By Debbie Bullington
For Rural Life Today
MEIGS COUNTY — As far back as I can remember, both of my grandmothers made quilts. I always remember them quilting. My paternal grandmother, Mary passed away in 1980 and she was the more frugal of the two women and mostly made her quilts using scraps and random used clothing. My maternal grandmother, always purchased the materials to make her quilts, new from the store. Her name was Aileen and she passed away in 2001.
Toward the end of my Grandma Aileen’s life, when her eyesight had finally failed, she gave me a huge Samsonite suitcase packed with all shapes, sizes and colors of scraps. Tons of beautiful scraps. I took them home with me just to please my dear old Grandmother. I had been sewing since I was 13, so I figured I’d make something from them someday.
Years went by and as I was cleaning out a closet one afternoon, I found that old Samsonite suitcase and proceeded to sit for hours looking through every piece of fabric in it. And as I looked through all that fabric, I came to the realization that not one single person in my entire family had any desire to make a quilt. Ever. My Aunt collected quilts, but that was about it … so I decided at that moment, I would become a quiltmaker. And I did.
In 2005, I joined up with a band of quiltmakers from the Athens, Nelsonville and Pomeroy area and became a member of their guild (The Piecelovers). One of the things that this guild regularly did was to plan a community service project each year. The types of projects varied depending on the need. We once sent summer quilts to kids in Indonesia, made gurney quilts for soldiers on cold transport planes and designed and made a quilt for Habitat for Humanity to raffle off. But one particular year, we decided to make quilts for the veterans who were staying, long term at the Veteran’s Hospital in Chillicothe.
So all of us put our creative talents in motion and in no time we had accumulated, 52 comfort quilts,6 crocheted lap quilts and two double sized bed quilts to give to these soldiers. The only stipulations to making and donating a quilt was that they had to have a patriotic or masculine theme. So, on a bright sunny day in October, my friend Lynne and I set out to deliver all those quilts.
It was an hours drive from where we live and we arrived ten minutes late to meet with Chuck Seymour, because of all the mazes of buildings on the hospital grounds. Chuck was the Volunteer Services Coordinator at that time and he would be our guide while we were there. He told us that the first buildings on this property were built during the Civil War and it was then known as Camp Sherman. During renovations decades later, they dug up the original wooden pipes that were put there sometime in the 1860’s. Most of the other buildings were built around 1941, right after World War II commenced.
We talked to Mr. Seymour for a few more minutes and then he led us through Building #9, The Auditorium. It was an awe-inspiring place. Simple chandeliers hung from the high ceilings and the room was painted with dark royal blue paint on the walls and white on all the ornate trims. The room was spotless. The floors were so clean, you could see your reflection in them. There were insignias and honors and all kinds of flags and memorabilia on display. Seems they have dances and play Bingo in this room whenever they can. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures on the grounds because of their confidentiality policy, but the sight of this room is one I will always remember.
Mr. Seymour said goodbye and gave us directions to the building where we would be distributing our stockpile of quilts. So we left the Auditorium and sure enough, got lost again, but eventually pulled into the area for Building #211. This was where we could unload the car so we didn’t have to drag three huge garbage bags across the street from the parking lot.
When we approached the entrance to Building #211, there was a group of veterans and a nurse sitting outside, smoking. I told her why we were there and the men all said they were cold and could they have a quilt. It was sunny that day, but the air was definitely chilly. So everyone outside got a lap quilt, except one old man, who was missing a leg and sitting at a distance in a wheelchair. He hollers that “He didn’t want no damn quilt.” Fair enough.
We dragged those three bags inside to the elevator and went up to the second floor. A nurse greeted us and pointed us in the right direction. I was “all anxious” about getting the right quilt to the right person and Lynne simple said that they would get to the right person sooner or later. It was true because the guys out smoking were trading theirs around while we finished unloading the car.
Once we were on the second floor, we met a man coming down the hallway with his daughter helping him along in his walker. We talked for a few minutes and I put a lap quilt over the front of his walker. It was one of my favorites with Uncle Sam on it. He inquired how much they cost and we said they were a gift. A little while later, he was out walking the halls again and asked if he could buy the rest of the quilts. He was tired of walking so we gave him our wheelchair. We borrowed that wheelchair to haul our pile of quilts around the hospital in. So we were back to lugging all the quilts again. We knew it was going to take forever to deliver all those quilts, so we decided to split up. Lynne went one way and I went the other.
The first man I greeted was so old that he looked like he had stepped out of a Civil War photograph. He had a long, thin white beard and long, thin white hair to match. The entire side of his face was one huge bruise, that had to hurt. I spent the next five minutes listening to him tell me a story that I couldn’t understand a word of, but he pointed to the John Deere tractor on the quilt I had given him, from time to time as he was talking. He smiled and I smiled back and nodded my head every few seconds and listened to him as long as I could and finally I just had to say goodbye.
Mr. Seymour said that we might have a hard time getting away from some of these guys. He told us about a young man who come there when he was 17 years old and died there in 2004 at the age of 89. In all those years, no one had ever come to visit him. I shook my head in disbelief.
The next man I saw was curled up peacefully in his bed,taking a nap after lunch. He was a big man. His skin was as dark as his hair was white. I put a quilt over his feet and walked out. I was so glad I put gift tags on all those quilts. Just for this very reason. The tags read “Made with Love and Gratitude by a Member of the Piecelovers Quilt Guild, Athens, Ohio.
Moving through the hallways, I noticed in a few rooms where a bed was missing an occupant for one reason or another, that all the person’s belongings were neatly arranged on night stands and tables. Everything was in order, blankets folded and beds made to perfection. I imagine it was a carry over from being in the military. I know I could have bounced a quarter on one of these beds, but I felt I would be intruding if I did. I had more quilts to deliver anyway.
I was surprised to see that there were two women at this hospital also. One said she didn’t want a quilt and the other woman was sleeping and had so many blankets and quilts covering her that I decided to give hers to some who needed one more.
I put a quilt on the bottom of a bed of a soldier that would never know I was there or understand why I had given him a quilt at all. I imagined him fighting on a battlefield somewhere and sustaining injuries that were so traumatic that he would spend the rest of his days there at the VA.
This whole trip to the Veteran’s Hospital was really starting to take it’s toll on my emotions, so the next room I stopped at just did me in. I opened up a quilt that Lynne had made of red, white and blue flannel and put it on the end of the bed of a man that was so overjoyed by the gift, that he cried and that, in turn, made me cry. He asked the nurse to verify that it truly was his to keep and just wanted to touch it and be covered by it. Such joy!
Finally with our loads lightened a bit, Lynne and I met back up and decided to stop by a recreation room where a group of veteran’s were watching a football game on television. We gave them the crocheted lap quilts to leave in the recreation room when they went back to their own rooms. As I was standing there, I glanced around and seated at a table was a man just happily eating his lunch. I walked over to him and when I looked him in the eye, he smiled a big smile of recognition and asked if I was his wife. I told him my name was Debbie and he said his wife’s name was Debbie. He had a death grip on my hand and spit cookie crumbs in my face, every time he spoke. He was so glad that I had finally come to visit him. I didn’t think I was ever going to pry my hand from his and make an escape, but I did and we proceeded to go deliver the last of the quilts.
When everything was said and done, we exited the building the way we came in. This time there were more men outside, so Lynne and I sat down with the group of veterans and chatted with them for a while. We found out where everyone was from and listened to their stories for a long time. We asked them if they needed anything else. (I was thinking about another community service project) I was surprised by their requests. They requested things like hats, scarves, wheelchair bags, booties with pull on tabs and cotton gloves. Simple things really.
We said our goodbyes and went to the car and drove away. I turned to look back and they were all waving goodbye. I hope we made their day, because they truly made ours! It felt so good to have been able to do so much good in such a short period of time. The whole experience really touched my heart and every year as Veteran’s Day approaches I flash back to that day and smile.