Carrying water, Gees Bend, Alabama [Annie Bendolph]

Arthur Rothstein1937

Souls Grown Deep

Souls Grown Deep
Atlanta, United States

Bettie Bendolph Seltzer (1939 - 2017), daughter-in-law of quiltmaker Sue Willie Seltzer, remembers her mother, Annie Bendolph (1900 - 1981), one of Arthur Rothstein's favorite subjects during his 1937 photographic documentation of Gee's Bend.

"My mama was a hardworking woman, all I know. Had sixteen heads of children and kept us all working hard in the field. All they know to do back there was have children and go to the field. She learned all of them how to work and take care of themselves. Carried every one of us to church every Sunday. She was a good neighbor to peoples—always giving.

"Used to love to cook teacake and share with the community. Every weekend, children visit each other house, and she feed every one of them. She was a real good mother. All us thought so. Papa used to drink a lot, so she carried on the family.

"Working so hard, barefoot in the field, in the rain and the cold, having children about every two years, she took real sick. She was in and out of the hospital. She'd be sick, she'd get better. Be sick, get better. But she still work. Saturday we work in the field, her and us children, too. Come home and start washing and ironing clothes for church. Sunday everyone is going to church clean, but stump-bare feet. Don't none of us have a shoe.

"She didn't know much about her family. They told her that her mother died when she was a baby. She had a brother named Timothy Pettway. He was a singer—gospel singer sang in churches and lived over in Camden. He used to come across the river on his boat, two people paddling—one on one side, one on the other. Him and his children come to see us, and bring food and clothes sometimes. He come to the river sometimes and pick me and my brothers and nephews up, and paddle us over to pick cotton with him over there in Rosemary. We just helping 'cause he's helping Mama. We didn't ever get paid. I was the only little girl; rest were boys. My mama had sisters, come sometimes to see us, but they wasn't living around here.

"When I was growing up, Mama made quilts to keep us warm. The ladies then piece their quilts at home and go to each other house to help quilt. At the start all they was making them out was old clothes, pants, fertilizer sacks, dress tails, and meal and flour sacks, too. That's it. They had to beat the cotton to pad it out to put it in the quilt. Their husband or friend or neighbor bring cotton from the gin for the ladies to quilt with. Later on, coming down through the years, there was places they'd go and get scraps from factories that was giving it to them, but they have to hire somebody to go pick up the scraps. That's when the quilts started becoming more up-to-date."

I always wanted to be like my mama—hardworking, having something of my own. She was so independent. But I never wanted to have to go through what she went through. She started me to piecing up quilts when I was about ten. The first one, I made it with some old dress tails and old britches legs. It wasn't till I started at the quilting bee around 1977 that I started using good cloth. I never used that old-clothes stuff again. It's too tough to sew. Sometimes you hit the bottom, sometimes you didn't. Once you get your fingers on good material, you can quilt more easier and more better.


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