Sherry Reis




Sherry Reis




Sherry Reis


Betty Colburn

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics/ United Notions


International Quilt Festival
Houston, TX USA


Rachel Grove


Betty Colburn (BC): This is Betty Colburn. Today's date is November 1, 2002. It is 12:30 p.m., and I am conducting an interview with Sherry Reis for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project at [International.] Quilt Festival in Houston on 2002. [5 second pause.] Well, Sherry, could we take a look at the quilt you brought today? Looks like it has like another quilt on the back.

Sherry Reis (SR): It has a front and a back.

BC: It does indeed. Well, could you tell me about this quilt?

SR: Yes. It's called "Looking for the Perfect Tree," and I belong to a couple of different guilds at home, but the small guild I belong to--there's about a dozen of us in this guild, and we've been meeting for close to twenty years, and in the late eighties we made a decision to do a quilt challenge, and it was our first one, and we had a very good time, and it was very, very loose, because we're kind of loose. Now that didn't come out well, did it? We are [laughs.] casual.

BC: Perhaps informal?

SR: Well, we aren't real structured. [laughs.]

BC: Okay.

SR: In that first quilt challenge what we did is that we just used fabrics that we had in our closets, and we gave each other six, six-inch squares. So everybody ended up with a number of squares. All those fabrics you had to include within your quilt, but we--and we had a year's time to do it. We have to give ourselves plenty of time, because some of us move a little slower than others. No names will be mentioned. [BC laughs.] But we enjoyed working together doing those sorts of things, and that experience was so good and we had such a good time that a couple years later we decided that we would do a Christmas challenge, and that's where this all came to be. We started out with three fabrics. There is this musliny fabric that has the little stars. We had this green, loose plaid fabric, and we had the solid red on the back, and the rule was that you had to use at least two of those three fabrics. You didn't have to use all three. In my case I did, but not everyone did, and it had to have a Christmas theme, and the following year at our Christmas party we were going to unveil our quilts not telling each other what they were about, and by a Christmas theme it could be based on a Christmas carol or a Christmas story. It could be anything as long as it had to do with Christmas, and I had originally started out with a star quilt that I had designed and thought that this would be kind of fun to do but honestly and truly don't remember what the problem that I ended up having with it, but I decided that it was not a good candidate. So I ended up abandoning that probably about a month before this was due. I have a tendency to do that come from behind. [laughs.] So I decided that--I thought and thought and thought about where the jumping off point would be, where my initial idea would come from, and I decided that it really was important that this quilt really needed to have something to do with my family, because my husband is absolutely a true Christmas freak. He loves Christmas, anything to do with it. We have four live trees in our home. We decorate for what seems like an uncanny amount of time, and it's just a bigger event in out house than it is in almost anyone's I know. We love Christmas. Early on in marriage I learned that it was important to him to go. Well, I should preface this by saying that my dad was on the road growing up probably five to six days out of the week. So our Christmas tree was generally bought very close to Christmas, perhaps when some of the nicer trees were no longer in evidence. They were standing in someone's home, dressed, decorated, and ready for Christmas, and we were buying ours. So I was not familiar with any thought that you might go early to buy a Christmas tree. I thought everybody did the same thing we did. Well, not everybody, but a lot of people did. My husband goes out on the first Saturday in December to buy his Christmas tree. Sometimes earlier, and so this was I think our second year of marriage, and we were getting ready to go out for the pilgrimage to get the Christmas tree. It must have been our first year, because I would have known what the plan was before that. It was a really, really, cold, cold, bitter day, and he said that we really needed to bundled up. You're going to want to wear layers and lots of heavy clothing. It can be cold out there, and I thought, 'How long's it going to take to get this tree? Can't take that long.' I mean our family trees took about five minutes. Well, we went out, and we went literally to every Christmas tree lot in our area - every single one. He'd say, 'Okay, we've seen these. Now let's go to the next one,' and we went from tree lot to tree lot to tree lot to find this Christmas tree. Well, and I was freezing. Finally after lunch, he's narrowed it down to a tree in this lot and a tree in a second lot. [BC laughs.]

And this, the front of the quilt, that turned down edge represents going to all the tree lots, so that there are trees beyond trees beyond trees. It goes on forever, and once he had narrowed it down to those two lots, we went back and forth several times to look at this and then to go back and look at that, and he checked this trunk, and he checked that trunk. 'Is that one quite as straight across as this one was?' And I kept thinking my little toes were freezing and my nose and my fingers, 'Get on with it.' [laughs.] Well, we had gone back to one tree lot, and as we were standing there I happened to notice this little old man, and the little old man was dressed in a pair of yellow cotton trousers and a blue summer jacket, and it was frigid. I mean how this man--I was cold looking at him, and he was holding at arm's length what I refer to as a 'Charlie Brown Christmas tree.' A very sparse limbed tree that was really kind of sad. I'm certain that it wasn't very much money, and he was holding it out at arm's length and checking it from this angle and that, and I looked at him, and it just kind of broke my heart, because I turned to my husband and I said, 'I don't think he has any money, and I think he's trying to get a good enough tree with limited funds.' I said, 'Why don't we help him out?' Now I should mention that my husband was in college, and to say that we had a vast array of resources would be stretching the truth beyond the limit, because we ourselves were watching our pennies, and he said, 'First of all we don't have the money,' and he looked at him and he said, 'And besides that, look at the pride that he's holding, that tree.' He said, 'If we went up and offered that, I'm sure we would offend him,' he said, 'That would be wrong,' and when I looked at him I thought, 'He's right.' You know, you could tell that by the way he carried himself that he had a lot of pride, and it would have been an insult to do that. [clears throat.] But I just couldn't take my eyes off him. Well, my attention was drawn back to the Christmas tree that we had come to inspect, and when I looked back the little gentlemen was gone. I'm assuming he purchased that tree, but I don't know, and we ended up buying our tree in that lot. Each year after we had children the kids would go with my husband, and it would be an all day affair, and they would get the Christmas tree, and it's been quite a tradition in our family, but for many, many years and even today--[clears throat.] Excuse me. When they are going out to get the tree I think of that little man and his yellow pants and his little windbreaker, and I think of him and wonder if he's still buying Christmas trees or if he has moved on, and so he is part of this also. When I look at this, as I said, the turned down corner is a representation. The turned down corner exposing more trees represents the various tree lots, and of course these are tessellated-like trees but are not a true tessellation, but they're fairly close. If it were a true tessellation the background would look like it was the same shape only upside down from the actual individual tree. On the muslin I dyed it with tea and coffee, so that you started out with the light, and as you get to the lower part of day the muslin becomes darker, because it seemed like I was out all day long. On the backside of this [3 second pause.] is the little old man's 'Charlie Brown tree,' and this is a representation of his yellow pants, and in the pocket of the pant is a handkerchief, and the handkerchief has the story of this quilt. This quilt really is very important to me, not because it was a difficult quilt to make, not because it is close to a "masterpiece quilt" but because the story is so personal to me, and because it's about my family, and I believe that quilting has so much to do with who we are as people, who we are as family, and that I felt was the importance of the story I wanted to share. Now a lot of people, because the title of this is called "Looking for the Perfect Tree." They always ask, 'Okay, on the front which of those trees is the perfect tree?' Well, I mean other than the fact that they're all done in different greens they're identical. This tree I chose to be the perfect tree, because it was the green, challenge fabric, and though you don't really notice it on the front, at the very top of this tree, in the base of the one on top of it, I quilted a star, and by no coincidence that star is the top of the little old man's tree on the back, so that identifies the perfect tree.

BC: Sounds like that means all trees are perfect trees.

SR: That all trees are perfect trees. [laughs.]

BC: That was a lovely story. I really appreciate you sharing it with us.

SR: Thank you.

BC: And in telling it you talked about your quilt group. Can you tell me some more about your involvement in groups?

SR: Yes.

BC: That have to do with quilting.

SR: Now when I first learned to quilt I learned through an adult education class and it was six or eight weeks. I kind of forget which, and it really was a very thorough class where we learned the start to finish basics, including drafting, how to do our design, and the gal that taught that class was a real phenom. She was an excellent teacher, an excellent quilter, and really it was a much better class than I had appreciation for starting out just because I didn't know what other classes were like. We just learned a tremendous amount. Well, after I did that I continued to quilt with someone that all of you probably know. We took that class together. Her name is Carol Doak and we started to quilt together taking that class. Well, I met her at--I had signed up for the class, and I met her one night at a women's group in our neighborhood, because at that time she lived in Ohio, and we really hit it off. The next day my phone was out of order, and I stopped at her house to see if I could use her phone, and as we sat down and shared a cup of tea, I said, 'You know I signed up for this class. You think you'd like to do that?' and she said, 'Well, I don't know. I'm not big into hand sewing,' and I said, 'Well, neither am I, but I just thought it would be fun,' and she said, 'Let's go sign up.' So that's how it began, but the gal who taught us how to quilt, Jacque Hanks, she was very good. Carol and I continued in our quest to learn more techniques and polish our quilting, but Carol moved back to the east coast, and once she moved back to the east coast my quilting buddy was gone, and so I was--You know it's wonderful to be a quilter even singly, but the friendships and the camaraderie, the bond that is formed is a very significant part of quilting when you quilt with people regularly. So I told Jacque I was really missing that closeness with Carol. She said, 'I can see that,' and she said, 'You know I've started a small group with some women who have taken class, those who have really taken to it like ducks to water,' and she said, 'Why don't you come and join us?' and so I did and I honestly don't really know exactly how many years it's been, but it's almost twenty years. I know that, and this group of women has changed over that twenty years in terms of who has comprised the dozen quilters, and we have at times had a couple more than that and a couple less, because people have moved away, or people have--Actually, we've had a couple members die. So we have lost people in different ways, but never anybody who has just gotten bored with quilting though. I mean and we come from all walks of life. It is highly unlikely that we would all be a member of another group, because we just come from very different walks of life, but we have that common bond in quilting, and it is possibly the most wonder--other than family, the most wonderful sharing attitude and closeness really I mean down in your heart. There's just a special place there for each of those people. You can share things with them that you don't share with other people that you're friends with, because we've just--I think because we do something that's so much a core of who we are with our quilts. If you're not a quilter, I don't think you can truly identify with that, because we each know what we've put into our quilts, the stories behind them, the life experiences that happen while we're making them. I mean I'm sure that you can say the same thing. When you look at your quilts you know what was going on in your life during the making of that quilt, and we all have that common bond. We encourage each other. We criticize each other's work but only in a constructive way and generally not unless it's asked for. [laughs.] But it's just a--it's wonderful. [laughs.]

BC: And I'm hearing that really personal meaning and personal stories. How for you is quilting connected to the wider society beyond your family and your own quilt group?

SR: Well, I guess to me when even people who are not quilters--I mean you see people come into a quilt show, and maybe they have an appreciation for quilts, but they are not quilters themselves, and as they go around and look at the quilts--I mean we have all these signs that say do not touch the quilts. We have people with white gloves showing them, so they aren't touching the quilt, but our reaction, ours as well as someone who is not a quilter is to touch those quilts. It's very tactile, and I don't really understand truthfully myself what that is that makes us all no matter man, woman, child--It doesn't matter. Your reaction is to touch.

BC: Yes.

SR: And personally I think that people sense that. They sense the deep place you've come from. They sense how important that is. They sense that it's a part of the fiber of who we are as mankind. You know it comes from the best part of humanity.

BC: So it has pure universal values?

SR: Yes, I mean I really--don't you think that? [laughs.]

BC: Oh, I do. Absolutely.

SR: I mean it just--It crosses language barriers. You can communicate with a quilt with someone who doesn't speak your language, and by pointing to an area that person responds to that. It is universal.

BC: Beyond the tactile part of fiber what do you think makes a really great quilt?

SR: In terms of just when I look at that quilt I say, 'That's a great quilt?'

BC: Yes.

SR: Okay. I would have to say that design probably because I like designing, and I think design first grabs me even really before color.

BC: And when you say design what are you talking about?

SR: The elements, whether it's patchwork or even if it's appliqué. I do more patchwork than appliqué, but I appreciate and enjoy both, but probably patchwork is my first love.

BC: So the shapes--

SR: The shapes

BC: On the quilt?

SR: The shapes, yes, and as a matter of fact; I have a good example of this. I was talking with Carol while here, and I was telling her that when I was going through the show or the IQA exhibit--

BC: Okay.

SR: I noticed a quilt that was in the hand quilting section, and it's an Amish piece, and it won for best hand quilting, and I don't know whether you've seen the piece or not--

BC: Yes.

SR: But it is a--I don't remember what both colors are, and it's only two colors, but one of colors is a color that I would never ever select.

BC: Okay.

SR: And when I saw that quilt I went, 'Oh, my gosh, that is spectacular,' and I think we are biased by color--Blue is a favorite color of mine. Red, I like red too, so when I see those colors they draw me in initially, but when a design can draw you in, in spite of the fact that it's a color that could even repulse you--I mean that quilt is spectacular because of the quilting and that is a large part of the design. Certainly in that quilt, the color wouldn't have been my choice but the color didn't spoil it for me. The color I would say would be another thing that's very important.

BC: Oh.

SR: Color just really--You know we all have a natural affinity to certain colors. Like I said blue and red. But I like really soft colors. I like neutral shades. I once heard another friend of mine mention that when her life was very, very busy she had a tendency to use dark or very neutral colors, and when her life was at rest she was very colorful in her quilts, and I've thought about that. Oh, probably fifteen years ago I heard her say that, and it's amazing how true that is. [laughs.] You really have a tendency to kind of gravitate to different colors at different periods in your life, but color I do believe that that's a real essential part of a spectacular quilt whether you like the color or not. If it works in the quilt, you know that visually, you can see that. Technically it's got be constructed well. If I see things I'm kind--some people [3 second pause.] I don't think I really want this on tape, but there's a term--

BC: [laughs.] Do you want us to turn it off?

SR: [laughs.] No. There's a--Oh, I can say it. It's been said before many times. Some people call other people anal retentive, and I think that I must be one of those people, because plenty of people have said that to me. I have--It's important to me that things line up that are supposed to line up. I don't like to see a gap. I am far more forgiving in someone else's quilt than I am in my own. In my quilts I want that to be exact. If I can't make it exact, it has to close enough that when I stand back from it, it isn't still jumping out at me.

BC: So you have high standards.

SR: Probably. [laughs.]

BC: That's perhaps another way of putting that.

SR: Right, exactly, and I just like to see that sharpness in a quilt. I like to see that image that stands out in a quilt, and I see that that helps to make that quilt really spectacular is to have that precision in the piecing or in the appliqué. You can see, you can tell when you look if it's well crafted.

BC: Yes.

SR: And it has to hang really well for me. If it hangs beautifully straight that's a wonderful, wonderful thing to see, to see that nice straight finish to it. [3 second pause.] Go ahead.

BC: So you said a while ago, when we were looking at your tree quilt that you had started with a star motif for that quilt.

SR: Yes.

BC: And it didn't work for you.

SR: No.

BC: What do you do when a process isn't working?

SR: I don't always abandon it completely, but sometimes if--I'm not unlike a lot of quilters. I have many things going at one time. I think that we all probably have a little bit of trouble focusing. [BC laughs.] Because it's fun to move to the next process. When I design quilts--I'm probably getting way off of the question you just asked me. What was your question? [inaudible because talking at the same time as Betty.]

BC: My question was what do you do if you're--

SR: Okay.

BC: Making a quilt and the process doesn't work but if you need to go some other direction--

SR: All right. When it doesn't work for me sometimes I set it aside, and I come back to it later, because sometimes it's just your day. Sometimes--in that particular case I know it had to do with the star in the theme. I just wasn't happy with the way that it was jelling together. The actual construction wasn't my problem. It was just--there was no heart, not enough heart to it. It had too removed a theme for me, and this, I think I gravitated to, because emotionally Christmas is something that's very personal to me, and emotionally this worked better for me in that regard.

BC: This theme came from your heart?

SR: Right, exactly. Where the other was--I mean there was nothing wrong with it, but it just was approaching it from a different angle, and it wasn't enough for me. It needed to have more significance to me.

BC: Okay.

SR: But for the most part, when a design doesn't work [3 second pause.] you hunt. You figure out a way to make it better, and if you can't figure out a way to sidestep that then put it away and come back. I mean you can come back a year later, because sometimes when you come back it's suddenly obvious to you. Sometimes it just needs to mull. My whole design process--[clears throat.] In the fall is when I would have to say my creative juices flow the most. I've only recognized this in the last few years, because there is something that happens in the fall that I don't know whether it's the colors of the leaves changing. I'm not really sure what triggers it, but I just start to really--focus in on color I think because the colors around me are so vibrant. I focus in on shapes. I just--things hit me more that time of the year than in any other time of the year, and I just get idea after idea after idea. I have a proliferation of ideas to the point that there is no possible way I could ever do all of all those ideas in a reasonable time frame, because it's just--it's impossible. So I tackle the ones that speak to me, the ones that I'm really excited about. I try to really begin on those. The next thing, I love to work with graph paper. I do my own designing. I generally don't work from patterns just because to me part of the fun is developing the idea. Someone asked me how I envision a quilt design. I always tell them that when I start from the initial idea whatever that is, whether it's the color, whether it's the shape, whether it's an object, whatever it is, my actual stepping off place--I always say--I wear contacts, I see all of you have glasses on, so I think you'll understand this. When you don't have your glasses on everything is sort of foggy. The initial concept that I have--the idea--I know basically what I want it to look like, but it's like it's out of focus, and as I think through it more and more--This is before I ever start with paper or fabric or anything--the image becomes more in focus through my thought process. Once I am to a point where I can see this very clearly, that's when I put it down on graph paper. That's when I do my design work and get it exactly where I want it. Then I pull out my fabrics. Now it's not to say that what's on that graph paper always ends up in that quilt. Sometimes it doesn't, as we were talking before. There are times when you get to a place, and it just doesn't appeal to you. It doesn't look the way you had though it would look when it actually is in fabric, and if it doesn't appeal to me, I don't try to force it. I will rethink that area, and even if I go to another area of the quilt and work on that for a while, but I'm not going to force something, especially if it's a piece that's really meaningful to me, and something I really don't want to abandon. If I want to stick with an idea, then I just will work through that problem. If I can just go to another area of the quilt and work on that, area of the design then I will do that, and as you work with the fabric, as you work through the process, pretty soon it becomes apparent what you need to do. So I guess that would be my very long answer to that very short question. [laughs.]

BC: Thank you. Do you show your quilts?

SR: Yes.

BC: Locally, nationally?

SR: Locally, nationally. I don't enter quilt shows frequently.

BC: Okay.

SR: Not because I don't want to, but just because there's only so many things we can each do, and I am my own worst enemy at fragmenting myself. So if there is something that I can--I mean if there's a contest that really appeals to me, I'm going to enter that.

BC: Okay. How do you decide when to enter a quilt or do you make them specifically to--

SR: Often times I make them specifically for. If there is a theme that really appeals to me or maybe [3 second pause.] maybe it's a group that I hold especially dear, and I'll think, 'Gee, it would be nice to do a quilt and have it in their show.' That type of thing, but for the most part my quilts are mainly shown either in my own exhibits or at shows I teach at like here. As a matter of fact, I don't have a quilt in this year's show and even in the teacher's exhibit, because I was out of town quite a bit during the time frame when we had to get it in, and I gave that one up. I said, 'It's not going to work this time,' [laughs.] but it's fine. It's fun to see your quilts hanging someplace, and even as the maker, when you see it hanging you see it totally different than you see it in your own home.

BC: That's true.

SR: And you can stand back and go, 'Wow, I did that,' [laughs.] and that feels good, and it's fun to see other people look at your quilt. It's really--I don't even mind when someone doesn't really care for it, but just to watch other people view what you've created, that's a humbling experience.

BC: What happens to your quilts down the road? [SR laughs.] Or what do you hope will happen to them?

SR: Oh, you mean after I'm no longer here?

BC: No, actually my first question had to do with now.

SR: Okay.

BC: You know say it's made, it's been shown, it's been taught with. What then?

SR: My quilts, the majority of my quilts that I own are quilts that I use for lectures or for teaching and in my work in quilting. Certainly I have quilts that I've given away. I don't give quilts away easily. When I give a quilt it's to someone who means a lot to me, and it's not necessarily the somebody--I mean my son. I don't know whether my son will know how to launder that quilt that he got for his eighth grade confirmation. I hope he will. He's been instructed how, [laughs.] but things happen. You don't know. If the colors would bleed on each other, but if it still is important him, it's okay with me. When I give a quilt I release it, so that whatever happens to it once it leaves my hands, I no longer have control over, and I accept that. I can't let that be an upsetting circumstance, because I gave the quilt to that person through either friendship or love, and for that reason, at that point, it's like setting a butterfly free. You know whatever will happen will happen. Would I be disappointed if it was ruined? Would I kill him if he put it under his car while he was changing his oil? Yeah. [BC laughs.] You know all quilts are eventually going to wear out. They're going to be destroyed in some way, shape, or form, and that's just part of life. Libby Lehman said something that I heard this week. She was talking about some quilts that she had in a suitcase when she was going to a show this year, and her suitcase never arrived, and they were not pieces that she was showing or pieces that were for someone, but they were pieces that she had put together out of some challenge blocks, and she said, 'It's not that they were spectacular quilts. It's painful to lose a quilt when you lose it,' she said, 'But when I got home from that trip--' and they never found her suitcase, and she said, 'When I got home from that trip I learned a friend's son had died, and it was a real snap back to reality,' and she said, 'You know what? They're only quilts,' and I thought that was really a good lesson to hear her say that and to understand what she meant. You know I think that it is important that we remember that. Yes, they're very dear to us, and yes, they're important, but they're only quilts.

BC: It sounds like the stories that go with the quilts remain for you.

SR: Yes, absolutely, and really what's important to me in my quilts. [4 second pause.] I'd like future generations to know me by my quilts. I know that my children, even though neither of them quilt--I have a son and a daughter. My daughter-in-law I think might one day quilt, and truthfully I think my daughter might someday be a quilter. She's an interior designer, but she has--she loves quilts. She has an appreciation for them. She doesn't want to make them. I figure she'll come to it, if I don't say a word, because I figure if I try to encourage her now, it may drive her away so she never will, and it's better if she comes to it on her own anyway, but I want them to know the stories that go with them, and so I'm fairly elaborate in the documentation of my quilts and the labels. I want that to be as much a part of the quilt as the quilt itself. The oldest quilt that I have that's from my family is a Double Irish Chain, and it was made by a great-great-great or grandaunt of mine, and it was made from the two dresses that my great-grandmother and her twin sister wore to their first day of school. Their mother died shortly after they were born, and this aunt raised them. She is the last person I know in my family or the most recent, which is five generations ago, that sewed. No women in my family from that time on sewed other than utilitarian sewing, and actually my mother didn't even do that. We used to say that she could [inaudible] fix anything with a safety pin, but my point is there's no documentation on that quilt. I know the story, but when I'm gone will my kids remember? And I think that's really important. I want that to go on. I want the story of that little old man who's in this quilt. I want somebody to remember it even though I never knew his name. I want my husband to be remembered for the times we went out and sought out those Christmas trees. It's important to me that future generations know the story--it gives them a link to their ancestry. Even if a quilt would end up in a museum I think it's important to have that history preserved here. That's why when I received the letter to participate in this interview I was so thrilled. I thought, 'What an honor to be part of something that will last,' and I appreciate that.

BC: Yes. [laughs.] Quilts also have been made as large societal responses to things like--

SR: Right.

BC: The Oklahoma City tragedy, September eleventh. Can you speak to that for a moment?

SR: Oh gosh, this stuff is really close to me. I think I'm going to have a little sip of water.

BC: Sure.

[6 second pause for water.]

SR: Well, first of all I can tell you the quilt I was working on--the Oklahoma City Bombing, because I was quilting on it when that news came on TV, the newsbreak, and even though that had nothing to do with that quilt that I was making at that time, whenever I look at that Halloween quilt I think of Oklahoma City, because that's what I was working on. Likewise on September eleventh my husband was on a plane bound for Washington D.C., and his plane landed three minutes before the Pentagon was hit. We had had friends visiting us from Massachusetts in Ohio for that weekend, and they were still there that day. They were leaving, but my husband left first. At that time he was traveling weekly to Washington D.C., so this was the usual. He got up and said his goodbyes, and off he went, and about an hour later my friends, this couple, they left, and I was sitting with my cup of coffee reading the comics in our paper. That's how I begin my day, [laughs.] with a laugh, and the phone rang, and it was my daughter. She at that time lived in Atlanta, and is this tiny little person. She's four-ten, and she has an inner strength that is just incredible. She reminds me a lot of my mother. She has lots of emotion, but she doesn't often display it. She laughs, but her sadness and her fears are very deep seated in her, and very seldom--you won't see her cry even if she's hurt. She just doesn't like to expose that side of herself. When I picked up the phone her voice was shaking and quivering and in a voice that was very close to tears said, 'Mom.' [9 second pause.] I'm sorry. [10 second pause.] 'Dad, didn't go to Washington D.C. today, did he?' I hadn't turned on anything, and I said, 'What's wrong?' She said, 'Turn on television. Washington and New York have been bombed,' and I said, 'What?' She said, 'Where is he?' I said, 'I don't know,' and I turned on television, and I watched that horrendous event unfold, and my first thought was 'Where is he? Is he in one of those planes?' You know we just didn't know, and I did not cry then. I stayed very strong and I said, 'Calm down. If he was hurt I would know.' At this point she was crying, and I said, 'You need to stop crying, because I can't hang up this phone until you stop crying, and we need to get this line open. I need to find out where he is and if he's all right.' So she's got herself calmed down, and she said, 'Call me as soon you can.' I assured her I would. We hung up the phone and I called his office, and his secretary said, 'You've heard from him?' of course I hadn't, and I said, 'I don't even know what airline he's on.' This was such a weekly routine. You know you can become very complacent about details when something happens regularly. I wasn't sure the airline he was on, I wasn't sure exactly what time his flight left. I knew he was going to Washington D.C. I didn't know if it was one of those planes that was grounded. I didn't know if he got there. I didn't know anything, and so she said, 'I've been trying to get hold of the Washington D.C. office again. When I first called they said he'd not arrived there yet, and I haven't been able to get through since,' I said, 'Okay, have you tried the airline?' and she said, 'No.' She said, 'I will try, and you try,' and we both started dialing the automated number to find out if the flight had landed. Well, of course everyone in the country was doing that, and so the prompts that they give you that come consecutively like 'if you know the number of the flight, punch it in now'--the cues were all wrong. I mean they just were everywhere, and after you did what it told you to do it would go to someplace that you'd already been. It was just--You know they just were inundated with phone calls, so nothing was functioning properly, and I didn't know where he was. Eventually it just cut you off, so I finally called my son, because I thought, 'He doesn't know,' and I thought, 'If I have to call later with news that's not good, I want him to know this now,' and I called him at his office, and he didn't pick up his phone, so he called me back in a few minutes and in his typical fashion said, 'What's up, Ma?' and I said, 'Your dad's on a flight to Washington D.C. right now, and we don't know where he is,' and he said, 'He's okay, Mom?' and I said, 'I believe he is okay, because I'm certain I would know that, but I want to hear his voice,' and I said, 'And I just want to know where his flight is,' and he said, 'Do you have the information?' He was on his computer and went to their website, put in the flight number and said, 'It landed,' and he told me the time that it landed, and I said, 'My gosh, he landed three minutes before the Pentagon was hit.' My husband's an architect, and his office worked on the Pentagon in one of the renovation processes, and I know how close that Pentagon is to the airport, and I thought, 'Oh, my goodness,' and he said, 'So he's on the ground. He's landed,' and he said, 'As soon as you hear from him call me back.' So I hung up, and I called my daughter, and I said, 'His plane is landed. Other than that I don't know where he is. I don't know anything more, but his plane landed so we think.' [inaudible.] And of course none of us were sure of anything at that point. Well, we did not hear from him until that afternoon. About 3:30. About noon my son called to tell me that their office, because they were near a federal building, had been closed, and they were being sent home, because everybody was taking precaution at that point, not knowing what else might happen. Many people have said how much my son and my husband sound alike on the phone, and honestly and truly I can hear the resemblance, but until that day, that never really rang true to me, as true as it did when I heard his voice, because as soon as I heard him say, 'Hello' when I said, 'Hello.' He started to talk, and as soon as I heard his voice I thought, 'You're okay,' and I started to cry. Well, of course my son thinks I've heard news. That it's not good, and he said, 'Mom, what happened?' Well, it was the 'Mom' that triggered my mind into realizing it wasn't Tom. It was Andy, and I said, 'Oh, Andy, I thought you were your dad,' and he said, 'No, I didn't want you to call the office and not get hold of me, but that's why I'm calling, and he said, 'I'm coming to your house.' He lives in town, and I said, 'Really, I'm okay,' and he said, 'Oh, I can tell you are just ducky.' [laughs.] So he came and sat with me until we heard from him, and fortunately our story ended very happy, because my husband was fine, and he was okay physically. Mentally it's been an effort to get through that, because he saw our nation's capitol in a way he had never seen it before--

[tape turned over.]

SR: I'm sorry.

BC: We've covered a lot of territory here. We've talked about your quilt, you're quilt's history. And I really thank you for sharing so much personal suffering. And in closing I'd like to thank Sherry Reis for allowing me to interview her today as a part of the 2002 Quilters' S.O.S - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 1:19 pm. November 1st, 2002.

SR: Thank you.


“Sherry Reis,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,