Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life Before Quilting - Part I

What in the world did I do before quilting?

I was digging through an box of old albums recently that I put together long ago and thought I would share some of the photos with you.

I think I was born a documenter. My siblings did not make scrapbooks and photo albums like I did as a teen-ager, though my sister does today. Nor did they write letters like I did.  It's just what I have always done. I wrote volumes home to my friends the year and a half we lived on Panay, The Philippines and then, after one year of college, in Tanzania with my parents and siblings. I even illustrated some of my letters with sketches using colored pencils. My friends faithfully saved these letters at my request.

Here are a few highlights from those early years.  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The Biedler* and Gonzaga family Christmas 1959. My friend Daday and I on the left. The high sleeves of our dresses are called butterfly sleeves. To read more about this type of dress, click here.
(The family name was originally Beidler and is still pronounced as though it was spelled Beidler.)

Dr. Eduardo Gonzaga and his wife Anita were both graduates of American universities.  Dr. Ed was an an eye surgeon and the President of the Board of Central Philippine University at the time. Auntie, as we called her, was a musician and soloist as well as mother of six.  They were a wonderful couple and made sure we Biedlers had many wonderful and unique (for us) experiences in our 18 months on Panay. One of the most memorable was spending a week on a fish farm on the island of Negros, sleeping in nipa huts, riding carabao and getting up in the middle of the night to help net fish in the fish ponds!  We also hiked back into the mountains to where their extended family had hidden during the Japanese occupation during WWII.
My mother and father in the middle, my sister front far left, and my youngest brother in the front. One of my mother's many dinner parties. She loved to throw dinner parties from the age of 16 on! She went to work for a college in Texas after we all left home and adopted all the Filipino students (and then some!) and continued to cook Filipino dishes.  she would do the same after we lived in East Africa and she learned to make curry and serve it HER style. We all love curry to this day---as well as chicken adobo, pancit, mango cutneys...yummy!

I had always had an affinity for history and geography from about age 10 on. Now as our family traveled the world to and from The Philippines, history came alive before my eyes. WWII came to life as I heard stories from those who had personally lived thru the Japanese occupation of The Philippines. As we family camped across Europe on our way home the summer of 1960, we even saw remnants of some of the devastating bombing that the Allies had imposed upon Germany.

We also saw wonderful museums, ruins of ancient historic cities, and visited people in their homes.

Being exposed to so many different cultures during my teens also introduced me to a great diversity of design and crafts, especially in The Philippines. I still have several yards of handwoven jusi from the Island of Panay as well as the barong that my youngest brother wore. This link to jusi, however, doesn't adequately describe the lovely silk-looking fabric that I remember and still have several yards of.

Here is a group of photos I just dug out and scanned that show the various kinds of outfits my sister and I wore on special occasions in The Philippines. Here is a link to a lovely YouTube slide show of gorgeous traditional Filipino national dress.

With a friend at school.

My sister and I with a group of school friends.

Another interesting experience my sister and I had was being invited to take part in a fashion show. I don't remember now what group organized but it wasn't the school. We were asked to model a Western wedding party to contrast it with a traditional Philippine wedding party.

Here I model my own Filipino dress. I later wore this dress to my Junior Prom....minus the sleeves.

Same dress above that I wore at the Filipino fashion show, minus the butterfly sleeves.

Mother's blue dress was also made for her while we were living in The Philippines.

This is another dress made for Mother in the Philippines but she re-made it for my senior winter
formal but belled the skirt.  It was a very nice touch. The fabrics for both the blue dress and the red dress were woven in The Philippines, as was my red and silver shawl.

The last 3 months of our first overseas sojourn were spent visiting some 19 countries on our way home across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.  Ever since living in and traveling to such fascinating places at such an impressionable age, I have found keeping track of world news as natural as reading about what is going on in another State. 

Camping across Europe and the British Isles for almost 2 months as a 16 year old made history come alive and it was soon enough after WWII that we actually still saw bombed out buildings in several places. Alas, most of my letters and postcard collection were "lost" after I moved to California to finish school. I don't think the folks meant to throw it away, but I wasn't there to rescue my "stuff" as they broke up the household. Some of it survived and caught up with me later in life and some of it didn't.

Double click to enlarge so that you can read this article.
My parents were educators so the local community paper decided to do a series (above) on our travels as we headed home in 1960.

East Africa - 1963-1964

As I left for college in 1962 my parents left for East Africa.  After my first year of college we four children joined them for one year, 1963-1964.

The area today known as Tanzania became a German colony called Tanganyika in 1884 while the Sultanate of Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890. Tanganyika became a British mandated territory in 1918 and achieved independence in 1961. In 1963 Zanzibar achieved independence, and a year later formed a union with Tanganyika under the new name of Tanzania.

During our year in Africa Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963; Tanganyika united with Zanzibar and became Tanzania in January 1964; and two weeks later a portion of the army and police force of Tanzania revolted.

(above) The Dar-es-Salaam/Tanzania news photographer just happened to catch our family in the crowd at the Kennedy memorial service in November 1963. (I have circled us.)  Only Mom is missing as she was unable to be there.

Experiencing a coup d'├ętat at age 19

The Embassy personnel woke me at 6 a.m. with a phone call at the home where I was caring for two small American children while there parents were on vacation in South Africa. A coup d'├ętat was in progress, they warned me. I was to keep the doors and windows barred, let no one in and to pack suitcases for the three of us. As soon as the Embassy gave me the signal, I was to jump in the car with the two kids and flee a mile down the road to the nearest American residence and stay put. Once I hung up the phone, I could hear guns firing and see soldiers surrounding the house across the street.  The Embassy called me every hour on the hour all day. I kept tabs on what was going on in the city by turning on Voice of America that was broadcasting out of West Africa.  At 6 p.m. I finally got the all clear signal to hop in the car and head down the road where I holed up with two other American families for the next two days.

Car loaded and ready to roll for our camping trip across the Serengeti spring 1964.

Lots and lots of more stories there!

There are also the stories of sailing up the coast of Tanzania with my brothers in our little 18 foot boat; working in a small jetty on the wharf in Dar-es-Salaam while doing contract research, pouring over ancient merchants' logs of goods shipped up and down the coast on Arab dhows since the late 1800s; staying at the American Ambassador's residence for a week while the Ambassador and his wife were away to watch over their two daughters and being waited on and and foot, including being chauffeured around town on my errands; camping across the Serengeti with my parents and sibs and seeing vast herds of wild animals on the move with prides of lion in their wake!

1963-64 was one of the most unforgettable years of my life.  

I'll also never forget seeing the movie Lawrence of Arabia while living in East Africa and many years later being flooded with memories as I watched Out of Africa.

The roads were always a bit "iffy" up-country.

Setting up a tent in a strong wind is always a bit "iffy" too! This happened to us many times while camping in Europe in 1960 also. One time as a storm approached, the wind go so wild that we four kids simply held onto the tent and all jumped into the VW Bus at once.

Saying good-bye (above) to a group of students at the Teacher-Training College 

in Dar-es-Salaam. They were heading for studies in the USA.

Fabric Mother brought back from Africa.

 Somewhere in my siblings' stuff are several more pieces of the bright colorful fabrics my mother purchased in the African market place. I can find only one example in among my stuff. At that time it didn't occur to me to track down where it was actually manufactured but I am pretty sure it was East Africa; probably England or India.

There a large number of emigres from India living in East Africa at the time as well. It was in Tanzania that I had a sari made and wore it on festive occasions. Alas, I have none of my Filipino costumes or my sari anymore to show my daughters or granddaughter.  But we can't keep everything, can we, or STUFF takes over our lives completely.

Hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with me.  It brought back a lot of memories!

Peace, joy and a sense of adventure to you in your daily exploration of life,


PS: Added note 2015

In 2006 I signed up for a Textile Study Tour to France with Deb Roberts. One of the highlights of this tour was seeing shelves and shelves of huge swatch books that dated from the early 1700s to 1900. It was very interesting to see the swatches/designs influenced by African trade. These cotton fabrics were produced in Europe and sold to Africa. I highly recommend Deb Robert's tours. Read more here about one of my trips.


  1. Thank you for sharing. I loved hearing your story! Great pictures too.

  2. Wow, what a way to start your young life! So glad you shared some of your stories and photos, I love hearing about peoples lives.