Weaving healing, spinning friendshipsNebraska woman finds peace in WNC mountains
Nebraska is a long way from Western North Carolina, but for Dori Huenefeld, these mountains became the site of a chance meeting and an opportunity for healing.
Her journey began when she decided to take a break from the constant care of her mother, who had suffered from a stroke after the death of Huenefeld’s father and was living with her and her husband on their popcorn farm.
“By the time last spring rolled around, I was feeling pretty housebound with mom,” she said. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got to get away.’”
Her daughter had come to visit, and instead of flying back to her home in Charleston, Huenefeld offered to drive her back, hoping the cross-country road trip would give her some respite and relief from her exhaustion.
During the trip, Huenefeld frequently prayed for help finding peace, asking God to bring her healing in whatever form he could, but it wasn’t until she came to the mountains of North Carolina that she found an answer.
Huenefeld was on her way back through Asheville because a friend had recommended she stop there and visit the Biltmore House and do some shopping in the city. At her hotel, Huenefeld saw an ad for the Folk Art Center’s Fiber Day going on that very weekend, and as a lover of knitting and weaving, she was excited to go.
“I said, ‘Hang the Biltmore and hang the shopping. I know where I’m going,’” Huenefeld recalled.
Soon she was among the booths and vendors at the fair when one particular booth caught her eye. She stopped to admire a woven shawl and got into a conversation with Julie Wilson, the owner of the booth. Wilson and her husband, Dan, own the Jehovah Raah Farm in the Fines Creek area, where they raise sheep and other animals and teach the crafts of spinning, knitting and weaving.
Huenefeld offered to buy the shawl on display, but it was a demo piece and not for sale. When Wilson offered to make one for her instead, Huenefeld began to explain that she was only visiting for a few days. Soon, the whole story about needing some rest and respite came out, and Wilson had an idea.
“She was looking at me, and you could just tell the wheels were turning,” Huenefeld said.
Then Wilson said something that made Huenefeld realize her prayers had been answered.
“She said, ‘I believe you have enough time to weave your own shawl. You’ll use my loom, and we’ll call it your healing shawl,’” Huenefeld recalled. “I started crying then and told her about my prayer.”
Knowing that Huenefeld only had three days left in North Carolina before she had to head back to Nebraska, Wilson said she’d call up some friends who would spin yarn for her while she wove the shawl at the farm.
Wilson’s friends turned out to be members of a local group of spinners called the Wild Women of Wool, Wheels and Weaving.
Among the spinners was Jeanette Craig, who was happy to help out another weaver.
“We knew she couldn’t spin a shawl and weave a shawl in two or three days, so we spun for her and fed her yarn,” Craig said. “We all helped. That was cool because we all felt like we had a part in her healing.”
The women spent the three days spinning with Huenefeld as she worked on the loom to make her shawl, and gradually, the mountains worked on her.
“To able to get into the mountains and see the scenery and God’s creation at its most beautiful, … that was very healing to me,” Huenefeld said, adding she learned some knew skills from the women who came to help her and made some great friends. “It was just a diversion and just a sheer pleasure. It was just very healing.”
Wilson wasn’t surprised that the mountains and the companionship of other women had such a profound effect on Huenefeld.
“The essence of it is women helping women. Women need other women. Women have a camaraderie with each other,” she said. “It’s turned out to be amazing.”
“It was as if I’d known them all (my) life,” Huenefeld said.
On the third day, Huenefeld finished her shawl just after lunch, and it was time to say goodbye to the mountains and her new friends. Feeling revitalized, she drove back to Nebraska and her family, ready to take on the care of her mother again with new energy.
But that’s not the end of the story.
While Huenefeld was gone, all of her siblings were able to visit their mother and help care for her. It turned out that those few weeks with all of her children would be her last, and she died a little more than a week after Huenefeld’s return.
Although saddened by her mother’s death, Huenefeld said she feels like her journey to the mountains was part of God’s plan for her mother and siblings, too.
“All my sister’s got to spend time with mom, and I was better able to cope. He did rejuvenate me and gave me the strength to face those last days even though I didn’t know it was coming,” Huenefeld said.
The new friends she’d left behind in Western North Carolina stayed in touch through phone calls, texting and emailing, and their friendship has only grown in the past year.
On a trip to Florida last week, Huenefeld took a detour to stop in Waynesville and spend some time with her “fiber friends” as she refers to them.
The reunion was a happy one with hugs and laughter among the women who had formed such a strong bond in only a few days.
“It was great to see her again,” said Wilson, while wearing a shawl like the one that had begun the two women’s friendship.
“The bond was strong, and I think it will always be there,” Craig said.
“I’ve got lifetime friends. It’s just been a total ‘God thing,’” Huenefeld said. “I love this place. I feel like part of my heart is left here.”