Maine GayNet - AIDS quilt stitches memories together

Thursday, July 10, 1997

AIDS quilt stitches memories together

Ron Carbonneau gazes down at his friend's panel in the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt was in Ogunquit for the weekend. -Staff photograph by Giselle Goodman

OGUNQUIT - Ron Carbonneau wept when he gazed down at Jay A. Mills' panel in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

As the tears rolled down his cheeks, he tried to smile.

"He was such a comedian," he said. "He was a good friend too."

Carbonneau and a group of his friends designed the square for Mills after he died of AIDS in 1990.

Mills isn't the only friend Carbonneau has lost to the disease.

Next to Mills' square is one for Ivan Trundy, another close friend of Carbonneau's, who died within a month of Mills.

Three squares above Trundy's is yet another friend.

Although the memories are painful, Carbonneau comes to see the quilt every year to keep his memories alive.

"I want to remember them. I never want to forget," said Carbonneau. "And if you don't come see them, you forget."

Carbonneau said that within six months he lost five good friends to AIDS - and that the pain remains intense.

"I'm tired of it," he said through tears. "I'm tired of saying goodbye."

At the Dunaway Center in Ogunquit, 155 panels were placed solemnly on the floor Friday afternoon.

The panels, which were on display from Friday until Sunday, are only a tiny portion of the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt which is approximately 43,000 panels strong.

The squares are not just names and dates. They are stories and pictures; poems, letters and trinkets; last words and memories.

David Foster, who died in 1995, loved flowers and loved to plant them.

Brandy Alexander loved theater and Bruce B. Butterwick was a Star Trek fan.

Sherman Smith was a sergeant in the Army and Richard B. Decato was a Christian who loved God.

Gary Torre had two cats, Zoe and Jimmy. Philip was a skier and biker and Arthur loved his birds and his dogs.

John's children miss him.

"It's a way for the people left behind to create something out of grief," said Michael Ashmore, chairman of the NAMES Project in Maine. "It is not just about someone who died of AIDS. It's the people they have left behind.

"People are always amazed at how much love goes into the panels. I am always surprised that that is a surprise. "

Ashmore has been involved with the project since 1990. He originally became involved because as a teacher, the quilt proved to be an amazing tool for children to learn about AIDS.

In 1991, Ashmore found a more personal reason to be involved. His brotherin-law, Chip Lagrange, died of AIDS, adding his name to the 43,000 others.

"We see Chip all over the country," said Ashmore.

He and his family made a panel for Lagrange after his death. "Since then, we've made more panels than I have fingers and toes," he said

In the quiet room in Ogunquit, the pieces of the quilt affected many people. It let them experience what they had only heard of.

"It really personalizes the whole thing," said Kathy Kelenski, a visitor from New York. "It makes me feel a lot more compassionate about the disease."

Most importantly, said Ashmore, it teaches us that AIDS is not just a homosexual disease.

"The quilt reminds us that it's not just a bunch of gay people who have died of this horrible disease," said Ashmore. "There are people up there who have died from blood transfusions; hemophiliacs.

"But it doesn't matter what they got it from. It's a terrible disease.

Nobody deserves it."

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