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Rosie the Bag Lady
If you ever
visit the small town of Waynesville, North
Carolina, chances are you will see an
old lady pushing a cart down Main Street. Most
folks around here know her as Rosie the
bag lady. Rosie is a short, white-haired lady, in
her late eighties. Her only prized
possession is the shopping cart she pushes around
daily. The contents she carries
within her shopping cart have become the prize
possessions of many in this town and in
many tourist homes across the United States. Rosie
is not your ordinary bag lady, her
shopping cart is filled with handmade quilts.
Quilts she trades for food and shelter or
sells for a very minimal price.
Rosie collects the cloth for her patchwork quilts
from old clothing donated to her from
yard sales. Sometimes Rosie collects old clothing
from people's trash bins as well. She
carefully pushes her loaded cart of her daily
collections to the laundry matt, washing and
sorting for the finest material that she can
salvage from each old piece of clothing. This is
her daily routine through the months of Summer and Spring. When the first colorful leaves
of fall appear, Rosie disappears.
When the first fall of winter's snow lays upon the
ground, Rosie will be seen again
pushing a loaded cart, carefully covered with thick
black plastic. People flock around the
loaded cart waiting for Rosie to unveil her latest
works of art. Rosie carefully holds up
each lovely quilt for her audience. Rosie proudly
explains each new design and where
each tiny piece of material was found. Her
customers often argue over who would be
the first to own one of Rosie's fine handmade
During the blizzard of 1993, when the whole town
was without power and heat, a little old
white-haired lady was desperately trying to push a
loaded cart through the snow heaps.
A law enforcement officer concerned for her
welfare, in the freezing blizzard, stopped to
offer his assistance. "Ma'am I need to take you
somewhere out of the cold," the officer
stated pulling up along side the elderly lady.
"No, Thank-you sir that will not be necessary,"
Rosie replied, I have to deliver these quilts
to the elderly.
"Quilts," the officer asked, "is that what you have
in that shopping cart?"
"Yes sir," Rosie replied, nodding her head.
"Where did you get so many quilts?" asked the
"Why sir, I made them with these two old hands of
mine," replied Rosie.
"Well, I am going to have to get you and that cart
out of the cold," said the officer.
"Look here officer, I ain't bothering no one and
you have no right to take me anywhere,"
Rosie stated firmly. "Now if you would kindly move
along sir, I need to get these quilts to
the elderly before they freeze."
"What about you, aren't you concerned about
yourself freezing to death in this blizzard?"
asked the officer, with a sincere look upon his
"Do I look concerned?" asked Rosie, staring
directly into the officer's eyes with a defiant
"I will make a deal with you Ma'am," said the
officer. ‘I will take you wherever it is you
need to deliver those quilts, if afterwards, you
promise to let me take you somewhere out
of the cold."
"Deal," said Rosie with a wide grin pasted on her
weather beaten face.
The officer stepped out of his vehicle to help
Rosie unload the quilts from the shopping
cart. He carefully removed the thick, black plastic
covering, Rosie had carefully tied
around the high stack of quilts. He stood there in
amazement staring at the most beautiful
quilts, he had ever seen.
"You just going to stand there staring, sir, or are
we going to load these quilts in your
vehicle, before they are covered in snow?" asked
"Sorry ma'am guess I was just a little shocked by
the unexpected quality of your work,"
the officer replied, carefully taking an arm full
of quilts from the cart.
"Not bad for a bag lady huh?" Rosie replied.
"I think you’re more than a bag lady. I would refer
to you as a gifted seamstress with a
unique artistic talent, " said the officer.
Rosie burst out laughing. She sat down, right in
the middle of a big snow heap and
laughed uncontrollably, kicking her feet in the air
like she was peddling a bicycle. The
officer thought for sure this lady must be drunk,
on drugs, or totally insane. He stood there
watching in shock, wondering what he had gotten
himself into. Finally, Rosie regained
her composure long enough to speak.
"Officer," said Rosie, pausing to make sure she had
his undivided attention. "I know
exactly what you're thinking and exactly what you
are planning to do. You try and flatter old
Rosie and all the time you are thinking I am
nothing more than a thief. You think I stole
those quilts. You are planning to run me in, while
you check and make sure no one has
any missing quilts. I maybe just a bag lady
officer, but I am no fool. I may be a lot of
thing’s officer, but I can assure you I am not a
thief. I never took anything from anyone I
did not work to pay for. I always pay my dues."
The officer stood there in shock staring at the
tiny white-haired lady before him. How
could she possibly have known what he had been
thinking. Guilt now filled his insides, as
he looked directly into her honest eyes. He knew he
had been mistaken about this lady,
she was not a drunk, insane or a thief.
"I am sorry I offended you Ma'am," said the
officer, as he loaded the last of the quilts into
the backseat of the car.
"I know if I had been driving a Cadillac and
wearing a five-hundred dollar outfit, you would
have never doubted my word," said Rosie, staring
into the officer's eyes.
The stinging truth of Rosie's words shot through
the officer's heart like an arrow. This little
lady had made him realize just how judgmental he
had become. He had already tried and
convicted this kind lady in his mind. Simply
because she drove a shopping cart. Without
speaking another word, he climbed behind the wheel
of his vehicle. Rosie took the seat
After several long minutes, the officer broke the
silence. "Ma'am, my name is officer
Woods," he said, glancing toward the little lady
seated beside him. "May I inquire as to
"My name is Rosie," she replied.
"Do you have a last name," asked Officer Woods?
Rosie just stared at the officer with a blank look
on her face.
"Your given name," said the officer. He thought she
must have misunderstood the
"That would be Rosie the Bag Lady, I reckon it was
a name given to me by everyone in
this town," she said, laughing at her own joke.
The officer burst into laughter, amused by Rosie's
quick wit. He could not help but
wonder, who this lady really was and where she had
come from. What her story was and
how she had ended up pushing a cart full of quilts
on the street. She seemed to be highly
Rosie must have read the officer's thoughts. "I
guess you’re curious about old Rosie," she
said, looking across the seat at the officer. "I
like you and I am going to tell you my story.
The story no one knows about old Rosie. Once upon a
time, I was a beautiful young
princess who lived in a large castle. I was married
to the prince of my dreams. I used to
spend my days watching our little princess run
through the large flower garden’s chasing
The officer thought old Rosie was using her wit to
get the best of him again. He almost
laughed, till he saw the sad look that had fallen
across her wrinkled leather face. Tears
were falling from Rosie's eyes.
She reached inside her old ragged coat pocket,
pulling out a leather bound pouch. She
handed it to the officer. " Open it," she said.
The officer opened the leather pouch, removing the
contents. A large diamond ring, a
gold wedding band, a locket and several old black
and white photographs.
"Read the inscriptions on the back of the locket
inside the wedding band," said Rosie.
The officer turned over the locket and read aloud
the inscription on the back. "To my
loving wife Rosie." The same inscription was
engraved inside the thick gold wedding
band. He carefully studied each of the photographs.
A beautiful young lady holding a
child on her lap, a handsome young man sitting
beside them, with his arm proudly
displayed around the gorgeous lady's shoulder. The
next one, the same little girl, but
older in this photograph. The last, the same
handsome man placing a ring on a beautiful
lady's finger inside a church. Rosie's wedding
picture. He placed the items back in the
pouch and returned them to Rosie.
"It was the winter of 1939," said Rosie. "Polio had
plagued the city and my family as
stricken by the dreaded disease. I lost my husband
and my daughter."
The officer fought back the tears that now
threatened his eyes. He had noticed Rosie
walked with a limp. He thought she must have been
stricken by the polio and survived.
Rosie continued to give the officer the final
details of her life story. She explained that
after the funeral of her daughter and husband, she
had simply walked away. Leaving
behind the city where she was born and all of her
possessions, accept for the leather
pouch. She had walked from town to town over the
next twenty years, taking jobs as a
seamstress in various shops. In the summer of 1959,
she had arrived in the small town of
Waynesville, North Carolina. For the last
thirty-four years, she had made this town her
home and the kind people her family.
"Are any of your immediate family members still
living?" inquired Officer Woods.
"My family members were adopted out to various
homes over the years," said Rosie.
"No one wanted a half-crippled child back in those
days. Day after day, I watched the
only sisters and brothers, I had ever known, carted
away in some fancy vehicle."
Officer Woods realized Rosie's limp was not the
result of polio, but a birth defect she had
been born with. He and Rosie continued their
journey down the icy country roads in
silence. Stopping from door to door of the small
country community, to deliver Rosie's
handmade quilts to the elderly.
If you ask people in this town who Rosie is, some
will simply say the old bag lady who
pushes a shopping cart along the streets. If you
ask the tourists who line up to purchase
her quilts, they will say the most amazing
seamstress, whoever lived. If you ask Officer
Wood's, he will say, Rosie is the beautiful angel
who delivers quilts to the elderly, during
winter blizzards. The angel that has anonymously
donated over two hundred handmade
quilts to the Ellida Home Orphanage, located in Asheville, North Carolina, over the last
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