Read The Quilt Online

Authors: T. Davis Bunn

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

The Quilt (3 page)

BOOK: The Quilt
12.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To their surprise Mary did not object. She let herself be led over and seated by the window. All she said was, “Got an awful lot of work ahead of me.”

Jody knelt beside the chair. “Momma, you just have to let us help you with this.”

“Isn't that pretty cloth?” Mary said in reply, looking over at the quilt frame. “It came to me late last night. I found that, oh, it must be five years ago if it's a day. You remember old Mrs. Lane, used to run that fabric shop downtown?”

“'Course I do, Momma, but it was more than five years. Mrs. Lane passed away, my goodness, it must be ten or eleven years now.”

“Whenever. It was just before she closed that pretty shop of hers. She came by for coffee one day and gave me that fabric you see over there. Said she'd been saving it for someone special.”

Amy walked over to the quilt frame, ran her hand down the cloth and exclaimed, “Will you just come over here and feel this? That's the softest cotton I've ever seen.”

“Feels like velvet,” Nancy agreed.

“What is it, Miss Mary, some mixture with silk thread?”

“I'm sure I don't know. All I remember is what Mrs. Lane said to me. The first time she felt it, she knew it'd make somebody a very special quilt. Mrs. Lane planned to use it herself, but what with one thing and another she never got around to it.” Mary was quiet for a very long time. “It just came to me. Wasn't more than a week after she gave me this material that we laid Mrs. Lane in her grave.”

“She was a fine woman,” Jody said, a small smile of remembrance playing on her face. “She used to teach my Sunday school.”

“Her boys used to help us out around the place,” Mary said. “Big, fine boys, both of them.”

“I didn't know she had any children, Miss Mary,” Lou Ann said.

“That was back before your time, honey. Didn't either one of them come back from the war.”

“This sure is nice fabric,” Nancy said. “I can't seem to stop touching it.”

“Know just exactly what you mean,” Mary said. “Been walking around it and looking at it and playing with it ever since I got up.”

Rooster was on her knees by the pile of brightly colored clothing. She lifted up one dress, made of printed fabric, with a high hand-knit collar and ruffled sleeves. It was a long dress, so long that when Rooster stood and held it to her body the hem almost touched the ground. The print was a simple one of tiny red roses, so many a dozen would barely cover the space of a child's palm, and even tinier pink hearts. It was the kind of print dress that was once sold in every general store in every small town in America, and today wasn't found outside of old-time movies and the attics of people who didn't ever like to throw things away.

And it was beautiful.

Rooster did a little swirl around, letting the full skirt billow out around her ankles. “Miss Mary, this is just adorable.”

“Thank you, child,” Mary replied, a small smile of memories playing on her lips.

“I don't remember ever seeing this before.” Jody walked over and lifted the hem. The skirt was richly flounced and trimmed with the same hand-crocheted lace as the sleeves and neckline. “How old is this?”

“Older than any of you, I can tell you that for sure,” Mary replied. “I was married in that dress.”

Jody let the hem drop. “And you're going to cut it up for a quilt?”

“I most certainly am. Can't imagine what on earth I was doing, holding on to that old thing for so long. Wasn't even sure I still had it. Found it down on the bottom of my hope chest. It was still wrapped in the same old paper I put it in, my goodness, it must be sixty years ago. Smelled of camphor and mothballs so bad I had to wash it six times. It's a wonder the thing's still in one piece.”

“But, Momma,” Jody searched for words. “This dress is priceless.”

“It's in such good condition,” Rooster said, lifting so as to inspect the dress more closely. “I can't believe it's so old.”

Mary laughed, a short sound which showed her age. “I bought that dress at Jones' General Store. Back then, folks came from all over the county to shop there. I can still remember crocheting the lace late at night, praying all the while I would make that man a good wife.”

Lou Ann reached into the pile and came up with a beautiful blue satin dress. The body looked made for a large doll, but the skirt hung down a good four feet. “Miss Mary, what on earth is this?”

“What I spent all last night looking for,” Mary replied. “That was the first nightie Jody's husband ever wore.”

The ladies had a good laugh over that. Mary went on, “I learned this tradition from my own momma, God rest her
soul. That's the way we used to dress up our children for their first look at the world.”

“There's six of them here,” Lou Ann said, sorting through the pile.

“That's right, honey. I had six children. Only two of them lived past their first year.”

“I didn't know that, Momma,” Jody said.

“Times change, child. Back then, there were lots of sicknesses just waiting to snatch the little ones away. All we had was a traveling country doctor and our prayers to see us through.” Mary spent a long moment staring down at a beautiful pink gown, said quietly, “Sometimes it just wasn't enough.”

“But you can't go cutting these up to make a quilt, Momma.”

“Oh can't I?” Mary grasped the sides of her chair and pushed herself erect. “You just hand me those scissors over there on the ledge and watch what I can't do.”

With a swiftness based on long experience Jody saw she had taken the wrong tack. She moved to Mary's side and tried again, “Momma, you've just got to let us help you with this.”

Mary let herself be seated again. “I've been thinking about that too,” she admitted. “All the while I was rummaging around upstairs and seeing just how tired this old body could get, I've been wondering how on earth I was going to get this quilt finished.”

“We'd love to help you,” Lou Ann exclaimed.

“Sure to goodness would, Miss Mary,” Nancy agreed.

“That's all well and good,” Mary said. “And I'd be grateful, there's no question about that. But you're all gonna have to promise me one thing before you even think about picking up a needle.”

“Anything,” Jody said for them all. She looked at the wizened old lady sitting crouched over to one side in the big horsehair settee, saw the hands twisted up sideways with arthritis, and felt down in her heart the lady's incredible burden
of years. A lump gathered so big in her throat she thought for a moment she was going to have to go get a drink of water.

“This is something the Lord's called me to do,” Mary said in that quiet way of hers. “I can't explain it to you, but I know just as sure as I know my own name that this is something He wants done. And if I do it for Him, it's got to be the very best quilt I've ever made. Not a stitch out of place, not a piece of material laid wrong.”

“We understand,” Lou Ann said, caught up in the seriousness of the moment.

“There's something else. It came to me this morning as I was putting these things in the wash. For every stitch that goes into this quilt, I want you to say a prayer. And it can't be just any prayer. It has to be a prayer of thanksgiving.”

A moment of silence greeted her words. Finally Jody said, with eyes warning her friends, “Why, that sounds just fine, Momma.”

“Far too little thanks given these days,” Mary said, more to herself than to the others. “With everything the Lord gives us, all we can think of is what we don't have. Like a bunch of spoiled children.”

“We'd be happy to do that for you, Miss Mary,” Lou Ann said, her eyes mirroring the blankness of Jody's.

“Not for me, child. Not for me. For our Lord. This is His quilt.”

“Yes ma'am, that's what I meant.”

“Then say what you mean,” Mary said with a touch of sharpness. “I won't have a hand touch this quilt that doesn't have heart and mind fastened on their Father.”

That pretty much put a stop to further talk. But as soon as they left, the talk bubbled back up like water from an underground spring. And that night the telephone lines near to melted from the heat.

“I just don't know what to think,” Everett said to Jody over the phone. His brother Jonas never did talk enough to suit Everett when he was in one of his hyper moods. Talking
to Jonas was like dropping a stone into a deep, dark well. You had to wait forever, and then there was only this distant plunk. Though he'd never admit it, Everett liked somebody to get all excited back at him, so he'd have a reason to do his little two-step and shout till his face got red.

Jody usually enjoyed Everett's little show. She knew it kept him from doing his song and dance in front of Lou Ann too often, and it always made her glad to have married the other brother. “It was awful funny looking at all those clothes laid out on the floor like that. I do believe I saw all her embroidered linens in that pile.”

“I don't know, sister. I just don't know what to think,” Everett repeated, feeling the pressure rise. “Maybe it's time I went over and talked to the old folks home about a place for Momma.”

That shocked Jody awake. Strange as Mary seemed over this quilt business, having her shipped off to some home was the furthest thing from Jody's mind. Jody opened her mouth, closed it, wondered how she could stop this before it went any further. “It's not as bad as all that, Ev.”

Everett wasn't so easily slowed down. “Honey, maybe you don't see how she's slipping, living out near her and all. We oughtta have one of those specialists go out and give her a good check-up, listen to these stories of hers. Have her tell him about this call from heaven to make a quilt. At her age.”

Jody had trouble answering right off, on account of her having this image flash inside her mind. It was one of those little things that didn't usually have any meaning since she saw it every day.

She saw herself standing at the kitchen sink, looking up the rise back behind their house as she did every morning while she was fixing breakfast. The sun was just clearing the woods behind her, throwing out that first golden beam. It caught Mary's white-work and turned it the color of molten gold. The rainwells Jonas had put in along the roof four or five years ago were galvanized and didn't need painting; when
the sun hit them, they shone like a crown of light around her home. Jody stood there holding the phone and listening to Everett work himself up and saw herself looking out the window one dawn and knowing that someone else was living up there in Mary's home.

“Don't you dare call any doctor, you hear me?” The fury shocked even Jody. She swallowed, shook the vision from her mind, and said more quietly, “Don't go calling any doctor from the home, Everett.”

She managed to cut the man off in mid-flow. He hesitated, said, “You sure, sister?”

“I'm sure.” That strong no-nonsense tone she used with her children could be heard loud and clear. “I'll start making it a point to go up there every day and look in on her, help her out any way I can.”

Everett's disappointment came through the phone. “I still think—”

“You just leave it with me, you hear what I'm saying? Mary'll be just fine where she is. She has all of us family to look after her.” Before Everett could think up another protest, Jody said goodbye and set down the phone.

True to her word, Jody set off up the hill just as soon as the breakfast dishes were washed the next morning. But to her utter amazement, she heard Amy's bell-size laugh ring out as she walked onto Mary's front stoop.

The women looked up as Jody entered the sitting room. “Why, good morning, child,” said Mary. “What a nice surprise, two visitors so early on a morning.”

Amy was sitting on the oval hook rug, the clothes from the pile spread out around her like a pastel rainbow. “I got to thinking about this last night and didn't think I'd ever get to sleep. I just couldn't wait to come out.”

“Always nice to have company at a quilting,” Mary said in her quiet way. “Just so long as you all remember to pray as you work.”

“Momma—” The sight of three neatly folded white items
lying there in front of Amy stopped Jody in mid-flow. In a shocked voice she asked, “Aren't those Poppa Joe's shirts?”

“His Sunday go-to-meeting shirts,” Mary agreed. “Only things of his I kept. Found them this morning when I was rummaging through his closet.”

Jody turned round eyes toward Mary. “You're gonna use Poppa Joe's Sunday shirts in a quilt?”

“Can't imagine a better place for them,” Mary said firmly. “That man prayed the better part of every Sunday in those shirts. I think he'd like the idea of seeing his church clothes being stitched up in a prayer quilt.”

A prayer quilt. Despite herself, Jody had to admit that the words had a nice ring to them. A prayer quilt. She sat herself down in the other chair by the window to let it all sink in.

“Miss Mary was just telling me about when the children were still young,” said Amy.

“It came to me this morning,” Mary said. “Strange how something that happened over forty years ago can look clearer to my mind than what I had for breakfast this morning. I was laying out those shirts there and recalled how Jonas,” she stopped to give Jody her memory-laden smile. “I mean my husband, honey, not my boy.

“Every Sunday we'd walk back up the rise from church, and before he'd go into the house Jonas would always stop by the well. We had running water even back then. First house in the county to put in inside water. Jonas had the man come by and drill down beside the well; then he laid copper piping to the kitchen. But he always said the water never tasted as nice out of the pipe as it did straight from the well.”

Mary's eyes misted over as she looked out in front of her and saw what was meant for her eyes alone. “He'd haul the bucket up on that worn rope. I was after him till the day he died to put another rope on. Someday that rope was going to break and then he'd have the dickens of a time trying to fish it out. That well must have been all of eighty feet deep. But he'd just smile that slow smile of his, and tell me there
wasn't anybody interested in that well but him, and he liked the way that old rope fitted to his hand.”

BOOK: The Quilt
12.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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