It started out simply as a plea for help on social media. We’re bringing parts of the AIDS Quilt to town, and we’re looking for local panels. And after a few requests online, nothing.
So then, reaching out to my old friend, the newspaper in hopes that our requests would reach a different (slightly older) demographic. The day the story ran in the York Dispatch my phone was ringing before 10 a.m.
On the other end was Arlene Bubb. The 87-year-old wasn’t sure I could help her, but she really hoped I could. She saw this article in the paper and had to try. She knew her son, Brian was on a panel. But she didn’t remember which one — since she made it, boxed it up and sent it out in the mid-90s. Hasn’t seen it since. And as she’s reflecting on life and getting some of her things in order, Arlene goes on to tell me she’s just not sure if I’ll be able to find it. The AIDS quilt, you see … she said to me … was of the 35-year-old … and she remembers exactly what it was like.
“Was it a caricature of him with a tie,” I interjected. Arlene went silent as she searched for words. When she finally spoke, her voice cracked. I can’t tell you what she said since I only remember the sentiment, but the fact that someone would be able to search the quilt online and find her son … it was something she never thought would happen. Of course, she grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and asked for the number.
Turns out, Arlene was part of The Open Group — a group of mothers who came together to support their children living with HIV/AIDS. They formed initially as a support for the family members, said Mary Jane Sanders — who called a few days after Arlene asking about her son’s panel. But Mary Jane said they quickly started working on ways to turn that around, serving lunches and dinners for those suffering from the disease. And of course, those ladies got together, learned to sew and made panels.
So far, we’ve been able to identify FOUR panels with York County ties, and we’re just getting started.
And every single time I get a phone call like Arlene and Mary Jane’s, it catches me off guard. They profusely thank me for doing this – for bringing the quilt back to York. They haven’t seen the quilt in 20+ years. And none of them have seen their panels since they shipped them off — most of them in the mid-90s. As they offer thanks, over and over, I stop them.
Some 20 years later, we get to bring their loved ones home.
For me, doing just that for them — even if it’s just 4 of them — is worth it. But we also get to shine a light on a chronic disease that’s still present in our world, even though many have forgotten about it.
So stay tuned. Because we’re bringing the AIDS Quilt from June 23-25 ahead of National HIV Testing Day. And we have some great ideas in the works.