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Friday, February 07, 2014

Episode Spotlight - "The Quilt" from "Family Matters"

How many of you out there know the ancestry of your family? 

I mean, just think about it for a second.  There are now dozens of websites out there ( perhaps being the most successful of the lot) that allow a person to trace their entire family history just by entering the names of a few key people in your life.  Even "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow came up with the idea for a television series which had celebrities tracing their roots in a show called "Who Do You Think You Are?"

I'll admit that I've never really gone on any of these sites before, but I do know quite a bit about my family heritage.  Sure, none of my family members ever went off to serve in a war, nor did the create a better bread box.  But I do know that thanks to a little bit of questions and a lot of history projects, I know that I could consider myself to be quite worldly.

(Seriously, I'm considered a Heinz 57 with all the different nationalities flowing through my lineage!)

But when I was doing those history projects - one example coming to my mind was back in the ninth grade in which our teacher had us interview someone who lived through "The Great Depression" - we couldn't simply log onto the Internet to find all of that information out.  Keep in mind that when I was in ninth grade, Windows '95 was the hottest computer software going!  And, I have now dated myself quite badly.  Why do I keep doing that?

Anyway, since we couldn't get answers from Google (it didn't exist back then), and since books could only offer so much when it came to generic history, we had to rely on the stories and legends that had been passed through the family from generation to generation.  Some of those stories are actually told by the elders of the family.  Other stories are passed down through family photo albums, letters and postcards, or diaries...much like some of the electronic ones that I've been doing over the course of this blog's existence.

And sometimes, stories are told from a particular piece of art, or an article of clothing.  Or even something as simple as a quilt.

As far back as I can remember (keeping in mind that I've only lived a grand total of three decades plus a third), quilts have been at the centerpiece of many families history.  Every patch on the quilt tells a story, and in some cases, each square was made by a particular family member and passed down from generation to generation.  The bigger and more elaborate the quilt was, the louder it spoke, so to speak.

I can't say that we have any sort of quilt like that in my family.  I can't even really say that we have ANYTHING like that in my family.  Maybe my dad's seventy year old guitar comes close?  I don't know.

Well, in today's Friday Night in the TV Guide entry, we're going to be taking a look at a television series that actually aired on Friday nights.  It's going to be a special episode spotlight too, with the special guest star of the show being...a quilt.

But not just any quilt.  A quilt with a lot of history.  And, while I would have liked to have been able to find clips of the episode so I could post them here, I came up empty.  So, I'm going to have to rely on my descriptive abilities on this one.  But that won't be too difficult as I remember the episode very well.

And, because February is "Black History Month", I thought that this episode spotlight was a great one to pick.

Today we'll be taking a look back at the television series "Family Matters", specifically the first season episode "The Quilt", which originally aired on December 8, 1989.

Now, I see some of you groaning and shaking your head in annoyance.  I don't blame you.  "Family Matters" did very quickly turn into the "Steve Urkel" show, and by the time the series wrapped, it was like watching a skit on "MAD TV".  A really, really BAD skit on "MAD TV".  I can understand the decision behind elevating Steve Urkel to main character status.  Jaleel White did have the charisma to keep that role going on for as long as he did, and for a time, Steve's shenanigans were amusing to watch.  But his shtick got old, real fast, I ended up tuning out in frustration.

That said, one of the reasons why I loved the first season of "Family Matters" so much is because it was relatively Urkel free.  I mean, yes, Steve Urkel was introduced in season one - as a recurring character.  But it wasn't until episode twelve of the first season.  This episode is the eleventh.  So, if I tell you that "The Quilt" episode doesn't feature Steve Urkel at all, would you consider sticking around?  I hope so.

Anyway, those of you who did watch the series "Family Matters" know the premise.  It was a spin-off of "Perfect Strangers", which featured elevator operator Harriette Winslow (JoMarie Payton), her police officer husband, Carl (Reginald velJohnson) and their three children, Eddie (Darius McCrary), Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth).  Also living in the household were Carl's mother, Estelle (Rosetta LeNoire), Harriette's sister, Rachel (Telma Hopkins), and Rachel's son, Richie (Bryton McClure).

Kind of resembles "Full House" a little, doesn't it?  I always did wonder how so many people could fit inside a tiny little house.

So, anyway, in this episode of "Family Matters", the Winslow family is engaging in an activity that a lot of sitcom families end up doing for laughs.  They hold a garage sale.  And, you know, at first the sale just seems like the B-plot of the episode...especially when Aunt Rachel happens to come across an old saxophone up for grabs at the sale, confiscates it for herself, and attempts to play it - annoying everybody else in her family in the process.  Sounds forgettable right?

Well, why don't we move ahead to the A-plot of the episode.  The one in which the Winslow kids are trying to decide what to sell at the garage sale.  I don't remember what the specifics are though as to their eagerness for helping out at the garage sale, but I want to think that they were given the promise that everything they sold themselves, they were allowed to keep the money for.  I don't know if that is even correct, but I know there's some explanation for Laura being quite the saleslady.

In fact, when a woman comes around the sale and has her eye on a quilt that happens to be lying around, Laura makes the sale, and the woman walks away very happy.  And, Laura is very happy that she sold something at the sale.

But do you know one person who is NOT happy?  Mother Winslow.  Turns out that quilt has been in the family for many generations, and was actually not meant to be sold at all.  A heartbroken Estelle tells Laura that the memories and the stories that the quilt had within every stitch and square of fabric were absolutely priceless, and she is devastated that it is now in the hands of somebody else.  And as Estelle goes into her room to cry about her missing quilt, Laura begins to realize that she made a terrible mistake, and sets out to try and track the quilt down.

Sure enough, the quilt is found rather quickly.  The woman who bought the quilt is an art dealer who owns a gallery in the heart of Chicago's art district.  And, the quilt is at the forefront of the display in the gallery's main lobby.  It also has a price tag worth way more than the original price that the woman paid Laura for...a price to the tune of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars!

So, that's her plan.  Buy pieces of art at low prices, and sell them for insanely high prices, detailing the value and worth found within each piece as a selling point.  My, my, capitalistic art gallery owner, you do play your cards right, don't you?

Alas, our impeccably dressed gallery owner is sympathetic to the 12-year-old Laura's pleas to give back the quilt, but she is not willing to let her little investment go so easily.  I honestly don't remember if the woman actually offered to sell back the quilt to the Winslow family for the new price that was on the quilt or not, but for some reason I seem to recall that this is the case.  It's been years since I've seen this episode, so my memory is still a little bit fuzzy.

But one thing that does stand out is Laura's reaction when she is told that the woman doesn't want to give back the quilt.  She breaks down in tears and practically begs her to reconsider.  Keeping Mother Winslow's words about how valuable the quilt is to the family, she practically recites Estelle's lecture to the art gallery owner, who slowly comes around and becomes more willing to negotiate.

By negotiate, I mean that she gives the quilt back without any hassle.  Who knew that tears sometimes DO work?

Anyway, the episode concludes with Laura giving Mother Winslow the quilt back, and a relieved and overjoyed Estelle thanking Laura profusely - even though Laura was the one who caused this problem in the first place.  And as the episode ends, Mother Winslow tells everyone the stories behind how the quilt was created, and fades to black.

Again, I wish I only had more examples to show you of this episode...but it's worth a look.

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