Sew perfect: At 101, Dorothy Wallace Foisy still is sewing baby blankets

Dorothy Wallace Foisy (left) shares a tender moment with her youngest daughter Lynn Walker at Conifer Place, where Foisy now lives. She recently moved to Oregon from Florida, and has continued to sew dozens of baby blankets for families in need.

NWBSN staff
Dorothy Wallace Foisy (left) shares a tender moment with her youngest daughter Lynn Walker at Conifer Place, where Foisy now lives. She recently moved to Oregon from Florida, and has continued to sew dozens of baby blankets for families in need.

Dorothy Wallace Foisy sews baby quilts — a lot of them. Often, two a day. In fact, since September, she has sewn 50 blankets.

But as she sits among the blankets, folded neatly on the bed by her daughter Lynn Walker, Foisy picks up a blanket, unfolds it, strokes the pink fleece and comments, “Who made these?”

She echoes the statement several times, despite the gentle reminders by Walker that her mother did, indeed, make them. But Foisy, nearly 102 years old, has struggled with dementia over the past five years. She can’t remember many things when asked about them, and insists it’s something else.

Yet, ask her to sew and Foisy becomes a different person. The machine brings her back to life, and the rote memory of so many years seated in front of it, return Foisy, if for just a few moments, back to the person she used to be.

“She used to do elaborate quilts,” says Walker, “all by hand. And she used to do all the shopping for the fabric. When she lived in Florida, she made hundreds of quilts for migrant worker families, homeless babies, unwed mothers. I wrote to them where she lived, just to verify that she’d actually been doing this.”

Walker says it stems from her mother’s love for babies and children.

“I wanted 14 children,” Foisy says. “But I only had four.”

Walker says her mother doted on her four children, raising them in an idyllic setting in rural Pennsylvania with their father William Wallace.

Her children are Kim (deceased), Dee Ann, Scott and Lynn.

“She was a stay-at-home mom,” she says. “It was a wonderful life, we had a fantastic childhood. Children don’t get a childhood like we had. We were free, we rode our bikes everywhere. We were able to have a different kind of life back then.”

The time was just after World War II, rations were lessening, money was more plentiful, and the family treasured their time together. Foisy sewed her children’s clothes – and even baby doll clothes to match, something Walker remembers with pride. “You spoiled me rotten,” Walker says to her mother.

Foisy, born in 1915, lost her own mother when she was just 3 years old. Walker believes it’s why Foisy was so determined to be the best mother she could be, to make up for what she didn’t have. However, Foisy’s mother was a very good cook, something Foisy didn’t inherit.

“Cookin’ isn’t one of them,” Foisy says emphatically, of the things she loved to do. Instead, she enjoyed sewing, painting, writing poetry and traveling.

Foisy’s first husband, William, died in 1976. Later, she remarried Jim Foisy and they were together for 25 years before he died about a year and a half ago, at the age of 99. At the time, they had been living in Florida.

After William died, Foisy began to travel. First to Saudi Arabia, where her son Scott worked for the airlines. He was able to take his mother to India, China, Japan and England. When Walker lived in Spain, her mother visited. When Walker moved to Hawaii, her mother visited six times.

“She just loved to travel,” Walker says. “She got lost everywhere, but she was so cute that everyone just helped her out.”

In Florida, she had a group of 10 friends who often went out to lunch at a restaurant by the beach. Her husband Jim was in an orchestra, so she also attended many of his concerts. Together, Dorothy and Jim loved to dance.

Foisy also loved to swim and, at age 85, was doing backflips off the diving board. At age 92, she went parasailing with a friend who didn’t feel quite as adventurous about going 500 feet up in the air. She wanted to go again on her 100th birthday, but this time Walker forbid it.

Last year, Walker moved her mother from Florida to Oregon, to Conifer Place in Corvallis, a facility she calls a “wonderful place. I’ve been in a lot of facilities here and in Florida, and this place is unbelievable. The love and care that (my mother) gets here is really wonderful. You just can’t fake that. This is a wonderful place, and I’m so thankful that we were led here.”

It’s a relief for Walker, who’s still working and knows her mother can’t be left alone. “It’s small, intimate, and the staff takes really good care of people,” she says. “That means more than anything to me.”

But something they work on together is Foisy’s health. Both Walker and Foisy follow a regiment of holistic healing, and Walker says her mother is in amazing health.

“She has been healthy her whole life,” Walker says of her mother. “She never took a pill or aspirin. Then, her husband took her to the doctor’s and they put her on a lot of medications. Now, she takes a couple pills, but it’s natural things like fiber, cranberry, probiotics and vitamins. I’ve been involved in natural healing for many years, and that’s our first line of defense. We try to do everything naturally.”

Walker is thankful for the time she gets to spend with her mother, especially in helping her sew the baby blankets. She picks out the fabric, brings it to her mother and together they cut up the strips to sew the blankets.

She will leave the cut-up material with her mother and when she comes back the next day, Foisy already will have the top put together and ready for the back to be put on.

Walker has been looking around for a worthy place to donate her mother’s blankets, and is talking to an organization called Quilts from Caring Hands, in Philomath.

“I’ve called them,” she says, “waiting to see where I could put them, where they would do the most good. They put the blankets in a variety of places, and I think they’ll do the most good.”

Walker sits next to her mother and wraps her arm around her. “She inspirational,” Walker says. “She’s very kind and very cheerful. She’s had a lot of sad things happen to her, but she always went to the bright side. She never burdened anyone else with her problems. She and I have been really close, but she’s close with all her kids.”

With a smile, Walker then quips, “But my brother thinks he’s the favorite … and we let him.”

Jacob’s Ladder

by Dorothy Wallace Foisy

Eventually water seeks its own level

And so it is with people, or should be

We go off in so many directions

Seeking the best way to live

And thinking we have found it

Then try to make everyone go our way,

Now, if we were all alike it would be very simple

But God made us all different

Different sizes, shapes, colors, genders, nationalities with different talents, tastes, needs, etc.

We are all individuals

No two are alike, not even twins

So it stands to reason

We should be free to choose what to do,

How to dress, where to live, what to eat,

Our friends, our simple pleasures and our religion

No matter what you choose to believe

All ladders lead to God

You are free to choose the one you want

It is foolish to even try to convert everyone to go only one way,

Especially when they all lead to the same place

It may be different but no better

We are all Equal in God’s eyes

So let everyone be at peace

With the ladder of their choice

To climb to God their own way

Don’t knock the rungs out of my ladder

Take care of your own ascension

Let me go to God my own way

As I give you the same privilege

Only then will we have “Peace on Earth”

Besides … One ladder won’t hold us all!

Amen!!

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