ST. PETERSBURG — Tillie Wood sewed quilts, pursuing perfection with every stitch. She crafted bluebirds and tulips, schoolhouses and fall leaves. She sewed log cabin patterns and Christmas patterns and pale pastel hearts in pink borders.
She grew up as a Christian Scientist, believing that carelessness in any task is akin to stealing.
She tried to follow Jesus, who in a passage often cited by Christian Scientists said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect."
Quilt making suited her nature because Mrs. Wood could not sit still. She believed that anything that needed to be done should be done immediately. She walked briskly, her husband struggling to keep up with her.
She had dabbled in other hobbies such as sewing or knitting or making candles. She collected teapots, 41 of which line a high shelf in the kitchen. She has written the origins and date of acquisition on small slips of paper inside each: a mushroom-themed teapot from 1972. A black teapot with robed figures from Greece, 1982.
But it was quilts that consumed her energy and tested her patience. She created equal squares first, often in exactly the same way. She stitched them together by hand. A finished quilt could take up to two years.
There had been so much imperfect about her childhood. She was born Hilda Palfy, in Cleveland. Her parents fought. A younger brother died of scarlet fever when Tillie was 11. Tillie and two other brothers later came down with the disease and were quarantined. She wrote about the experience in her self-published memoirs.
I must have been really sick, because my father was at my bedside during the day. He came to me and said that I was going to need some help. And my mother had agreed to let me make the decision whether or not to have a doctor or a (Christian Science) practitioner. … I said a practitioner. Very shortly my fever broke and I began to get well.
As a teenager, she changed her name to Tillie to separate herself from her mother, who was also named Hilda and was later institutionalized. At a Christian Science boarding school, she suffered from depression and stopped eating.
She met Jim Wood, who had just come out of the Army Air Corps and had a sure way about him, while waiting to see an admissions counselor at Ohio University. She thought his blue eyes looked like beacons.
After marrying in 1946 they moved to St. Petersburg, where in 1953 Jim became the youngest county commissioner in the state. The couple had four children. Jim and Tillie sold real estate but barely made ends meet. Mrs. Wood was a PTA president and a baseball mom.
If there was a sticking point in their marriage, it was religion. Before they married, Jim had made his fiancee promise that their children would be reared as conventional Christians, not Christian Scientists.
"Scripturally, I'm the boss," said Jim Wood, 86. She reluctantly agreed.
A series of lectures by a visiting evangelist changed her way of thinking.
In Christian Science all my life I quoted that there is no sin and that we are all perfect ideas of God. One day after bible study I talked to Jim about this. With accumulated wisdom through study and prayer, he asked me if I thought that I was perfect. Of course not, I said. No one is perfect. "Well, to the degree that we are not perfect, we are sinners," he said. That did make sense.
So in 1975, Mrs. Wood gave her life to the Lord. She became an elder in Woodlawn Presbyterian Church.
She continued to make quilts, at least 30 of them. If anything was out of proportion, she started over. Then her back got bad and she could not sit up long enough anymore. A stroke affected her vision. She broke her hip.
Mrs. Wood died Dec. 13. She was 83. Jim Wood said he and Tillie told each other, "I love you," at least 10 times a day. "From when I married her to the end of her life," he said, "I loved her each day more than the day before."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]