As I was tidying up the place the other day, I picked up a pair of placemats and my thoughts went back to the weaver of this special gift.
When I was a child I came to know one of my Granny’s dearest friends. Though 10 years separated them in age (Granny was older), they became fast friends as young women and often visited each other, or spent time on the telephone at least once a week.
Leona Miller lived in an old house about five miles from ours. It was primitive with no running water or indoor plumbing, but always spotlessly clean. Leona had the most spectacular yard of flowers and shrubs.
As I’ve mentioned before, I used to take her shopping and to appointments and she would pay me in flower bulbs and starts. Sadly, since her death, the house stands alone, forgotten and neglected. The wonderful yard full of colors and scents is overgrown and many plants have died.
But aside from her marvelous yard, the most interesting thing to me was Leona’s loom. The loom was built in 1850, and passed down through the generations to Leona. She started to weave at age 13 and spent the rest of her life turning out gorgeous rugs, pillows, placemats, and blankets.
She used any and every kind of material — old clothes, flour sacks, burlap feed sacks, silk stockings and bread bags — all cut into strips and sewed at the ends to make long pieces to fit the loom. She also used colored string and yarn.
When I married she made me a rug in shades of green that is now carefully packed away in mothballs after many years of use. When my mother died it was close to my 30th birthday, and that year Leona gave me the placemats as a birthday gift. She knew I was missing my mother and that was her way of giving me comfort. Every time I use them, I can feel the love in every stitch.
Leona was also a bit of a local celebrity. One of our news papers — the Baxter Bulletin — did a double page spread on Leona in 2003 under the Senior Focus section. She also won many ribbons at the county fair.
She was featured at the “Arts Center” in the small town of Yellville, and demonstrated her weaving technique at the yearly Turkey Trot Festival. She sold countless pieces of her art to locals as well as tourists and gifted many in the neighborhood with her labors of love.
In 1937, Leona married Claude Miller, but they had no children. She was blessed with many nieces and nephews, but none who cared enough to learn her craft and carry on the family tradition. So Leona passed down her knowledge to a dear friend and neighbor Mary Patrick who visited often to learn the skill.
Leona passed on in December of 2011 just before Christmas, leaving a hole in many hearts as well as the neighborhood itself. But her art lives on through Mary Patrick, and her memory remains in each and every piece she produced on her old family loom.
Photos property of Leah McAllister.