Jeanne Hewell-Chambers

& her barefoot heart

Page 2 of 89

A(nother) Squeaky New Beginning


Happy New Year from Jeanne and Nancy

Every New Year’s Day, my Grandmother would finish breakfast, get lunch on to cook, then take her seat in the chair underneath the telephone. She’d pull out the baby blue zippered 3-ring binder that held all sorts of important information, turn to the curled-up page where she’d written all the family phone numbers, and put her finger beside the name at the top. Carefully, making sure she got the number right, she dialed one number after another.

“Hello?” answered the receiving party.

“Hello. Is this 1-9-7-6?” Grandmother would ask, clamping her hand over her mouth so the person on the other end would take her seriously.

“No,” they’d say, thinking she was referring to a phone number, “this is 5321.”

“Oh yes, it is so 1976,” she’d say, “check the calendar,” her laughter erupting as she slammed down the phone. She’d take a few deep, satisfied breaths to collect herself before dialing the next number on the list.

New Year’s Day is the only day my grandmother ever turned prankster, and she wore that year-turned-telephone number prank slap out. Today, ignoring caller id because that’s not important to the memory, my cousin Stacy and I race to call each other on New Year’s Day, asking simply, “Is this 2-0-1-6?”, laugh, and hang up.


Happy New Year, y’all. I hope you’ve had your black eyed peas and turnip greens and pork cause there’s no need in tempting fate. But listen here: whatever resolutions you make, whatever resolutions you break, may 2016 hold delight around every turn. May you laugh more than you cry. And may you never question – or let anyone else question – your worthiness.

Now let’s get on out there and have ourselves a big time, why don’t we.


Doesn’t matter what day of the year it is, Nancy and I continue doing what we do . . .

Nancy draws:

IOOL4 023 copy

And I stitch:

IOOL4 23

And we watch to see where that carries us.

Many Faces of Joy




There’s the joy of becoming reacquainted with the sewing machine that was a gift from The Engineer on our first Christmas some 42 years ago, paid for with winnings from two radio contests. And the joy of using that sewing machine to make gifts – four long, skinny quilts to grace the holiday tables of my children, my mother, and my brother. The joy of (re)learning that while I like learning new techniques from others, I do not like following patterns. Makes me scratchy, irritable.



There’s the joy of having a roof that holds under the constant onslaught of viscous thunderstorms and torrential rains. The joy of watching the flood waters stop four steps short of coming into the house.

There’s the joy of tissues with lotion woven in. Of Mother mixing me up some of Mama Helen’s special cough syrup that uses only 3 ingredients: Maker’s Mark, lemon juice, and honey. The joy of a text that comes from my daughter while I’m in the doctor’s waiting room promising to take care of me while the antibiotics do their job.






But neither the raging weather or the raging sinus infection dampened the joy of being with family. The joy of hearing my daughter sing at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The joy of hearing how the younger generations intend to get after the future while swapping stories from the past that give roots and clues. The joy of laughter and camaraderie that become our heritage and history.



I took the Storm-at-Sea to enjoy the joy of stitching . . . but I didn’t get much joy done on that front.

In Our Own Language 18


last Friday . . .

Jeanne: Do you want to ride in the convertible?
Nancy: Yes.
Jeanne: Do you want to spend the night with us at the hotel?
Nancy: Yes.
Jeanne: Do you want to go shopping?
Nancy: SHOPPING!!!!!!
[I took that as a yes.]
Jeanne: Do you want to walk on the beach?
Nancy: [crickets] [Nancy does not like to walk.]
Jeanne: Do you want to look at the ocean?
Nancy: It’s green!!!


We went down to visit Nancy this weekend.
She didn’t know we were coming.
There were rides in the convertible


a spend-the-night in the hotel on Saturday night




and time spent looking at the ocean
the lacy, green ocean.

There was also drawing
of course.
86 drawings made at school since our visit in late October
and 46 drawings made in the hotel room.
The two batches make up
In Our Own Language 18.
132 drawings.


Note the color choices


the use of negative space


the border


the movement.


She continues to make this shape
a vessel, I call it.
It will play a prominent role
when I begin to stitch these.

IOOL4 22

In Our Own Language 4:22

Right now,
I’m still stitching
In Our Own Language 4.
Yes, four.


Nancy, my developmentally disabled sister-in-law draws.
I, the woman who flat-out loves her, stitch her drawings.

Thrift Shop Treasures


I am bad to rescue cloths stitched by other women.


I like to give them new life,
sometimes by using them,
sometimes by completing them,
sometimes by giving them a place of honor in a new piece.


It makes me sad to see
in a thrift shop.


Set aside.
Left behind.


I can do something about that,
and I do.


And have fun doing it, too.


You know my fondness for quilts,
so you can imagine how excited
and horrified,
in equal measure,
I was to find this quilt


in the bin at the thrift shop.
At $1.29 per pound,
The Engineer and I calculate it set us back $3.57.


A story is already brewing
starring the quilt,
and projects have already been sketched
starring the dresses.

My fingers itch to get started.

Everything here is hand stitched.
The transportation quilt measures 62″ x 78″
and the red and white quilt top is 78.5″ x 90″.
This is gonna’ be fun!

His Life in Chapeaux

JeanneStacy1b jpg

His life is told in hats made of a different material than the straw and felt fedoras his granddaddy tipped by way of a how-do-you-do to people he passed when driving to town and back . . .

As a young boy, Stacy’s mother dressed him in white linen shorts with white suspenders, white knee socks, white bucks, and a white linen beanie hat and brought him to the green grass (okay, clover) and red clay of Grandmother’s Georgia yards. I’ve often wondered if his wardrobe was a reflection of his mother’s sense of style, an indication of early onset dementia, or if maybe she was preparing him for people he would inevitably encounter later in life – people who wouldn’t like the way he looked, or talked, or thought, or led. I don’t know if the clothes are to blame or not, but I don’t remember Stacy ever once taking a turn sweeping the red clay front yard with that broom made from switches Granddaddy lashed together with a length of twine.

In high school, Stacy donned the plumed headgear of a drum major. Now I think it’s safe to say that out of 14 cousins, he is the only one who paraded around in front of anybody . . . unless you count The Program Grandmother staged every Christmas morning. On that one day of the year, she paraded each one of her grandchildren – a.k.a. piano students – out to spin the bench to the right height, take our seat, and impress the parents with how fluently our fingers tickled the ivories. That’s what 13 of us did anyway, but Stacy? He played the trombone.

Yes, the trombone.

What few parents were left by the time Stacy’s name came to the top of the list fled the room before the mouthpiece touched his lips. Most of them didn’t bother to come up with an excuse, either, they just left.

Stacy001 copy

Now law enforcement runs deep in our family. Granddaddy was a Revenue Agent and the town’s Sheriff, and today there are police, detectives, and a district attorney at our table. After high school, Stacy flipped the proverbial coin to decide which path to take and wound up in law school, later securing a job as legal counsel for a large corporation in Atlanta. But eventually, regardless of heads or tails, Stacy knew he must pursue the road not taken, and that path eventually earned him the honor of wearing the traditional ceremonial headdress of an Episcopal Bishop.

An Episcopal. In the midst of a bunch of Baptists . . . and me.

Stacy and I don’t always see eye to eye on Big Things like religion, you see, but here’s the thing: we have long, deeply profound, amazingly intricate conversations that never end up with blood shed because we are secure enough in our own belief systems to know that there is no One Right Way. Our confidence, coupled with our love and respect for each other leaves us feeling no need to convince the other, which makes way for good old-fashioned conversation of the back-and-forth variety. Stacy never tries to save my soul, though he does occasionally attempt to repair it from wounds inflicted by my early religious upbringing experiences.

White linen beanies.
Plumed drum major topper.
The traditional ceremonial headdress of an Episcopalian Bishop.

I’ve never seen Stacy wear a baseball cap, and I don’t remember any cousin ever laughing at him or poking fun at him behind his back because of anything he wore or didn’t wear on his head. They didn’t refrain from fear of the punch in the nose they would most surely have received from me had they ever engaged in such behavior. They refrained because while he may have been different – let’s be honest: odd – he is a cousin – blood kin – and that matters around here.

StacyJeanne2 copy

Several years ago, on his sixteenth birthday, I took Stace to get his driver’s license. Today is his birthday, and if math and memory serve me well, this is yet another milestone birthday. Because I’m simply not a good enough woman, the list of people I love unconditionally is short, but rest assured that Stacy’s name is on it. Up near the top.



I made this for my son, Kipp
to tell the story of the time his dad and I took him to Sliding Rock, NC.
I call it Elixir.


It’s made from the sleeve to a jacket I never got around to finishing,
representing the shoulder he used to lay his head on to cry
or to sleep.
The arms that once cradled and rocked him.
It’s reversible, this sleeve,
going inside out
just the way he continues to turn my heart inside out.


The border fabric reminds me of Georgia’s red clay,
parched in Kipp’s birth month of August,
cracked like the back of an old man’s neck.
The driftwood came from our falls here in NC,
the rock is a piece of granite from Georgia,
perhaps from the same quarry where his Granddaddy once worked.


Not only did The Engineer cook so I could keep stitching,
he helped me figure out how to hang it,
and found the driftwood,
so we both signed the label.


It is one of my favorite memories,
this story of resilience
and determination
and a fun day spent together.

There will be more stories,
some perhaps saved in stitch,
because next year I add Grandmother to my resume.
But don’t call me that.
Help me come up with a name that’s much, much more flavorful.
Something tarty, perhaps.

Closed for the Season


This time of year is hard for me.

The expectations.
The disappointments.
The memories.
The losses.

Most years I manage to peel myself out of bed,
put one foot in front of the other,
and turn up the perkiness factor
so I don’t drag others down.
But that requires more reserves of energy
than I can muster this year.


So I’ve tucked into the studio to stitch.


Cloth and thread in my hand
comforts me
and restores my soul.

100: Aunt Addie, a Pink Galoshes Portrait


She was a formidable woman, my great Aunt Addie was, driving herself around town in the car she bought for herself at a time when most men in the county still hitched a mule up to the buggy to get them where they wanted to go. She was mayor of Woolsey, a small community in Fayette County, Georgia, and when she got her hands on some Works Projects Administration funds, Woolsey got new sidewalks.

She married later in life, and then only when her sister, Lizzie, saw fit to die and leave an eligible widower. Yes, Miss Addie Ballard married her brother-in-law, J. M. (John) McLean on April 27, 1923 and thus became step-mother to the only children she would have: her nieces and nephews.


Aunt Addie wasn’t talked about much in the family, probably because she was considered an uppity woman, for one thing, and on account of that time she shot Uncle John “under the sheets” in February 1953, an event that culminated with her being declared a “lunatic” and landing her a stint in the Milledgeville State Hospital (originally named the Georgia Lunatic Asylum when it was built in 1883), for another.

It took me decades to pry this much of her story out of The Family Elders. My uncle, perhaps impressed with my tenacity (or more likely, thinking it would make me hush up once and for all), presented me with a copy of Aunt Addie’s commitment papers, and I’ve a copy of her marriage license, her will, her United Daughters of the Confederacy membership papers, and a single photo of her in my possession. To this day, I remain intrigued with this black sheep of the family. Long ago, I began asking everybody who might have known her or known of her, “What can you tell me about Aunt Addie Ballard McLean?”

One day while lunching with Ferrol Sams (Sambo), I asked him about our shared ancestor. “I always wondered what made her sad enough to do such a thing,” he said by way of answering.

He went on to tell me about being called down to Aunt Addie’s house early one cold winter morning. It seems she’d gotten up during the night to go to the bathroom, according to Uncle John, then she came back and got into bed. At one point, Uncle John, greatly annoyed that she was disturbing his sleep with all her moaning and groaning, said, “Addie, be quiet. I’m trying to sleep.”

His slumber resumed, and when the rooster cock-a-doodle-do’ed Uncle John awake long about sunrise, he found Aunt Addie lying in a pool of her own blood. Apparently when she’d gotten up to go to the bathroom during the night, she shot herself in the side before returning to crawl back into bed.



While a patient in Milledgeville, Aunt Addie mailed poems, letters, and a recipe for Orange Pie to Mother. (I transferred every piece of her correspondence to fabric, and that’s what you see in the background.) She even sent Mother her gold thimble in its silver case for safe keeping (something I’ve been assured will become mine One Day).


I’ve talked to somebody in Milledgeville, who looked it up while I stayed on the phone, and they tell me that they have a card with more information on Aunt Addie – like when and into whose custody she was released. Just as soon as I can figure out what kind of court order is required, I’m going down there to get a copy of that information for myself. I hope not, but it may be the last bit of information I ever get on Aunt Addie, a woman I’ve chosen for one of my Pink Galoshes Portraits of Irrepressible Women.


Painted, stitched, written, or performed, stories – even family legends – are fluid, changing and evolving any time a new kernel of perspective, information, or context drops in. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell them, hold them dear, or tuck them in with the good silver to pass on to future generations.

Stories unite us and give us roots . . . and wings. Stories bolster us in time of turmoil; buoy us in times of despair; and anchor us in times of doubt. They remind us of who we were, who we are now, and who we can be. They remind us of what stock we come from.

When we gather around the table, ’tis stories that nourish us. When we hold hands around a campfire, ’tis stories tucked into our palms. And when we make a toast, ’tis stories that fill the glass we raise.

Stories are the best gift ever.
Stories are oxygen.


For those of you who’ve read shotgun through the 100 days of story, thank you for all the encouragement and support. Despite the typos and mistakes that can’t be blamed on electronics, I’ve made new friends around this digital campfire, good friends have become better friends, and I’ve even been reunited with a friend (Vonnie) from graduate school who I’ll tell you more about later. Many of y’all have gifted me with your own stories, which goes into my daily list of things I’m grateful for every time. However you tagged along in this exercise, I thank you from both my heart and my fingertips . . . fingertips that are now going to go have conversations with cloth and thread for a while.

99: On the Eve


(Either something went horribly awry when this picture was developed
or Daddy was having a bad hair day)

When I think of Eve, I think of Eve from the Bible, who, in this neck of the woods, is still very much maligned and blamed for everything gone wrong. There are still far too many hot spots where women in general – just because they share gender with Eve – are maligned by proxy.

I think of the eve of my wedding, some 42 years ago, when groomsman Tom Porter arrived late for the rehearsal, making a rather dramatic entrance for someone who hasn’t darkened the doorway of a church in I don’t know how many years, by entering through the choir loft. I think of how he later whispered to me it was my last chance to run away with him. And who could ever forget when he publicly stole the show by answering the what-do-you-do-for-a-living question asked by the Baptist preacher’s wife with “I sell whiskey in Underground with Andy.”

I think of the Hewell Family Torture Chamber Christmas Party always held on Christmas Eve. Though I don’t know when, I’m pretty sure I know why our childless great aunts decided it a good idea to open presents one at a time with adults going first then pass each gift around the entire room before opening the next gaily wrapped box. And as if that wasn’t horrible enough, they meticulously cut every little piece of tape with scissors, ensuring clean edges for wrapping next year’s gifts. If they could’ve peeled off the tape without the paper sticking to it, they would have saved money on tape, too.

I think of New Year’s Eve and the thrill of a fresh start and how I’m now of an age to know that the year is filed with 365 New Year’s Eve, each day a fresh start and new beginning.

My body remembers The Night Before A Test Angst, and that’s a little what I feel now, on the eve of my 100th story, when all the stories I meant to tell you but didn’t parade themselves in front of me . . . some making a face with their tongues stuck out.

98: Will It Ever Stop?

Mother called me tonight to make sure I knew about the atrocities that happened in Paris. She says it reminds her of when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The shock. The horror. The disbelief. The inability to comprehend such acts of man’s inhumanity to man. The incredible, unending sadness.

Being one who believes in the power of collective goodness, maybe we can make an effort to be kinder than usual to those around us right now. And offer up prayers to the victims of this inconceivably inhumane act as well as their friends and families.

That’s story enough for today.

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