Press-Republican

May 12, 2013

Patching together a mystery

By GORDIE LITTLE, Small Talk
Press-Republican

---- — For me, life is a like a patchwork quilt. One square is stitched to the others, and the collage is a collection of Little life experiences. Hopefully the quilt is a work in progress and won’t be completed for a long time.

One of the prominent squares is our screened-in deck just 3 feet from the Saranac River bank. Thanks to my friend Les Bradford, it is now dubbed “The Saranac Room.”

Sitting here on a cloudless morning, sipping my ubiquitous cup of coffee and drinking in the panorama that nature and the glorious springtime provide, I cannot help but be reflective. 

Quilts are important to Kaye and me. We had a wonderful old quilt made more than a century ago by Kaye’s grandmother. It was preserved lovingly until we gave it to our daughter Sharon, who used it for years. This morning as we chatted with her and her husband, Galen Pavone, in our Saranac Room, she said she now keeps the quilt in a cedar chest as a family treasure.

Kaye and I went to our first quilt show on Cape Cod in the ‘70s. I’ve done radio and television specials at several Plattsburgh quilting shows and will do more.

Several decades ago, a couple dozen of our family members decided to make a quilt for our daughter Barbie’s wedding. Each person created a unique square containing colorful pictures and names. It was sewn together and made a rather impressive gift. I haven’t seen it since.

Last year, as I sat chatting and signing books at our St. Alexander’s Parish craft sale, I met a woman named Angela Swan, who is herself a quilter. She and her husband, David, own a business on the Lakeshore Road in Chazy. She told me she had acquired an old quilt and thought I might be interested because it had the name “Little” written on it. 

My curiosity was aroused, but circumstances kept me from seeing the quilt for many months. Finally, in late April, the opportunity came, and I stopped at their home. She brought the quilt, folded neatly inside a plastic bag and showed it to me. As a matter of fact, she gave it to me in hopes that I could perhaps do some research to see if it were somehow connected to my family.

Here’s the story: David Swan’s late mother, Nancy, bought the quilt at an estate sale years ago, perhaps in the Chatham, N.Y., area. When she died, it came to David. As Angela unfolded it, I was amazed by the cursive message written in a bold hand across one corner: “Made by Grandma Little in her 80th year and presented to Jessica E. Little on her 20th birthday, September 11, 1894.”

The date Sept. 11 is significant in ways we know. Grandma was born in 1814, a year we are all too familiar with. My dear friend, historian and genealogist supreme Julie Dowd did research for me and learned that Jessica’s father was Russell Little of the “Insurance” Littles in Glens Falls. 

By the way, my father’s name was also Russell Little — not the same one. Jessica’s family lived on Ridge Street in Glens Falls. Old newspaper articles revealed that Jessica left a couple weeks after that 20th birthday to attend Comstock Academy, an elite finishing school in New York City.

She was maid of honor in her sister’s wedding performed by their uncle the Rev. Charles Little, a Methodist minister. Decorations came from the D.R. Little Greenhouses. 

Fred Little worked with me at a Plattsburgh radio station years ago. We’re not related, although he calls me his illegitimate father. He now lives in a place called Littlestown, Pa. I asked him if he could be connected to the Jessica E. Littles. He said his Littles didn’t move to the greater-Albany area until the late 1940s, but he found the quilt story fascinating.

So do I. If I can find any of Jessica’s descendants, I will gladly present them with the “Little” quilt.

Have a great day, and please sing “A Quilting We Will Go” as you drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com