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A Pinhoe Village event as part of the My Three Words project IMG_1807 Full view

A Pinhoe Village event as part of the My Three Words project

I met this gentleman at America Hall in Pinhoe, during a workshop celebrating trees and green spaces. He is looking forward to his 95th birthday in May and had already mapped his daily walking route with colleagues from the Art + Energy Collective.

I’d brought templates of the shapes of Devon’s native trees – oak, elm, alder, hawthorn, willow – but hadn’t made a template for magnolia, his favourite tree. Luckily I had my mobile collection of inspiring nature finds and found within it a ‘skeleton’ magnolia leaf; it always fascinates me with its delicacy and endurance.

We used its shape as a guide, cross-checked with some reference books, and made a template. As a draftsman and engineer, he enjoyed doing this and explained how his aptitude for precision had changed the trajectory of his life – twice:

As a child during World War II, his school report led him to a vocational school and when he came of age, the powers-that-be decided he would be of greatest service to the country ‘behind a desk’. Then, when he retired, his wife introduced him to patchwork and quilting; they were married for nearly 50 years.

As we work on his magnolia leaf, I’m enchanted by his storytelling. I make a rookie mistake and fuse the bond-a-web directly to one of the irons. Ivor apologises for distracting me as
I attempt to laugh off my embarrassment. I quickly unplug the iron and set up another, correcting my mistake; we move onto the next step.

This participant tells me how his wife spent her last six months in hospital, during treatment for a brain tumour. He visited every day and took patchwork pieces with him, to work on a quilt for their 50th anniversary. As he finished various sections, he hung them over the curtain rail surrounding her bed. In time, nurses, doctors and care staff began to follow its growth.

The whole quilt was done by hand stitching. Ivor tells me all the stitches are exactly the same length. It’s his draftsman’s training: they had to be. He sewed one block after another and they gradually fitted together.

As it grew, more and more of the quilt hung on the curtain rail by his wife’s bed. It wasn’t until it was complete that he realised just how large it had become. He laughs with wide eyes as he tells me it is enormous! His eyes sadden, as he tells me his wife passed away just a few months shy of their 50th anniversary.

The hairs on my arms stand on end and my eyes water.

Other people are drawn to our making table and I excuse myself to get them going: a willow and a hawthorn – trees they have in their garden. Is it a hawthorn or a blackthorn? They have a look in the books, select their fabrics and more people join us.

When I’m able to turn back to the gentleman, he shows me he’s now completed an oak leaf too. He tells me, in confessional tones, he’s actually getting quite tired and thinks he should be going.
I mention that I’ve heard he’s already walked across Pinhoe today to join us, so it made sense for him to conserve some energy for the return journey. He tells me about his daily 90 minute walk, and how some days it takes longer than others. He likes to take his time though, and explains he always tries to stand as upright as possible, that curvature is part of ageing but he like to keep his muscles strong.

I tell him that I hope to see him again soon, and look forward to his 95th birthday party! He looks at me surprised and says, ‘Oh, there won’t be a party’.

I so want him to be wrong.

Written by significantseams

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