Only 30% of kids in the Texas foster care system graduate from high school. That makes those who do exceptional and worthy of commendation. The nonprofit Day1Bags.org which provides backpacks for foster kids had an idea: give a homemade quilt to every kid who is graduating from high school. The Texas Quilters Facebook page exploded with volunteers and a worthy project was launched. State-wide, 684 quilts with specific criteria for the project were donated. These were gifted to the graduates at parties coordinated by entities in the various areas that work with foster children. 2022 was the first year of this mission and 2023 promises to be even more successful.
I wrote this piece a few years back after a nightmare and real life experience. Today I went to a music recital where kids were showing their love for music which I hope stays with them always. The music teacher is in this piece and I thought it might "strike a note" with readers. It has been published a couple of times and adapted to a prose poem for the AIPF. This is the original "Just One Note."
Just One Note
The nightmare flashed through my mind just as I parked the car near the Fine Arts Center. The lot wasn’t yet full, only the choir was arriving for the evening concert to be held in the university auditorium. Closing my eyes, I fought the vision running through my head and the distress it created.
The images displayed a large hole in the earth opening and pulling carpet-like grass and trees and me into it. The helplessness was terrifying. I struggled to escape and attempted to cry out. That muffled shout caused my husband to awake me from the uneasy sleep and I lay fearful of sleep and continuing the nightmare for a long while. Many hours later, in the light of day right there in the car, those emotions were returning and the panic with it.
It was the same force which had been in the nightmare, I was sure. A pressure, a power like some giant magnet pulled at my soul. This was indeed the identical terror I felt in the night which now caused my pulse to quicken. Why now? Right before the big concert? Forcing my eyes open to see the real world I saw vans stop and black tuxedoed figures carrying instruments in cases toward the doors of the Fine Arts Center. The orchestra was there. Taking a deep breath, I shook my head quickly side to side and rubbed my palms together to warm them and dispel the discouraging emotions raging within me.
The pressure and negativity subsided, so I gathered my music notebook and made way into the building. Seeing smiling faces and feeling the growing excitement of being one of over one hundred voices accompanied by a professional orchestra caused me to relax and join the others in preparation. But as we filed onto the stage to take our places, my eyes were drawn to the back of the auditorium. The magnet-like pressure abruptly grabbed my very being.
Something was out there. It was some THING in human form. Dressed in a gray suit, it appeared stiff and formal, much like the character, Mr. Carpenter, from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the classic science fiction movie my husband watches every time it is aired on television. The people walking past it do not seem to notice its presence. With certainty, I knew it was the source of the pressure and had been with me since the nightmare. In a controlled panic, I glanced about, but found no escape. With a brave heart, I looked toward the being.
Suddenly, I knew why it was there. To study me, to see me as an example for mankind. Somehow I also knew other people in other places were also being studied, but this being was there to examine me. The magnitude of this caused me to almost crumble under the strain. I had to remain strong and not cause a scene. The concert was important, the 40th anniversary of the collaboration of the community and university choirs. A professional orchestra performing in our little town. It was a unique situation, for sure, but why focus on me? I am just a normal person, not rich, not famous, not beautiful or especially talented. Just one person in the big group who loved to make music.
A feeling of skepticism and some hostility came from the THING which caused me to feel even more shaky and weakened. Breathing deeply, I felt my elbow touch the woman beside me. I sensed her presence, her strength, her gentleness and, fighting tears, I drew power from the connection. Then the first violinist stood and nodded to the oboe player. With her instrument, she played one note, so clear and full and focused, from which the entire orchestra tuned their instruments. The concert was about to begin. I felt the THING was interested, the negativity and pressure lesson, and I took heart. It seemed surprised when the choir and orchestra stood when the conductor took the stage. This is a traditional show of respect for that one man. He, too, is just a regular guy, a supremely talented choir director who is thrilled to be conducting an entire orchestra and the many voices. We love him and he loves us. He raised his baton and the concert began.
Throughout the concert I was aware of the THING, but became consumed by the wondrous music being made by the instruments and voices. These sounds feed my soul. To be a part of that, to lose myself in the whole, that was why I was there. To experience the awe of being a piece of a grand picture. There are a few of those moments. A childhood friend, an opera singer, called it “the top of the mountain experience.” They are few, but those moments are why we do what we do.
The THING, which may have been on Earth to destroy us, to annihilate our society, to blast our very existence into eternity, let me know it could feel the magic of the music, the beauty, and it understood why we were there. From that first note through the last Hallelujah chorus, it stood still. I believed I could feel it was satisfied seeing the entire audience stand and applaud the result of the concert. We in the choir smile, are relieved, and are full of the music.
As the audience exited the auditorium to talk and partake of punch and cookies, it remained in place. The pressure, the magnetic pull again attached to me, but not with hostility. I walked toward him, against the flow of people with smiles on their faces. I was frightened, but could not stop walking until I faced it.
The edges of the unnatural eyes shined with light. It seemed much like a robot, hard and inflexible. Why didn’t anyone else see it? I knew, again, it was there for me. Then I heard a sound, much like that note the oboe played some ninety minutes before. It came from the being, as well as from myself. A hum, silent to the ear, but heard with my heart and mind.
The THING nodded once, ever so slightly, as if granting permission or conceding a point of contention. It turned away and disappeared. Shocked at the sudden release of the magnetic-like pressure, I stood looking at a wall for a time. My husband approached, touched my arm and asked if I was all right. Coming out of the trance, I smiled up at him and nodded. Yes, everything is fine. All it took was one note.
That one note saved my world.
“Two million dollars.” Elliot slowly mumbled the words with disbelief. He stood on the flat roof of the three story building where his accounting career had begun-and was now ending. Over the years, he became fond of the clients at the CPA firm of Cheatham and Ruckham. Many contributed their life savings to the investment schemes of the elder partners. Elliot Ruhn received his promotion to managing partner fifteen years into his employment with the firm, and just one week prior to his precarious trip to the roof.
At any moment, Elliot expected sheriff deputy cruisers and possibly the SWAT team to descend on the area. He vowed at the first sight of whirling red and blue lights he would jump. His partners had stolen their clients’ money and caught a plane to Mexico. All Elliot knew was they left him holding the empty bag. They were kind, or cruel, enough, to leave a letter on his desk stating they were hightailing it out of town before the cops arrived. Apparently they received word Mrs. Whitely and Mr. Butterfield reported their missing funds to the district attorney.
Elliot peered up the street and saw red lights. Heaving a deep breath, he stepped toward the edge of the roof and looked down. His ancient Honda Civic was parked in his reserved space. He hadn’t had a chance to get a new car since the promotion. The two spaces next to his which usually cradled a matching pair of Cadillacs were empty. ‘That’s where I’ll land,’ he thought. The letter he hand wrote and tucked into the inner lapel pocket of his suit coat would explain. He took another step toward the edge and looked at the street again.
“Oh, my! These rocks are slippery! Oh! Help!” A voice cried out, distracting Elliot from his purpose. Shocked, he quickly moved toward a figure which had appeared from nowhere. The man had fallen down onto the gravel and tar roof leaving his feet hanging over the edge. Elliot quickly moved toward the strange man, grabbed his outstretched arms and pulled him backward, away from the edge of the roof.
“Oh, thank you, my boy. You know, that’s just the traffic light up there. No cops are coming...well, not yet.” The man rose to his feet, flicked off a few pieces of gravel stuck to his brown, plaid suit and stuck out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Elliot Ruhn. My name’s Clarence. Clarence Oddbody.”
Elliot automatically clasped the man’s hand, enduring an intense shaking for quite a few moments. “How do you do? Wait! How do you know...I mean...who are you and why are you here?”
Clarence took Elliot by the elbow and led him sit on to a low, asphalt shingle covered wall surrounding an air conditioning unit. “There’s no need in killing yourself, son. What will your mother say? It wouldn’t be fair to desert her now! Her heart couldn’t take it. Besides, I’m sure we can get the two million dollars back.”
“Yeah, like that? How do you know that? How’d you know I was thinking...well, explain where you came from!” Elliot was understandably upset. Clarence was an older fellow, with a ruffled shirt beneath his suit coat and longish white hair. The mode of dress was odd for 2012-the man looked like he stepped out of the 1800’s.
“That’s simple to explain. See, I’m your guardian angel.” Clarence sat back; satisfied the answer would explain everything.
“Guardian angel? You? That’s crazy. There isn’t any such thing...person. Besides, where’s your wings, angel?”
“Aww, that’s why I’m here, I’ve got to earn them. I’m here to help you, Elliot.”
“Great. You got two million dollars on you, angel?”
“Oh, no, we don’t use American money in Heaven. But we’ll get that missing money back for you. Tell you what, you help me win my wings and I’ll help you retrieve the misappropriated funds.” Clarence was serious. Elliot was skeptical.
“Hang on a second. This whole thing sounds familiar. Yeah, in that movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” That angel’s name was Clarence. He was a clockmaker. What is this, a weird dream? ”
“No, no. Not a dream or a nightmare, for that matter. Yes, you are correct. That was me. Except in life I was actually a watchmaker. Rumor was they altered my occupation because that guy playing Joseph wanted to sound extra sarcastic and he could drawl out claaaukmaaker better than watchmaker. Boy did I get in trouble with the real Joseph for signing on to play that part. Only now has he allowed me to try again to win my wings and that incident was longer ago that I was alive in the first place. You’ll help me, won’t you, son?”
Both men stared at their feet. Elliot’s black shoes shone against the flat black of the tar on the roof. By contrast, the pewter buckle on the extremely worn brown leather, lace up boots on Clarence’s feet barely reflected the afternoon sun.
“This material. The black tar. It’s like those places out west where they found dinosaur bones, if you believe those stories. Why is it on the top of this building?”
“Huh? Oh, it seals against the elements and holds the gravel-wait a second. Yes, the La Brae Tar Pits in California. Saber Toothed Tigers and such were found there and stop distracting me. How can a dead watchmaker help me? Why don’t you just fly away?”
“Because I haven’t gotten my wings! Elliot, I’m your guardian angel. It’s my job to help you.”
Elliot released a sound of disgust and disbelief. He rose to walk toward the stairway but stopped when Clarence spoke.
“You believe in the dinosaurs and you haven’t ever seen a live one. Why not believe in me? I’m here to help you. We’ll get ‘em, Elliot, we will.”
Sighing, Elliot remembered George Bailey from the movie and experienced a very odd sensation. His very own Clarence Oddbody knew everything that was happening-even that Elliot lived with, and cared for, his mother who was suffering from congestive heart failure. He continued his escape from the roof with Clarence following the younger man down the stairs.
Back in his office, Elliot shook off the strange feeling and stared at his diplomas and certificates on the wall. All was ruined by his two, greedy bosses. The depression he had felt earlier gave way to anger. Let the sheriff come. He had done nothing wrong. Unlike George Bailey, he wasn’t going to take the blame for his partners’ deeds. George’s Uncle Billy simply made a mistake. Cheatham and Ruckham were criminals. Hearing someone shuffling down the hall, he rose to his feet, ready to make war if necessary.
“Ha! I knew it. Joseph was right. Elliot! He said to look under the desks. Lookee here! Joseph told me...ah, how the Almighty works in mysterious ways. Those buggers forgot their passports!” He held up a manila envelope to spill the contents onto Elliot’s desk. Two small booklets slid out. “Where did the letter say they were going?”
Elliot fumbled to open the folded paper which had been stuffed in the pocket with his own suicide note. After tearing the latter into shreds, he focused on the laser printed words under the company letterhead. Grinning, he looked up. “Let me make one phone call and then we’re headed to the airport. They should just now be trying to board a flight to Mexico City at the International terminal. Clarence, you saved my life. Let’s go catch the bad guys!”
The sheriff received news of Cheatham and Ruckham’s likely location from the third partner Ruhn with surprise and relief. He, and several deputies, arrived at the gate where the flight to Mexico City had just completed boarding without two of the first class passengers. Clarence had ridden, terrified, in the Honda and Elliot lost track of the angel in the busy terminal.
The police found one million dollars in each of Cheatham and Ruckham’s carry-on bags. The two men had been denied boarding passes after being unable to produce their passports. They panicked upon seeing police, but were taken into custody without incident.
Elliot stood in the background while his bosses were ushered away. The sheriff stated the cash would be logged in as evidence, and then returned to the firm. As remaining manager of the CPA firm, he was to handle it as was appropriate. The sheriff also suggested changing the firm name from “Cheat ‘em Rook ‘em and Run.” Elliot nodded understanding and watched the group walk away. Suddenly a woman carrying a small dog ran past and Elliot heard a strange sound. A bell on the dog’s collar was ringing due to the woman’s bouncy stride. The little dog barked at him as he looked into the air and said, “Atta boy Clarence!”
And you can help!
Here’s a disturbing fact: only 45% of kids in the Texas foster care system get a high school diploma OR obtain a GED! My husband and I learned a bit about the foster system a few years back and, sadly, that statistic was not a big surprise. So when I heard about a program which started on November 1, 2021 to make quilts for kids in foster care who are graduating from high school, I jumped in with both feet and immediately signed up to make two. The coordinator has arranged with CPS to connect quilts with the kids all across Texas. This organization has provided backpacks to foster children for several years and is branching into awarding these quilts to graduating seniors who are in foster care.
But they need help. As of 12/5/21 of the 622 graduating seniors, there are still 218 slots to fill. The deadline is 4/15/22 so there is time, but we need to take action now to ensure every kid on the list gets a quilt. You can make a twin size with ten inch drop which measures 59" wide by 95" long with matching pillow case. That size will be versatile for use throughout the recipients’ lives. Just sign up on www.day1bags.org and look for the “Are you a quilter?” button. For anyone outside Texas, just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll hook you up to make a quilt.
Another option for folks in and out of Texas is to make blocks. To keep consistency, the block should be in black and white only, solid or tone on tone, but no other colors. I’ll add color during construction. It should be done in the wonky star pattern in the attached .pdf. It finishes at 12 ½” and is quite simple to do. When completed, contact me at the above email address for mailing instructions to send your block(s).
Just imagine how meaningful it would be for a kid to receive such a wonderful gift. Their lives have likely been in turmoil and had very little stability. So getting a quilt made just for them which they can keep forever would both celebrate the accomplishment of graduating from high school in difficult circumstances and serve as a message that there are people out here who care.
While visiting with my friend, Julia Broussard, at the Dublin Historical Museum, she mentioned wanting to have some sort of “thing” for Veteran’s Day. As I had just signed up to become the local representative for the Quilts of Valor, I said, “I have something.” A package had arrived with three nominations about a week before. I had a quilt top ready, but two of the nominees were Vietnam Vets and I felt compelled to have both of them involved. I put a call out on the Town and Country Quilt Guild FaceBook page, and got another patriotic quilt donated. I asked Gloriana Tadlock if our ladies' barbershop group could do a couple of patriotic songs to kick off the ceremony. Before I knew it, there were ten singers involved. Okay, think I, we’re on the way.
I knew of two Vietnam Vets who had written poignant poems. After getting the ok to use them, I asked a friend and musician to read one and I would read the other. Before then, I did not know he, too, was a Vietnam Vet. There was something on my mind to use as a little speech to lead up to the award portion of the ceremony, so I wrote that up and ran it by a couple of friends to be sure it was all right. What follows here is a list of the songs performed, the text of the poems, and my speech. We had upwards of thirty people attend, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I personally feel it was a job well done.
Caisson Song (both recipients were in the U.S. Army)
Make America Proud of You
There’s Something About a Soldier
The Pledge of Allegiance
The following poem by Clint G. Majors was read by myself after I stated how, over time, Clint used poetry to sort out his emotions and depression.
In raging silence, all I had was lost
My friends, myself, my youthful pride.
In silent screams my search began.
"Awake!" I cried, but no one heard.
Sunless rivers stealthily forged thoughts
Sometimes only in my mind.
I hear their names and see their faces
In jungles past and interlaced in my
Mind’s eye - with silent screams.
My search begins again, "Awake! Awake!"
I cry out to solemn silhouettes
Silently passing me by with body bags
Of olive drab that hide,
That hold my friends inside.
What was lost - What was gained
On lifeless jungle nights?
Here again the screams began
And only I - only I, hear their names
I scream in vain through tears
Then pause and hesitantly call their names
Frank Willis - Harold - Jim - & - Michael
And, then, quietly, gently call the rest.
I cried and no one heard me scream
In silent desperation
Now with bugles blown
Mothers tears all shed
Nightmares fill a widow’s dream
And little girls know their Daddy's dead.
Little boys play at games of war
With plastic helmets and toy guns
Move to Navy Blues with golden Tridents
Upon their chests.
Those little boys will never know
The weighty price they'll pay.
For loud and proud does Freedom ring
But with it comes
Some little girls
With their Daddy dead.
Again I hear their names
Frank Willis - Harold - Jim - & - Michael
And then quietly, gently call the rest.
No one heard me scream
In silent desperation.
By Clint G. Majors, Seal Team One, US Navy
“Some Gave Some, Some Gave All” sung by Cheryl Devivo
This poem by Smokey Culver, an accomplished cowboy poet and all around great guy was read by Glenn Murray.
Orders in his hand, he stepped up in that Greyhound bus
He looked back and he wondered to himself
“Is Vietnam a one-way trip; will I be coming home?
I’ll have to play the hand that I’ve been dealt.”
They came from farms and cities, from all backgrounds rich and poor
No common bonds, from different worlds, and yet
Those friendships, though unlikely, would be all that they would have.
He’d give his life for someone he’d just met.
He saw a world he never once imagined he would see
As bullets passed, he felt each brush with death.
He clutched her picture in his hand and said a prayer of thanks
Each time he lived to take another breath.
For some, the letters came from home and kept their hope alive.
They had someone who waited patiently.
Yet others were alone in life and had no one at all.
Their wartime buddies were their family.
And there were those who met their fate, their lives were gone so soon,
Their names are now inscribed upon “The Wall.”
They stepped up and they did their part; they didn’t hesitate
When they were called upon, they gave it all.
It seems it’s been a lifetime, yet those days he still recalls.
He sits and has his coffee all alone
Reflecting on the nights when fire lit up the blood-red sky
And, if he slept, he dreamed of being home.
You would not know to look at him the visions he endures
The tortured screams, the blasting of the bombs.
Yet there’s a part of him that’s lost, it never will return
The part of him he left in Vietnam.
At that point, I dried my tears and stepped up to say my part. This is what I had prepared.
In 1970, my 8th grade history class held a debate. Three people prepared the “Pro” argument supporting the war in Vietnam. Three other people were to present the “Con” point of view arguing against it. The Pro people had very valid arguments and even statistics that validated fighting against communism threatening the people of South Vietnam. But the popular opinion of the time was that the US military should not be involved. The Con group used dramatic speech and capitalized on the high emotion of the time and the whole class was swept into the anti-war feeling.
I voted for the Con group, though that wasn’t actually how I felt. Only recently I learned another classmate had the opposite experience, his class voted unanimously for the Pro group. This just goes to show you, emotion can sway opinion. Years afterward, I realized what had happened to me, being swept up in emotion and peer pressure, likely happened to a lot of people. And, even at the time, it was something of an epiphany for me.
When that early teenaged class failed to do what was obviously right, it affected the shy girl that I was. Somewhere inside me, the regret of not supporting the better argument molded a resolve to always stand up for what is right. It might scare me, my hands might shake, but I will say what needs to be said. People who know me can attest to that.
Both of my parents served in World War II. I am a patriot at heart and so was very pleased to be able to become the area representative for the Quilts of Valor. The Quilt of Valor Foundation was established in 2003 by a mother of a deployed soldier in Iraq; knowing the comfort a quilt can bring and the importance of supporting the veteran of war. Since then the program has grown nationwide and has awarded over 280,000 quilts. That creates an emotion I’m proud to share.
Today we are here to award quilts to two Vietnam veterans. Craig Washam, Jr. served as a Howitzer gunner with the 1st Infantry Division. Mark Hall was a Green Beret with the 7th Ranger Battalion. We thank you for your service, gentlemen. And, yes, that was a long time ago, but what we experience in life creates who we are. These men deserve to be recognized and we are honored to present them with these homemade quilts.
We then called up the recipients and, each in his turn, wrapped him in a quilt with his name on it to, as the QOV people say, “Wrap them in love and comfort.” I cracked a joke that it was like crowning a king and draping the fur trimmed cape over the crowned prince. We laughed about it and the men were very good and willing participants. Each said he was very honored to have received such a meaningful award. Then we had some cookies and water. The ceremony was a big success. I can only imagine what the next one will be like!
Dirt Roads to Dust
Living in rural Texas means dirt roads are a part of everyday life. You see, asphalt and concrete can’t be used everywhere. So lots of folks have a love/hate relationship with our extremely necessary dirt roads. Vehicles need to get to homes, stock ponds, barns and such. These gravel and caliche roads make remote areas much more accessible. That’s the “love” part of the relationship. The “hate” part comes with the side effects. Like, don’t come to my house to do a white glove test. Oh, a tan glove might be all right, since the caliche on our road is of that color. Between vehicles driving by and the ever-blowing wind, massive amounts of dust escapes from the road and ends up elsewhere...everywhere...especially on my coffee table.
At what point does the dust become dirt, you ask? The best answer is this: when company is expected. One then notices the dusty surfaces are indeed dirty and quickly breaks out various cleaning apparatus. Such a realization came over me recently when I had the opportunity to interview with a TV news reporter from Dallas, Texas. I thought we’d meet somewhere like a restaurant or Dairy Queen and do the story. Oh, no. She wanted to bring the film crew to my HOUSE! In a panic, I spent the majority of two days bulldozing the dirt from my living area. Man, it was close, but at last the dust/dirt was removed...from that room. I didn’t even try to clean the other rooms – and certainly didn’t care by then. I hate housework.
Then what happened, you ask? Late in the evening before the interview, the TV thing got cancelled. I was disappointed, sure. I mean, I’m a writer and am always looking for good publicity. The upside was the living room was clean. Well, less dirty. Really, what’s the point? Dust one day and before you turn around those surfaces are dusty again. So, wait until that dinner party or your mom is coming to visit, do a thrash cleaning and call it good. In the meantime we can pretend it’s all right NOT to clean – just leave the dust in a uniform coating creating a natural appearance. That may or may not work out for you. I’m willing to keep up the charade.
If the dirt outside would just stay outside, the only dirt inside would be the dirt we bring in ourselves. That dirt we can pretty well control. The dust that filters in unseen is a completely different...dirt. Oh well, our dirt roads are practical, easily maintained, and even picturesque. Isn’t it a shame that same dirt in our houses isn’t so great?
One nice day, I was sitting on the back porch, just rocking in the double glider and letting the wind try to blow away my worries. The bank account was dangerously low and I had no hope of any additional income for months. Tears glistened in my eyes as I noticed the other rocker was moving back and forth in time with me. The wind, I thought. We get a lot of wind up here on the hill. But I felt something, a presence and thought of my friend Nanci, whose life was claimed by a horrible cancer some seven years prior.
I thought about us in college, how we had such fun, we supported each other during emotional upheavals and had that special relationship where we could make jokes naturally and spontaneously. Life moved on and we lost touch through the years. Then I was writing a book. Write what you know, they say. I wrote about my college days, the adventures of riding up and down the drag, getting chased by boys, honking and flying through parking lots. With the advent of the Internet, I found her address and sent a letter hoping she would email or call me.
She did email me, and told how her husband left her with four kids, how she fell at work one day and it was discovered she had Stage 4 Inflammatory breast cancer. She didn’t want to meet since she was undergoing chemo and didn’t feel up to it. Over the next few weeks, I sent her blocks of chapters of the book as I wrote them, and she reacted so positively I knew we could reconnect.
So, one day, we did. Another old friend and I met her at a restaurant. The smiles we shared that day opened the door for a renewed friendship. We saw each other often after that. Two important moments we had: riding in the car one day she said she didn’t know if we would be able to talk, with she not being the same person she was. But she found out she was that same person. Then, a day or two before she died we had the chance to tell each other "I love you." I miss her so often. Suddenly I had a thought. Bring her to life after death in a screenplay. It will be wonderful. We can be silly again and crack jokes and I can feel her presence again.
I wrote that screenplay. It won an award at a film festival. Since then I've learned, just like with books and films, you can add screenplays to the list of creative works for which thousands of people are vying to get attention. Oh well, it is an accomplishment and another trophy on the mantle. So, I’m still in financial straits, but I have Nanci in my heart and that is priceless.
Back in the 90's, we had a ’77 Jeep CJ 7 with a V8 motor. It was big. It was loud. It was powerful. It was obnoxious and I loved it. Sometimes I’d drive it to work in Dallas and motor up three levels in the parking garage rattling windows and setting off car alarms. It was great! We took it to Colorado and climbed mountains. In New Mexico we maneuvered up narrow forest roads to come out on a ridge where you could see all the way to Mexico. But the trip to Big Bend National Park is what this story is about.
Pretty much all the roads in the park are accessible by most vehicles. But Glenn wanted a “skull and crossbones” type trail to take the Jeep down. Most all the roads had warning signs to beware of flash floods during a rainstorm. Hey, it was the desert, what rain could there be? We found a road on the park map marked “Not Park Maintained.” That was what he was looking for. At the beginning of the trail a hand lettered sign said something like ‘proceed at your own risk.’ Glenn grinned real big and off we went.
Being in the Chisos Mountains in that far corner of Texas is like going back in time. Stone water troughs beside skeletons of wooden windmills mark where pioneers tried to create civilization. By and large, that didn’t work out. It is a harsh environment, suited for rattlesnakes and javelina, a herd of which roamed through the motel grounds every evening at dusk. The little pigs, not the snakes, of course.
Many of the maintained trails led to the Rio Grande. It was kind of odd standing there on the bank of that slow, muddy river knowing one could throw a rock to Mexico. Somehow we got off on what we thought was a road but turned out to be a sandy river bottom, likely an area the Rio Grande had run at some time before changing course or maybe just a sand bar. I was driving and did all right until it got pretty deep and I knew it would be better for Glenn to drive. That was wild, spinning tires, slinging sand, and inching forward. Getting back on the gravel road was a relief.
The scenery is majestic, worthy of the National Park status. But the land is as harsh as it is beautiful. However, there is a true peace there. Artists come to paint, hikers to hike. Us, we ride around. The rumble of the V8 Jeep sort of shattered that peace as we motored off into the back country.
The “unmaintained” trail was one of those places often called a “wash’ or an “arroyo.” Basically, it was a dry creek bed filled with sand and rocks fallen from who knows where. Glenn drove very slowly, picking our way through the obstacles. Often you could see where some off road maniac rolled a rock into a gap so tires could get across. Several times we were at such a sideways angle I could put my foot out and touch the rock. It was a slow go and Glenn loved it.
Then, some dark clouds blocked out the sun. In the distance we could see rain. There we were, in a dry creek bed which would likely carry one of those forewarned flash floods. We got nervous, but there was nothing to do but keep going and get out of there while the clouds grew ever closer. A couple of times we could smell rain. I cannot lie, I was scared.
At long last we emerged from the trail onto the top of a mesa. What a huge relief! Glenn conquered the extreme trail and the Jeep came out unscathed. He climbed up on the Jeep to get a look around and had a beer. I’m sure I had a Diet Sprite. A few raindrops fell on us, but we didn’t care. We made it out all right. That Jeep is long gone, but recently I found the photos and thought I'd share the story.
It’s kind of funny, while I don’t “get” abstract art, I am drawn to nontraditional quilt patterns with an abstract quality. Repetitive star block quilts just don’t turn me on. And I seem to have an eye for color. An artist, my friend Bettye’s mom, once complimented me, “Elaine, you understand color…” Anyways, somewhere I found a cool, free pattern in a technique called “Bargello.” An ongoing debate exists if the pronunciation is Bar-Jello or Bar-Gello with a hard “G.” For the record, I asked an Italian quilter, she said definitely Bar-Gello. Tomato, Tomahto, Potato, Patahto. Anyways, the technique is enthralling. So, I printed this pattern of an asymmetrical heart and read the instructions. Such as they were. It was Greek to me. I set it aside for several months, picking it up occasionally to see if the words made any sense.
Finally, I scanned a page of the Greek and posted a question on the Bargello quilt FaceBook page. Ah, help arrived with a couple of clues and the light bulb came on. I figured out what to do, picked fabric from the “stash,” got to cutting and sewing. There was no plan for what to do with the finished quilt, I was just making it for the heck of it, using what I had and trying not to spend any money. About half way through the assembly process, my friend Brenda’s mom passed away. I looked at the pink and mauve fabric and thought, this will be for Brenda. Now with a purpose, I happily continued on. But when the top was complete, I had a problem.
The colors blended too much. They were quite complimentary, but you couldn’t see the heart very well. Darn. I realized I should have used more contrasting fabric, but it was too late. A couple of months before this I discovered a casual friend was a “long-arm quilter,” meaning he has the big, computerized machine to do fancy quilting on large pieces. Plus, bonus, he lives about three miles from me. I showed it to him and he thought on it a while. The solution was to double batt the heart with a loose quilting pattern, and use single batting and a tight pattern on the background. This allowed the heart to literally “stand out.” I finished it and made my plan to surprise my friend.
About this same time, I had the opportunity to coordinate a quilt exhibit at the local arts council gallery. Ooh, think I, I’ll hang the heart bargello in that exhibit and ask Brenda to come to the reception. I sewed on a label to show it was in memory of her mother. I kept the secret for over a month. The fine arts director thought my plan was great and chose to put it right in the lobby.
During that reception, I was visiting with some people and suddenly, there was Brenda. Now, this gal is a special friend. We go back forty years to college days. She’s a character in my book, “Ridin’ Around.” Every time I hear Earth Wind and Fire’s song “September,” or Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” I think of her practicing her modern dance routines to those songs in the hallway of our college dorm. She was there for me when I was recovering from a motorcycle wreck. I took her to the hospital when she fell off a ladder and broke her foot. These days, we attend a weekly line dance class together.
Anyways, I grabbed her hand and led her back up to the front. The fine arts director followed us, and took photos and video. I explained how that stunning quilt hanging there in the front lobby of the gallery was for her, for her mom. Yes, we cried together. It was a truly special moment. A few weeks later she came by the house to pick up the quilt and take it home. We cried again.
Every quilt has a story. I’m pretty emotional about this one, but it was a special moment. It should be hanging in her house now so she can see it every day. That’s a powerful connection between good, good friends.
Now that I’m getting pretty good at putting a quilt together, people ask me how I got started. That’s a pretty good story, so here goes.
My sister friend, Pam, whose father was in WWII, as my parents were, told me about a sewing project to commemorate 70,273 mentally and physically disabled people who were murdered by the Nazis in what came to be known as the Aktion T4 program. The 70273 Project was founded by a quilting lady in North Carolina whose sister-in-law was brain damaged in a tragic accident as a child. Jeanne Hewell-Chambers saw a documentary on the Holocaust which briefly mentioned how prior to the mass murder of the Jews, disabled people were targeted for assessment by Nazi doctors. Their information was on a form which went through three doctors. If two of the three put a red X on the form, the person was executed.
This master quilter in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains thought, ‘Oh, my, that would have been Nancy. She is so precious to us, we love her so much and they would have killed her with no regard for the person she is.’ Jeanne saw in her mind pairs of red X’s on a white background. A little research led to the statistic that 70,273 people were murdered in this program. She then had an epiphany, a life mission to create quilts containing white blocks with pairs of red X’s to raise awareness of the value of the mentally and physical disabled. She set up standards and provided detailed instructions to maintain consistency. The project took off like proverbial gangbusters and people from all over the world, 143 different countries, volunteered to help.
Back in the day, I sewed. Heck, most of my clothes worn in school were homemade. My mom gave me a sewing machine in about 1984. I used it some, but it got stuck in the closet and moved several times. Upon becoming involved in the project, I started sewing again. I became an ambassador for the project, Pam and I created kits to give out for people to do blocks and mail in. I attended the Houston International Quilt Show as an ambassador and had an embroidered piece I made displayed in the project booth. The Project had 50 of the red X quilts in an exhibit there. Pam and I shipped off hundreds of pairs of X’s as well as several completed quilts and were thrilled to learn than in just shy of three years, the goal of 70,273 pairs of red X’s had been achieved.
Amazing. The result? I felt really good about the whole thing and I got interested in quilting. I made several cool quilts before my trusty old machine finally croaked, then got a new one for under $200, and embarked on a new, creative hobby. Oh, and is it also interesting that I cannot draw, paint, or do such type art, but I can put fabrics together to make art. That is good for the soul.