Read The Quilt Online

Authors: T. Davis Bunn

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

The Quilt (6 page)

BOOK: The Quilt
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When Lou Ann was settled Mary went on, “Between Jonas and Everett I had three other babies. The first two were stillborn, God rest their little souls. The third was my only little girl. She was the smilingest little baby you ever saw. That's about all I can remember about her now, that and the way she would follow me with her eyes all over the room. I know it's not possible, no baby a month old can do it, but that's the way it was. Got no reason to fib about it, now, do I. I would walk into the room and her little face would just light up like a candle. She'd lie there too tiny to move anything more than her head, and she'd follow me with her eyes no matter where I went. And if I went out and came back in again, that little darling was still watching the door. Soon as she saw me she'd smile again. Happiest baby I ever did see. Hardly ever cried, and if she did all I had to do was pick her up and she'd settle right down. Little angel was all she was.”

Mary sighed long and soft, shook her head, “Came in one morning when she was just four months old and found her lying there dead. Crib death, the doctor told me. Nothing anybody could have done about it. Like to have torn me apart, losing my little girl. Didn't know a body could stand that much grief and still survive.”

The room was so silent that the mockingbird outside the sitting room window sounded jarringly loud. All eyes watched Mary turn and stare out the window, hiding the emotions that etched the ancient face, searching the sunlit lawn for a smiling little girl.

“Dr. Caswell was preacher then,” Mary went on, her face still pointed toward the window. “None of you would remember him, but there was a fine man. A
man. Never afraid to share a body's burdens. Don't know what would
have happened to me if it wasn't for him. One time he came by, I suppose it must have been a few months after the funeral, Dr. Caswell gave me that sheet there and told me the story of George Matheson. Have any of you ladies ever heard of him?”

There was a chorus of no ma'ams about the room as work was forgotten, tools laid aside, bodies settled to more comfortable positions.

“George Matheson was a man of the Lord, born and raised in Scotland. I forget when he lived, but I know it wasn't in this century. He fell in love with a beautiful young lady, and they planned to marry. Not long before his wedding day, George Matheson discovered he was going blind.”

Mary waited until the room quietened, then continued, “He did what he had to do, went to his young lady and told her the news. Told her she could break off the engagement if she wanted, but that he still loved her and wanted to marry if she would have him. The woman thought about it for several days, then came back and said that though she loved him, she did not want to spend the rest of her life with a blind man. And the wedding was off. Soon after this, George Matheson wrote a hymn.”

Mary turned back from the window. She lifted the brittle page with trembling hands, looked at it for a long moment, then handed it over to Lou Ann. Her voice was as shaky as her hands when she said, “Read that first verse for me, honey, my eyes aren't what they used to be.”

Lou Ann studied the ancient script, read in a halting voice,

Oh love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in its ocean depths,
Its flow may richer, fuller be.

“The Lord holds me always in His love, Dr. Caswell told me,” Mary said to the silent room. “Always there, always
loving, always giving, always healing. At my weakest, the Lord is strongest.”

Mary paused a moment, kneading one hand with the other, then said, “George Matheson went blind, and he didn't marry the girl. He lived a full life for his Lord, and toward the end of his time on earth he wrote a prayer. I think more than anything these words were what saw me through my own dark times.” She looked at Lou Ann, said, “Just read that section there at the bottom that starts, ‘My God,' please child.”

Lou Ann cleared her throat, wiped her eyes, read,

My God,
I have never thanked thee for my thorn.
I have thanked thee a thousand times
     for my roses,
But never once for my thorn.
Teach me the glory of my cross,
Teach me the value of my thorn.
Show me that I have climbed to thee
     by the path of my pain.
Show me that my tears have made
     my rainbows.

“There's lessons right along to the end of the road,” Mary said, her eyes back on the window. She sighed, shook her head, said softly to the world outside, “What
that man must have had.”

Pretty soon the whole town was talking about the quilt, give or take a few souls who didn't think the whole mess amounted to a hill of beans on a hot day. The regular crew was singled out for talk and gossip, the opinions varying according to personalities. For some it was a curious thing, how grown-up women with jobs and families could see fit to spend so much time on a silly old quilt. Others thought it a Christian duty, helping poor Miss Mary out on something she had no
business starting in the first place. Then there were some who heard of the praying and the Bible reading and the singing, but they weren't really sure they could believe it all. Others listened and nodded and wished in silence they had the courage and the time to go up and join the group.

When asked, those who went were usually very excited about it, yet bashful at the same time. It was hard to describe, the communion and the joy and the stillness they found in the little house on the hill.

Some of those who went regularly stopped saying much when asked about it, or at least stopped opening their hearts every time someone asked them how the quilt was getting on. It was hard to face those frozen little know-it-all smiles, those calculating, cold eyes beneath carefully set coiffures, that unspoken desire to probe for weakness and fault and something to criticize. So the women often did what they felt they had to, which was develop a little two-sentence piece that started out with how marvelous it was to take time for prayer every day and ended with how the lady ought to come up and join them. And the lady would cover her disappointment at not gaining anything else for her rumor-mill with another little cold-eyed smile, and say the inevitable, Miss Mary is such a beautiful woman, and change the subject.

The morning sessions in Mary's sitting room took on the sort of established routine that was possible only when people did what they needed to do because they wanted to. The first ladies to arrive each morning made coffee and set out the various scissors and measuring tapes and sewing baskets. If a pie or coffee cake was brought, it was put in the oven and the temperature set on low. Bread dough was placed on the counter to rise and covered with a damp cloth. The women chatted with Mary and marked out the work completed the day before and laughed quite a lot. There was a sense of anticipation in the room, a feeling that the little girl inside each of them was let loose to laugh and chase sunbeams and share a little of the joy they thought locked away forever.

Most mornings the ladies would only stay an hour and then hurry back to what they had come to call the outside world. Mary would see them off the way she greeted them, with a soft smile and a blessing and a few words to show how wonderful it was to have them stop by. The ladies would always hesitate by the door, feeling pushed to go, regretting that they were leaving, and sort of wondering down deep if maybe that push they were feeling to depart was not truly as urgent as they made it out to be.

Every few minutes, Mary would remind them of their purpose, their responsibility to say a prayer of thanks with each stitch sewn. It doesn't matter if this quilt takes another twenty years, Mary would say a dozen times a day. What is important is that we all, each and every one of us, remember what it's like to be grateful.

That morning Jody waited until the room was pretty full, then said she had something she wanted to talk about. She found she couldn't address the room directly. With a shyness she hadn't known for years, she turned to Mary and talked, though her words were meant for all the room.

“I found the prettiest Bible passage last night, Momma,” Jody said.

Lately Mary had been spending more and more time just sitting and looking out the window, the work lying unattended in her lap. She turned at the sound of her name, blinked a few times as though not remembering where she was or why the people were there, said, “What's that, child?”

“A Bible passage I found last night,” Jody said, feeling somehow very young and very embarrassed.

“Isn't that nice,” Mary said, bringing the room into focus with her smile. “Why don't you read it for us.”

“Yes, ma'am.” Jody opened her Bible, said, “It's from the hundredth Psalm.”

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love
endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through
all generations.

“I've always loved that passage,” Mary said, nodding her head very slowly, as though the effort was almost too much for her. “Why don't you tell us how that spoke to your heart?”

“Well,” Jody said, patting at wayward hair with movements made jerky by her nervousness. “I just read it and kind of saw myself walking into the presence of the Lord, like it says. And the way I could do it was by praising His name.”

She made a little gesture as if she were trying to grab words out of the air, searching to find a way to say it so that the emotion she had felt would live for the others. “It was so beautiful there, with this love and light and everything. And I saw how all the things that I worried about were shadows that kept me from seeing what I really needed to do, which was be thankful.”

Mary waited until she was sure Jody was finished, and said softly, “Child, you don't know how those words make me feel.”

With visible effort Mary rose to her feet, and the room saw that the lady could not stand upright. She leaned over slightly, her right arm bent up like a broken chicken wing. She held it close to her side, pressing in to keep some unseen pain from escaping and submerging her. And those in the room felt their hearts stand still.

Jody was up and beside her before Mary could take her first step. “Momma, what's the matter?”

“Be an angel and help me back to the bedroom,” Mary said.

“Can we get you something?” Lou Ann asked.

“Not a thing, thank you. You just sit there and think on what this child has told you.” Mary let herself be half-led, half-carried through the silent room. When she was in the
doorway leading to the back hall she turned and said to them all, “And finish what you've started.”

That afternoon Mary had not risen from her bed, and her color did not look good, so Jody decided it was time to listen to sense and not to Mary's protests. She called the doctor, and when he heard who it was he promised to stop by on his way home.

Dr. Horace Martin had the sort of bedside manner that made most people want to get well just to make him happy. And those who couldn't will themselves well were grateful for his care. His eyes held the light of somebody who was just waiting to hear the punchline of a really good joke, and even on the coldest days his hands somehow stayed warm. He had forgotten more secrets than most people ever knew, and came close to matching the minister for hearing out people's troubles.

But his face was serious and his eyes grave when he finished Mary's examination. He folded up his stethoscope and put it back into his little black bag before saying, “Miss Mary, I think maybe I oughtta call us a car to take you over to the hospital.”

Jody felt that little cloud of fear that had been hovering around her all day densify into a solid lump of ice that settled in her belly. She reached out and grasped the doorjamb for support.

Mary did not need to raise her voice to get the message across. “Horace Martin, you are going to do no such thing.”

BOOK: The Quilt
7.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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