To express her love for our parents, my sister, Mary Elizabeth (Woolever) Shaffer, has created a quilt. She brought the quilt to the 2000 reunion, and asked everyone there to sign their names on the quilt. In July of 2001, the quilt was finally finished and given to our parents, Frank and Dorothy Woolever. It carries a wealth of meaning for us all.
Mary Elizabeth has written an explanation of her creative process, and the meaning of the quilt. Her words are shown below. The reference to "Mary Leona" is to my wife, whom we refer to with a middle name in order to distinguish her from my sister, "Mary Elizabeth." The reference to "Dick" is to Mary Leona's father, my father-in-law.
"It all started quite some time ago, in response to a story that Mary Leona told me about her family. I was so moved when she told me about her father being in the hospital, at the end of his life, surrounded by his sons. Her story prompted me to want to make an expression of my love for my own family. And, I guess that makes sense, doesn’t it — that love travels from family to family, and how one family can reach another by its own expression of love? It is timeless, eternal and knows no physical boundaries.
"After Dick, Mary's father, died, Mary shared with me about her father's request in the hospital. He asked his sons to lift him up physically and hold him. I was so moved hearing that and picturing it in my mind — this big man being held up over his hospital bed by his four sons. I asked Mary why she thought he did that. She said, "I think he wanted to feel their strength." He wanted to feel their strength of life and love, as he would soon be departing. I thought, what an incredible gift they gave each other, a real testament of Dick's faith and love for his family. So, being the child who doesn't live close to her parents, I wanted to do something for my Mom and Dad to express our love.
"The quilt incorporates images based on actual tracings of everyone's hands. No matter where we all are, in a real way, you can touch any one of us, anytime, by touching our hands on the quilt. You can lie down and pull the quilt over you and feel our hands touching you, giving you strength. I believe in the power of the laying on of hands — basically because I have experienced it personally. So, that's the "why" of the quilt. Actually doing it took much longer.
"I couldn't figure out how I would make the quilt, or what it would look like. A bunch of hands lying on fabric seemed kind of silly. Anyway, one of the early summers that my boys and I would meet Mom and Dad at South Turtle Lake (Minnesota), I got them to draw around their hands, saying it was a class project for Andy, my eldest son. That's as far as it went at first.
"I couldn't figure out what to do next. So, I did nothing. Now, jump forward a number of years, maybe eight. Kristen (the daughter of my brother, Greg) and I are in a small group that met once every couple of weeks. As a group, we were reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and discussing our feelings about creativity and God. I brought up the idea of the quilt I wanted to make. Bingo, it took off. The group thought it was a neat idea, and Kristen, especially, got excited and offered to work on it with me. I thought that would be a nice way to spend time with Kristen, creating something for our parents and grandparents, and to be in community. So we began.
"Kristen was going home on Thanksgiving and would get everybody there to draw around their hands, telling Mom and Dad it was a class project for Andy! Thank God they had short memories. Plus, everybody picked out fabric to send along, too, that would represent each one's life. When she got back, we cut out all the hands in the fabric. We shopped for fabric to place them on, and then got kind of stymied. We tried putting all the hands together in the shape of a tree — a family tree. Well, that was the funniest looking tree you ever saw. So we put it away to think about it. Jump forward a bit.
"Steve, my husband, was in the hospital having surgery. In the lobby of the hospital was hanging the most beautiful quilt. It had hands on it! I thought it was gorgeous, and was moved to try again. I took Kristen over to see it, and we were both energized. We got together on a Saturday, and started arranging and planning. The present quilt is what came out of our time together.
"At the center of the quilt is a heart — I think God's heart, the source of love. Pieces of all of us make up that heart. The hands on the inner circle are pointed inward as we reach for God's love. The heart vibrates the love outward — by the stitching. Each hand touches those vibrations and is then able to turn outward on the outer circle, sending what it felt from the heart, out to others — like Dick did with his sons. That action of faith went inward and then flowed out to another family — the path of love.
"It seems to me that the real truths are always dichotomies. I know I find truth when that is so. Anyway, the circle around the inner hands is like energy molecules, or the DNA strand, intertwining and bursting with life's energy as it explodes out. It's the big bang theory! From there the energy keeps flowing out, through all the crevices, through hands, and out. It is ringed by an Old Welsh quilting stitch that is the sign for eternity — like a bubble around the family — our cell as it divides to give life to another. The symbols of life keep repeating themselves as long as we reach inward to find the outer.
"There are there main stitching lines that surround eternity, to symbolize the trinity — our oneness. In each comer there are three interlocking circles of energy, headed for another family, another group of cells, and another quilt begins — to express our collectiveness, our oneness in God.
"There are also other little things along the way. We chose primary colors for the stitching around the heart and hands — yellow for God's heart of energy, red and blue around the hands. Hands placed together with thumb and finger touching form a heart shape. Mom and Dad's hands made a "W" for Woolever. Sarah, Kristen's sister, accidentally made a snip in the fabric as we were working on it — right between her parent's hands. And so a heart has mended it.
"The quilting was done without a frame or any plan for what the stitching would be. I just started in the center and worked out. It seemed to quilt itself. Also, because it wasn't quilted on a frame it isn't perfect quilt stitching, which I like, because that's life isn't it? It also made it easy to travel and quilt anywhere. Some stitches are bigger that others, and some of the knots may show. And that's its beauty — the freedom of the stitching. I think Grandma Hallie, my maternal grandmother, and her mother, are smiling somewhere.
"The back of the quilt is about creation. The first fabric seems to contain the beginning swirls of creation. It forms the planet Earth, then water, vegetation, sky, and the heavens. Surrounding the New Creation is God's white light. Within the light are all the signatures from the Woolever family reunion held in Des Moines in June, 2000. We all leave our mark, a place in the light. As I look at the quilt, I realize it is not easy to see all the stitching. And isn't that like life — faith to believe in what I can't easily see, and yet know to be true?
"So, there's the quilt, and its symbols of comfort, faith and love. And it works, too. One of the times Dad got sick, I was so scared. I went downstairs to the quilt and placed my hand on his hand, and felt better. I could touch him, feel his strength, and send him mine. That's what life is all about. Seems so simple doesn't it?
"My love, Mary"