On the Eve of Eye Treatment Days

a drawer filled with dark shades to protect eyes after dilation

my growing collection of dilation shades

As the day before Wet Macular Eye Treatment Day finds its way into the higher numbers on the clock, the voices in my head grow louder, speaking through clenched teeth:
”What if it hurt tomorrow?”
”What if the hemorrhage has grown larger?”
“What if he nicks a blood vessel again?”
”What if the needle slips, and I go completely blind?”
”What if my eye gets skewered on the needle and comes completely out of its socket?”

And so on and so on. I consider developing a headache, an upset stomach, lose a limb – anything that would be considered an excused absence from tomorrow’s treatment.

It’s exhausting doing battle with my brain.

Eventually and at just the right time, the sure, quiet voice of the Wise Woman on the Committee of Jeanne speaks in her soft, calm voice, her words giving my brain laryngitis and my tattered spirit a balm of comfort.  “Jeanne, Bubbles, Sugar. You are strong Enough to handle anything that comes tomorrow or any other day, and besides, you’re not doing this alone. People near and far are cheering you on, lending you support, propping you up, whispering fortifications to get you through. And if all that isn’t enough, you are smart enough,” she says with a twinkle in her tone, “to ask the doctor right out loud to pretty please not pluck your eyeball out when he removes the needle.”

A small chortle makes its way to the surface and falls out of my mouth.
A full-body exhale comes.

I turn a corner and begin to imagine the relief that will consume my body tomorrow afternoon when all is said and done, the delicious sleep that will overtake me before we leave the parking lot, the swell of gratitude I already feel for the thousands of supportive, encouraging messages, the candles lit in my name, the photos and comments that leave me laughing right out loud, all woven into a shawl of kindness and caring that I keep wrapped tightly around me. To all who walk this path alongside me in one way or another, thank you. Your presence is the best medicine ever, and I thank you for being there with me tomorrow and every Treatment Day yet to come.

My Trees of Shes: Aunt Rene and Aunt Lucy on Parties

 

 

 

Aunt Rene dances with The Engineer

My granddaddy had one brother – Uncle William – and three sisters – Aunt Rene, Aunt Lucy, and Aunt Mary. Aunt Rene was the fun one. When ever we were with Aunt Rene, life was a party. Aunt Mary was the school marm. She knew she was put on earth to make rules that children were to obey implicitly. Aunt Lucy was the veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on everything – including raising children, which was surprising, given that she had none of her own.

The three sisters were very close. When they weren’t in the same room, they were writing letters to each other. When Aunt Lucy’s husband died, she moved in with Aunt Rene, and the two of them spent all day every day sitting by the same heater, eating at the same table, sleeping in the same bed.

When The Girls hit their mid-nineties, they began to take more naps, and every time they woke up from a nap and found it light outside, they were sure it was morning, so they took their morning tablets. Which meant 2 things: overdose and time to find another place for them to live where others could be responsible for disbursing their medications.

We found a lovely assisted living home close by so we could visit often. As the annual Christmas party approached, Aunt Rene got more and more excited. We made an appointment for her to have her hair fixed,  her nails done, and went shopping for a new gold lame outfit.

The night of the Christmas party, Mother and I went to join in the festivities. We wiped The Girls sitting in the back corner of the room in front of the drink table. On our way to them, Mother made a wide right turn and stopped by to get herself a cup of wine, then we took our places standing behind them. Aunt Rene turned around to greet us, and did a quick double take. “Darlin’, is that alcohol?” she asked Mother.

Mother held the cup out in front of her, looking at it as though wondering what it was and how in the world it got into her hand. Thinking of nothing to say, she went with the truth: “Why yes, Irene, I guess it is.”

”I’ll be right back,” Aunt Rene told us, then took the cup of lemonade she and Lucy were sharing, and headed back to the drinks table where Mr. Joe, the facility’s maintenance man, was ladling out punch. “Mr. Joe,” Aunt Rene said, putting her cup down on the table and pushing it over towards him. “Put some Southern Comfort in my cup, if you please.”

”We don’t have any Southern Comfort,” Mr. Joe told her.

”I think if you’ll go look under that end of the table,” Aunt Renesaid, pointing to her left, “I think you might find some. I’ll wait.”

Mr. Joe obligingly went to the far end of the table, lifted the tablecloth, and looked around to see what was under the table. He came back shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Irene, we just don’t have any Southern Comfort.”

”Well, in that case, I guess you better give me some more lemonade,” Aunt Rene sighed.

The music started, and we all knew that meant time for dancing. Aunt Rene sat up a little straighter, dialed her smile up a notch or two, and handed the lemonade off to Aunt Lucy,. She was ready for the line of men to form in front of her. That woman did love to dance. I knew that, and that’s precisely why when we first got to the party, I asked every able-bodied man to ask Aunt Rene to dance. To a person, they said the same thing: “I sure will take Miss Irene out on the dance floor, just as soon as a slow dance comes on.”

While Aunt Rene was out for her first slow dance, smiling to beat the band, Aunt Lucy decided she wanted to go to bed. “Where’s Irene?” she asked. “I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt REne is at a party, Aunt Lucy. Y’all can go to bed when the party is over,” I told her.

Aunt Lucy got increasingly cranky and louder. I spied a post on the other side of the room, drug an empty chair in front of it, and told Mother to take Aunt Rene over to sit in the chair behind the post so Lucy couldn’t see her, then I took my place in Aunt Rene’s vacated chair next to Lucy. Being the self-appoint4ed family historian, I thought this a fine time to get some stories from Aunt Lucy.

”Aunt Lucy,” I started, “when you and Aunt Rene were teenagers, did y’all go on a lot of dates?”

”NO,” Aunt Lucy barked. “Now where’s Irene? I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt Rene is at a party. When the party is over, she’ll come get you and y’all can go to bed. Now Aunt Lucy, when you and Aunt Rene were teenagers, did y’all like to go to parties?”

”NO. WHERE IS IRENE? I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt Rene is at a party,” I reminded her. “When the party is over, she’ll come get you and y’all can go to bed. Aunt Lucy, when y’all were teenagers, did you like to dance?”

’NO. WHERE IS IRENE? I’M READY TO GO TO BED,” Aunt Lucy screamed at me.

That was the third strike as far as I was concerned. I whipped around in my chair and said in what my children call my meanest teacher voice: “Aunt Lucy, I’ve told you that Aunt Rene is at a party. I’m sitting here being very nice to you, and if you talk that way to me one more time, you’re going to bed all right, and I am going to be the one to take you. I’ll take you upstairs, get your ready for bed, and tuck you in. Then I’ll sit with you while you go to sleep, and when the party is over, Aunt Rene will come in and join you. You’ll already be asleep, so you can see her in the morning. How does that sound?”

In the sweetest voice I’d never heard come from Aunt Lucy’s mouth, she said, “Well, we didn’t party all that much, but when we did, we did enjoy dancing.”

My Trees of Shes: Aunt Rene, on Age

This year for Women’s History Month, I’m gonna’ be celebrating women in my life who make me a better woman. To get us started, meet my Aunt Rene (short for Irene). She was a mess, and today I tell you her view on age . . .

 

If you can’t or don’t want to play it out loud, here’s a non-verbatim version . . .

 

Here we see Aunt Rene flirting with the statue of a handsome man.

My Aunt Rene was a mess, which is the highest compliment you’ll ever hear at my Southern table. When Aunt Rene was rounding the corner headed to 100 (we think), my daughter Alison would often show up at family meals and events with a date. Aunt Rene would always end the conversation she was having, pull her gold lame jacket up on her shoulders, and walk in her gold lame shoes straight over to the date. She’d sidle up to him, flash her biggest smile in his direction, and ask, “Darlin’, do you have a younger brother?”

Yeah, Aunt Rene taught us how to flirt. She also taught us a little something about age: don’t tell anybody.

The first time I was with her and an adult bent down to my face level and asked, “How old are you, Sugar?” Aunt Rene put one hand on each of my shoulders and turned me to face her. She didn’t squat down with her hands on her knees, instead she used one of her hands to tilt my face up to look at her. “When somebody asks your age, don’t tell ‘em, Darlin. They do’no need to know ‘cause you see, when you give them a number, they’ll reach way down into their bag of stereotypes and pull out a description – a preconceived notion – of how people who are that age ought to act. Make ‘em treat you the way you are when you’re with them, cause age is just how many trips you’ve made around the sun. That’s just a number. Life is what matters, and life is how much sparkle and sass you put into every spin.”

Wind Phones

As self-appointed family historian,
I’ve spent my entire life researching in preparation
to write  this book about
what happened to my family in May 1933,
In an attempt to capture information I don’t have,
I pen letters to my daddy,
my Uncle Gene,
my Grandmother and my Granddaddy.
After a brief breathing break,
I take a clean sheet of paper
and channel them,
recording their responses
in letters penned back to me.
It never fails to be an amazing event,
but oh how I long to hear their back door
slam behind me
as I walk into their house,
always invited,
never announced,
to sit with them at their kitchen table.

I ache for one
(okay, 26)
(or maybe 512)
(at least)
more opportunities to sit with them
and ask questions about their loves, their lives.
How did you meet?
Why did you fall in love with each other?
What were your favorite songs, colors, books?
Did you like to dance?
Did y’all  laugh a lot?
What did you wear to your wedding?
Sometimes I’d just like to hear their smiles,
as they answer commonplace questions like
Whatcha doin’?
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Whatcha gonna’ do the rest of the day?
So many questions I long to ask
especially questions
about that horrific weekend in May 1933.
Were you terrified?
How did you comfort each other?
What thoughts ran through your minds?
How did you stay calm?
What were the emotional after shocks like?
and so on.

Today as I gather
my thoughts, newspaper clippings,
photos, letters, and other ephemera
related to what happened that weekend
and prepare to start writing for real this time,
I remember reading about a telephone booth
installed in a field in Otsuchi, Japan,
complete with a disconnected telephone.
In 2011, the small town of Otsuchi was
eviscerated by a double-whammy:
a tsunami and an earthquake.
They lost everything, including 2000 residents.

Itaru Saski was already grieving,
wishing to share just one more cup of tea with his cousin
who died before the tsunami came.
As others around him rebuilt,
Itaru followed the urgings of his heart,
nestling an old telephone booth in his garden.
Calling it the Wind Phone,
he issued an open invitation for others
to come and place
calls to their deceased loved ones.

On the heels of this memory,
I look around me, and I move as if a puppet at the end of a string . . .
My studio is home to a chair I sat in as a teenager,
reclining in its outstretched arms
talking on the phone for hours.
Next to it I place a mid-century modern
telephone table found in a thrift shop years ago.
I have “a thing” for mid-century modern.
Atop this table now sits the red phone I announced I wanted
on a trip to Asheville years ago.
I didn’t know why I wanted it,
I just did,
and it may or may not surprise you to hear
that it was the first thing I spied upon
entering my favorite shop.
Beside the phone is one of my son’s boots
turned pencil holder
and 2 journals The Engineer
gifted me three years ago.

The front of one journal reads
Fill your paper with the
breathings of your heart.

~ W. Wordsworth

The other journal wears these words:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust that you are
exactly where your are meant to be.
May you not forget the
infinite possibilities that are born of
faith in yourself and others.
May you use the gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content with yourself just the way you are.
Let this knowledge settle
into your bones,
and allow your soul the
freedom to
sing, dance, praise, and love.
It is there for
each and every one of us.

Magic!
And it all happened in the space of 4 minutes.
I’m not kidding.

Now, when the longing punches my heart,
I will sit in this chair,
tucked into the far corner of my studio
where no one can see me without trespassing
and use my personal Wind Phone
to find solace
and who knows –
maybe some answers, too.

 

And you know what else?
I hereby proclaim that One Day
I will install a public Wind Phone
– 2 of them, actually
or maybe 3 –
each with an open invitation
and free long (long, long, long) distance calling.
The thought excites me,
and I look forward to doing just that.
For now, though, a photo goes on my Vision Board,
and when the time is Right
and everything aligns,
the other public Wind Phones will most certainly come to be.

~~~~~~~

This just in:
my friend Margaret Williams
just sent me a link to
a text version of the wind phone.

Meet The 70273 Project Data Angels

I told you about The Missus (The 70273 Project Online Searchable Database), now allow me to introduce you to the Host of Data Angels that is bringing it to life. I recently asked them the same three questions, and here are their answers, presented in alphabetical order by first name. If you’d like to know what the Data Angels do when they’re not bent over their computers entering data into The Missus, head this way.

 

Barbara Walsh (Minnesota, USA)

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: I have several family members that would 100% have been given 2 red X’s, perhaps even myself with my poor vision and scoliosis. How can someone not want to be involved is the question I ask.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: We were in the thick of the pandemic. My children’s school and sporting activities had all been shut down, and I got a good glimpse of what retirement will look like for me – even if it is 15+ years down the road. I have several hobbies, but not being active with any groups (my church quilting group shut down as well) was eye opening. With so much time on my hands, I needed a project, a group, a cause. I had already made some blocks, and was waiting for some block bundles to come my way, and I thought “How much data entry could there be?” I figured a few hours of data entry and I would be done. I still cannot comprehend how much is done and is still to do. Such important work, and I am so pleased to be a very small part of it.  (True confession: Jeanne, I am in your camp on the “S” (spreadsheet) word. I can barely say it! My career really isn’t a tech heavy profession, so emails and word documents are pretty much all I do . . . till now.)

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: My life’s work is dedicated to the honoring and remembering those that go before us. To have 70,273 individuals snuffed out because of someone’s idea of imperfection is unimaginable. To not have been remembered, honored, or buried properly is unthinkable to me. By participating in this project, i feel we are giving those 70,273 souls their due respect, honor, and in a strange way, a burial.

 

Gladys Loewen, Coordinator (Canada)

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: I became involved with the project because it speaks to various aspects of my identity. I identify as disabled, and I have worked for 25 years in the field of higher education and disability, so this project pulled me because of that. As well, my ancestors were German Mennonites from what used to be Prussia, and they later moved to Russia for religious freedom and pristine farmland. My grandparents and parents were born in various parts of the former USSR. In the late 1920s, after the Bolshevik Revolution when German communities were targeted for being different as outsiders, both sets of grandparents escaped Russia as Mennonite Refugees. My mother was 4 and my dad 8 when their families arrived in Canada, penniless. So this adds to my interest in The 70273 Project. And lastly, I am a quilter, and for that reason, our lives intersected at the International Quilt Festival in 2017. As a quilter, I knew I wanted to make a quilt for the project as soon as I saw the special exhibit in Houston. And of course, I have been teaching my grandkids how to sew, which made making a quilt with my 9 year old grandson an important project.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: I became a Data Angel because I am retired; skilled at coordinating and managing details; and I wanted to be part of a community. The Data Angels have become a team, a community, even though we are spread out from Canada to Argentina and from the Pacific Coast to the East Coast. I started doing data entry work several months after Kevin Thomas, nancy Carroll, and Lori Grillo started. nancy offered to meet on a phone call and walk me through my questions on how to get started. We chatted several times after that, and eventually we met so I could pick up her two quilts to bring to the AHEAD conference. I met her again when Tari Vickery came to visit, so that is where my community began with the Dta Angels. And now my role has shifted to Coordinator, so I continue to find ways to encourage and support the community feeling, a feeling of being in a safe, supportive place.

 

Lara Ferguson (California, USA)

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: Because I passionately agree with this statement you made from the beginning, “I want this to be so big, so immense that people cannot look away, cannot say they didn’t see it.” I wanted to be part of that.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: I work in IT, and I thought I might be useful. I love a good data entry project!

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: I don’t want any part of that history to be repeated, and I think people sometimes need help remembering and personalizing the stories of those who died.

 

Maria Conway (Argentina)

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: Once I read your first post on this project, i was completely hooked, and I couldn’t not participate! My sister in disabled. She lives with me, so it really touched my heart. This was at the very beginning of the project, and I remember thinking “this woman is completely crazy. She’s never gong to finish making and collecting 70,000+ blocks, so i’d better help1”

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: It’s something else I can do to help now that we’ve completed all the blocks. I’d love helping with putting together quilts, but I’m so far away, and the post here is to dreadful, so that’s really not feasible. And data entry is something I enjoy doing and am good at.

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: I find it very important to always speak against violence, especially against those who can’t defend themselves. I had no idea this happened. You always hear about the killings of Jews and gays, and that was absolutely terrible. The killing of disabled people is a work of pure evil, and people should know this happened so as to not let history repeat itself.

 

Patricia Taylor (Wisconsin, USA)

Q: Why did you become involved with The 70273 Project?
A: I first learned about The 70273 Project when we attended the Minnesota Quilt Show in 2018 and met you for the first time. I remember returning home, and all I could think about was the story you shared and the images of those pairs of red X’s so tenderly sewn into all the quilts on exhibit. The tiny christening dress is the one that stayed most in my heart.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: I made blocks and quilts, and when this opportunity came along, my husband taught me the basics of working with an Excelt spreadsheet and declared me ready to join, so there was no turning back – I had to join the team! My computer skills are quite limited – especially compared with the rest of the group, but even the limited efforts I make are so rewarding, and seeing all this information come together is fabulous.

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: To think of another person being murdered for any reason is unthinkable, but to know there were 70,273 people murdered because they were deemed “imperfect” is almost unbelievable. We cannot let these people or this atrocity go unremembered.

 

Peggy Thomas, Lead Data Angel (Georgia, USA)

Q; Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: I think it was serendipity – of course it was! Two things collided: I had recently sold my business and had a vague idea  that I might want to make a quilt again after 30+ years since my first one. Second, my son is Autistic, so anything touching disabilities – especially if it raises awareness – is dear to me.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: I knew – and said aloud – at our first hands-on work day at the Peachtree City Library that you needed help getting all this information out of your head and into a computer. You gave me a bit of back story and told me of plans for the future, then gave me crate blanche and off I merrily went.

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: The story behind The 70273 Project immediately moved me. When I thought about all the amazing people I’ve met over the years who would have received a death sentence in the form of two red X’s, I knew I would be involved for the duration of the project.

 

Roberta Pabst (California, USA)

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: Susan Bianchi made a short mention of the project during a “show and tell” session at a Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association meeting. It spoke to me, and I followed up. I can see in the database that Sue and the members of her art quilt group all made blocks and sent them in.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: I like to use the skills I have to help whenever I can.

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: It tells a story that needs to be told. It honors those who cannot speak for themselves. It reminds us that each person is important, even – or maybe especially – those who are different or dependent or hidden from everyday awareness. We don’t believe that such an atrocity could have ever happened, but we need to believe it to help inform our every day decisions. It can make us better people to feel the magnitude of what was done.

 

Sacha Brady (Indiana, USA)

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: It was a profound idea with great visual impact, something large and educational and creative that I had the skills to be a part of. All of those aspects appeal to me.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: Becoming a Data Angel was another way I could put my skills to use for the cause. I thought it would be busy work to pass the time during the pandemic, but it has turned into much more for me:P problem solving, troubleshooting, being part of a collaborative community. All of those aspects appeal to me, too.

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: Honoring people’s lives; grieving ourselves; facing hard truths; understanding that we are all connected and resilient even when life is fragile; and channeling our feelings into creative productivity are powerful and important. The 70273 Project is all of those things.

 

 

 

Kevin Thomas (Georgia, USA)

Kevin was our very first Data Angel, so we invited him to join us on the call, and I asked him the same questions. Here are his answers:

Q: Why did you get involved with The 70273 Project?
A: My mother has a lead role in it.

Q: Why did you become a Data Angel?
A: Because I believe in the project.

Q: Why is The 70273 Project important?
A: It brings awareness to a previously unacknowledged aspect of history.

 

We are grateful for the service and contributions of these retired Data Angels: 

Kathy Carfagno (USA)
Lori Grillo (USA)
Nancy Carroll (Canada, deceased)

A Peek Behind the Scenes at Our Online Searchable Database

9 smiling people

 

The Big, Fat, Crazy Idea

When The Big, Fat, Crazy Idea whooshed in and sat on my shoulder that day in late January 2016 – ten days before launch so I didn’t have time to think myself out of it – she showed me everything in a span of about 3 nanos. She showed me pairs of red X’s on white or slightly off-white backgrounds that stretched as far as my eyes could see (this was pre-wet macular days, so you can believe me when I say that was a lot of pairs of red x’s). She showed me the blocks; she showed me quilts stretching around the world; she showed me sorrow and smiles.

Having heard maybe three sentences about Aktion T4 in the documentary I was watching, I had no idea what the pairs of red X’s symbolized or why they were on backgrounds of shades of white. And quilts? I make art quilts, so the large quilts made from blocks puzzled me. I researched, I learned, I understood. I marveled at the thoroughness with which this Big, Fat, Crazy Idea presented herself to me.

Besdies fabric, she showed me people of all ages looking at a screen, their fingers running down and across the screen, searching. Once their fingers stopped, entire faces smiled. Sometimes bodies danced with excitement. Eventually I understood that these people were searching an online database, finding ancestors, friends, and family who are part of The 70273 Project. In the vision, this was I’m delighted to tell you, cause for great celebration. They, by blood or love, were a part of something important, something bigger than themselves. They were proud to be part of such a legacy, and they stepped away from the screen standing a little taller and vowing to keep the stories alive – the atrocity of the murders and how caring, compassionate people from around the world came together in kindness.

 

Enter Peggy Thomas & a Host of Data Angels

Though we met because of The 70273 Project, neither of us can remember the specifics about our first meeting. It’s as though we’ve known each other for a lifetime. Peggy instantly understood The 70273 Project in its entirety, (though I wish I had a nickel for every time she started a sentence with “At first I thought you were crazy” in the beginning!, and at the first hands-on workday of The 70273 Project, she announced that I needed to get all this information out of my head. With that, she quickly took over data organization and management, becoming Lead Data Angel and putting together a Host of Data Angels extraordinaire. If y’all have ever lead an organization, you know what a tremendous gift it is when somebody like Peggy and Gladys and the Data Angels keep you in the loop while strongly encouraging you to stay out! (Back story: I can’t even say the word “spreadsheet” – it catches in my mouth – so we have a Landscape Oriented Table or Database. I am fluent in neither of those lands, so the Data Angels invite me to stay out for fear I’ll knock something over.)

 

Meet The Missus

The Host of Data Angels are creating that online searchable database where people can go to find their blocks, which quilts their blocks are in, and where in the world those quilts are on any given day. Exhibit curators will be able to search for quilts by location of Makers, by quilt size, by whatever criteria they want to use in deciding which quilts to put on display. (As it is now, Curators email me, telling me how much space is available, and The Engineer and I have to look through the quilts and do the math to decide which quilts to send – though I do also search the labels to find quilts that were made in whole or in part by people in the vicinity of the exhibit. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time this online searchable database is going to save us and how easy it will be for Curators, Organizers, and Individuals to find information.) Other information you’ll be able to see which Makers have blocks in each quilt, when the quilt was finished, and where each quilt has been on exhibit. Like I said, it’s beyond phenomenal! And as if all that isn’t enough, I am assured it will can also be searched audibly, making it universally accessible.

Yes, really.

Wondering why I call it The Missus? Well, you’ll need to invite me to do a presentation for your group and ask me then.

 

Meet the Data Angels

The Data Angels and I huddled around our computers recently, and I asked them each the same questions. Come right this way to meet them and read their answers.

Happy Fifth Birthday to The 70273 Project!

white cloth embellished with pairs of red X’s that are all different sizes and shades of red

The 70273 Project Quilt 52, a Middling made by Margaret Williams

Can y’all believe it was FIVE years ago today when I mashed the publish button on the blog post launching The 70273 Project? So much has happened in our lives, in this project, in the world since then. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be unveiling several new adventures happening in The 70273 Project and introduce you to the volunteers who are carrying the torch for each adventure. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, perhaps you’d like to. Or maybe you’d like to join join The 70273 Project Campfire, our Facebook group or like our Facebook page

I’m sure you have questions, so I’ll celebrate our Big Day the way I began it five years ago: by posting and answering questions you may have.

Q: How many people have been commemorated to date?
A: We have issued numbers to slightly over 72,000 pairs of red X’s, though there are some gaps in the numbers that will be filled in and we still have blocks and quilts to be processed, so check back often for updates.

Q: How many quilts do we have?
A: We have given out up to Quilt #850, though again, there are some gaps in the numbers that will be filled in as new quilts come in. The Engineer still guesstimates we’ll have around 1200 when we’re done.

Q: How on earth do you track numbers and blocks and quilts?
A: I am delighted to tell you that I don’t! We have a merry band of Data Angels, and I will be introducing you to them over the next couple of weeks. They are a group of women who are creative, dedicated problem solvers, and what they are doing is nothing short of phenomenal. Just wait’ll you hear.

Q: Are you still accepting blocks and quilts?
A: We are mostly focusing on catching up with all we have going on right now, plus the pandemic makes it rather hard to host exhibits and block-making parties, but yes. If you’d like to make blocks or quilts, we won’t turn them away because we know that 70,273 is the number of murdered committed and documented by Aktion T4. Actual numbers could easily be more than 300,000. Chilling, isn’t it? There are other ways to become part of The 70273 Project, though as you’ll see in the next Q and A. And there are some new adventures opening up this year that might captivate your interest and attention.

Q: Is there anything you still need help with?
A: I love this question, and the answer is a hearty Yes! Read on, and click here if you’d like to raise your hand and offer to help. We need:
~ volunteers to take bundles of blocks and turn them into tops and/or quilts.
~ folks to quilt the tops.
~ people to create quilt labels (from information we send). This is something done on the computer using email, so it’s something that can be done from anywhere in the world.
~ We need hands-on volunteers who live in the vicinity of Fayette County, Georgia to print the labels on fabric that’s been specially treated to go through inkjet printers then sew them onto the backs of the quilts. Or you could just offer to print the labels and deliver them to whoever is going to sew them onto the quilts.
~ We need folks to add or amend hanging sleeves on some of the quilts.
~ We also need money. We keep our overhead low, but there are still expenses. There’s some annual overhead, and now we need things like the fabric for the labels and storage. Oh my goodness do we need storage! If you’re willing to make a donation, you can send a check (U.S. banks only, please) to The 70273 Project, Inc. / POB 994 / Cashiers, NC 28717. We are an official 501(c)(3) organization, so with your thank you note, we’ll tuck in a tax form you can use next year. You can also make a donation via the PayPal Giving Fund.

In closing, a question from me to you:
Q: Would you like to see where in the world The 70273 Project has touched down in one way or another?
A: Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you’ll see a world that’s revolving on its axis. See all those red dots? People from all those dots have come to visit our web site, seeking info, volunteering to participate, sharing stories, commemorating lives we honor, and/or keeping up with our progress.

We’re not done yet, y’all, so please keep showing up and sharing the project with others.

Now go treat yourself to a cupcake. Me, I’m headed to my mother’s house where she is doing what she does every Valentine’s Day for I’m not gonna’ tell you how many years – baking my birthday cake, using the pan and recipe that her mother before her used to bake my birthday cake. You can bet your sweet patooties I’ll be raising a forkful by way of toasting y’all with gratitude.

Losses or Gains?

snow on trees

Snow on Christmas Eve
Icy roads before midnight.
Santa made it, though,
thanks to Rudolph’s fierce
determination.

Snow covered trees around the waterfall

snow covered trees around the waterfall

This morning,
the men are up
earlier than the tots
on Christmas morning,
out to do battle with nature
who’s proving a formidable foe
(just as I warned.)
(I mean foretold.)
In their crosshairs:
getting off our slick mountain road
with little if any regard
for all the other potentially hazardous roads
awaiting them.

While all scurry frantically,
in angst at plans disrupted,
their eagerness to leave
lands like families of porcupines on my heart.

Have they learned nothing from 2020,
The Great Teacher
who gave us so gave us so many
opportunities
to learn
and reframe?

At the knee of 2020,
we learn to
consider plans made as suggestions
or possibilities
to jot task lists in pencil
instead of ink,
to linger.

She gives us countless opportunities
to sample a slower-paced life,
our 2020,
to remember how it feels to
spend entire days letting books
be our planes, trains, and automobiles;
to replace text message with
pen, paper, envelopes, and stamps;
to reacquaint ourselves with
childlike wonder
enjoying games made from bits found
and food made from leftovers
and the awe of trees
newly-defined by snow.

snow covered trees and branches

Now I leave the fantasy land of my studio
and rejoin the chaos of angst –
noses pressed to the
panes in the door,
watching the thermometer,
willing it to reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit,
where –
in their own fantasy land –
the snow and ice will magically poof,
disappearing so they can
hit the road
hours after they’d planned,
moving a little faster
to make up for all the time lost.

Refrigerator Shrine

Short and squatty with a handle that pulled out to open the door, Grandmother’s Frigidaire is home to an important piece of my family history, a story of a first and a last . . .

The first and only time Grandmother Hewell told me “No” was the day I – the apple orchard of her eye – reached to the back of the squatty, boxy, white-on-the-outside-turquoise-on-the-inside refrigerator intending to help myself to the Zero candy bar in the back left corner of the second shelf. Her loud, abrupt “NO” startled me. She offered no explanation, just “You leave that alone,” as she pushed me to the side and closed the refrigerator door.

I was stunned. Grandmother had never denied me anything – not a single thing. My wish was her command, and I didn’t have to clean some funny-shaped lantern to get her attention. But that fateful day, all I got was a resolute, unwavering NO.

a boy holding a baby in front of an old car parked beside an unpainted house

Crawford Jr. plays with 6 month old Baby Gene

William Eugene Hewell – was he my uncle or is he my uncle? I never know whether to use past or present tense when talking about people who are so alive inside me but aren’t readily available to hug or sit beside or laugh with.

Laugh with.

Everybody I ask to tell me about my Uncle Gene says the same three things:
~ I can’t think of him without seeing him sitting up on that tractor seat.
~ I remember him popping wheelies in the front of the school before the bell rang.
~ He was funny. Lord a-mercy how that man did make us laugh. I never knew anybody as funny as your Uncle Gene.

William Eugene Hewell was born on March 31, 1933, a mere five weeks before five armed bandits held the family hostage while waiting on the bank’s vault to open so they could relieve it of its money bags. Uncle Gene was the last of five children born to Grandmother and Granddaddy. Before him, there was Juanita who lived 4 days. Edgar and Earl were twins, one living for an hour, the other stillborn. Then there was Crawford Junior, my daddy. He was five when Uncle Gene was born.

a young boy sits behind the wheel of a tractor

12 year old uncle Gene behind the wheel of the tractor

Zero candy bars were Uncle Gene’s favorite. The morning of December 19, 1951, he pulled the handle to open the refrigerator door, placing his beloved Zero candy bar in the back left corner so it would be nice and cold when he came in later that afternoon. He kissed his mother on the cheek, said something to make her laugh and shake her head, then went out the back door. He hopped up on the tractor and headed off to spend the day pulling stumps up on the property. Though I can’t imagine how he reached the pedals, family lore – those sacred stories that remain forever impervious to logic – holds that Uncle Gene learned to drive a tractor when he was 8 years old. Two years later,  Granddaddy began renting out the tractor, sending Uncle Gene along to operate it. Details aside, it stands true that Uncle Gene knew his way around tractors.

But this day, something went terribly, horribly, unspeakably wrong.

He put the chain too high up on the stump, some tell me. Others say he put the chain too low. Either way, the result remains the same. As Uncle Gene began to move the tractor forward, it reared up and flipped over on him, crushing him instantly. I am told that my wiry, small-framed granddaddy found my rotund uncle, lifted the tractor off him, and carried Uncle Gene back to the house where he laid him on the bed he shared with my grandmother.

Granddaddy Hewell drove a silver stake in the ground to mark the spot. Grandmother kept that Zero candy bar as her private refrigerator memorial to the son she loved to immensely. Years later, Crawford created his memorial to his brother Gene by naming his firstborn child after him. He spelled her name Jeanne.

newspaper article about the death of Eugene Hewell

 

P.S. Uncle Gene died on December 19, 1951. Twelve years later to the day, Granddaddy Hewell died. He died in his sleep, and because the attending doctor couldn’t be sure whether he died before or after midnight, he chose to let Granddaddy’s death stand forever as the same day his younger son was killed.

P.S. 2 I am currently writing a book about what happened to my family on May 5-6, 1933 and having a big time as my daddy would say, learning more about myself as I look back at those who preceded me.

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