'The most powerful words in English are 'Tell me a story.'"
Pat Conroy once said that. And, when he died last week, we lost one of the great storytellers of this generation of Southern writers.
But stories have never been the exclusive domain of wordsmiths or limited to the printed page. They have been shared across porches and around campfires. They have come to life on canvas, embraced in the lyrics of music and rehearsed on stages and silver screens.
Sandy Gilreath has another storyboard.
"There are people who will argue every quilt tells a story," she said.
The tapestry of telling stories is stitched in cotton fabric and found in the patterns of vintage linens, lace, denim and wool.
Sandy is a member of a group of storytellers, so to speak, better known as the Heart of Georgia Quilt Guild. They are a diverse group of 55 ladies -- and one man. They range in age from 39 to 99.
The guild's 16th biennial quilt show, "The Art and Legacy of Quilting," is Friday and Saturday at Vineville United Methodist Church from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. About 160 quilts will be on display. There will be so many colors, shapes and sizes you will think you wandered into arrangements at a flower show.
Or a library.
Sandy recently published a book she calls "52 Tuesdays -- A Quilt Journal." (It will be available at the show and locally at Couture Sewing Center, where she teaches quilting classes.)
She has dedicated the 150-page book to "stitchers everywhere who have their own stories to tell."
A retired math teacher in Bibb and Houston country, she was attracted to quilting by the shapes and patterns. "It was the geometry teacher in me," she said, laughing.
The idea for her special quilt came from a photograph of 52 hexagonal blocks she spotted in a quilting magazine. She had kept journals for more than 30 years. The word weaver and the story seamstress joined hands.
Every week for a year, she hand-stitched a small, hexagonal quilt depicting a story or image from a life event that week. One week, it was a walk along the river. Another was a ride on the Nancy Hanks train. Other times, it was bird-watching trips, holiday meals and traveling down country roads past cotton fields and abandoned chimneys.
She took notes about the inspiration for each hexagon. Every Tuesday night, she made an entry in her journal, including details about the materials and techniques she used. (She actually wanted to call it "52 Fridays" because of the alliteration. But there were 53 Fridays in 2015.)
Although Sandy waited to take up quilting until after she retired from teaching, she grew up in a home where needle and thread were as much of a foundation as bricks and mortar.
She sewed her first apron when she was 7 years old. Her mother, Cleo, was a master seamstress. Her grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty, was a quilter who spent the last seven years of her life living with them in the town of Sycamore in Turner County.
Sandy called her first major quilt "Ollie Jane's Flower Garden." It was a seven-year odyssey that made the journey to Paducah, Kentucky -- the mecca for the American Quilter's Society annual show in 2008.
Joyce Jones is 90 years old and was one of the founding members of the Heart of Georgia Quilt Guild in 1985. Many of her award-winning quilts tell stories, too. So, it is only appropriate that she took her first quilting class at the Sidney Lanier Cottage in 1973. Lanier was Macon's most renowned writer and widely considered Georgia's first unofficial poet laureate.
Other guild members also will have woven stories on display at this week's exhibition.
Marie Amerson's "Stars Shining on Home" depicts five different houses she has lived in, including her childhood home and the lake house where she lived when she first married.
Carol Collins made "Sacrifices" for her patriotic husband. Mary Anderson calls her quilt "Friendship," a traditional pattern of blocks swapped, pieced and signed by a circle of friends, both living and deceased.
Linda Dease Smith created "Mid-Century Memories" with old quilt squares made by her great aunt and embroidery thread that belonged to her mother.
"Dresden Plate" by Sally Hemingway was pieced by her grandmother. She added borders, noting fabric from her grandmother's dresses as she quilted it.
"There is a soulful, meditative experience to sewing," Sandy said. "Much has been written about the need to slow down and turn off our devices these days. A needle and thread is a great way to do it."
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. He can be reached at email@example.com.