In the Beginning…
By Beverly Hicks Burch
My yellow brick road began a long time ago. I was actually a young girl. It started with a splash of color…and stories of a family “castle” in a far away place.
My baby steps on the yellow brick road “around the block” were pushed along by two different women in the beginning…and others along the way. I guess it started with my first consciousness of a quilt my maternal great-grandmother made. She was my mother’s father’s mother.
Her name was Rebecca “Becky” Shaffer McGee. She was born in Middle Tennessee…Lawrence County to be exact in 1874. Becky McGee was the loving matriarch of a large family. I don’t think there was much she couldn’t do. She cooked, gardened, raised her family, was the midwife of the county…and in her spare time she quilted. As a matter of fact, I think Becky made a quilt for each one of her grandchildren, and believe me there were several because she and my great-grandfather Daniel had ten children.
Mom’s quilt was what a lot of people call a Lone Star or a Star of Bethlehem. It was wonderful, bright splashes of red, purple and yellow with a balance of black thrown in. It was almost Amish-esque. She made one of those Lone Stars for each of my Mom’s siblings, each one in a different color palette.
In my eyes, “BoBo” as she was known to her family was a textile artist and a folk artist weaving together her colors and cloth to create magic, memories and heritage for her family. She was my muse and my inspiration and the impetus that eventually lead me to pursue quilting in 1986. That was the year I embarked on my on adventures in quilting…and I am basically a self-taught quilter, with a little TLC, tips, nudges and help along the way from guilds, fellow quilters, women in quilt shops and one special neighbor who I lived next door to in Birmingham, Lola Lovelady. Mrs. Lovelady was from “up home” as she used to say, which meant Double Springs, AL and she was what I call a “salt of the earth” person. She was my “other” grandmother and a rock for me many times. She gently and creatively did many things to foster in me a desire to sew. I was in my late 20’s or early 30’s and she was in her 60’s…and we rocked!
So, quilting became part of who I am…what I do…a passion. If you are a quilter you will know what I mean when I say I can’t resist feeling and touching the fabric when I walk into a fabric store or quilt shop. I see quilt designs in everyday items and places.
Before I became chronically ill I was very active in the quilting community in Birmingham, AL…and then IT happened. Cancer…autoimmune disorders, etc., etc. I can’t quilt like I use to, but I can admire, write on occasion, and yes, still quilt…slowly, just as often and as for as long. I just have to be the little train that could…like Dorothy on that yellow brick road on the trip home.
The other push along that yellow brick road came from my maternal grandmother Lellah McMahan McGee, my mother’s mother. Her people were from East Tennessee and her mother had been an Ogle of Sevier County, Tennessee.
Lellah McMahan McGee, ca 1986 – the castle lady
Well, if you know anything about the Ogles of Sevier County, you know there were a lot of them…they were a big clan back in the Smoky Mountains and a sleepy little burg you might have heard of…Gatlinburg.
My grandmother use to tell of hearing stories from when she was young about a family castle in far away England and about knights and Sir Ogles in the family. If that’s not fanciful enough for a little girl, what isn’t? I mean all little girls dream of being a princess, right?
My grandmother’s mother was Letha Iva Ogle McMahan, daughter of Levi Evans and Nancy Ann King Ogle. Now, if you’re from East Tennessee, and from the mountains of East Tennessee and one of the mountain clans, those surnames are beginning to ring a bell. The Ogle, Husky, Clabo/Clabaugh, King, Reagan, McMahan families are were and are prevalent in the area and I’m related in some way or the other.
Great-grandmother Iva had a sister, Mary “Polly” Ogle Creswell. It seems Great-Aunt Polly was the genealogist in the family and back in the 1940’s she put together a family history for…well, the family. She had done some research, and in those days it wasn’t as easy to do as it is now…and it can be hard now! But, now we have the internet and computers to aid our research. Great-Aunt Polly put her work together, mimeographed it, “self-published”, bound it in blue construction paper and shared it with the family.
In later years, my grandmother gave me her copy and a copy of a letter from a nephew from my grandfather’s family in Middle Tennessee and that planted the seeds for a growing interest in “who am I” “where did I come from”…and “where is that castle”? Of course I knew my Daddy’s people were mostly from East Tennessee…the Hicks, Walker, Dunn, Shields, and Henry families of Blount, Greene and Sevier Counties. Then, there was a smattering of Western North Carolina thrown in there with my grandmother’s Allman family.
So, years later down the yellow brick road of my life the two family memories collided, intertwined and became hobbies and really more…sometimes they became one. How? Well, for instance when on one of those rare instances I find or see a quilt an ancestor made. It’s one of those eureka moments! Like that Lone Star my Great-Grandmother Becky made or that scrappy quilt top I have my great-aunt made…those are priceless.
Did I ever find that castle? Well, kind of, sort of. It seems there was an Ogle “castle”. The Ogle family was originally from Northumberland, England which lies close to the border regions near Scotland. It appears the Ogle family had been in England since at least 1066. At some point the Ogle family was granted the right to fortify their land by the crown. Because of their loyalty to the king and their devotion and service to their country, the Ogle family produced seven lords and 30 knights. Additionally, Sir Robert Ogle (1380-1436) married Matilda “Maude” Grey who was the daughter of Sir Thomas Grey. Matilda was a descendant of King Edward I and a distant relative of Lady Jane Grey. It’s said that many of the US Ogle descendants in America are descendants of Sir Robert, Matilda and King Edward I.
I guess it just shows ya…you never know what or who you’ll find up in those East Tennessee mountains. I just love my yellow brick road…quilts and genealogy and castles…oh, my…
© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All Right Reserved.