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AMERICAN STORIES - The Keeping Quilt

Written by Patricia Polacco, Alice Mcgill -- Saturday, January 14, 2012 -- Views:

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Now the VOA Special English program: "American Stories". We present two stories today about people who came to America to begin new lives.

The Keeping Quilt

Our first story is "The Keeping Quilt" by Patricia Polacco. She tells the story of her own family coming to America in the 1900s. Here is Faith Lapidus with the story.

The Keeping Quit by Patricia Polacoo
The Keeping Quit by Patricia Polacoo

When my great grandma Anna came to America. She wore the same thick coat and big boots she had worn when she worked on her family's farm. But her family did not farm anymore. In New York City her father carried things on a wagon. The rest of the family made flowers out of cloth. Everyone was in a hurry and it was so crowded not like back home in Russia. The only things Anna had from her home in Russia were her cloths and the "babushka" or head covering she liked to throw up into the air when she was dancing. The dress she wore was getting too small. After her mother had sewn her a new one, Anna gathered her old dress and babushka. She also gathered Uncle Vladimir's old shirt and Havala's old nightgown and an old apron of Aunt Natasha's to make a quilt.

A quilt is a cover for a bed that is made from many pieces of cloth. "We will make a quilt to help us always remember home," Anna's mother said, "it will be like having the family in Russia dance around us at night." And so it was. Anna's mother invited all the women of the family to help make the quilt. They cut the shapes of animals and flowers from the pieces of old clothing. The edge of the quilt was made from Anna's babushka. On Friday nights, Anna's mother would say the prayers that started the Sabbath, the holy day for Jewish people. The family ate a bread called hallah and chicken soup. The quilt was on the table.

Anna grew up and fell in love with my great grandpa Sasha. To show that he wanted to be her husband, he gave Anna a gold coin, a dried flower and a piece of salt. The gold was for wealth; the flower for love and the salt so their lives would be strong and interesting. Anna was given the quilt. When they were married Anna and Sasha stood under a traditional hopper made with the quilt. After the wedding, the men and women celebrated separately. When my grandma Carle was born, Anna wrapped her baby in a quilt to welcome her warmly into the world. Carle was given a gift of gold, a flower, salt and bread. Gold, so she would have money; a flower, so she would always know love; salt, so her life would always be strong and interesting; and bread, so that she would never know hunger.

Years later, the quilt again became a wedding hopper. This time for Carle's wedding to my grandpa George. Men and women celebrated together but they were not permitted to dance together. Among Carle's wedding flowers were a gold coin, bread and salt. Carle and George moved to a farm in the state of Michigan. And great grandma Anna came to live with them. A year later, the quilt once again covered a new baby girl - Merry Allen. Great grandma Anna had grown very old and was sick a lot of the time. The quilt kept her legs warm. When Anna died her family said prayers to take her to heaven.

My mother Merry Allen was now grown up; when she left home she took the quilt with her. When she married, the quilt became her hopper. Later, the quilt welcomed to me - Patricia into the world. It covered my bed. At night I would trace my fingers around the edges of each animal on the quilt before I went to sleep. I told my mother stories about the animals on the quilt. She told me whose shirt had made the horse; whose apron had made the chicken; whose dress had made the flowers and whose babushka went around the edge of the quilt.

When I grew up I married Enzo Morrio. Men and women danced together at my wedding. In my bouquet of flowers were gold, bread and salt and a little wine so I would always know laughter. Twenty years ago I held my daughter Tracy Dennis in the quilt for the first time. Someday she too will leave home and she will take the quilt with her.

You have just heard the story "The Keeping Quilt" by Patricia Polacco. It was adapted into Special English by Karen Leggett. Now listen to a story called "Molly Bannaky" by Alice Mcgill. Barbara Klein is the storyteller.

Useful link: Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site: http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/keepingquilt.html

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Molly Bannaky

This story begins on a cold grey morning in 1683 in England. Molly Walesh sat on the stool, pulling at the udder of a difficult cow. She was a milkmaid. She had to get up very early every morning and go to the barn to milk the cow. The man who owned the cow, owned the small house where she lived, a much bigger house and all the land around. The week before the cow had kicked over the container of milk. The cook had warned Molly that she would be brought before the court if someone suspected she stole the owner's milk. That was the law.

Molly Bannaky by Alice Mcgill
Molly Bannaky by Alice Mcgill

Today, it was cold in the barn. Molly's clothing was thin. She could hardly work because her hands were so cold. But finally the container was full of milk. Suddenly Molly sneezed, the cow jumped, the container fell over and the milk flowed into the damp ground. Later that day, Molly stood before the court, accused of stealing the milk. The usual punishment for stealing was death by hanging. But the law said no one who could read the Bible could be executed for stealing. So a Bible was given to Molly and her voice ran out clear and true. Molly's punishment was seven years of forced labor in a British colony. Having no family, Molly Walsh aged 17, said goodbye to England and boarded a ship to cross the ocean.

After she arrived in America, Molly worked for a planter on the eastern shore of the colony of Maryland. She cared for her master's tobacco crops. After working for the planter for seven years, Molly was free to go. The farmer gave her a large animal called an ox and a machine to make the land ready for planting. He also gave her tools, seeds, clothing and a gun. Molly traveled to an area where not many people lived and that is where she made her home. That a woman alone should take land was unheard of, but the people living near Molly saw that she was strong. They helped her build a one-room house; they helped her harvest her first crop. But Molly soon knew she needed help working her land.

One day Molly read an announcement that a ship would be coming soon. She decided to watch the arrival of this ship, a slave ship from Africa. She watched the men walked by, one after the other. She saw the pain, anger and dishonor on their faces as they were sold into slavery. Then Molly noticed a tall, wonderful looking man who looked into the eyes of everyone who tried to buy him. Molly bought him and told him she would treat him well and set him free as soon as her farm was doing well. Molly talked to this man using her hands to tell him about the land where she was born and of her years as a forced labor. He smiled at this strange looking woman, he told her his name - Bannaky.

Bannaky would walk up and down the roads of tobacco. He showed Molly how to dig places in the dirt to guide streams of water down the roads of plants. As the tobacco grew ready to harvest, Molly and Benicky grew to love each other. She signed his freedom papers and a traveling religious official married them. Molly had broken colonial law by marrying a black man. But her neighbors accepted this marriage and welcomed Bannaky.

Years passed, Molly and Bannaky had four young daughters. They had a large house and many smaller buildings on 40 hectares of land. Suddenly, there was a great sadness in the family, Bannaky died. Molly held her daughters close to her. Then she taught them how to work the land. In time, she had a grandson. In her Bible, Molly wrote her new grandson's name - Benjamin Picnicker. She taught this young boy to read and write. She told him about his grandfather - the son of a king in Africa and about her days as a milkmaid across the ocean in England.

You have just heard the American story "Molly Bannaky". Molly's grandson Benjamin Picnicker became a very famous African-American scientist and mathematician. This story was written by Alice Mcgill and adapted into Special English by Karen Leggett. Listen again next week for another American story in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

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Useful link: Molly Bannaky Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet's: http://www.soentpiet.com/molly.htm

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