She likened our road trip to the movie Thelma and Louise. Yes, it was two ditzy broads on a road trip — but there the similarity ends. I look nothing like Susan Sarandon (I assume that I have to be her, because I’m older), and Ann didn’t resemble Geena Davis. We were in a Honda Element instead of a Thunderbird (dadgum it) and Brad Pitt was nowhere in sight (dadgum it!). There was no violence and there were no car chases; there were no cliffs (although there were swamps). It ended MUCH better than the movie — for we delivered afghans to kids with cancer at Camp Quality Arkansas.
Y’all might have noticed me yakking on about it, and you might be tired of my voice on the matter. I wanted you to hear the story through the voice of my volunteer who helped deliver. I want you to see the joy of it through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time. Here are the words of Ann Dixon-Smith on our delivery.
For 9 months, I have been passionate about Share A Square, an organization (and I use the term very loosely!) of people from all over the world, all working together to make crocheted afghans for kids with cancer, specifically this year at Camp Quality camps in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. More than 500 people, in fact. As a group, we have crocheted squares, and we have sewn together the squares from others, 80 at a time, into the most beautiful blankets in the world.
Now, we all have stuffed into our back closets the afghan our great aunt made us in the 60’s, that gawd-awful scratchy thing in the absolute ugliest color and pattern, but these Share A Square Afghans are nothing like those. These are a kaleidoscope of colors, a multitude of patterns.
The squares are bright and subdued, earth tones and neons, primary colors and pastels. They vary from the very plain and basic one color granny square that a beginner (me) made to the very intricate squares from some who have been crocheting for 30 years. And each one of the 80 squares that makes up the afghan is from a different person, one who sat one evening, and thought about a child who might be frightened, might be cold, might be sick, and picked up her crochet hook.
Over 500 people, from countries all around the world, made over 16,000 squares. A flock of larks is called an exultation of larks; I call these volunteers an exultation of … well, um, of hookers! I know that each loop chained and each stitch taken was filled with love, concern, and wishes. One of the squares I stitched into an afghan came from Madge, in Barnsley, England – it was a gray heather color – what could be more perfect than that?
So, after 9 months of working with such an incredible group of people, making new friends, learning new techniques, I got to go to a delivery with Shelly. Now, as I told my daughter after I got home from the two day trip, Shelly is a Hippy me – I have never met someone with whom I have so many unusual things in common with, and we spent the 14 hours in the car learning about each other and laughing – I would be just about to comment on a subject or even just a billboard or roadside display, and she would say the exact same thing I was thinking before I could open my mouth. We even have the same lucky number, for crying out loud! So we started our journey as not much more than strangers, and ended it, on my side at least, as soul sistahs. She is someone so free and easy with herself, I can only hope to emulate her. But enough about us.
Our adventures on the trip itself must wait for another missive; it’s the delivery that is the core of the project. We traveled to Bald Knob, Arkansas, where Camp Quality runs a week-long camp for cancer victims and their siblings, with campers from 4-18, in all stages of illness and recovery. It is their mission to provide a week of normal to the kids, to give the siblings a chance to just be kids, and to give the parents a week to breath. Anyone who has ever been a caregiver knows how valuable that time is.
We arrived about 6:00, and were greeted by several of the camp counselors. We talked as we unloaded the car (50 afghans takes up a LOT of room!) and spread them out in the great room in the main building.
Each afghan was packaged like a present – in white bags with gorgeous multi-colored bows on each one, made by – of course- a Share a Square volunteer, who wanted them to be pretty, and used 8 different ribbons in each bow.
As we talked, we learned that one of the counselors has been coming to the camp for 21 years – ever since she came as a child with cancer.
As the kids and their companions (every camper has their own personal companion, who is with them every minute – no sneaking off to town after the kids are asleep for these counselors!) filed in, their eyes got huge, and the grins came out. Shelly told the kids about the project, about how each afghan has more than 50 hours of labor in it, and how many people were involved, what the tags on the afghans meant, and then invited them up to pick their very own. After that, it was all grins and giggles.
As they tore into their packages, companions helped the kids read the tags, identifying who had sewn which square, and where that person was from. Many of the tags have inspirational messages on them; many just said “Love you!” As I walked around, I heard one camper exclaim, “I have two happy face squares in my blanket! My life is complete!”
Another little princess in a tiara, no bigger than a popcorn fart, gave me a big grin and a thumbs up as I took her picture.
I knew I couldn’t cry when there was so much joy in the room, but I had to fight it. Shelly had charted each blanket, and included a letter with the chart with the package, so when they cut off the tags and strung them on the carabineers provided, they could go back, as Shelly said in her letter, and someday show their children who made each square, and the love involved in it.
Afterwards, we all trouped out to the campfire. Shelly is a professional story teller, an American Master, and had volunteered to tell the kids some stories. It was MUCH darker out there in the creepy Arkansas woods than this picture shows, and, as she involved the entire group in yelling “Coyote’! Coyote’!” into the night sky, I was a little worried that the trickster god himself might walk out of those trees.
But the full moon shone down, and, at the end of the evening, lit our way back to the car, and the campers’ way to their bunks, with their afghans newly spread on them.
My family has endured 9 months of bits of yarn in all corners of the house, my single minded mantra of “just one more square!”, and bags of kits and finished afghans hidden behind furniture and in odd corners. My friends have endured 9 months of my proselytizing on the joys of donating yarn, money, time, effort and backrubs to the cause. Strangers have endured me taking up much more than my allotted space in the universe as I spread out my projects over every available area in public places as I tuck in one more loose thread or crochet one more round on a square. Every bit of it was worth it, when I saw those faces. These kids have never given up; haven’t even considered it. I carry this in my heart.