Letters Home: Persian Dust Storm
This quilt depicts the turbulence of a Persian dust storm in 1959 and the way we feel in 2020. The dust and unrest covers everything, offering only glimpses of the other elements of the quilt, drawn from a letter sent to family far away. The dust pattern is reminiscent of the “native fabric” Mother was eager to sew; the gold and yellow threads and fabrics are a nod to the brass table they purchased. Hidden on either side you will find hand painted strawberries Daddy personally carried from an arduous trip to Tehran and hand painted ears of corn – bounty from our garden. A portion of the quilt is pieced in strips as a reference to the Father’s Day bookmark we made. As in all quilts in this series you will find the flowers our Mother always had in her home and the hand painted XXOO, referring to the way she signed each letter home.
As I worked on this piece, the dust storm became the dominant feature. It called for more and more, beginning with just “dust” colored elements, but then asking for more. Red was our Mother’s favorite color, and the addition of the pinks and reds just felt right. In our turbulent times, the swirls of dust remind me that even in the middle of a storm there is beauty and patterns emerge. The view was (and is) obscured and the feel of grit in our mouths and covering all we see. Just as the dust storm eventually subsides, and the sun shines through, may our society find our way to the light. May we move through the pandemic, racial reckoning, disruptive politics and uncertainty to create a better world for our children and grandchildren.
The quilt is 20” (h) by 29” (w), made of hand painted, hand marbled, and commercial fabric. It is hand and machine embroidered, and beaded.
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Persian Dust Storm: a metaphor for our times
Summer heat, haircuts at home, and a new brass table
June 22, 1959
I’m glad you all can’t reach me or I’d really have a spanking. Just looked at the last letter to get the number and saw it had been written on May 29th. Honest, we are not dead sick or anything else. Well and healthy but tired. These summer hours are really horrible. We never seem to be rested. If we take naps in the afternoon we seem to sleep too soundly and then can’t sleep at night, so unless we are really pooped we skip the nap and go to bed about 9:30 or 10. Right now I’m ready for a nap and it’s only eight-thirty a.m.
Well, we have unpacked? The reason for the question mark is – there are still seven cartons and sitting around that I have to go through and figure out where to put the staff. The house is crowded but nice. It is really a home now with all our lamps and furniture, and the children’s room is normal, a mess! We have packed one carton of toys and put it away for future use, but still there’s too much stuff in the one room. Not one inch of wall space is left in their room. Two twin beds, Bobbie’s bureau, two chests of drawers, two doll carriages, tables and chairs, Blackboard, rockers, three doll beds, and three cartons of toys – where do you walk? Oh, twin beds that were in our room are now under the kids beds and they are sleeping on double mattresses. Can’t find too much, but they are happy to have the toys to play with. Our room is not quite as bad, but close, and the living room is looking better every day. If only I closed the sewing machine it would really look better. There’s too much to sew to close it and anyhow I like it open so I can sit down for a few minutes and stitch a seam. Have nearly finished a shirt for Herb, so he went to the bazaar and brought home material for four more shirts. He also got drapery fabric for the dining room window. Have to make a skirt and jacket for Bobbie to wear tomorrow night in a scout shindig and Mary Ann Kessler went to Isfahan and brought me some native fabric for a dress. She has some for herself and gave me two pieces for bribery to make hers up for her. I say two pieces because they are cut in 3 yard lengths for skirts, so you need two for a dress. Oh well, I have plenty to keep me busy.
Thank goodness for those little date books given free by greeting card manufacturers. I found out that yesterday was Father’s Day. Since you can buy so little for men here, the kids and I made Herb a book marker. At least we were able to remember him. When the new ones come out (1960) please send me a couple sea mail.
Back to the shipment. We got more than we had bargained for. Remember the lamp that Barb made for Bobbie? Well, we wanted that put in storage so that nothing would happen to it. The lamp came but not the shade. Now I have to see about having a frame for a shade made and then covering it. No such thing as buying a lampshade here. Then we got one extra carton. The junk from the chest is in the hall. All the old bank statements, pictures, and lots of other things that we can’t throw away, but where and how shall we put them? There are several things that we thought we had sent, but didn’t. Mostly kitchen and bathroom. We just outfoxed ourselves and let the one carton of stuff go the wrong way. Oh, it’s nothing that we can’t live without.
Well, school is over and Bobbie came through it very well. She was so glad when it was over and then the very next day, wished for summer school to start so that she would have something to do. They have 10 days between the two. Today is the third day of summer school and she loves it. She is in the beginners group at swimming, that is three days a week. They are going to learn to sew some and yesterday she had a drama. When I asked her what that was, she told me that each child was given a book and a certain page number and then after a little while they had to stand up and read their page with hand motions. They make crepe paper flowers too, so she was a busy little girl. She does like it and it’s very good for her. It only lasts until the end of July, so like at home she will have at least a month at home all day before it is time to go back to the old routine. She’s fine and both girls are growing fast, too fast. Lynn is into everything, whenever I move she wants to be right by my side. It’s nice, but I wish she would play a little more. But then it is much too hot for the kids to be outside after 8 in the morning, so inside she pesters me. The days are really hot, the temperatures have been around 110 to 115 or higher. This is the shade temperature and we don’t have shade trees in our yard. Yesterday, being the first day of summer, our cook told us that now is the time for the hot weather to start and it lasts for three months. As for me, I’ve had a summer already and I’m looking forward to Winter. I drank more Cokes and Iced tea than I thought existed. The beer, too. When we have had dust storms, nothing seems to get the foul stuff out of your system.
Speaking of dust storms, Herb went to Tehran a couple of weeks ago. They left early in the morning and flew back in the late afternoon. At 6:15 they circled over Abadan, and that was all, they could not land because of the dust storm. It’s a good thing the pilot didn’t try to, he had been lined up over what he thought was a runway and it turned out to be the main road. That would have been messy. Anyhow they flew back to MIS, the letters stand for some real long hard Persian name, and stayed there overnight. They went to the airport very early because the pilot wanted to take off right after daybreak, when they got there they were just fueling the plane. They can’t do it at night because they have no lights for it. well naturally the plane needed several hundred gallons of the stuff all poured from 5-gallon jugs. Efficient! When they finally took off it was still dusty in Abadan but cleared and they could land. Herb walked into the house tired, dirty, needing a shave and hungry. The morning he left here I thought out and fixed him a good breakfast at 4:30, he picked up at 5 for the airport. In Tehran they got lunch around noon – a small thin sandwich and a cup of coffee. When the meeting was over the men thought of food, but figured they would be home for a good dinner so they waited. And they were. They flew on the company plane and on the way home had drinks and cleaned the steward out of food, nuts that were stale and I think crackers in the same condition. They were starved and they could not land in Abadan. Well anyway, by the time that they did get to the guest house in MIS It was 9:00 and thank goodness the dining room was open and they did get some dinner. All this time, Herb was carrying a wonderful present for me, two kilos of strawberries. You don’t get them things in Abadan. We ate some right away and I have frozen enough for two desserts. We want to eat them and yet we want to save them, can’t win.
This letter was started early in the morning and it is now nearly three. Marianne was here and then Sarah Kincaid and her three-year-old daughter came over and stayed until 12. They’re new here and we thought the two little girls would have a good time playing together. They did, when it was time to part. Well, with company all morning and the telephone ringing to it was hectic. Had to spend an hour calling people back. Herb is now putting buttonholes on his shirt and I am trying to add a little more to this letter. I do have to go to the kitchen shortly to make bread. Every other day I have to make two loaves. It’s a chore, but the results are good and that makes it worthwhile. Betty Crocker has a recipe that with a little less flour, half the amount of flour, a little more milk and a little less cooking time, tastes just about like the bread that we took for granted a few months ago. Thanks Mom for the yeast, one package of yeast per box a biscuit is what is going into the bread. We eat biscuits more often than at home, whether for the yeast or not I don’t know yet. They just taste good. Before I ramble away, thanks Mom for sending the yeast and the sourdough starter. Have not tried the starter yet, but one of these days we’ll get at it. I think that Herb and I will fold soon. We are both very tired. We went out to dinner last night and did not get to bed until nearly midnight. Have to make that up somehow. We really had a very good time, an English couple that we met at Farsi class. They are fun and served a wonderful dinner. But, this getting together at 7:30 for drinks, then dinner and then some polite talk and another drink, makes it a rather late night for the early rising hours in the morning. Hey, we really have it made this week! Thursday is a holiday of some sort, so we have two whole days for a weekend this week. Oh joy. We can sleep until a decent hour for two days in a row. Well, it’s nap time for the two big ones now, who knows when this will be finished, but it will be soon. We now have a light by the desk so we can type it night. Nighty night.
We are up and moving again, not too fast, but moving. We just went into the garden and picked 12 ears of corn for dinner tonight. And we are having cube steaks, Danish and packaged frozen – 80 rials or just over a dollar, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes. These steaks have been very good, they got them instead of chicken. The manager of the store told me they were just as good as chicken, well. Right now Herb is in the bathroom with a vodka and lemon Fanta (carbonated lemon drink put out by Coke) having his haircut. Do we ever tell you that the barber comes to the house every other Monday night? Such as the life of the rich. Just read the paper and yesterday’s shade temperature was 119. I’m sure it is much hotter today and also I’d like to find a shade tree. We have none in our yard so it is the sun temperature we feel, I like to add about 20 degrees. Right or wrong, I feel not cooler, but better anyway. I had better stop for a while again, I know that I don’t make sense. Anyway the drink needs more ice. We bought a lovely brass tray several weeks ago and had a black iron stand made for it, so we have a nice table. It really looks very nice. If we were home I’d not give it house room, but it is typical of some of the handcraft here so we like it and want it. When polished it’s very pretty, now who will polish it when we get back home?
If I would only start and finish one job before going on to the next. It is 8:30 and at 9:00 and I have finally put the bread to it’s first rising. That means it won’t come out of the oven until near midnight. Another night sleep loss. Oh, for a corner store to run to for the little things of life. Really, I never realized that people live this way. Make your own bread, mix up the powdered milk, run out of soap for the washer (this happened a few weeks ago, now I try to keep about four boxes on hand). It is really a different life, it’s fun too. I feel like it is a two-year vacation for me and then I’ll have to face keeping a house again.
Last Sunday, a week ago, we fired the nanny we had and hired a new one. The new one was very good, she was clean, neat, a good ironer and wonderful with the children. She quit on us as a Friday morning. So we are looking again. It happened because of a misunderstanding. We went out Thursday evening and got home shortly after midnight. Offered her taxi fare, but she refused. Said that she would walk. Okay we said. It seems that she did not come back to work after that because we had not called the taxi for her. If only she had told us, all would have been well. Ishah was going to see her tonight and if she does not have another job, see if she will come back to work. Hope so, a good nanny is the very hardest thing to find.
Back to the shipment. We had no duty to pay on the second shipment. Thank goodness for a burn on the top of my bureau. They opened one of the crates at customs and saw the bedroom set, claimed it was new and were ready to really hit us. They would not listen to Herb and then he remembered the burn and pointed it out to the man. That was the answer. There were no questions. I think the rate is 100% on wood furniture that is new, we could have been taken. The other crate, the one that had the refrigerator in it they did not open. Herb was able to get a truck out to the home and then had a crane sent out to lift it off the truck and over the nulla (ditch). That in itself was a feat. I did take movies of it and hope that they turn out. Much to our sorrow, the things in this crate became mildewed. The only loss is a couple straw pocketbooks and three hats. Our records were damp but are okay, the sole plate of the steam iron is slightly rusted, the refrigerator stunk but is fine now. So we were lucky. There was no mildew on the clothes. It was sure nice to get the drawer space and also the house. We had stuff that should be hung in the drawers and the things for the drawers laying in suitcases and on top of things. Now we’re pretty much settled in that way. Even have our winter clothes packed and suitcases and stored away. We took one of the closets in the girls’ room for hanging storage. This leaves one rod for their dresses that is a little smaller than one of my rods in Bobbie’s closet – boy their things are jammed in and we don’t hang what we don’t have to. I was scared about the Christmas tree lights and balls since they were shipped as we had packed them away last year. What a wonderful surprise. Only one ball and two globes were broken. The heat did not make the Angels pregnant. So the candles even came through. Speaking of that, I have just purchased my red candles for Christmas. We were told that after about the 1st of October they run out of red candles, so when I saw them I bought them. Learning fast, I hope.
If Bobbie is to have this skirt and jacket to wear tomorrow night I had better bring this letter to a close and start sewing! It’s been cut out but that is all. The Scouts and their Jamboree, hers is the only troop that is to wear a special outfit. They just gave me the pattern this afternoon, so it is a good thing that I know how to sew.
Know that you will get this before the 4th. So you all have a good time together and behave. We will be thinking of you. Also I’ll try to be much more faithful about letters in the future.
Love from us all,
Letters Home is a collection of letters written by our Mother (mostly) and our Father ( sometimes), that chronicles their life overseas, with two, then three, then four young girls. The letters were written to their mothers and are full of daily life, unique challenges, and humor. As we live in uncertain and challenging times, it seems fitting to share.
Browse through more Letters Home and the art quilts inspired by our parents adventures.