My February challenge was to learn to make a tee-shirt quilt. It was something I had always wanted to learn and I have saved shirts and jerseys from all the teams the boys have played on. In 2010 I saved a KC Star article of a mom of two boys who did a tee-shirt quilt for them when they were in college. I kept it and hung it up knowing that I wanted to do that. All I needed was the time to make it happen and I thought February (7 years later) was it! After all, it’s a cold and dreary month, so what better time to be inside sewing.
Because Thomas is in high-school, I knew his was the one I wanted to work on. Jack still has many shirts to wear and I will make him one when he gets to high school as well. I went through the stack of shirts and picked my top 20. There were so many good memories with all of those worn out shirts and jerseys and I wished I could use them all. Man, time goes so fast!
I had all intentions of finishing a tee-shirt quilt in February. I signed up for the class at Quilters Haven in January and had all my shirts. I took my first class at the beginning of February and learned how to do the first few steps. I cut the shirts precisely into 12.5 inch squares and bought fabric to back it. I found fabric to make strips to separate the shirts and a backing that was a soft flannel so Thomas would want to use it.
However, life got in the way of that project.
My aunt Jo, who lives in Olathe, had called to see if I could help her out with her car. It was the end of January and she had just been to one of Thomas’ games. I was so glad she had the energy to come to the game and happy to help her out with her car. Three years ago, the doctors had given her 6 months to live, but through her strong will, chemotherapy and some clinical trials of medicines, she was doing the best she could to stay alive. At Thomas’ basketball game she looked more tired and worn out than I had seen her before, but little did I know it would be the beginning of the last month she would be alive. When I took her to get her car fixed a few days later, we went and had breakfast afterward at a little Olathe diner. We had a great talk and I remember laughing with her about her last visit to Pittsburg and telling her that I hoped that she could get away to take a few trips when she started feeling better and truly believing that would happen.
She had just retired 2 months prior, in December, after being at the same school her entire teaching career. She coached and taught at Harmon High School in Kansas City, Kansas. Her retirement party in December was the best I had ever been to. They played a video featuring several of the teams she had coached in the 33 years she was there and many of her former players, students and fellow coaches and teachers were there to pay tribute and make speeches. I had a hard time not crying my eyes out. The school library was full of people who loved her and the school faculty made it feel like the loss of a family member. One of her first players and students, Margie, came back to Harmon after college to teach and her and Jo became great friends and even coached together for a while. She made the video below for her retirement party.
In the last couple weeks, her brothers and sisters stayed with her and took care of her at KU Medical Center in Kansas City and Freeman Hospital in Joplin. She was the youngest in her family of 10 and it didn’t seem fair that she was the first one, in their adult life, to die. I saw my mom feed her ice chips, give her water through a small sponge and help her when she collapsed. She and others would sleep in a chair many nights by her hospital bed. It was a true lesson in empathy, courage and compassion. For me, as her niece, it was difficult to see a woman who I knew had such strength and leadership, have to count on others and suffer the way she did. It made me think about those who didn’t have a family to take care of them and love them through difficult times like this and how heartbreaking that would be. After almost two weeks in the hospital, she died last Tuesday evening,
At the Kansas City service, her school brought a bus full of staff and students and it was special to hear them speak about her from the heart. One student told a story about how if Ms. Wachter were to ask them a question in biology and no one raised their hand, she would whisper the answer in a students ear and just happen to call on them. She was playful and always playing pranks, so it didn’t surprise me when another student said that if any of them dozed off or fell asleep, she had a spray bottle of water and she might just happen to spray them with it. I heard stories of how one of her students, had parents who had been deported back to their home country, and she gave her a place to stay. There were many funny coaching stories from fellow coaches and stories of her love of Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s in her hometown of Pittsburg. She never took life to seriously, however was one of the most competitive people I knew when it came to a challenge or one of her sports teams.
These were some of the same students and staff a couple of years ago who organized a walk to help her pay for medical expenses that were adding up.
Teaching and coaching were her life. She never married or had a family to get home to, so she made Harmon her home. She came early and stayed late. She never ate in the teacher’s lounge, always with students. The teachers and students were her family in Kansas City and we were her family that she went home at holidays to see.
I believe that Aunt Jo is looking down on us from heaven, cancer free and playing some competitive card game with my Grandma Rosemary. I am grateful that she showed so many of us not to give up when life gets tough and that through it all what really matters is the relationships and connections you have with the friends and family you love. She lived a life of loyalty as well; staying at the same school for 33 years, having life long friends and family, and doing whatever it took to help her students.
As for the tee-shirt project; I will get started back up with it, just as soon as I get back from Mexico. We hit the beach on Wednesday with 7 other families to take a nice, long break from reality..and what perfect timing it is.