Unlike Susanna, Elvira Faye Kincaid Thompson came to New Haven on a recent Saturday afternoon not with a banjo on her knee but a basket of her quilt piecin’ on her arm.
Viry, as she is known to her friends, is the alter ego of history buff-community theater actress Sue Vickroy of Bradford, Ohio. Drawing on her two loves Sue created Viry as a means to channel her passion to teach old and young at schools, festivals, and club meetings about historic quilt patterns and pioneer history.
Viry comes a callin’ at the 35th Annual Maumee Valley Antique Steam and Gas Association show where she plunks her basket down under the tent and in her characteristic drawl enthralls the crowd with her life story.
Originally from Virginny, she meets Beauregard Thompson in the local general store while pickin’ out fabric for a quilt top. Later Viry finds herself in her front parlor lookin’ into those bluest eyes she’s ever seen and Mr. Thompson is askin’ her whether she is a God fearin’ Bible readin’ woman. Mr. Thompson wants to marry Elvira Faye upon his return in a year and move to Kentucky where bein’ God fearin’ and takin’ comfort from the Bible would sustain her and bring her comfort. Viry confidently tells Mr. Thompson she’d be “right proud to marry you and move to Kentucky.” Viry is 13 years old at the time.
Awaiting her betrothed’s return Viry gets busy on her quiltin’. Her mother taught her how to piece starting with basic four and nine patches then graduatin’ to more intricate designs. She has her first twelve tops completed and now it is time to start the weddin’ quilt. This top will be full of hearts and flowers unlike the other tops. As she admonishes her listeners, “A young woman who puts hearts on a quilt before she is engaged will never see her weddin’ day.”
After the weddin’ which takes place in mother’s parlor, the young pioneers set off for Kentucky where Beau has built a cabin. Viry is pleased with the porch, a perfect place to sit and quilt, but wails in despair when she asks Beau the whereabouts of the outhouse, a small detail he had forgotten to attend to. The next day Beau and his neighbors construct one, but not before Viry gets herself a bad case of poison ivy after goin’ in the grass.
Viry hosts and attends quiltin’ bees. She lets the womenfolk gathered under the tent know if they haven’t already figured it out the reason why some of them are always chosen to do the dishes, or keep an eye on the meal is because their stitchin’ ain’t up to par and their long crooked stitches ain’t acceptable to the other women around the frame.
Viry shows various quilt blocks and the stories behind their makin’ as she recollects the joys and tears of living the life of a Kentucky pioneer woman. When she gits around to to talkin’ ’bout cookin’ coon. After the show one of the many men enjoying the presentation wants her recipe. A quilter in the audience who prepares “rack of raccoon” regularly gladly shares her recipe with the grateful man.
If you would like to git to know Viry a bit better or have her come visit you, you can use a newfangled computer to reach her at elvirafayethompson.com.
Lois Eubank is the owner of Born Again Quilts a restoration studio and quilt gallery. www.bornagainquilts.com.