We had just come from Quilt in a Day and Calico Station in San Marcos, and now we were in JoJo's Calico Courtyard, a recommended quilt shop in Temecula, all in Southern California. This was already our third quilt shop that morning. I was standing in line behind three women who were having fabric cut. The woman behind the counter was working quickly when she looked up at me. I was standing there holding a small package, an appliqué kit for a quilt my Darling Wife had decided she needed more than anything in the world just then. That our car was already bulging, that didn't matter. That she had told me twice before that morning she needed something else "more than anything in the world," that didn't matter. That one more package, even one this small and weighing only a few ounces, that didn't matter either. What mattered was that I was waiting to pay and that there were three women ahead of me, each one waiting, no doubt, to have dozens of bolts of fabric cut into quarter yards.
I was in no great hurry, for DW was still wandering the store. Though our charge card was already beyond its quilting limit, that also didn't matter. What mattered was buying something in every quilt shop in America. I think she kept extra charge cards hidden somewhere on her body, just in case.
As I stood there, I expected to wait a couple of days in line, but just then the woman directly in front of me turned and saw me behind her. She looked me up and down, looked at the one item I was going to buy, and shook her head up and down. Then she turned back to the women in front of her.
"There's a man in here," she said. It took only a second before the woman in front of her turned to see me. I smiled.
"There's a man in here," the woman in front of the woman in front of me said. They all turned to look at me. The woman cutting the fabric stopped in mid snip and looked at me. I smiled at all of them, sharing my smile as each one looked me up and down.
"He looks so uncomfortable," the first woman said with great compassion in her voice, as if I were homeless and she had come across me lying in front of the quilt store with my hand held out for a donation of food or a fat eighth.
"It's hard for man to be in here with all these women," said the second woman.
"Morning," I said in my friendliest voice. I looked around. In addition to my wife, there were ten other women roaming the aisles, feeling the fabric, picking through the patterns and quilting books.
"Men have a terrible time in quilting shops, don't they?" asked the third woman. The other two looked me up and down again and nodded in agreement.
"We should let him go first," said a new woman who came up behind me in line and spoke around me to the others.
"He must be terribly nervous," said the one directly in front of the one directly in front of me.
"He can go first," she said, and she moved aside. The woman in front of me moved aside. The woman at the head of the line moved aside.
"Go on. We know how you feel," they all said.
Now, I was brought up in a age of politeness. I knew women went first. I knew women walked on the inside away from the curb. I knew all about courtesy. So, I hesitated. But the women behind me pushed me toward the front of the line. "Go on," she whispered.
I went to the front of the line and paid. "Come back," the owner said as she put my purchase in a bag.
"I will," I said with a wink. I went over to the book rack and showed my Darling Wife that the package was already paid for.
"That was fast," she said. I sensed some disappointment. No doubt she hoped it would take me all day so she could browse and maybe, just maybe, find something she really needed more than anything else in the world.
"I'm very uncomfortable in a quilting shop with all these women around," I said.
"That's what they said," I said as I turned her toward the women at the counter. "They all let me go ahead."
"If they only knew," she said. And she smiled and we left the shop.
Now, in the ten months since she took up quilting, we have been in dozens of quilting shops and fabric shops. In many of them, people looked at me and, no doubt, puzzled over my presence. No doubt people wondered how my Darling Wife could stand having a man along when SHE went shopping for fabric. Some even asked her that question.
"Why doesn't he wait outside with the other men?' she was asked at one chain fabric store by a woman who saw me looking closely at some fabric, perhaps too closely, as if she suspected I might have a choice in what Darling Wife bought. On the way into the store, I had seen a small group of men. I assumed they were husbands of quilters tied up at some imaginary hitching post.
"Isn't this embarrassing for him?" my wife was asked in a quilt shop in Hawaii.
"Doesn't he get in the way?" another asked as we went up and down the aisles at a quilt shop in Kentucky.
Oh, occasionally there was a look of surprise and a smile as a woman might say, "It's so nice that you have your husband to help you carry everything."
"When I called one quilt shop to ask why there had been no bill with my wife's order, I was reluctantly told by the owner, "Oh, well, you see, some women don't want their husbands to know how much they spend on fabric."
Oh, I know there are men who quilt and other men who accompany their wives quite happily, and men who help with the decisions that their wives make. But I also know there are men who would rather have rabies than be found in a quilt shop. I'm just not one of them.
"I think we should stop in one more shop on the way home, maybe 5 Heart Quilts in Tehachapi," my DW said as we approached our car.
"I made a face. "What are you making a face for? You like quilt shops."
"I'm practicing looking embarrassed," I said.
"You don't look embarrassed. You look as if you had rabies."
"Well, if I can look embarrassed," I said, as I practiced blushing, "maybe I can get to go to the head of the line again. Look at how much time we'd save, and we could visit twice as many quilt shops."
She looked at my face carefully. "A little redder," she said.
Copyright 1998 by A.B. Silver
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