I went to Mills Home August 1962. Mother won custody of us children in the divorce, but it was a bitter consolation since she could not afford to care for the three of us.
Although I spent the first week in tears, I am grateful today to my mother for sending us to Mills Home. And, I’m grateful to North Carolina Baptists who felt my life was worth the financial aid they provided on my behalf for the seven years I lived there.
Living at Mills Home meant learning responsibility for many things including taking care of my own clothes, being responsible for cleaning my part of the bedroom and performing a duty. Every child on the campus was assigned a duty, and we changed every six months or so.
My kitchen duties included preparing, cooking, cleaning and serving meals. One of the best assignments while working in the kitchen was running out to yell the daily milk and bread order. Boys delivered milk and bread, produce and groceries around to cottages on the girls’ side of the campus. The only other time to see and talk to boys was either at church, choir practice, or during the time we were allowed to play in the valley or gym.
When I had duty at the infirmary, Lois Brown, the dietitian, indulged me with her marvelous Yorkshire pudding. I learned about germs and the importance of cleanliness when I worked for nurse Fanny Miller.
Another duty involved working across the campus in the kitchen at the Miles Durham, the little boys’ cottage.
Ola Mae Byrd and I worked in the kitchen, and even though Mrs. Helen Hoyle was fair, she expected us to get the breakfast fixed, served and cleaned up before we headed back home each morning to get ready for school and catch the school bus as it met our cottages.
After school, afternoons were spent cleaning the living areas in Miles Durham cottage and helping with the evening meal, cleaning the kitchen and finally back home to our cottages for study hall. The days seemed short since we were always busy and kept on schedule with our various assignments.
Once Mrs. Hoyle had me sit on the wool coiled rugs in the TV room floor and sew the coils back together. She gave me a curved needle and a spool of strong upholstery thread with instructions on how to sew through the coils and hide my stitches as I closed the long holes years of use had left in the rugs.
Fast forward to 10 years ago; I used another curved needle and strong upholstery thread to mend the holes of my preacher’s coiled rug in the church office.
He was amused with my story about how I learned to mend that particular type of rug so long ago at Miles Durham.
Fortunately, I was assigned sewing room duty many times using one of the treadle Singer sewing machines to make miles of kitchen dish towels from pre-cut unbleached cotton muslin rectangles. I loved sewing and quickly promoted from dish towels to bib aprons and later to little boy’s housecoats.
Wrap-around skirts were popular and I made many of black denim. Every girl on campus wore a black wrap-around skirt one time or another, and I probably made half of them.
With meticulous training from Mrs. Richardson and Mrs. Campbell on how to read and use clothing patterns, I matched plaids and made (wool) plaid, kick-pleat kilts, skirts, tams and capes. In fact, I sewed my own two-piece bathing suits (that actually worked when they were wet), sleepwear, housecoats, dresses, blouses, shorts, pants and practically everything I wore while in high school including two prom dresses.
One summer, while the tour choir studied music at Fruitland Music Camp, we performed a new musical arrangement and were the first to sing it for the composer. I continued to study clarinet, bass clarinet and bells while in high school, marched and played for the award-winning Thomasville High School band and orchestra.
Although I thought I was more disadvantaged by my comparison to children who weren’t from Mills Home, it is apparent now that I was offered many opportunities to excel and encouraged to perform and lead while living at Mills Home.
Education was stressed at Mills Home. As a business administration major, I graduated magna cum laude from National University and went on to earn my MBA from there as well. I am currently a database manager for a small manufacturing company in Lindsay, Calif., where I live with my husband.
You probably want to know how this relates to quilting. I remember spending cold winters in the cottage wrapped in quilts made and donated by North Carolina Baptists. I remember loving the designs and the pretty colors of those practical covers we used all winter long.
My quilt training began 23 years ago and is a great passion in my life. I know that the joy I felt sewing as a child is part of the passion now. Fabric is my artistic medium.
My art quilts have won six national or international best-of-show awards. My quilts have been featured in Quilting Arts Magazine, On Track! magazine, The American Quilter magazine and The National Quilting Association’s “2009 Show Special.” Ancient Memories, my wedding celebration quilt, just won 1st place at the Asheville Quilt Show in the professional mixed technique category making a total of seven awards for this quilt. And Grape Harvest, made with two other quilters, has garnered four best-of-show awards in addition to two other awards in national or international competition. Both quilts have been juried into the International Quilt Association’s upcoming quilt festival competition held in Houston this October.
I’m a vocal advocate for women taking control of their breast health as well as using breast thermography for yearly exams instead of the antiquated technology used in mammography.
Because of my community service involvement I received the 1996 Lindsay Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year and the 1997 American Association of University Women Lindsay Branch Community Service Award.
Mills Home workers helped teach me about God’s love and His mercy and the way to salvation. Mills Home workers showed me mercy and love in a multitude of ways. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned growing up at Mills Home, and I know now that the workers there cared deeply for me as they made sure I learned lessons needed in my adult life.
To see more of the national award winning quilts by Lynn Gantt Drennen, go to http://community.webshots.com/user/lynnie915.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Drennen was a Mills Home resident 1962-1969.)