Crafty lady|Carol Schultz’s life is a patchwork of activity

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 7, 2010

Recently Carol Schultz was bored, but she’s “working very hard to get over it.”

She really doesn’t have time for boredom. She knits, quilts, sews, researches and writes family history.

Threads and needles are a natural part of her psyche. She started sewing as a child, making doll clothes, then stitched her own garments and later did the same for her children and her mother.

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That eventually led to another talent — quilting. “Back then,” she said, “you didn’t throw away scraps — who knows, you might need them because you might tear something.”

So she had all these scraps that moved whenever she did. She found their purpose when she read a little blurb in the paper that quilting lessons would be taught on the balcony at The Valley by a lady named Martha Skelton. For $6 you could take three lessons. Carol took two and had to quit because of a family crisis. So she took the class again, Mrs. Skelton teasing her: “What’s the matter? You couldn’t get it the first time?”

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.

In January 1979 she and others formed the Cotton Patchers, a quilting club.

She hasn’t designed any original patterns because, “I’m traditional. I like the old ones.” In her quilting frame are at least four tops she’s working on, one made from feed-sack prints and another she described as “the world’s ugliest quilt” — because nothing matches.

When she began sewing it was a necessity, she said, and her quilt scraps were stacked so high that it also became a necessity to do something with them, “but now it’s a therapy.”

She has no idea how many quilts she has made — they were all done by hand except the binding around the edges — and “very few of them live at my house.”

Carol entered the world a little over 75 years ago at Atwater, Ohio, the timing a great relief to her mother “who spent the last two weeks crying in case I came early.” She was born exactly nine months and two days after her parents eloped. They had a date on a Friday night and ran away to West Virginia the next day and got married. They couldn’t marry in Ohio because they had not reached the age limit.

They had enough money to get to West Virginia and back, but had to borrow the money for the marriage license. On the way home all the tires went flat and her dad didn’t have any patches for the innertubes, so they made it on rims. Her dad was a hired man on a farm, living in an upstairs room down the hall from the farmer — so he had to smuggle his new bride into his quarters.

The family moved to Oklahoma when Carol was 18 months old, her father following oil field work. They were in Illinois when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the family moved to Baton Rouge where her father worked for Esso in the artificial rubber plant, an essential product in war time.

Carol grew up in Baton Rouge and was a young lady drafting maps “the old fashioned way, with pen and ink” for the State Highway Department when she met Harold Schultz. Both had been through a divorce, but his sister and Carol’s mother, who were friends, “got their heads together and played Cupid.”

By the time they moved to Vicksburg in 1963, there were three children — Donita, Sherry and Trent. Harold had a job with the government, and they settled into a nice subdivision house with a yard that was too big. They unintentionally raised chickens when Carol’s mother sent grandson Trent home with two biddies. One was a rooster, the other a hen, so in a matter of time they had not only eggs for the table but also a family of chickens, “small ones with white feathers on their feet” that won the grand prize at the Miss-Lou Fair.

“Old age took care of them,” Carol said. “They had names, so they didn’t wind up on the table.”

Another Vicksburg venture was restoring the old Biedenharn home on Markham Street, a 1910-era house made of thick paving bricks with air pockets in the walls between them, pipes for gas lights and push-button light switches. They sold the house when the children grew up and left home because the place was too big.

And, when they downsized, they went to an extreme — they bought a small motor home when Harold retired in 1976 and spent about 10 years on the road — “just took off.” It took Carol about two years to realize she didn’t have to take groceries along, that they had them for sale in other places.

There are some talents in which Carol claims she is lacking: she doesn’t paint, “except kitchens and walls,” and though she was once in the church choir it was only because “they didn’t want an empty chair. I’m not musically inclined. They won’t even let me tune the radio.”

Another leaf in her life is research and writing. She’s compiled the McGregor Book (her family line) for the children, and she’s working on Harold’s family. She’s determined to make it interesting with stories about the people, though she’s aware that you have to list the begats, too. There haven’t been too many surprises, she said — only two seven-month babies — and she found one of Harold’s kinsman listed in the Illinois Temple. Harold died three years ago, and Carol is “glad he didn’t know that. He was sooo very Southern.”

One of her children said, “Mother, don’t we have anybody famous?” But she said, “We don’t, and I’m not going to find anybody. We were farmers who worked all week and went to church on Sundays. I haven’t found a horse thief, but they’re probably out there. We were just good, normal Americans — what America is made of.”

She has to have a project, and lately she’s been taking knitting lessons, learning to knit socks.

“They’re made for you. They’re made to fit. If you ever wear hand-knitted socks, you’ll never go back to Walmart,” she said.

The yarn comes in a blend of materials — you can even get it made of bamboo — and some special yarn includes the stripes for patterns.

How much is that? “Enough to make a sock,” Carol said, and she added, “don’t ask anyone who does handwork how long it takes them, because we start a project, and we get it so far, and we say, ‘Oh, I’d like to make that,’ and we stop and go do that and then come back and then do that again and then come back….”

Doctors discovered her in 1999, she said, and when she recently went to see her physician he asked how she was doing, and Carol told him, “I don’t know. I’ve never been old before.” She’s had a few health problems that are now under control, but admits that for a while “things got sort of tedious.”

“It’s always a shock when I look in the mirror: Who’s that old lady, and how did that happen? There’s not supposed to be an old lady when I look in the mirror. Damn!”

She has to have a project, and added to the others she’s now sorting and separating things.

“The birthday candles are coming on,” she said. “It’s one thing and then another. Life has been a whirl.”