A Hot Cup Of Redemption


Welcome to my first grade class at Crestwood Elementary, circa 1964!

There’s not much I remember about my teacher, Mrs. Behrens, except for a comment she made that changed my 7-year old life. And not in a good way.

See the girl with the hair like a helmet?  Second from the right, bottom row; that’s me.

On “picture day” my classmates and I lined up in single file so the photographer could take our individual photos.  One shot and you were done.  NO do-overs.  Just before my turn, Mrs. Behrens thought my hair needed a do-over so she whipped out a comb and rearranged it into the German helmet you see here.


Weeks later when my mom saw this picture, which she paid for in advance, sight unseen, she was so mad at my “hair re-do” she could spit nails.

This has nothing to do with the life-changing comment.  I just felt compelled to explain how my hair got so funkified.

Now, the life-changing thing.  Every week or two, part of the school day was dedicated to making art.  We kids would come in from the playground all hot and sweaty from playing dodge ball, kickball, or just beating each other up and there on our desks were the supplies we’d need to unlock our inner Michelangelos.  On one such art day we were each given a lump of clay and were told to mold it into anything we wanted.  After about 10 minutes of the clay and I staring at each other I finally decided to make a squirrel.  I drew on my vast experience with Play-dough and mud pies to command my lump of clay into the form I wanted.  Unfortunately for me, Mrs. Behrens mistook my squirrel for a turtle.  Here’s the conversation:

Mrs. B.: “Valerie, what a nice turtle!”

Me: “Um, it’s not a turtle.  It’s a squirrel.”

Mrs. B.: “Wha?  Oh.”  Then giving it another good look, “Well, don’t feel bad.  Some people just aren’t very good at art.”

I know she was trying to make me feel better but her comment had the opposite effect.  I dreaded “art day” forever after because I knew I had heard from the voice of authority and I wasn’t very good in art.  I never took a drawing, painting, sculpting, or photography class because I was already convinced of the outcome: Squirrelville.

Thank God my mother was persistant in her urging me to start quilting.  It’s the best art form for me.  Who could have guessed that 50 years after Project Squirrel, my latest piece titled Queen Of Heartburn, would win 2 awards at the 2015 Seven Sisters Quilt Show: 2nd place in “Art Quilts” and “Most Innovative Original Pattern”.

Seven Sisters 120

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.  –Pablo Picasso


  1. Dave & Sheri says:

    WELL DONE, VAL! We are proud of you.

  2. Vicki M. says:

    The quilt is FABULOUS! God bless your mother for knowing how to nurture and encourage you. By the way, I had Mrs. Vassar at Crestwood that year for 1st grade.

  3. Joan Tennison says:

    Great job Val!

  4. Marsha Bolyanatz says:

    You were ALWAYS cute throughout your childhood–no matter what the hairstyle, or teacher comments/activities…And you showed your creativity in many ways. I remember the beautiful blue dress you made me when you were just 14 and I was 21. And all those letters you and our kid brother wrote to me when I was away at school…you were a funny and talented writer even then. Love, Big Sister “Sha”

  5. aftermathquilting says:

    I just found your web site and went back to see the beginning of the Queen of Heartburn. Thank you for sharing your precess. The end result is stunning!

  6. You go, girl! Sorry to say I’ve heard several stories like yours. Reminds me to be careful what comes out of my mouth. Love your quilt!

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