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I was born December 29, 1960, in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. As a young child living in Gee’s Bend, I grew up on a farm and had to work in the fields. Because of my young age, I was only allowed to carry water to those who were big enough to chop cotton and the other things that we grew in our fields. Our field was located in an area called Carson, although my grandfather had two fields, one in Carson and the other one located in a place called Hotel (some people called it Long Bottom). Hotel was the area where the old cemetery was located. There, my family grew cotton, corn, peanuts, and sweet potatoes, just to name a few of our crops.

We started our day early because my mother had to make breakfast and lunch so we could carry our lunch with us to the fields. When I got a little older, about eight years old, I also helped with getting the meals prepared, and now I was old enough to chop and pick cotton. This was not an easy job, and I can remember we hardly ever complained. And even if we did, we were only wasting time and energy. In my early teens, cotton started to fade away, and only a few people who were a little more well-off than the rest continued with planting cotton. So we “hired out,” working for those who had a bigger farm. To pick a hundred pounds of cotton a day was really hard for me because I was so small, but I am sure it was no problem for my grandfather, Tank Pettway, because he was a big, tall man. It was not long before cotton completely faded away from Gee’s Bend and another crop of hard work was born—the birth of cucumbers.

We started our day early because my mother had to make breakfast and lunch so we could carry our lunch with us to the fields. When I got a little older, about eight years old, I also helped with getting the meals prepared, and now I was old enough to chop and pick cotton. This was not an easy job, and I can remember we hardly ever complained. And even if we did, we were only wasting time and energy. In my early teens, cotton started to fade away, and only a few people who were a little more well-off than the rest continued with planting cotton. So we “hired out,” working for those who had a bigger farm. To pick a hundred pounds of cotton a day was really hard for me because I was so small, but I am sure it was no problem for my grandfather, Tank Pettway, because he was a big, tall man. It was not long before cotton completely faded away from Gee’s Bend and another crop of hard work was born—the birth of cucumbers.

Roman Pettway, the community entrepreneur, introduced Gee’s Bend to a new mode of farming. Cucumbers were the “new cotton,” but thank God, the season for cucumber picking was very short, from late May to the first week in July. We knew when the month of July came it would not be long before we could finally have a summer break. Growing cucumbers lasted for nearly a decade, and many families planted a second crop because this was a quicker and faster way to earn income. My family and others planted their own gardens and grew almost all the vegetables needed to survive the winter months. I learned to can vegetables and to make plum and blackberry jelly and jams.

My mother Qunnie Pettway’s first paying job was working at the Freedom Quilting Bee. Her paycheck was not a whole lot, and sometimes she would have to work several weeks before getting any pay. During her absence, my oldest brother and I had to do most of the household chores. We didn’t have a water pump of our own, so we carried water from my aunt Lucy T. Pettway’s house. We also carried water from a natural spring, a spring called Cross Spring. Some of the men in the community tailored the spring into a well by damming it up with barrels; this made it much easier to obtain the water. The water was used to cook and wash our clothes. We also heated our bathwater in the same wash pot we used to wash our clothes. By the time I turned about fifteen, we got running water and paved roads. Now that the roads were paved and we had running water, washing, cleaning, riding the school bus, and walking got a lot better.

I can recall that I was about five or six years old when I was first introduced to sewing. At that age we were only allowed to thread the needles for the quilters in my grandmother’s and my mother’s quilting group. The leftover scraps are what we got to sew and piece together, practicing on how to make a real quilt. We never actually made a quilt, because the leftover pieces were so small in size, so I looked for something else more interesting to do than sticking my fingers with a needle. During grade school the bulk of my school clothes were homemade by my mother, Qunnie Pettway; she has always had a passion for sewing. Since quilting and making quilts were such a big part of my grandmother’s, my mother’s, and my aunt’s life, I believe the seed of quiltmaking was planted into my genes. Whenever we would go to either aunt Lucy T. Pettway’s or aunt Ruth Mosely’s houses to play during the summer months, they would always say, “Come here, sit down and learn how to sew.”

The first quilt shows of Gee’s Bend quilts opened in Houston, Texas, in September 2002. There my eyes were opened, and it touched me in a way as to question myself: Can I make a quilt that someday might hang on the wall of a museum? At that time, according to me, the answer was, No way, no way—not after seeing my relatives’ quilts hanging in a museum; they had been making quilts for generation after generation. Several months passed and the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibition opened in New York; still I had not made any quilts. Finally, after hearing all the great news reports about my ancestors’ quilts, I decided to try my hand at it. After all, I am an offspring of some of the great quiltmakers from Gee’s Bend. I came to realize that my mother, her mother, my aunts, and all the others from Gee’s Bend had sewn the foundation, and all I had to do now was thread my own needle and piece a quilt together.

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