As we roll along Highway 40, on the way home, memories of the days in Biloxi remain fresh. Upon leaving home, I had planned to journal each day as we moved through the experience. Once on the scene however, I found that in the few free evening hours there were many things to do: eat, share events of the day, sing, rejoice and sleep.
Therefore, I woke up on Saturday morning after the first week of work feeling a need to create some expression of this experience. Perhaps the impressions could be exhibited with an object, rather than with words. There was no rehab work planned for the weekend so Jim and I were going to explore the environs. We went to Ocean Springs, a charming old community just to the east of Biloxi, which had sustained very little Katrina damage to its’ downtown. There I found a quilt shop. The owner and her two clerks were anxious to share their stories and to talk with me about the business. Many of their customers lived in FEMA trailers and found it difficult to work at their quilting hobby in cramped quarters. The owner had extended an invitation to them to use her large classroom in the back of the shop. “Just bring a sandwich, spread out your project and spend the day.” There were several women working quietly in the back room.
The shop was well stocked and as I looked around ideas started to form. There was only one bolt of fabric with the traditional Marti Gras colors (gold, purple and green). One of the ladies said it was hard to keep that fabric in stock and that they would get a big shipment of it in after Christmas. I had to start with that. Then there was a white fabric with black notes that seemed appropriate. However, that wasn’t the way we found much of New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport or Pass Christian where we had spent the last week working. So I started to search for materials that reminded me of the disarray we had found everywhere along the coast, even fourteen months after Katrina wrought her fury. There was a print that looked like bricks, one that had a house, a tree, some stacked wood, a rock wall, etc. How would they all go together? It had to be a crazy quilt pattern! That is what we saw—trees toppled, houses tilting, roofs blown off. Large objects twisted and tilted by a great crashing force.
I left the shop with fabric, warm good-byes and a resolve that the piece would be completed within the next week using only the fabrics that were purchased at this shop. I had often admired old crazy quilts done by hands long ago, but had never made one myself. The thought of working my way through this creation reminded me of our work in rehabilitation. We were often asked to work on projects we had never done before and we used the materials and tools that were at hand. Each new assignment given to a team of volunteers was a challenge of brains (how in the heck to we do this), braun (do we have the strength/agility to accomplish this) and above all teamwork (how can we best use the talents of each team member and support each other to make the best result). Sometimes we felt apprehensive; sometimes we felt stretched; sometimes we felt jubilant. It was a unique and fulfilling experience.
The fabric “journal” (for want of a better name) was completed by Saturday of the following week. It exhibited all the angles of a traditional crazy quilt pattern with the broken lines and raw edges of Biloxi. The bricks were sideways and the wood scattered. The trees were tipped and the house had the roof blowing off, just like Biloxi; however, something was missing. Yes-a touch of our blue t- shirt that we had become so accustomed to wearing as our work uniform. A little bit of the blue color to symbolize our efforts to make a difference upon the landscape. It was finished.
Coming back to my original musings upon leaving Novato in October-why does a grandmother go to Biloxi? A grandmother goes to Biloxi to show that people in another part of the country care enough to send volunteers to help. A grandmother goes to Biloxi to physically make things a little bit better for other peoples’ grandchildren. A grandmother goes to Biloxi to love her neighbor.
The local people were very responsive. Appreciation came from the direct recipients of our efforts, but we were also thanked in restaurants, on Lowes’ parking lot, at church, in the quilt shop, etc. I want to pass along those expressions of gratitude to all who supported me/us with your gifts, your prayers and your well wishes. It was surely a way to love your neighbor.