Read The Quilt Online

Authors: T. Davis Bunn

Tags: #Patchwork, #Quilts & Quilting, #Crafts & Hobbies

The Quilt (2 page)

BOOK: The Quilt
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Everett stood and watched Jonas for a spell, wondering what brought him up here in the middle of the week, feeling pretty put out that his Wednesday morning routine was being disturbed. Finally he said it, “Jonas, what in Sam Hill are you doing?”

“Momma wants to make a quilt,” Jonas said in his quiet, slow-talking way, not even looking up from his work. He handled the wood-planer and hand-sander and hammer as if they were all extensions of his rough-hewn hands.

Everett sucked in the belly that he told everybody had come with his job, on account of his brother standing there all sunburned and rock-solid. He opened his mouth, but closed it again. He didn't know exactly how he could say what was really bothering him, which was that he looked forward all week to having these few moments alone with Mary. He didn't often talk about anything more than what farm prices were doing or some problem he was having in the office. But way down deep inside himself, Everett knew he always walked away from those mornings a better man.

Jonas straightened and wiped a sweaty brow and spoke as though he were reading his brother's mind, “Momma called down this morning, said she wanted me up just soon as I finished my coffee. Told Jody if I wasn't up here in record time she was gonna cut herself a switch.”

Everett didn't smile. “That old woman's got no more business starting a quilt than I do flying off to the moon.”

“You said it,” Jonas agreed, and bent back to his work.

Everett watched him and saw the same solid quality taking
shape that marked everything Jonas did. Everett stifled a familiar twinge of jealousy as he stood and watched his brother. Everett was the one who had the big house in the city, the fancy car, the office with the swivel-back leather chair, and the two secretaries. His brother worked from dawn to dusk and barely made ends meet. Yet when Jonas turned his hand to something, it was with an artist's skill.

For someone who knew how to make it right, as Jonas did, a quilting frame looked like a child's idea of a four-poster bed without the mattress. The four corner posts stuck up in both directions about the same distance, so that the quilt could either be turned right-side up or upside down or on either end. A quilt required maybe six months of handiwork, so it was important for the quilter to reach every little corner in the most comfortable fashion possible.

There were solid little wooden blocks with big washers and wing nuts all the way around the sides so that the quilt could be stretched out tight, then with a quick flip of the wrist be released. Once the cotton batting was laid out and basted into place, the best place to work on the finer stitching was by the biggest window in the house, sitting in the favorite rocker, with crowds of memories and good thoughts for company. That was the joy of quilting, watching the little raggedy patches of material be joined into a work of timeless beauty and knowing that no matter how many hours were put in today, there were still a hundred days left to do.

“Momma's waiting for you,” Jonas finally said. “Better go in ‘fore she throws the coffee out.”

“I still say she ain't got any business starting a quilt,” Everett said and turned on his heel.

He was barely in the door before he said to Mary, “You mind telling me what's gotten into you?”

“You know, I believe there's a mockingbird that's decided to nest on my bedroom windowsill,” Mary said, not looking up from the well-worn book opened in her lap. “Can you
imagine anything nicer than a summer filled with mockingbirds greeting the dawn?”

Everett walked into the kitchen and made as much clatter as he could while pouring a cup of coffee, just to show Mary how indignant he really was. When he came back into the sitting room he said, “Momma, I want to know what you think you're up to here.”

With a sigh Mary shut the Bible, careful to lift it from the back with both hands. “I thought this one was going to be the one to see me to the grave, but I declare the pages fall out if I look at them hard. You think maybe you could pick me up another Bible? Maybe one of those with the big letters would be nice.”

“You're not answering my question, Momma.”

“Put down your coffee cup and come over here and kiss me hello.”

“Not till you answer me.”

Mary tilted her head upward and focused on her son through the trifocals. In her mildest voice she told him, “You're not too old to get a taste of my mind, young man.”

Everett didn't waste any more time. Anybody who knew Mary knew that her last warning was always given in her quietest manner. After that it was time to go looking for cover.

“That's better,” Mary said once her cheek had been bussed. “Now sit down over there where I can see you and tell me about the family.”

Everett sat down with an exaggerated sigh and decided to risk it. “Momma, what on earth do you think you're gonna do? You can't even—”

“Don't you go telling me what I can and can't do,” Mary replied. “There's been something bothering me for almost a year now, something I've left undone. Been searching for it the best part of every night, wondering if maybe the Lord was trying to tell me something.”

“But a quilt, Momma,” Everett protested. He gave a swift glance at her hands. The arthritis had turned the fingers
sideways, so that they stuck out from her palm at this weird angle. Everett didn't like to look at Mary's hands. It always gave him this little twist of pain down in his gut.

“If that's what the Lord wants me to do, son, then that's what I'm gonna do.” There was a firmness to Mary's voice that brooked no further argument. “Now tell me about the family.”

Everett held his peace in front of Mary, but that evening he really let his wife Lou Ann know what he thought of it all.

“Can you imagine?” Everett pushed his dessert plate back far enough to lean both elbows heavily on the table. “The woman can barely read a big-letter Bible, she's gotta have the television almost in her lap to see it. Fingers all bent over, shoot, I wonder how she'll even be able to pick up a needle. And she thinks she's gonna sew herself another quilt.”

Lou Ann thought of the four quilts Mary had already done for them, the big one for their own bed and the three with patches of animal-covered fabrics for the children. “Mary makes the prettiest quilts I ever saw.”

“Made, honey. Mary made the prettiest quilts. I didn't say anything about that, now, did I. Not a peep. Wouldn't trade anything for those pretty ones upstairs. Sell my car before I sold my quilt. Wasn't talking about that for a minute. I just don't want the old lady to get disappointed.”

Lou Ann knew better than to hit her husband head on with any disagreement when he was in one of his moods. “She tell you how the Lord told her to do the quilt?”

“No, she didn't, and I'll bet you it was because she was afraid I'd show her just how wrong she was to even think it.” He picked up the last bit of pie his littlest girl had left on her plate and pushed it in his mouth, then licked his fingers carefully. Lou Ann made just about the best brown sugar pie he'd ever tasted. She'd even managed to improve on the recipe Mary'd given her.

“I don't know, honey.” Lou Ann stood and started gathering
plates. “Mary's not the type of lady to say it was a message from the Lord when it wasn't.”

“Momma's the best woman I know,” he said to her, retreating back, then added hastily, “except for you, honey. But I do declare she's getting on. You know, she's reached that point where maybe she's not thinking so clearly anymore.”

Lou Ann appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Don't you let her hear you say that.”

“What, you think you're married to a crazy man?” Everett asked, rolling his eyes.

Being an intelligent woman who loved her husband very much, Lou Ann hid her smile in the kitchen and held her tongue.

“You know what I love the most about Mary?” Lou Ann told Jody, Jonas's wife, the next morning. “She's always so involved.”

“That just about says it all,” Jody agreed. “She's just about the most involved woman I've ever met.”

But Lou Ann wasn't finished. “You don't ever get the feeling that she's just sitting there on the sidelines watching you go through whatever it is that's ailing you. Mary's right in there with you. When I talk to her, sometimes it's like I'm talking right to her heart. Like there's not a thing between me and all that love.”

“Just scoop out all you need and carry it away,” Jody added.

“If I was sick, I'd rather go talk with Mary for five minutes than have fifteen doctors work on me all day,” Lou Ann's next-door neighbor and best friend, Lynn Forrest, told them. Lou Ann and Mary were the only persons in the whole wide world who still called her Lynn. When her husband, Tommy, had started courting her, he had renamed her Rooster, on account of her red hair, her jerky way of moving, and the fact that her maiden name had been Rosters. Lynn said knowing that she was going to have to hear that for the rest of her life had just about done the marriage in before it had started.

There were five of them gathered in Jody's kitchen that
morning. Amy Harris was a friend from down the road, a heavyset woman with the biggest laugh anybody'd ever heard. Her laugh wasn't loud. It was just plain big. When Amy laughed, there was just too much happiness and humor there for anybody within hearing range not to smile. Her friends had the habit of looking over at one another when they heard that big bell-shaped laugh ring out. It gave them something to grin about without being so self-conscious. They would look at one another and chuckle like, there she goes again, Amy's laughing. Can you believe it? Amy didn't mind their laughing at her. It was enough just to have them laugh.

The other woman was a tiny wisp of a lady Lynn's husband Tommy had renamed Tidbit. Her real name was Nancy Starling, and she made up for her lack of size with an energy that was just plain awesome. She stood a full four feet ten inches tall in her lace-up shoes and weighed about as much as a wet breeze. She was a nurse at the hospital where Lynn worked as a physical therapist, and had the tendency to make her patients want to stand at attention in bed when she walked into the room. Nancy needed to stand on her tiptoes to take their temperature when the beds were cranked upright, but even the doctors had long since learned not to cross Nurse Tidbit, as everyone called her behind her back. Tommy's names had a habit of sticking like burrs in a horse's mane.

“That woman is a saint,” Nancy said quietly, washing blackberries with a speed that made her hands blur. “Every time I see her I tell myself I wish there was something more I could do for her.”

They had been out picking blackberries and were getting ready to make cobbler. They were all itching from redbug bites and stained from forehead to knees with blackberry juice, and all were having an enormously good time. Jody was known for making the best blackberry cobbler in three counties. But the pies were really just an excuse for five good friends to get together and ramble through the woods and laugh and spend a morning catching up on one another's lives.

“It's hard to do anything for Mary,” Jody agreed, pressing out a dozen mounds of pie-crust batter with her rolling pin. One of the secrets of her cobbler was that the crust was made with butter-cookie dough. “She makes me feel like a little girl playing with her mother's things whenever I say I'd like to help her with something.”

“Maybe so,” Lou Ann said. “But just the same I'm worried about her this time. She's too old to be taking on a quilt by herself.”

“Maybe if we all went together she'd listen to us,” Nancy said doubtfully.

“We'll take up one of the cobblers and talk to her,” Jody decided for all of them.

But it sure as goodness wasn't all easy street, taking a fresh-baked pie or cake into Mary's house. She was the legendary baker to three generations. The highest accolade a cake or pie could receive was, you've been taking lessons up at Mary's, haven't you?

Mary rarely said anything when somebody brought baked goods by. She'd just sit and smile her heartfelt smile, take a little silver pie fork, and taste the first tiny sliver. The guest would slide up close to the edge of her chair and hold her breath. Mary would take this teensy bite, close her eyes a minute, open them, and smile again. That gave the guest signal to smile back—which was pretty hard, what with their heart in their throat and their palms slick. Then came the verdict. If Mary put the cake down, it was back to the kitchen, girl, and try again. But if she took another bite, well, rest assured there was a winner here.

So Jody was understandably worried when she walked up the long-hill drive from her home to Mary's. Unconsciously the others all kind of pulled in behind her. But their worries were forgotten when they walked into Mary's sitting room and found her sorting through a pile of beautiful old clothes.

“Been up since dawn washing all these old things,” Mary
said in greeting. “That after spending half the night trying to remember where I stored them.”

In Mary's typically neat fashion, the quilt frame was set up against the far wall, as much out of the way as a seven-by-seven wood frame with three-foot corner-posts could be in a formal sitting parlor. Especially a frame which was fitted with a stretch of the prettiest pastel-blue cotton backing any of the ladies had ever seen.

“I brought you a home-made blackberry cobbler,” Jody said, her eyes caught by the frame and the backing. “Momma, where on earth did you get that beautiful cloth?”

“Bless your heart, child, just put it on the kitchen cabinet and we'll have it in a bit.” Mary straightened from the pile with a grimace and a hand pressing hard on her back. “Been bent over for too long, I reckon.”

“You ought to sit down for a while,” Jody said, handing the pie to Nancy and hurrying over.

BOOK: The Quilt
4.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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