We are pleased to bring you a special blog post from Heather Stephenson. Heather was asked to be a rookie for the Quilts of Valor® Iowa Public Television special. She would like to share her thoughts and feelings with you in this special letter…
A few months ago, I received a phone call from a dear friend and fellow army wife. To my surprise – it was not just a social call. My friend had the task of finding an army wife volunteer to participate in a documentary about Quilts of Valor®. My husband had just returned from his third overseas deployment and our family was busy reconnecting and finding our new “normal”. I was reluctant to add another project, especially one that involved being on TV.
I do have a soft spot in my heart for bringing attention to the issues of our wounded and returning veterans. I was also thrilled to find out that Dan Gable, THE wrestling legend, would also be on the show as a guest quilter. Dan Gable is a legend as a world-class wrestler and coach and is admired by people all over the world (especially by my husband who has spent his life idolizing Dan Gable). I decided to say yes.
A week later, I showed up at the IPTV studios to tape the Quilts of Valor® show. I was out of my element and uncomfortable. I was nervous about looking stupid and saying something cringe-worthy. There were four celebrity quilters that would guide the invited guests through the quilting process and I was humbled to have the opportunity to be coached by these experts.
Being a girl from western Iowa, I spent my childhood with my two grandmothers and their sewing and quilting projects. They were both very clever women who survived the Great Depression by working on the farm and in the home. My dad’s mother made quilts for every one of her grandchildren and she waited to give them until we were adults so we would have them as keepsakes. My daughters have quilts for their baby dolls made by my mom’s mother that they treasure. The quilts we were making this day were of a higher quality and craftsmanship than I had ever seen. First, the fabric was not a bunch of old shirts that couldn’t be mended and they weren’t planning on tying the quilts.
As a child, my job on cold winter nights in our poorly insulated farmhouse was to sit under the quilts and tie all the yarn pieces into knots. As I looked around the studio and admired the quilts on the walls, I became very intimidated at the task at hand, a quilt in a day…Really? The quilts on display were masterpieces – with intricate patterns that I have never seen before. I could not imagine how I could take fabric and turn out these artistic pieces.
It was a long day of taping and quilting. There was a lot of entertaining banter and storytelling. The day held mixed emotions for me. My husband had only been home for a few short months from his deployment. Even though the studio was humming with laughter and good times, my thoughts went to those dark days of deployment and to those families whose soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. We were there making quilts for the soldiers who lived through horrible accidents and ordeals, but many of their buddies didn’t make it home.
Time will heal many of the external injuries our warriors sustain in combat, but they still carry with them the injuries that we can’t see. So, while I was making this quilt for a wounded solider, my mind kept returning to the soldiers who were deployed with my husband. Unfortunately, my husband’s unit lost a solider during their time overseas. I decided I would give my quilt to one of the soldiers who survived the incident that took Brent’s life, if he would be willing to receive it.
Two soldiers from my husband’s unit suffered extensive injuries and I was torn because both of them deserved a Quilt of Valor®. The week after taping at the studio, I received an email asking if I could also find a recipient for Dan’s quilt. It was an answer to a prayer! Both heroes would be able to receive a quilt. Once I started looking at the history of each soldier, I realized Dustin would be a perfect recipient for Dan’s quilt. He was a lifelong wrestler who overcame all the odds and lived and walked when all the experts said he would do neither again. I would have the privilege of giving my quilt to Nick; he worked with my husband in the same office prior to the deployment, so I had a personal connection to him.
As we were making the arrangements for the quilt presentation, I got a surprise phone call. The legendary Dan Gable called to invite me to participate in a guest segment during and Iowa State University wrestling meet, which would be broadcast on IPTV. Since Dustin was a former high school wrestler and Dan was giving him his quilt, we decided to have Dan do his presentation in one of the locker rooms prior to the ISU wrestling meet. The producers asked me to stand outside the room when Dan presented his quilt, because they didn’t want to confuse the viewers by having me in some of the shots. That was a better idea than anyone knew because as I sat at the door listening, I could not hold back my tears. Dustin was such a miracle and a special young man. I was humbled to meet him.
For the presentation of my quilt, my husband and I loaded up the car with our youngest daughter (two years old) and drove two hours to Nick’s home. During our car ride, our conversation focused on wounded veterans and reflections each of us had about the deployment, not all of it happy…but all of it healing. Making my quilt and giving it to a solider helped heal some of my own guilt for having a husband who came home without injury. Meeting and spending time with Nick’s family was an honor and a privilege. After the crew left for taping, we shared a meal with Nick’s family and I was in awe of the strength of his wife during the entire ordeal of her husband getting injured in theatre.
Quilts of Valor® is a project that I am proud and grateful to be involved with. It is a wonderful way to give your time and talents to show our American heroes you appreciate their sacrifices.
To learn more about Quilts of Valor®, visit QOVF.org.