Tell Me Why




She was sitting at her machine, the light over her head casting her shadow down on the lonely marine-blue cotton triangles she was turning into happy marine-blue squares. But she wasn't sewing. She was barely moving. I went into one of her desk drawers and pulled out a small mirror and held it up in front of her lips to see if she was breathing. She was, but barely.

"What is it?" I asked. This was not her normal position, frozen in place. She should have been humming along with her machine, turning out a dozen squares a minute, her body in spirited animation.

"I've been thinking," she answered quietly.

"Thinking about what?" I asked in my best investigative manner.

"Why I quilt," she said with a sigh.

"You've been sitting there in suspended animation wondering why you quilt?" I asked. "You know why you quilt. You quilt for fun, for excitement, for the pleasure of providing your loving husband with a quilt to keep him warm through icy winters."

"It's not always fun" she said. "And our winters aren't icy."

"What do you mean it's not always fun?" To me 68 degrees in the house is icy.

"Well, it's not fun when my bobbin thread breaks eighty-seven times in a row or when I cut ten strips of fabric too small to use or I run the rotary cutter off the mat and slice the edge off my table."

"Well, those were adventures, learning experiences. You've never complained before." Oh, she was frustrated at times, as when she discovered that she was short one strip of odd blue fabric that was no longer in her stash or even in existence anywhere. Or when she sewed seven triangles together backwards. Or when she had discovered one of the blocks in her finished quilt was in the wrong place. But she had always expressed happiness before. "What about all the other reasons you quilt?"

"I've been thinking about that, how many reasons I really have for quilting." She seemed without emotion as she spoke. But her body moved slightly on her chair, and I did see her blink. She was definitely alive.

"How about ten reasons," I suggested. "Just try to come up with your top ten reasons for quilting. They have the top ten reasons for everything else on television. You can have them, too." I went to her desk and grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper. "I'll write them down for you," I said.

"But they may not be good reasons," she said. My wife the pessimist. She seemed a stranger to me.

"Don't be a pessimist," I said. "Give me one reason. We'll start with one reason."

"To avoid having to play the tuba," she said.

"What? You never played the tuba in your life. You're not taking this seriously, are you?"

"No, I just don't have any good reasons."

"How about pleasing your family?"

"I don't have to quilt to do that. I can just send everyone money to buy a quilt at some department store."

"It's not exactly the same. The quilt labels won't say, 'Made with Love by Grandma or Mom or DW." They'll say, 'Made by a Stranger in a Really Far Away Place like China by People Who Don't Even Know You.'"

"All right, but that's the only reason I quilt."

"Is it? Is it really," I said, feigning an angry rage, puffing out my cheeks and bellowing my words. "What about quilting because it's relaxing? Because it's creative? Because it provides adventure? Becaause it keeps your brain from atrophying." She smiled at that. "Because it makes you smile?" I went on. "Because it keeps you from going out on the streets late at night selling drugs or breaking into stores or stealing hubcaps."

"I don't do any of those things," she said, more animated now.

"Only because you are safe in this house hiding behind your mountains of stash."

"So, what else, Mr. Know It All?" she asked. She even turned her head a few inches to look at me.

"So, what else is that you have the satisfaction of knowing how to use a rotary cutter, how to make a quarter inch seam, how to paper-piece a thousand birds in a forest. How many people do you meet who can do all that?"

She looked stunned at the thought. "What else?" she said, softening.

"Saving money," I said, though I knew that was not true. We could buy out all the quilts in "Quilts Is Us" for what it cost her to make one 12 inch by 12 inch miniature wall hanging. I have three filing cabinets full of receipts just from quilting stores. UPS stock keeps rising because of you."

"Ha! There's no such store. Is there?"

"And you quilt," I went on rapidly, " because otherwise I would be too embarrassed to let anyone come into the bedroom and see some raggedy old comforter on the bed instead of your beautiful Amish quilt."

"We lived all these years without that quilt."

"Then how about the joy you felt when you learned to recognize and name a hundred fourteen colors of Kona Cotton"

"The names are on the color card that came with the fabric," she said, but it was a feeble protest.

"But you can distinguish between bright periwinkle and amethyst and iris and lilac." They all looked purple to me.

"Periwinkle is nice," she said.

"And remember how much fun you had after you learned how to make a log cabin square?"

"That was fun," she said.

"Even after you went berserk and made three hundred of them?"

"I had to practice," she replied seriously. "Why are you writing all this down?" she said as she watched me scribbling furiously.

"Just taking a few notes," I said.

"What for?"

"Because people who don't quilt always ask me why you quilt. I never was sure before."

"Do you know why I quilt now?" she said as she stood away from her machine, went to one of her stacks of fabric, pulled down a large piece of marbled yellow batik, and covered me in it. "I'll tell you why I'm going to quilt right this moment," she said as she pulled me toward the sewing machine. "And you can tell everybody the reason. You are a madman."

"Ooomph, mmmmm, owwww," was all I could say.

Copyright 1998 by A.B. Silver

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