Tuesday, May 23, 2006

hummingbird feeder: Quilter has cherished handiwork

By Jean Deitz Sexton
May 8, 2006

Some fire departments have Dalmatians; a few have gourmet chefs, but only the Rough and Ready Fire Department is lucky enough to have Lillian Blakely, a quilter and Southern charmer who turns 90 this Wednesday.

Blakely, who has lived in Rough and Ready since 1970, has hand sewn one to two quilts a year for the volunteer fire department, as a member of its auxiliary. The department raffles off the amazing handiwork, valued at $750 and up, as part of its annual fundraising activities.

This talkative, vivacious woman is still quilting, sewing on her modern, Janome Memory Craft 9000, which fellow quilter and friend Nina Wyatt says is a machine coveted by quilters. Blakely has been quilting since she was a young girl, growing up in Cookville, Tenn. She estimates she has made more than a thousand quilts.

"I made nine this winter," said Blakely. "I love it. I do get tired of it by the time I get one done."

Although bowed over and on oxygen 24 hours a day, Blakely always has a quilt project in the works and her eyesight is still good enough to do the minute threadwork in the quilt patterns. "She quilts circles around me," says Wyatt. "What Lillian knows about quilting you don't learn from a book. It comes from the heart."

Blakely is in high spirits as she looks forward to a birthday party with friends and family coming from all over the United States. Her two sons, a stepson, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be among the family members celebrating with her at the modest ranch style home she built with husband Carl Blakely, her fourth husband.

These days, Blakely doesn't get out as much but she has a great view of a very busy hummingbird feeder directly outside the window facing her sewing machine. Her constant companion, 16-year-old Susie, a bright-eyed, bulldog faced Boston Terrier, is at her feet.

At one time Lillian and Carl Blakely had a vineyard on their property, an orchard and a thriving garden. "He would make wine and serve it to us at the fire department auxiliary meetings," she recalls. She has had to curtail gardening but still has a pretty white, wedding bouquet bush and other spring foliage coming to bloom on the property.

Blakely worked at what was Camp Beale, now Beale Air Force base, after World War II, and during the war, she worked as a tank wheel inspector in Detroit. She was also a Singer sewing machine instructor in Marysville. Various husbands took her to different locales but she eventually wound up back in California and married Carl Blakely, who died in 1993 at the age of 97.

An inveterate storyteller, one of Blakely favorite stories is of her early days in Tennessee when she and her first husband, also named Carl, would go barnstorming and charge people $1 a ride in their plane, a red OX5. "I had a little dog Pedro and he parachuted out of the plane. The doggie loved it." Blakely used her sewing skills to make a dog parachute out of heavy muslin, which automatically unfolded when Pedro jumped. "We would laugh all week about what happened on Sunday," said Blakely.

Her sharp sense of humor is still evident. Blakely isn't discounting the idea of husband number five and she's telling those coming to the party, "I won't have another birthday for five years and I expect every one of them to come back."

Blakely earned the title, the Little Old Quilt Maker of Rough and Ready, for her charitable deeds and wants that to be her epitaph. "But I'm not going on that trip yet," she laughs. Bet on it!

Arlene's Tea Room is open for business. Located within Arlene's Pantry bakery in the Penn Valley Shopping Center, Arlene will lend her culinary talents to a full tea service, $16.95, and a light tea, $14.95. Quiche, soup, tea sandwiches, scones and desserts are featured. Open Wednesday-Sunday, three seatings, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and taking reservations for Mother's Day. Call 432-1993.

Penn Valley Rodeo: Don't miss our community's very own rodeo! May 19-21, tickets are available at all Larry & Lena's pizza locations, the Tack Room in Penn Valley, The Driftwood Inn in Smartville, The Farm Store, Penn Valley, Ridge Feed, Grass Valley, Sierra Saddlery in Auburn, Cotton's Cowboy Corral in Marysville and other locations. Call 432-1802.

If you have an interesting person or subject to feature in this column, or a newsworthy item, please e-mail jeans@theunion.com.


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