A little over a year ago tropical storm Irene hit Vermont harder than anyone had anticipated. My town was one of those impacted as the Dog River and little Union Brook swelled, jumped their banks, and merged, creating rushing rivers down village roads. Many homes were destroyed or severely damaged. My friend, Laura, who lives about 5 miles away, found herself grabbing her cat and computer and escaping her home just before the water started rising precipitously.
A week after the storm friends and family gathered at Laura’s to help her start the process of removing her belongings and assessing the damage. Her cozy two-story home had now become a container for wet, muddy, damaged-beyond-repair clothes, books, furniture, cooking utensils, appliances – basically everything on the first floor. Wearing rubber boots, gloves, and face-masks in 80+ degree weather and high humidity, we hauled out item after item to a large dumpster in her driveway. The work continued throughout the day, into the next, and for Laura herself, well beyond.
During the course of our clean-up I came upon a small fabric piece that appeared to be the start of an old quilt. It was soaked in water and mud. When I asked Laura about it she said it was something that had been in her family for a long time and she wanted to try to save it. I brought it home, unbeknownst to her. It required several gentle, thorough washes by hand to come clean.
Many months later I “confessed” my thievery, in order to offer Laura the option of having something new created to feature this family heirloom. She remembered the piece, but not that I’d found it, and in all the rebuilding of her home she hadn’t missed it (given everything that was ultimately pitched out she would have been hard-pressed to remember every item that was saved and what was tossed). We consulted on colors and possibilities, and came up with the concept of a simple wall hanging that would highlight the beauty of the original piecing. I searched for appropriate fabric, figured size and placement, and ultimately came up with this wall hanging.
Now that more than a year has passed, Laura’s home is once again cozy and calm, sporting new floors, walls, wiring, cupboards – you name it. There have been a couple of close calls this past fall, with storms such as Sandy threatening to hit New England, but luckily they have been false alarms. I like to think that Laura has begun to make peace with Irene, although perhaps a tenuous peace. And as I’ve witnessed her perseverance and patience over this past year I’ve realized what an honor it was to be some small part of her efforts, to be trusted to dispose of possessions accumulated over several years, and to be trusted with one of the few remnants tied to her past.