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Quilters gather to share stories

Nestled into a corner at the Jonesborough Senior Center, a handful of women surround a large piece of fabric stretched taut over a wooden frame, thimbled fingers patiently stitching a quilt as they quietly share the stories of their lives.
Quilting is not so much a passion to these ladies as much as a bow to the old superstition that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Shirley Chase, 77, who glimpses down at the quilt to examine her stiches as she speaks, was a shining example of the proverb and had the calluses to prove it.
Always uncomfortable with her hands idle in her lap, she started quilting when she was 7 after persuading her mother that she was old enough to undertake such an intricate task, and it was a special time for the duo.
“We could talk, one on one,” Shirley said of learning the art from her mother, who was a skilled quilter. She stopped the hobby for decades while she was working, but picked it back up in the 1980s.
“I enjoy it. That’s the reason I come to the center; just for these gals. We enjoy each other’s company.
“I wouldn’t have met these ladies if we hadn’t been quilting,” she said, gesturing to her friends.
Diane Barker, a New Jersey girl five years Shirley’s junior, had also made a point of keeping her hands busy. She loved to sew ever since high school, and at one point designed a Santa suit that made it to shelves in J.C. Penney. Although “no one quilts in New Jersey,” she picked it up when she first visited the center and was invited to join. Now she goes twice a week, and no longer has to rip out all her stitches.
The quilts themselves are delivered to the senior center as multicolored patches of cloth, and the group stitches them into a quilt over the course of several weeks. The finished products are often auctioned off for upwards of $500, with the proceeds donated back to the senior center. But sometimes a quilt is passed on to a loved one.
The four women present around the table enjoy having the opportunity to busy themselves for the sake of a good cause. They talk to one another about their adventures and, of course, there’s always a little gossip.
“You get to talk about everybody that’s not here,” said Billie Jakobleff cheekily, 77, followed by a chorus of “Yes.”
They also had some stories of their own to tell.
Billie, who sat cattycorner to Shirley, has been married 52 years to four different husbands. She stayed true to her stitching while talking about her adventures as a coroner in New York. Although she could find her way around the morgue, she could never master a snowplow. On another occasion, she was an embassy worker in Saudi Arabia while her husband, a pilot, flew the royal family. Billie has a small tattoo on her wrist, which she first insisted was a birthmark, but later acknowledged was a tattoo. She exposed the mark to reveal a fuzzy, faded flower. With a smirk, she said, “you know, I got this back when it was unacceptable.”
Her stories were indeed anything but ordinary, a mix of cheeky and risky, but always full of energy and perhaps a little mischief, like when she was in Bermuda and wrecked her moped while toting around a case of Heinekin.
“Broke my bottles,” she said with a shake of her head. “And my dignity.”
It seemed Billie made a habit of living without bounds. When she finally identified the source of her adventurous spirit, she giggled.
“I think it was the tequila.”
Alex Beecher is a journalism student at MTSU. She was one of eight students who recently spent a week in Jonesborough writing stories for the Herald Tribune.