I had some customers in the shop the other day who were visiting Berry for the first time in a while. A husband and wife team, shopping fabric together. Stan called Berry ‘ladies town’. which is kind of apt especially this month when everything is done up in pink for the McGrath Foundation. Sue found some templates she needed. We got chatting and it turned out that they were in Berry for some very important business. Visit again soon if I haven’t posted images to accompany this post. I will by the end of October 2019.
Stan and Sue Allen are from the NSW arm of Quilts of Valour and on Friday they were on their way to present quilts to two local Vietnam Vets, neither of whom knew what was about to happen.
Stan described their project, how it came to be and because he saw I was interested, he invited me to come along as a Fly on the Wall. I’d heard of Aussie Hero Quilts and had met the founder Jan Maree-Ball, I’d even been involved in donating her project some materials but all I knew about Quilts of Valour was that I’d heard the name and that it was something to do with returned servicemen. Well now I’ve witnessed first hand what they do.
It was lunch time and the Berry Bowlo had a smattering of locals and visitors. The two bearded men at the table quietly having a beer with their mates wondered what to make of the man who sidled up to their table and started chatting.
“You don’t know who I am do you?” Stan asked. Glances were exchanged. One of the men knew. He had nominated his mates and organised for Stan and Sue to come to Berry to present the quilts. He had even come from Queensland with his wife to be a part of the ceremony and encouraged close friends and family to come along. The other two had no idea. Bill was a young man when he went to Vietnam but John now in his early 90s served in Vietnam after already having served in Korea.
When they realised what Stan was up to they went quiet. They’d heard of the ‘quilt thing’ from their mate but of course wouldn’t have expected it for themselves. Thats’ what’s so special about Quilts of Valour. The recipients are nominated by their peers or mates. The recognition is so personal. Stan made a moving speech about the symbolism of each layer of the quilt and I’m able to quote here from documents Stan sent me. The presentation speech went like this:
Any man, or woman, who has served in a Theatre of War returns with demons; some handle them well, some not so well and some not at all. This quilt is a powerful gift of love, and consists of three components: the “Top” with the many colours and patterns are representative of the individuals who make the quilts and also of the recipients. The wadding, the filler, is the centre of the quilt, its warmth. It represents our hope that this quilt will bring warmth, comfort, peace and healing to the recipient. The backing is the strength that supports the other layers. It represents the recipient’s strength, the support of communities, and our nation. Each stitch that holds the layers together represents love, gratitude and sometimes the tears of the maker”.
Stan and Sue went on then to present a quilt to Bill and then they proceeded to wrap him in it. Bill was stunned and his eyes were moist and his manner showed how truly touched he was. Next up was John. As he was wrapped in the quilt his daughter openly cried to see her father recognised in this way.
It was a quiet dignified ceremony. No fanfare, private, personal and incredibly powerful. I witnessed those men soften and become speechless with the idea that not just their mates valued their contributions but that strangers cared enough to make this gesture for them.
For me, watching the men being wrapped in the quilts, I had goose bumps. The act of actually physically enfolding them supportively in quilts in front of me made me think that this is why we love quilts. Yes we love fabric, colour and design and we love the satisfaction of completing a project. But to snuggle, warm and comfort ourselves or someone else under a handmade quilt is the perfect result!
I left the small group. The three servicemen; their friend, daughter and wife. They were all patting each others backs, hugging, wordlessly nodding and shaking hands with Sue & Stan, smiling and all the while holding the quilts tightly around them, right in the middle of the quiet lunchtime bowling club bar.
I had the sense that I’d seen something really important, one of those special moments that make you feel like people really are amazing!! Thank you Sue and Stan and the whole group for including me and giving me a glimpse of a world that I’m just the wrong age to have had any experience of. My Dad, Uncles or Brothers didn’t have go to war.
Quilts of Valour NSW do take donations of quilts or tops of a certain size, fabric and materials. Cash donations are tax deductible. Sue and Stan Allen are very happy to chat anyone who would be in a position to help their tiny team. You can contact them through their Facebook Page, the Quilts of Valour Website or call the shop and I can pass on their phone numbers.
There were tears, chills up the spine, wonder at the generosity of volunteers and a reminder of how comforting and symbolic quilts truly can be.