I spent the last two months getting ready for being a vendor at Paducah. I’d heard wonderful things about the town and its residents from other quilting vendors, so I was excited to learn I’d gotten a premium booth with Susan Edwards at Wildhair Studios, just one block from the National Quilt Museum.
Richard, a friend and fellow quilter and watercolor artist, spent days cutting and assembling jelly rolls, charm packs, and fat quarter bundles for me. I was furiously printing patterns from my Color-of-the-Month series, making hotel accommodations, and packing my van. I was ready.
I arrived on Friday, set up on Saturday, with much help from Diane and Lowell Cook of Details by Diane. They were generous with their time and would later become so important to me. Susan set up her t-shirt booth in the back of her store, and Betty of Village Mercantile set up a mini-quilt shop in her booth.
Traffic was slow before the show, and while it increased through the week, estimates from other, more experienced vendors than I were that attendance was down by 1/3. The AQS show was uncrowded, restaurants had empty tables, and the streets of Paducah looked like tumbleweeds should be blowing through.
Then on Tuesday morning my husband woke me up with a 6:30a.m. phone call, starting with the words, “I’ve got some bad news.” It was too early for me to recognize how grave he was, but he continued to tell me one of my best friends, Virginia, had passed away unexpectedly. Virginia was 41 years old, was a nurse who worked in a hospital everyday, and was diligent about her healthcare. She was afraid of dying young, because both of her parents had passed away at a young age. We met in childbirth class when we were both pregnant with our first child: we both had sons, who were best friends.
Virginia was a devoted friend to me at the awkward times in life when most people don’t know what to say, so they say nothing, something entirely wrong, or they just avoid you altogether. When I had my first miscarriage, Virginia took care of me and comforted me. When my mother passed away, Virginia flew out from Colorado with her kids and visited me, again comforting me. When I was told I had to have surgery, and she was too many states away to visit, she sent me a care package. I sent my son on his first solo airplane flight to visit Virginia and her family.
I couldn’t believe what David was telling me. How could it have happened? I got a speeding ticket driving to the store that morning. I couldn’t focus on anything the rest of the week. I broke down into tears after a customer said “life is too short for me to complain about my wife buying fabric.” Poor man, he was just making conversation and this crazy woman from Georgia starts sobbing. Susan’s husband Robert hugged me, and Diane and Lowell were wonderful with their Christian love and support.
On the last day of vending, Saturday, I felt like things were getting back to normal for me. I talked with Virginia’s ex-husband and her memorial service wouldn’t be until next week, so I still had time to attend. I talked with my kids and husband: my older son was barely awake after an all-night lock-in with his youth group. Life was normal – good, uneventful, normal.
Then my husband called me 30 minutes later to tell me my older son was being rushed to the hospital. I asked him repeatedly to explain, because I couldn’t register what was happening. He was frantic and couldn’t really tell me much. All I knew was that my son was ill, being transported by ambulance to a hospital, and I wasn’t there. I couldn’t hold his hand, tell him he would be okay. I wasn’t there.
Again, Diane, Lowell, and Robert came to my rescue. And my friend Pat, who drove from Georgia to stay with me and help me in my booth. Again I was crying in Paducah, and again they comforted with hugs, words, and actions. They packed my booth and my car in 10 minutes. I drove through severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hail to get to my son.
He was fine, but shaken. His younger brother hugged him a bit tighter, as did we all.
So, Paducah next year? I can’t even think about it. All I know right now is I will never again talk to Virginia, and I can’t make sense of that. I miss her, and I ache for her son and daughter, 14 and 12. Life will never be the same for them, or for me either.