This is the third week of our new blog series called, “The Wisdom Series: Sharing the Deep Truths of an Elder.” I got this idea from a recent book that my publisher, Loyola Press, released called Sharing the Wisdom of Time, a beautiful book celebrating the wisdom of our elders. This series is in honor of my grandfather, whose wisdom was featured here. We continue the series with a guest post written by my friend and colleague Stephanie sharing the wisdom of her grandmother, Earline Elizabeth LeBourgeois, known as Chutie. Read my full introduction to the series here and then follow all the stories at #SharingWisdom.
Through war as a riveter, with wedding dresses as a seamstress, through childhood and child raising, and when the waters were low and high, my grandmother Chutie’s crooked, well-worn, well-worked, bent fingers weaved our lives.
Even as a young girl with her sisters and brothers, and through the love of her mom and dad, she learned the weight and worth of work. Holding on to her Dad’s hands as she stood on the rungs of his rocking chair, it is as if we can hear him warn her, “CHUTIE, don’t fall!” She did everything but fall. Her life was as beautiful and as colorful as one of her quilts that she stitched together.
My grandmother possessed a particular appreciation for the perfection of beauty that none could deny. In the delicate strength of her quilting, her ability to meticulously create and weave beauty and perfection was spoken. This was her wisdom language.
This wisdom followed her through all of her days. My grandmother’s courage and resilience as a riveter during World War 2, as well as a seamstress, mother, and wife, gave meaning to not only her own life, but my life as well. When I think of her work and grit, I feel my roots grow deeper. My belief in myself as well as my vision for my own daughters future expands. We are the kind of women who “can do it” in the words of the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign.
As a young seamstress that sewed men’s works shirts, a World War 2 builder of planes, a dressmaker, and a quilter, my grandmother embodied all the traits of a proper tailor. She appreciated detail, completion, and quality; traits I hope to embody and pass to my own daughters, Emma and Abby.
When she taught me to sew for my first “Sew with Cotton” contest for 4-H, I spent a week over the summer learning to sew an apron at her house. I remember overhearing her tell my Mom, “Stephanie is too busy-bodied, she can’t slow down.” I later realized that she was right. She understood the beauty of a life that is lived deliberately, slowly, gracefully, and with great purpose.
My mom speaks, too, of how her mother taught her endurance by asking her to sew and de-thread pieces over and over again until they were perfect. Mom tells stories of when customers would order wedding dresses from Chutie and how other seamstress would lay the lace out on top of the satin. Chutie, though, demanded that her daughters’, Jan and Kat, cut out the shapes of the lace precisely with children’s scissors. She would rearrange the pieces to create her own masterful wedding dresses. She made wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses, and wrapped cloth to decorate shoes to match these outfits perfectly. She made dance costumes sewing the sequins in one by one. I even remember that she made new ornaments for her Christmas tree every year. This work mattered and was done intently by my grandmother. In the words of my mom, “The more difficult, challenging, small, and concise, the better for Chutie.”
She still yearned for more. After the flood of 2016 in Baton Rouge, my grandmother and I had our last deep conversation. She asked how my daughters Emma and Abby were performing in school. And, of course, in my pride, I bragged about them and their “smarts” and hard work. My grandmother preached, “Send them to college, tell them to never ever stop. I should have gone to college, you know.” She believed in working hard and bringing whatever you did well to the table.
Likely, this is what shaped her into more than just a person I loved, but an icon and inspiration to the world at such a difficult time. My children’s children will tell their grandchildren about Chutie’s days during World War 2 when she took the bus into New Orleans, and sewed men’s work shirts. Because she valued doing such great work she was chosen, she and her sisters, to work building the planes to send to the men overseas. She became our family’s own “Rosie the Riveter,” not just a beloved woman of her family but a national icon. She taught me to say what I think and stand behind what I believe. My grandmother, Chutie LeBourgeois, could always take two seemingly separate things and weave them stitch by stich more evenly and perfectly into something beautiful. Each thread sewn by hand; I am left with the memory of those beautiful worn hands bended by work.
God surely knew what He was doing when created my grandmother. God the creator weaved this beautiful woman together stitch by stitch. And, Chute, oh how wonderfully she was made, made sure to mend and attend to every stitch of her marriage to Nobles and to attend to delicate though sometimes laced in high expectation the care of her children. A masterpiece.
I still learn from the wisdom my grandmother shared. As my brother reminds me often, I hope we all still learn from her wisdom and the wisdom of her generation. They teach us patience, endurance, and honor in work. Her wisdom has affected our family deep and wide. My little brother recently told me, “She was a true patriot to her country and provider for her family, and being exposed to her everlasting work ethic should continue to guide us on our daily routines. I will always be in debt to her teachings of character, strength, and love.”
Stitch by stitch I pray that I can continue your work Chutie.
- We want to hear your memories and stories! Tell us about your elder and their wisdom or share your wisdom with us. To submit your own story to be featured on social media /or my blog during the “Wisdom Series: Sharing the Death Truths of an Elder,” click here to access the Google Form.
- Loyola Press is offering 25% off Sharing the Wisdom of Time through 3/15/19 when you use promo code 5041.
- Follow #SharingWisdom on social media and read these blogs that are also celebrating Sharing Wisdom: IgnatianSpirituality.com and The Catechist’s Journey.
- Registration is NOW OPEN for the April 1-4 Online Busy Person’s Retreat, the retreat that comes to you. Don’t delay! The last one filled up quickly!
- Read my book, Busy Lives & Restless Souls, with Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart parish in Ankeny, IA. Follow their blog here with a weekly post on each chapter.
- March 10-12: Parish Mission at St Margaret, Hammond, LA
- March 14: Women of the Well Lenten Evening of Reflection, St John the Baptist, Brusly, LA