Quilt stitches together Civil War memories

In an old brick house, Shirley Hutcherson's living room is embellished with colorful threads -- reds, greens, blues and yellows.

Some are seasonal, such as the Christmas quilt hanging on the wall behind the easy chair.

Others are less orthodox, such as the one stitched exclusively from T-shirt remains.

But of all the quilts in Hutcherson's home, a dull brown-green, gray-white and red one fills the room with life. Its story stretches back to the 19th Century, to larger-than-life generals and a country rattled by civil war.

The quilt used to be red, white and blue, Hutcherson said.

Hutcherson's great-great grandmother Susan Powell Davis stitched the family-prized quilt around 1860, when she lived on a plantation in Newton County, according to "Mississippi Quilts," a book by quilt researcher Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff.

It was stitched in the drunkard's path pattern, one undertaken by the experienced.

For three years, Davis, her quilt and her farm were unperturbed in the midst of the war that tore the United States in half.

In April 1863, neighbors warned Powell that Union Col. Benjamin Grierson was marching from Philadelphia to her family plantation, ready to confiscate what he could.

The story goes that Powell, whose husband was enlisted in the Confederate army, turned to a slave she trusted. The slave muzzled and hid livestock before stuffing three quilts into a hollow log.

He hid himself until Union troops passed southward for Meridian. The quilts were retrieved when Grierson left.

Life returned to normal. The family's slaves were freed and granted land, Huff wrote.

Hutcherson's mother gave her the drunkard's path quilt 10 years ago, when she was "splitting up" her own life's work, Hutcherson said.

"It was amazing that it survived and looked that good," she said.

Quilting was not always Hutcherson's hobby of choice. She sang harmony in a country gospel band with her now-late husband, Lloyd. They regularly performed at nursing homes. Four CDs came out of that, as well as a garage full of instruments.

"I didn't quilt until a few years ago," she said. "Mama insisted I start."

Her mother, Lydia Tucker, quilted until she was 95, three years before she died. Tucker wanted the family tradition to continue.

"She said, 'Now, you need to start quilting because none of the other kids quilt,'" Hutcherson remembered. "She started one and let me finish it. From there, it was an addiction."

These days, Hutcherson spends much of her time with the Magnolia Quilters Guild. She and other members greeted travelers at the Lauderdale County Welcome Center over Memorial Day weekend.

Adorning the welcome center's entrance was the drunkard's path quilt. A piece of downhome history won the attention of people from all over the country.

It was accompanied by about a dozen older women quilting and crocheting, a quintessentially Mississippi image.

"They really enjoy it," Hutcherson said. "Most people are enthused about it."

She enjoys quilting as something to keep her hands busy while watching television, a pastime that never runs out. In a time when most blankets are store-bought, not handmade, she hopes the tradition continues, she said.

"I'm hoping my granddaughter will [take up quilting]," she said. "When she was little and I kept her, I'd teach her to do the little finger work."

Hutcherson shows her family's heirloom at quilting exhibits, but no museum has ever contacted her about buying it.

Even if they did, per the wishes of her late mother, she plans to give it to her younger sister. The history might belong to Mississippi, but the sentiment is with her family.

"I want to keep it as long as I can," she said. "Because it's family."

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