In Part 9, Milly continued her visits to school. The children and Gloria were always thrilled when it was a ‘Milly day’. At last, after years of quilts that went away to places of honor, Milly made a quilt, “Our Towns” that hangs at school. Declining health continued, yet I summoned the courage to ask Milly to make another Peace Quilt. She was thrilled, and with her renewed energy and enthusiasm, we were off on another adventure.
Part 10 – The Final Curtain.
“Lets make the image with children and their family looking out a big window at their images of peace.” Milly’s idea was brilliant, and that’s exactly what we did. Honestly, that quilt with butterfly wings that moved, real chains for swings, raised and puffy hearts, and striking colors and images, was Milly’s best. It was her crowning glory.
And so, the question of where to hang the quilt lingered… until an old friend and past parent whose child was part of the first Peace Quilt said it should hang at the White House. “The world needs peace more today than ever” she said. Yes. And it needs to hang at our own White House, the State House. Of course it does! The White House may take years to approve and accept the quilt. I wasn’t sure if Milly had years. The Massachusetts State House was perfect. Milly thought so, too.
There were ladders to climb and hoops to go through just to make a contact, someone who would listen to my story, Milly’s story. And one day at school our secretary burst into my classroom to tell me the State House was on the phone and wanted to talk with me. An hour later I was emailing photos of the sketch and the quilt. It was love at first sight, and the wheels were moving. I couldn’t believe how many layers of people and agencies had to approve (and like) the quilt AND the idea of it hanging at the State House.
“Is there a spot for special artifacts?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s out of the way. The quilt wouldn’t be visible to many people. Wait! There is a bare wall at the entrance of the building. I’ve been trying to find the right thing to hang there. Everyone who enters the State House would see this quilt. Everyone. What do you think?”
What do I think?! I think that would be awesome – and I choose that word in it’s original context. The world needs more peace, and what is better than peace through the eyes of young children – seen by all?
“I think that would be wonderful. Just perfect.”
In the meantime, we made a Peace Book. Children illustrated all their ideas that are depicted in the quilt and wrote the words. One of the best peace books, ever!
We read this book over and over. Children looked through it to find their favorite page and tell others about peace. The book cemented the quilt. A copy remains out front at school for families and children to read. And, it continues to be well loved.
“Jennie, everything is all set.” At last! “When would you like to deliver the quilt? We’d like to have a ceremony with children and families, and of course Milly. The Governor is planning to attend.”
What! The Governor of Massachusetts? Gulp!
“That is wonderful” I said, trying to keep a calm voice. “Thank you”.
We picked a date in June and notified families. Current families and past families were there at the big event, as this quilt was a few years in the making. The director and assistant director of school were there. Milly’s family was there. My husband and I drove Milly into Boston, and we were escorted into the rotunda, a beautiful room with a curved sweeping staircase and stunning architecture. History and beauty at its best.
Milly glowed. She may have been wheelchair bound, but her spirt rose up tall and proud.
The stage and seating was at the foot of the Grand Staircase. I was prepped by a staff member as to what would happen. The Governor and the Lieutenant Governor would make an entrance from the back, then I would give opening remarks and read the Peace Book, then the Governor would speak, and finally the quilt would be presented.
You can do this, Jennie.
When Governor Baker made his entrance we shook hands and chatted, and he scanned the room for Milly. When he saw her he stepped forward, then dropped to his knees and held her hands. They whispered and smiled like two long-lost friends. Everyone stood to watch; you could have heard a pin drop. Not a dry eye in the house.
And the ceremony began. I had a microphone. That was fine until I had to hold the book while reading. The Governor hopped up, took the book out of my hands, and said, “Here. Let me hold the book while you read.” And he did. And I did.
I barely recall the words I said, yet I clearly remember the Governor’s speech and his words. “Children learn hate” he said. He talked about the importance of peace and children’s visions, much like the image of the quilt. The quilt was presented and displayed for everyone to see.
And then the Governor spontaneously asked all the children to sit with him on the steps of the Grand Staircase. What a great idea!
Milly took with her treasured memories of a lifetime, back to the nursing home, and displayed these photos for everyone to see. In typical Milly humor, she would say to all who asked her who was that man kneeling, “Oh, that’s just the Governor.” On all of my visits to see her the following year – she was now too sick and unable to come to school – there was always a new story of someone asking her about the quilt and the State House. We laughed. We always laughed. It’s what friends do.
And then her granddaughter called. The Call. Milly had a week or two to live. Hopefully. I went to see her right away, and as soon as she saw my face, she said three sentences to me, “Jennie, I’m 88 years old. I’ve lived a wonderful life. What else is there?” Yes, Milly!
I went back to school and made videos of the children singing Milly’s favorite songs. I went to the nursing home a few days later to show her, sat on a chair right beside her bed, and we played the videos over and over again on my iPad. Oh, how she loved seeing the children and hearing the songs. As we watched and listened, I rubbed her arm and we both smiled. A lot.
“Milly, remember all the adventures we’ve had together? I remember that car ride to Philadelphia. You were hilarious. We had the best time. Milly, what do you remember?”
And Milly proceeded to tell the story of the Command Coin being pressed into her hand at the Fisher House. That was her big memory over the years. We continued to reminisce. There were no tears. Milly wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The following day I called, and her granddaughter answered her phone. Milly would probably die that night. I wasn’t about to wait, I left immediately to see her. I needed, wanted to say goodbye. I was driving like a crazy person to get there. And the most remarkable thing happened. When I was about five minutes away, I was struck with an enormous wave of peace. It was the most wonderful feeling of goodness.
I was too late. Milly had died five minutes before I got there – the same time that the wave of peace struck me. She was telling me goodbye in her happy way. And so Milly, I say goodbye to you in my happy way: