The Breath of Life




"I hate it," she said.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"I hate it," she said again. "It's the worst looking quilt top I never made," she said.

"Never made?"

"I'm not making it," she said. "I hate it."

She had been cutting small squares and small strips and sewing them together for days. Last week she had completed a nice scrap quilt out of scraps of printed fabric, so when she found a pile of solid scraps, she thought she'd make another scrap quilt. She had spent days cutting the solid colored scraps into little blocks and little strips and sewing them together. She had 30 completed six-inch blocks covering her design wall, and she had spent the past two hours arranging and rearranging them in an attempt to form some kind of design.

Now she was ripping the blocks down off the wall and putting them into a drawer, one by one, sneering at the blocks, making faces at the blocks. "I hate you," she said to each block.

"You don't like the quilt you're making?" I asked.

"It's next year's ugliest quilt award entry. It should take first place."

"How do you know it's ugly when you haven't put it together yet?" I asked.

"When you have ugly blocks, sewing them together into a quilt won't make them any easier to look at," she told me.

"I hear you saying that you don't like the quilt," I said, just to be sure. I hadn't heard words like this coming from her before, no matter what bad things might have happened to a quilt she was working on."

"I hate it," she said. She spoke in a soft, husky voice, as if she was having trouble breathing.

"Are you having trouble breathing?" I asked.

"I'm having trouble getting rid of all these putrid blocks," she said.

"Putrid?" I couldn't believe she would ever use such a word, let alone use it to describe something she had sewn together so enthusiastically.

"In this case it means extremely objectionable," she said. Her breathing seemed shallow.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"I've lost my oomph," she said.

"Your oomph?"

"I'm wasted. Burned out. I'm a fallen quilter. I don't have an ounce of quilting life left in me," she said.

"You'd better lie down for awhile," I suggested. "I'll finish putting the blocks away for you."

"You don't have to do that. The blocks are trash. T-R-A-S-H. That spells rotten."

"Maybe a nap," I said.

"I'll rest when I'm done," she said. "Just a few more minutes." With that, she yanked another block of the wall and put it into its grave.


I left her that way and went to think about what I could do to give her her life back. She was in a bad way and I wanted to, needed, to help her, and then I thought of a prescription medicine that might help. I went to the computer, went onto the Internet, and found a list of quilt shows in our area. As luck would have it (after a frantic twenty minute search) I found a quilt show starting that morning in Tulare, California, just an hour's drive north of us. Lately, exhausted from too many trips to quilt shops, I had sworn off driving, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was desperate to restore my Darling Wife to good health again.


"We're going for a drive," I told her when I found her minutes later in the kitchen putting away the dishes from the dishwasher. Apparently she had put away all her garbage blocks and seemed to look a little better than she had earlier. Still, her breathing seemed hesitant.

"I have to finish here," she said.

"Foo on that," I said. "Let's go."

"Go where?"

"Tulare," I said.

"That's sixty miles away. Why do you want to go to Tulare?"

"Just for a drive."

"You want to go for a drive now just like that?"

"Just like that," I said. "We need some fresh air." She needed fresh air. I grabbed a cup out of her hand, put it on the counter, and dragged her toward the front door.

"This is not normal," she said, but she was really not arguing. She followed me docilely. Normally, she would have put up a protest and told me she had quilting to do, but these were not normal times.


In the car we talked about the hot weather, the unusually light traffic, the cotton fields and acres of grapevines we passed, the family, our grandchildren. She didn't question once the reason for our trip or what we might do in Tulare.

For an hour she lay back, slack and faint against the seat, and then I stopped the car in front of the Tulare Historical Museum.

"It's a museum," she said. "I don't feel like a museum."

"Out of the car," I said.

"All right," she said. There was no fight in her, none of her usual spunk. She was in bad shape. I hoped I was in time.

"See the sign," I said, putting my hand under her chin to lift it high enough to read the sign at the entrance to the museum.

"The Best of the Valley," she read aloud.

"Quilt show," I said.

"Quilt show?" she said in a puzzled way, her voice just about faded out. "Quilt show?" she said again, her mouth open wider, her voiced raised ever so slightly.

"Inside," I said as I paid our money to the woman at the door, got our program, and led my Darling Wife inside.

"Yes, inside," she repeated after me.

And then we were inside. We were inside a quilter's oxygen tent, the rows of hanging quilts pumping fresh air into her mouth, down into her lungs. To our right were the quilts of the show. To our left was the traveling exhibit of the 1998 Hoffman Challenge. DW looked left, she looked right, and she gasped and sucked in more air. I could feel an aura of new ideas radiating from her body. Color returned to her cheeks. Her eyes brightened and shone with quilt optimism again.

"Well?" I asked.

"It's like a breath of life," she said. That morning, miraculously, it was.


Today she decided the "rotten" blocks might be turned into pot holders for people who cooked in the dark. But that would have to wait until she finished the new quilt she had just begun.


Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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