By Jenny Schouppe
News Report Staff
Tammy Flack-Wheeler, of Shumway, grew up receiving quilts from her grandmother and quilter, Betty Jean Flack.
She had accumulated so many throughout her childhood that the excitement of a new quilt had worn off.
But on September 24, Tammy received a quilt – this time from her Aunt Jeanne Sutter -- and she cried tears of joy and excitement.
According to Tammy, Flack kids would never cry over a quilt, so no one quite understood her reaction to receiving this specific quilt.
“We had dozens of them. We’d show just as much excitement over a pack of tube socks as we would over a quilt,” Tammy explained.
Tammy and her siblings would receive a quilt for each Christmas and birthday. They would take random pieces of fabric and clothes to Betty Jean’s home and ask for a quilt to be made of that material, and within a week or so, Betty Jean would have a quilt constructed. According to Tammy, one of her brothers had a quilt constructed from a curtain sample book and she’s pretty sure her cousin invented the concept of a t-shirt quilt.
“If we would have cried, it was because we would have rather had a new Barbie instead of another quilt,” said Tammy.
But when it came to this quilt she received on her wedding day, there was something special about it.
It was Tammy’s “last quilt”.
Tammy was 24 years old when she received this quilt for the first time from her grandma Betty Jean. At this point in Tammy’s life, she realized the time and energy that went into the making of a quilt.
“By then I understood that it was art and that it was love. By then I was an accomplished seamstress myself and I understood the incredible talent and hard work that went into a quilt. I cherished that last quilt,” said Tammy.
According to Tammy, this quilt was so special that it was the only quilt she kept in good condition.
“It was my only quilt not drug through dirt, or singed from sitting to close to a camp fire. It was never in the bottom of the dog’s bed. I never took it to the beach, never used it as a rug or even used it to mop up spilled milk. I’m serious when I say that this is what Flack kids did with their quilts,” explained Tammy.
Tammy knew her grandmother’s health was slowly declining and that this “last quilt” would truly be the last one she would receive from her grandma. “It became my most prized procession.”
Betty Jean Flack passed away in 2011, around the same time Tammy became a single parent.
According to Tammy, “Things got hard. They got really hard.”
Things got so hard for the single mom that she was forced to make very difficult decisions.
“I had to make a choice between feeding my kids or keeping the last quilt,” explained Tammy. “A ‘Betty Jean’ quilt always fetched an incredible price, and that price skyrocketed when she was gone and there were no more ‘Betty Jean’s’ being made.”
Tammy made the difficult decision to sell her “last quilt”.
“I sold something that never should have left my procession. I sold a piece of my heart and a piece of my legacy, and I was heartbroken,” said Tammy.
Though the decision was a difficult one to make, Tammy couldn’t look back. With the money she received from the quilt, she was able to pay “two months’ worth of bills and buy shoes” for her three children.
Tammy thought her quilt was gone forever, until she opened a gift from her Aunt Jeanne Sutter on her wedding day.
The card attached to the gift read: “It’s something old, but it’s new to start your lives together. It’s been borrowed and it even has some blue. Please don’t sell me when times get tough because Grandma will haunt you and she can get rough.”
After reading the card, Tammy wasn’t sure what she would find beneath the bow and wrapping paper. She eventually unwrapped the gift, and to her surprise, she laid her eyes on the one possession she thought she would never see again.
It was her “last quilt”.
“She brought it back to where it never should have left. She couldn’t have given me anything as meaningful as my last quilt coming back home. She returned my last tangible evidence of my legacy,” explained Tammy.
Though many of wedding guests and even her new husband did not understand the significance of the quilt until afterwards, it didn’t matter. Tammy knew, and that’s all that mattered.
According to Tammy, she jokes that to this day “this is the only way to make a Flack kid cry over a quilt.”