. All my excuses: “I’m only nine (9)” “Get my brother–he loves to do gory stuff”, failed. She stood behind me–I cried–but I cleaned the chicken, pulling out an egg I quenched and said, “There’s an egg in here,” and Aunt Peg replied in her colorful manner: “Where did you think a blank-ka-de-blank egg comes from?” With this experience and many, many others, she instilled in me this feeling that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it.
The words “I can’t” were not in her vocabulary. Even though she only completed the eighth grade, she was not handicapped because of her lack of education. She was her own teacher. She taught herself through trial an error. She could repair a car better than most men–if she wanted to. My Granddad use to call her “His little grease monkey”. Her brother relied on her to fix his car when it broke down. She had said, “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was born with a wrench in my hand.”
5. She was a gardener and farmer. She loved flowers and plants of all kinds. Her favorite flower was the “Poor Man’s Orchid” (Iris). She was never rich with material wealth. When she lived in the country side of Guadeloupe, California, we located her house for the first time by her fence of “Poor Man’s Orchid’s”. Pete said, “We’re here–this is got to be your Aunt’s!” He was right!
6. She Leather tooled. She made wallets, purses, belts, watch bands, and the like. You had to be special to receive a gift made by her. She did beautiful work. She was an Artist.
7. She was a Quilt maker, self-taught at the age of 55. Her quilts were as unique, as she.
8. She was my Aunt.
Her life went in all directions, just as the lines of the unfinished quilt. She had a zest for life. She learned to ride a motorcycle along with my Uncle Chris late in life after she moved to Ridgecrest because of her health in 1974.
As you can see by one of the pictures on the quilt, she also attempted riding a Go-cart.
She’d try anything once. Those that knew her knew how generous she was: She would give you the shirt off her if you needed it.
The gingham checks represent–the little bit of country that will always remind me of her. The bright colors and flowers represent the way she lived her life and her colorful and flowery speech she shared with those who didn’t want to do things her way. The red represents her fiery temper.
Even in her death, my Aunt helped me. I was having problems describing her, until I put her little block pieces together and let the pieces she left for me, unknowingly, do it for me. The quilt describes her best–it is unique, just as she was.
In the hospital, when she was stripped of her speech because her vocal cords had been paralyzed from the respiratory tube down her throat, I had an opportunity to communicate her needs for her. I told her to mouth her words and I would read her lips. I told her to go slow because I was rusty. She did. I repeated her words, she nodded. Then I asked her a question–I don’t remember the question, but I’ll never forget the answer. I was speaking her words out loud to ensure what she said was what I was reading from her lips. I asked the question. And she mouthed “Hello”. I said, “Hello”. Her facial expression expressed a question mark. And my sister-in-law, Emily Marquez started laughing and told me she did not say “Hello”–She said, “Hell No!” I turned to My Aunt Peg and said, “That’s not fair, you have to use words that are in my vocabulary.” And Aunt Peg nearly choked to death from trying to laugh.