Sunday, September 30, 2012

Virginia Avery, Friend of a Lifetime

This is Virginia Avery's birthday weekend. Today, Lesslie and Andy and Judy are celebrating 100 years of their mother's joie de vivre and jazz with countless friends who are quilters and musicians and church members and folks who simply loved Jinny. I say loved Jinny, because she died on September 5th, just weeks short of her 100th birthday and the celebration for which she'd been planning for years. 
There is no doubt that her tremendous spirit permeates today's gathering. I wish I were there. 
I hope that a few guests capture 'Virginia stories' on video. I know there will be jazz tributes. No one played the piano like Jinny.

I love this lady whom I first met in 1962 when her elder daughter and I were students together at Cornell University. Lesslie invited me home to Port Chester, NY and I fell in love. With the entire Avery family. With their sense of fun, their music and creativity. With that nineteenth century white frame farm house dubbed Folly Farm. And with Jinny.
The first time I walked into 731 King Street, I was smitten. Jinny had style and it touched every room. I marveled at the family photos that covered two walls of calico striped wall paper. A few of the photos were matted with the same wall paper. At nineteen years of age, I was impressed by this home decorating statement. Over the years I noticed that wedding photos were added, grandchildren born, yet that wall paper remains. 
I was enamored with Jinny's screen porch which ran half the length of the house. She'd hung Indian cotton printed bedspreads across the street side of the porch and up and over a day bed, which was loaded with bright pillows. One could recline here or tuck oneself into an old fashioned wicker chair to enjoy the day and a conversation.

In the living room there's a grand piano and in 1962, there was also a set of drums and two guitars.  And the family played all these instruments at the drop of a hat. Long ago - that would be 50 plus years - Jinny organized the King Street Stompers. One Sunday afternoon a month six, seven or eight musicians played jazz in her living room for themselves and several dozen friends. The Stompers was Jinny's group. It was she who kept track of the musicians and scheduling and when one was unlucky enough to die, Jinny found another to take his place.

After my move to Houston in 1967, I lost touch with Jinny. It was years before I received a phone call, "Are you the Mary Margaret who used to visit us at Folly Farm?" Jinny was coming to Houston to teach quilting classes at Kari Bresenham's new quilt festival, the festival that now fills the entire G.R. Brown Convention Center for a week each fall. 
Jinny flew to Houston every year for the festival. She taught for quilter's guilds all over the USA and Europe. She wrote books. Her first was The Big Book of Applique, Quilts to Wear and Wonderful Wearables, A Celebration of Creative Clothing. There's her piano right on the cover.
Jinny stayed with me for several days after each quilt festival and we were indefatigable, visiting museums, galleries. We always made stops at Surroundings and Casa Ramirez. Always ate catfish at Goode Company Taqueria. Always had books to trade and good reads to share, ideas to ponder. And Jinny always played our piano for the girls. They'd sit mesmerized as they watched her hands fly over the keyboard. Every moment was full.
One year when I picked her up in front of the George R. Brown, she requested an immediate trip to the Galleria. "There is a shop," she said, "where Yvonne Porcella found shoes with pompoms of metallic leathers." She wanted a pair, and after I saw them I wanted a pair too. 
Jinny won the festival's Silver Star Award in 1996 and in 2006, she was inducted to The Quilter's Hall of Fame (lots of photos at this link). A video with this link. Virginia Avery had a great run when she finally left the quilting world. 
It became my turn to travel to Port Chester and to sit on her back porch where she always hung a series of dry Christmas wreaths. I agreed with her that it was silly to simply throw out a wreath after New Year's. Better that it should weather on the porch with all the other wreaths.
I loved sitting at her kitchen table in the mornings where she'd spread out The New York Times and we would lament the current state of the country. We talked about exhibitions at the Met and FIT. She encouraged me to write more. She read my blog and sent me email missives. One year we took the train into NY to see Grey Gardens on Broadway. More than once she planned a Wondrous Women potluck luncheon during my visit and I met her friends. They are all creative wondrous women.
Jinny made wearable art and she wore it all. She wore red and black and big rings and necklaces, all with pizazz. The closet by her front door at Folly Farm is filled with the work she created for the Bernina Fashion Shows. At her neck was a rhinestone brooch with the word OK. It was her motto for life, I guess.
Virginia Avery, I will miss you always.


Anonymous said...

Our family lived right behind the Avery's folly farm house. We would always hear the music from their porch during the summer. They always seemed like a very fun family.
Jeff Slusarz, Walnut Creek, CA

Heather Stockwell said...

Wow, Mary margaret, just came upon this in a search sort of by accident! I adore the pictures and the whole story you tell and the picture you paint! I especially love the one of the lazy susan on her kitchen table!

MMH said...

So glad you found the blog post. Loved your mother dearly. What a fine friend; what a life she lived and made for herself and those around her.