Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tragedy at Virginia Tech

A few weeks ago, Stephen and I decided to take time away from our normal work routines and spend the day together. At the last minute, I remembered that I needed to get a few things at a fabric warehouse so I asked him to tag along. While I was picking out the fabric I needed for the shop, Stephen noticed some bolts of fabric with collegiate names on them. "Hey, honey," he said, "here's a bolt with Virginia Tech motifs on it." I sort of nodded in his direction and said, "That's nice," while continuing to shop the warehouse. When it came time to check out, Stephen loaded up the car while I talked with a sales rep about other things. Imagine my surprise when I got back to the shop and discovered that I was now the proud owner of a bolt of Virginia Tech fabric--bright orange with maroon motifs, including a football helmet and a turkey! We live in Oregon now. What in the world was I going to do with this? Stephen had apparently snuck the bolt into the cart while I wasn't looking!

I decided to make a joke about it at the $5.00 quilt club meeting. I told participants about how Stephen loved his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Not only did Stephen get all his degrees at Tech, but I used to work in the geology department. (What I remember about that job was that my desk was wedged in and among various buckets of rocks! Sometimes I would have to move little boulders off the desk so that I would have enough room to type--making sure to keep them labeled and in order for the professors to study.) I also told club members that it was obvious that Stephen liked this orange and maroon fabric or he wouldn't have snuck it into my cart. The kids and I decided that we would make him some "projects" for Father's Day, but we weren't sure what. I asked for and received suggestions from the group, including pillowcases, curtains for the tool room, a quilt in a pillow, etc. At the time, April 6 and 7, it was a pretty funny story.

Everything about that changed early morning on April 16. I was at my desk in the back office when my mother called and told me that there had been a "shooting" at Virginia Tech, one student was dead. I couldn't believe it! As the day progressed, the news got worse and worse, ending finally with the tragic discovery that 33 people, the gunman included, had been killed on the Virginia Tech Campus. Stephen and I were so shocked we spent the entire day glued to the television set. The whole thing was too horrific and overwhelmingly sad to actually take in and try to comprehend. I think we've continued to be in a state of shock over this. I've always wanted people to know about Virginia Tech, but this is certainly not what I wanted them to equate with the school. Can you imagine? "Virginia Tech--oh yeah, isn't that the school where that terrible shooting occurred?" I'd rather people remember Tech for all the positive things that make it special.

You see, Stephen and I met in Blacksburg, Virginia. Our first "date" was at Virginia Tech where we attended a play at Burrus Hall. We used to walk along the paths of the drill field, feed the ducks at the duck pond, visit the veterinary barns to see the cows, watch the 4th of July fireworks, and in general "hang out" together at Tech. Homecoming Parades were always a treat. The Highty Tighties marching band practiced in the streets of Blacksburg all year long, and we loved hearing them play. We loved the fact that the alumni band would come to town and ride in the parade on an air conditioned bus with the windows opened so that 80-year-old band members could serenade the crowds. We thought the alumni band always sounded the best!

We were married in Blacksburg. Two of our daughters were born at Montgomery Regional Hospital. I owned a business in the center of Blacksburg and was part of the Downtown Business Association that put on the summer festivals and raised money for downtown improvements. The business owners were special too. Shops had names like Mish Mish; Books, Strings & Things; Mainstreet Bazaar; E. Gadd's (that was my shop); College Inn, Carolee Donuts, and Gilly's Ice Cream. All of our shops were adjacent to the Virginia Tech campus, and during those years, we literally saw thousands of students come through our doors as friends, customers, co-workers, and employees.

While Stephen was busy getting his degrees, he had an office on the 2nd floor of Norris Hall, the building so central to this tragedy. He taught classes on the 2nd floor of Norris--in Room 211 to be exact. I visited him there many times. We always thought that Tech was a beautiful, peaceful campus with an energy all its own, and we think that to this day.

As you can tell, many of our fondest memories together are wrapped up in that school. Now, some of our saddest memories reside there as well. Stephen knew Professor Librescu, the Holocaust Survivor who used his body to block the door so that his students could escape.

So, needless to say, it's been a difficult week. Now, the fabric that Stephen put into our cart has special meaning. I've even called the warehouse and ordered the rest of this fabric that they had in stock. Stephen and I strongly believe it would be fitting to put together quilts for the families of the victims. We're asking others to join us in making quilt blocks from this fabric to be sewn into quilts. I'm also going to mention this project at my $5 Quilt Club. If you'd like to help make a block or two for this project, let me know.


Anonymous said...

Such a heart wrenching tragedy. In good times, and in sad, quilters turn to their quilts to console others and ourselves. I look forward to making some blocks to bring into the store using the Virginia Tech fabric. Please let us know when it will be available. Our prayers and condolences are with VT and all those affected by this sad, shocking catastrophe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing the history your family has with Blacksburg & Virginia Tech. There are no words to express the saddness that the recent tragedy has brought to so many around the world. The project that you have proposed is wonderful!! My blocks will be there soon!!

marcia swanson said...

You remind us that we are all part of something bigger than our little state of Oregon. Virginia is closer in our minds and hearts right now, but stories like yours remind us that any tragedy that touches one of our states touches us all. Let me know when the fabric is ready and I'd love to contribute to the quilt effort.

Quilting Journey said...

Rachel, I was so touched by this tragedy and by your entire story, that I drove in to Dallas and picked up several packets. I will be talking about your efforts on my own blog and spreading the word. Because of the tragedy at VT, I have come to hear stories from quilters around the world about their own similar events. I realize just how small the world truly is, when terrible things happen, but how very, very large the human heart is, in return. Thank you for sharing your story and being such a blessing, yourself!