SHERIDAN — Frances B. Grimshaw died in 1970 — before the birth of her grandchildren and while most of her children were still school-aged.
But her legacy remains strong in the Grimshaw family, according to youngest daughter Carol Olson — even among the generations who never knew her.
“None of the grandkids knew our mom, although they all knew our dad,” Olson said. “But they probably know our mom as well as we did, because we talk about our parents all the time. It’s important to pass those memories on to the next generation.”
And so Grimshaw's five children — daughters Olson, Barbara Martini and Cheryl Marsh and sons David and Stephan Grimshaw — talk. They remember family outings to Bruno’s, an old bar and dance hall in Kleenburn near Sheridan. They remember card games. And they remember their mom listening to the old blue phonograph that was always playing country music — usually Hank Williams.
But even after all these years, there are surprises — like the one Olson and Martini recently discovered buried in a closet in Stephan Grimshaw’s house.
In one of the many boxes stashed in a closet, the sisters found intricate hand-embroidered fabric squares with images of state birds and flowers from all 50 states created by their mother. The panels, middle daughter Marsh said, were likely created for a quilt intended for one of the children, but was left unfinished at the time of Frances’ death at age 42.
Frances’ daughters knew of their mom’s love for embroidery — a passion they have carried forward in their own lives. But uncovering the project, which the daughters expect was undertaken in the last decade of Frances’ life, gave them a new appreciation for their mom’s artistic abilities.
“I was really excited,” said Martini, the oldest of the Grimshaw siblings. “I was amazed at the workmanship and the colors and the detail. I’ve seen the patterns for these, and they didn’t have the sort of detail that mom put into them.”
“I think she looked in our old encyclopedias and found all of the birds, and added to the pattern based on the photos,” Olson said. “She put a lot of work into each and every one of these.”
The embroidered birds, which the sisters estimate took between 200 and 300 hours to create, are even more impressive knowing Frances created them while raising five kids, caring for her ailing mother and keeping her house in order, Marsh said.
“Our mom only got through the eighth grade,” Marsh said. “But when you look at all these things she did, she really accomplished a lot. Something like this just gives you a better appreciation of who she really was. Since most of us knew her as children rather than adults, it is pretty special to keep discovering these sorts of things after all these years.”
Upon discovering the squares, the sisters resolved to finish their mother’s final project. But for such a sensitive project, Olson thought it best to call in an expert: Karen van Houten of Big Goose Quilting.
Van Houten said she has worked with Olson on other quilting projects and was excited to help the Grimshaw siblings keep their mother’s legacy alive.
“I loved doing it,” Van Houten said. “I love quilting because it is a way to preserve memories so they last more than a few days. A quilt is something that people can keep and cherish and pass down to the next generation.”
Van Houten said she spent roughly three days on the project.
“I don’t just start quilting and go until I’m done,” Van Houten said. “I stand back and look at it and think about it some more. You have to take time and think about how to do it — especially with this project, which was older and had been in the family for a long time. You want to do it justice.”
The final product more than lived up to their expectations, Olson said.
“I called my sisters and said, ‘You are not going to believe this quilt,’” Olson said.
“And I immediately thought something bad had happened,” Martini said. “But when I saw it, I thought it looked phenomenal. It was everything we hoped it would be.”
The sisters still aren’t sure what they’ll do with their final product. They’re not even sure who they will pass the quilt onto once they pass. But one thing is for sure, Olson said: the quilt stands as a monument to a mother who still looms large in the memory of those who knew her.
“For all of us, including our brothers, I think it’s a final memorial to our mom,” Olson said.
“That’s kind of what quilts do,” Martini said. “It’s a way to preserve history and memory and pass it on. And, for us, it’s a way to keep our mom’s memory alive and remember her after all these years.”