Last week I attended the annual Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It was the first trip I’ve taken, completely by myself, in seven years or more. Usually I’ve got Emma and/or Jerry along with me — this time, it was just me. While I missed my family, it was quite the experience being ‘on my own’ a couple thousand miles away!
I stayed in an amazing hotel suite by the water, with a king sized bed TO MYSELF. But even better than that, the conference I attended is one I look forward to, every year. It’s a gathering of higher education teachers and professionals who love aspects of teaching and learning. I never feel the pressure I’ve felt at other conferences, of academics trying to “one up” each other by their supposed brilliance. STLHE is about collaborating, first and foremost.
Each morning, several of the attendees had to take a 20-minute bus ride to the university where the conference was being held. On the first morning, my friends and I stepped aboard a very full bus, and I took one of the few remaining seats next to an older gentleman named David.
We started in with casual conversations, to pass the time on our way to the venue. Eventually he said that despite his retirement from his faculty position in New Brunswick, he still teaches a few courses down in Mississippi each fall. Of course, I had to tell him I’m from Savannah, and instantly our conversation shifted from pleasantries to a more active discussion of all things Southern.
He and his wife live on the gulf coast of Mississippi, and their rental home was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. I’ve had a few brushes with hurricanes and evacuations, so we talked a bit about the recovery efforts after the huge storm. And then, the story happened.
He told me about how difficult it was for his wife and others in the community to deal with the losses after Katrina hit. While their home remained standing after the storm and was only flood-damaged, it still was a lot to process. One day, his wife was walking along the beach with their dog, and she noticed something she recognized in the sand. It was a scrap of fabric. His wife was a quilter, and much of her fabric either disappeared or was badly damaged after the hurricane — but there, in the sand, was some of her fabric!
She kicked away some of the sand, and discovered a bag-full of her fabric. She took it home, and it was then she came up with a great idea: why not use some of this fabric to create quilts to remember and recover from Katrina? That’s how Katrina Recovery Quilts came to be.
It was only moments later he told me that his wife passed away because of cancer, three months ago. Before she died, she made sure that her remaining fabric went to an organization called Victoria’s Quilts, who donate quilts to people in the midst of chemotherapy treatments.
I was so moved by her story, and the fact that he chose to share her legacy with me, on such a quick moment on a bus.
For the rest of the day, I told several of my friends and colleagues about her story, and her recovery quilts.
The next day of the conference, after another long day of talks and sessions, I climbed aboard another crammed-full bus for the trek back to our hotels. Again, I took the first (and few remaining) seats left, and guess who I got to sit next to again? David! The gentleman who first shared his story with me. It was great to see him again, and to tell him how much I loved his wife’s story, and how I wanted to tell many people about the legacy she left behind. I think he was touched by how much I wanted to make sure her story was told.