A creator of precisely patterned quilts and free-form, abstract works of rectangular strips—"get-togethers," she calls them—Polly Bennett has maintained this diversity of style since her earliest quilts from the 1930s.
A lot of my life I done forgot. I was born down in the Bend in 1922. My mother, she name Mary Mooney. Daddy was named Minniefield Mooney. Mama stayed down there with him until I was six years old and they separated. We moved up to a place owned by a white man named Dennis Will. We farmed up there: cotton, corn, peanuts, sweet potato, millet—some of them call it sorghum—cane used for syrup. We made what they call ribbon cane syrup. When I was grown I got given a job nursing for a white family—that's a lazy job, sitting down. It's easy after field work, too easy for me. I love to stir around. Then the cook, she left; I took the job cooking. I worked for two, three families. I worked long as I could afford satisfaction. When they start to complain, I might go someplace else. The last job I had, I worked for her for thirty-one years down in Gastonburg. Ora Laird. They say she was a mean lady, but I could get along with anybody once I found out their ways. I enjoyed working for her because she didn't ever tell me what to do. Not even what to cook for dinner. She say, "I ain't no cook. I eat. You the cook; cook what you want to." I never think I'm a good cook, but everywhere I work they said I was a good cook. I hate cooking.
The first time I met my husband, Mark Bennett, was in '42. He was working in Gastonburg, too, for Herbert Wilkinson. After the old man died, his son Herbert Hall Wilkinson Jr. took over, and after that, the grandson Allen. Mark was the foreman for a lot of years, about thirty years. Us married in 1946, lived on the hill over on the Rehoboth road. We had to work hard. It was a tough life sometime, but I loved to work. We had a little farm at first, had a corn patch and watermelons. Mark had his regular job, but we worked the farm, too. Anything a man can do out in the field, I could do. I plowed two steers at a time. Steers are more contrary than a mule. Mark loved to work, too. People respected his work. He's still raising cows and watermelons, and keeping a big garden—at seventy-eight years old.
When I was a girl at home—I reckon I was eight or nine years old—I started making quilts. My mama taught me, show me how to cut the pieces and quilt, too. I call myself making something, but back then what I made be so much longer on one side than the other. I didn't start getting them exactly right for a long while. My first finished quilts, I was about fifteen, sixteen. The first was, I believe, a "Nine Patch." Then I started making what I call a "get-together," just putting pieces together—any color, any sizes. Back in them days, I didn't care how they looked, I just put them together using old clothes mostly, and sometimes go down to Linden and get scraps they were throwing away in the clothes factory. The man over the factory down there let folks go through the throw-away stuff. The dump truck going to come get it anyway.