Read The Quilt Online

Authors: T. Davis Bunn

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

The Quilt (5 page)

BOOK: The Quilt
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Without warning, one of the women starting singing, softly at first, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Before she was halfway through the first stanza, the whole room was rocking to the sound of that old-timey hymn.

At the sound of all those voices Everett suddenly felt the outsider, the one who didn't belong. A big hole opened up about heart-level, and Everett turned and started scuffling off the porch.

“That you, son?” Everett turned to find Mary at the door.

“Momma?” It startled him, seeing her through the screen. It was somehow like Mary had dropped thirty years, her gentle features losing all their wrinkles and turning the clock back to when he was a little boy.

Mary pushed the screen aside, and Everett felt his heart slow down as the old woman appeared in the natural light.

“Come on in, son. I doubt the coffee's much good, I was up so early this morning. Maybe I ought to make another pot.”

“I just brewed some up fresh, Miss Mary,” said a voice from inside. “Hope that's all right.”

“Well, bless you, child. I know Everett'll be pleased.”

But Everett wasn't sure how he felt about it all as he let Mary take his arm and lead him into the crowded sitting room. “Y'all know my boy, don't you?”

There was a chorus of yes ma'ams and a lot of sheepish smiles, like a group of little girls caught playing in their mother's closet.

“Ladies,” Everett mumbled, feeling totally out of place. “Momma, maybe it'd be better if I came back another day.”

“Don't talk nonsense.” Mary led her younger boy through the doorway and down the little connecting hall to the big country kitchen. “Now you just sit yourself down right there at the table and I'll pour you a cup and we'll chat. Those ladies can take care of themselves for a spell.”

Mary eased herself down into the chair opposite him, and lovingly guided her boy toward forgetting the women in the next room and the worries he had with his work and the problems he'd been carrying all his life. Every man needed the chance to set down his guard from time to time, she'd always told anybody who'd listen. The problem was, most men got so used to working in a world that called for invisible armor all the time, they forgot they were even wearing it.

Once he was talking without thinking, Mary allowed herself to relax a little and just love her boy. Everett had always held a special place in her heart. Jonas, her elder surviving son, was so much like his father it was uncanny—big and hale and quiet and solid. Jonas was not somebody who needed very much. Everett, poor little Everett, he'd been a sickly child. And too many of his younger years had been spent standing in the shadow of his big brother.

While Jonas had grown up strong and solid as a barn door, Everett had grown out. Mary always looked at Everett's pudgy round face and fat arms and protruding belly and saw the little lonely sensitive child that needed an extra padding of protection around a heart that broke too easily for this world.

She watched her Everett grow up into a young man who tried hard as he could to be one of the boys, and even when they had accepted him as one of their own, Everett had never known happiness. He'd grown up letting the others of his age
mold his character and his behavior, and it seemed like only Mary could see the yearning in those sad little eyes.

“Your wife was here again yesterday,” Mary told him. “She's a darling woman, Everett. I've always thought of her as the little girl I didn't have.”

Everett's pudgy features lit up at the mention of Lou Ann. “You never told me that, Momma.”

“Never told you a lot of things. It's true just the same.”

As she spoke, Mary recalled something Lou Ann had said the previous afternoon as she was leaving. The two women had been cleaning up after all the others had left, when suddenly Lou Ann had said, I've never thanked you for Everett, have I? Something in the way she'd said it brought tears to Mary's eyes. I was so scared when Everett brought you home that first time, Mary had replied. There was so much need in that boy, I was scared to death he'd gone out and found somebody who'd never understand. Lou Ann had smiled at her and said, I knew you were worried. That's why I wasn't concerned over how cross you were with me. Anybody with eyes could see that Everett was your favorite. Mary had laughed to cover how touched she was by the words. He just needed me more than anybody else, I suppose, Mary had replied. Who'd have thought there was all that goodness just waiting to come out, Lou Ann had said. Child, Mary had told her, if it had been a lesser woman than you, that goodness would have never existed. It took a woman with a heart of gold to make that boy come alive.

Goodness there may have been in Everett, but it was not something many could see at first glance. Everett was not a pretty man, and age did not sit well on him. His formerly sandy-blond hair now looked like a hard rain had rinsed all the color out. His hair was not turning white so much as it was becoming transparent. Everett's chin tended to disappear nowadays into little layers of sagginess when he lowered his head. His face blotched into shades of pink and red when he got excited, and he had the deep, gasping cough of a
formerly consumptive child. People who knew him well said Everett was a good man, he just tried too hard. His laugh was forced, his good-old-boy style too jovial, the fear in his eyes there for all to see.

Everett spooned sugar into his coffee and said to Mary, “I still don't see what's possessed you to get started with another doggone quilt, Momma.”

“There's not a thing in this world that's going to disturb our Wednesday mornings, son,” Mary replied, understanding him perfectly. “Now you just put those ladies in the other room out of your head and tell me about the family.”

Everett hid his embarrassment behind a loud slurp of coffee. His mother's ability to see right through him had always left him feeling downright exposed. “You didn't answer my question, Momma.”

“The Lord's shown me what He wants just as clearly as He can, son.”

“What, He came down and spoke from the burning bush?” Everett gave a little high-pitched chuckle at his own cleverness. “Lit up one of the magnolias in your front yard?”

Sometimes after her visits with Everett, Mary would look back and wonder that the well of patience did not run dry. Mary looked down at her hands, rubbed them back and forth, one upon the other. Her voice had that quiet warning to it when she spoke. “There's not a soul on this earth who knows how many days they've got left. Not you, not me, not any of the ladies sitting there in the front room. All we can hope for is that what time we have is spent as the Lord wants us to.”

Mary looked up and fastened her son with a strong gaze. “I won't say this again, Everett. The Lord has told me that I am to make Him a quilt, and it is to be sewn together with prayers. That is all there is to be said about it, do you hear me?”

“I hear you,” Everett replied sullenly. “Can't say as I understand it, though, a lady of your age starting another quilt.”

“I didn't say we'd always understand what the Lord intends
for us, now, did I.” Mary pointed to the windowsill, said, “Reach over there for the little Bible, son.”

Everett turned around, saw between the hanging plants a little New Testament covered in wood from an olive tree. The sight startled him. He lifted the tiny book, and recalled a six-year-old boy who saved his pennies for a whole summer, then sent off to the mail-order company for a Bible bound in olive wood from the Holy Land. It was the first Christmas present he had ever paid for with his own money.

He had to clear his throat before he could say, “I didn't know you still had this, Momma.”

“Can't read it anymore,” Mary replied. “The print's just a blur. But I like to have it around me. Reminds me of a little boy I loved to distraction. Still do, for that matter.”

Everett kept his eyes on the small book as he rubbed his hands over the smooth polished surface and recalled the excitement of a Christmas morning long ago. The joy over his own presents had paled in comparison to how he had looked forward to his momma opening that gift brought all the way from Israel.

“Can you read that little print, son?”

“'Course I can.”

“Open it up to Romans, please, sir.” Mary closed her eyes, thought a moment, said, “Romans, chapter one, verse twenty-one. Read it to me, if you please.”

Everett searched, turning the fragile pages with fingers that seemed too big and clumsy for the little volume. He read, “‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.'”

“‘Nor gave thanks to him,'” Mary repeated. “Isn't that something. We're not just talking about some little act we can take on when times are good and there's a few extra minutes lying about. Paul says just plain as the nose on your face that this is one of the most basic responsibilities we have. We must glorify our God and we must give thanks to Him. All the
sins and all the confusion that Paul talks about for the rest of that chapter stem from people not doing those two things.

“I've been sitting up here growing old and watching the world speed up, faster and faster, until I can hardly believe people don't get dizzy just standing still. And when they come up to see me, all they can talk about is how much they've got to get done. Seems to me like they work themselves toward an early grave just so tomorrow they can rest a spell.”

Mary leaned closer. “Son, let me tell you a little secret I've learned in these long years of mine. Tomorrow never comes. You either have it today, or you don't.”

She waved her hand around to take in the room. “I'm not talking about possessions. I'm talking about what counts. The things of the Spirit. Love, patience, kindness, compassion. And a thankful heart. A body's got to take time each and every day to thank their Lord for all that's theirs. Plain and simple, son. It's got to start today, no matter how busy you are, nor how much is still left undone, nor how many problems are piled up on your head and heart. Giving thanks is one thing that can't wait.

“The night I realized the Lord wanted me to make this quilt, I asked myself, now what business does an old lady like me have in taking on something like this? It wasn't until the next morning, when I was sitting there listening to the newsman talk about some disaster or something, that I realized. Came to me clear as day. It's a lesson that's been forgotten, the importance of giving thanks. And if I can help one person see how necessary it is with this work, why, the Lord's will has been done. Doesn't matter a whit, that quilt being finished. What's important is those ladies in there remembering what it's like to be really and truly grateful to their Lord.”

It was two days later, early enough in the morning for the ladies to have cut a dark swathe across the dew-covered lawn as they arrived. The sitting room smelled of coffee and baking
bread, and was surprisingly silent for the number of people sitting on chairs, floor, and footstools. A couple were humming, one was staring out into space with a little smile on her face, and three were on their hands and knees around Mary's chair as they discussed the color-coding in whispers. The room's stillness was too precious a gift to be disturbed with loud voices and unnecessary chatter.

Lou Ann raised herself up from the tiny space behind the television and walked over to Mary. In her hands was a parchment-colored sheet of brittle paper.

“Miss Mary, did you write this?”

Mary looked up from the myriad of triangular fabrics in her lap. “What have you got there, sister?”

Lou Ann held out the sheet, said, “Did you use to write poetry, Miss Mary?”

Mary took the paper and examined it. A tremor seemed to pass over her body. “Land sakes,” she whispered.

Lou Ann bent nearer. “You've gone all white, Miss Mary. Are you all right?”

Mary looked up, said in a fragile voice, “Where on earth did you find this?”

Lou Ann made a frightened little gesture back behind her. “I was just looking through your old Bibles, Miss Mary. I was reading the passages you had marked, you know, just turning the pages, and I found this sheet.” She gave the old woman a very worried look. “I'm real sorry if I shouldn't have done it. Are you all right?”

“Everything's just fine, child,” Mary said quietly and turned away from a roomful of watching faces. She stared out the window a long time, long enough for worried glances to be passed back and forth among her guests.

Mary turned back, saw that Lou Ann really was concerned, smiled with the warmth that was all her own and patted the stool beside her chair. “Sit down here for a moment, honey, and I'll tell you why it gave me such a start.”

“I'm really sorry, Miss Mary. It was just so beautiful and I thought—”

“Shush, honey, there's nothing wrong with what you've done. It just startled me. I haven't seen this in, oh, I don't know how many years. Not since before Everett was born.”

BOOK: The Quilt
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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