She had been busy, but she hadn't been busy enough. "I need to do something more than I've been doing," she said.
"And what is it that you haven't been doing enough of?" I asked. She certainly seemed busy enough to me, running off to her sewing room several times a day, my attempts to keep her around or to take her on a walk usually foiled by her speed to get back to her quilting.
"I haven't been quilting enough," she said.
"Yes, you have" I said. I didn't need to explain to her how much quilting she was actually doing. She knew that she was turning out quilt after quilt, but I knew that that wasn't what she was talking about. At least, I thought that was what she was talking about. One can never know when a quilter is talking about quilting or even when she wasn't talking about quilting.
"I've become a factory worker," she said.
"Look around," I said.
"Look around," I said again. "Does our house look like a factory?"
"My sewing room is a factory," she said. She paused, looked at me, then turned her head away. "I'm a factory worker," she said.
"Nothing much wrong with that," I said, still not knowing what she was talking about, but that is often the case.
"You don't know what I'm talking about again, do you?" she said and asked, both at the same time, for that is one of the ingenious things a quilter can do when discussing what really must be the world's second oldest profession.
"You're talking about quilting and you are talking about not quilting enough or quilting too much." It's hard to tell with a woman who has been quilting a decade now.
"I'm talking about all the baby quilts I've made lately. All the kid quilts I've quilted. Millions. Billions."
"Your charity quilts," I said. I was guessing, but it was an intelligent guess because that was what she had been doing the past few months. First she made sure every child in our family and extended family and friends' families had a quilt. "Millions, maybe. Not billions," I said.
"This is my last one for a while," she said.
"Which is your last one?" I asked.
"The one I just finished."
"Twenty-six letters in the alphabet. Kids need to know how to read all the letters," she said. She is a retired reading specialist, and she has probably taught ten billion kids to read in her career, but that was before she retired and took up quilting, but the alphabet stills runs through her body, her blood packed with letters rushing from her heart to every part of her body. "That's why I made the alphabet quilts."
"I understand," I said.
"What do you understand?" she asked, but before I took the dare and tried to answer in a reasonable way that she would accept as a brilliant answer, she continued. "I'm through working in the factory. I am going to take a break. I am going to make a quilt for myself, maybe for you if you are absolutely good and do everything I ask for the next forty years or so."
"I agree," I said. Why not?
"Do you want to see my last factory quilt? Do you want to see the last quilt I am going to give to some child who needs to keep warm and learn the alphabet at the same time? Do you want to see me come out of the deep dark shadows of my recent past and break out into the sunshine of a brand new project?"
"Yes," I said. "Oh, yes, do come out of the factory, Woman," I said. I am well practiced in giving support when she asks for it.
"Wait here," she said, and I waited in place, standing in the kitchen by the sink, standing where this conversation had begun moments before. And she was gone, out of the kitchen, up the stairs to her sewing room, and down again, back to me with the alphabet quilt in her hand.
"It's wonderful," I said. "Again," I added.
"Every child should have one," she said.
"But you don't have to be the one who makes one for every child in the world," I said. I wanted to be a comfort.
"Not for every child in the city or the neighborhood. I'm not a factory. I can only do so many. I have to get back to my own quilts for a while. I do," she said. And with her last words trailing off behind her, she was gone, up the stairs, back to her factory-her sewing room.
Two days passed. Two days went by. Two days and she had not chosen a new project. Two days and her quilting life was interrupted by a visit from our nephew and his wife and their son, Zachary. Zachary was two and a half. He had not visited before. The first thing he said as he came into our house was, "Cold." He immediately must have understood that we had not turned on the heat as we had been gone all morning. I went to turn on the heat.
"He doesn't like cold weather," his father said.
"He doesn't like to be cold," his mother said.
"We can warm him," my Darling Wife said.
"I want to be warm," Zachary said.
Of course, in our house, we were prepared for the coldest of winters. Out came the quilts. Zachary chose a colorful quilt from among four lap quilts my wife offered him, and he wrapped himself in it and sat on the sofa. He was warm. He was the warmest person in the room. He stayed warm all through his visit. Finally, still clinging to the quilt, not wanting to let go of the quilt, he reluctantly gave up the quilt and went with his parents back to where they had been earlier that day, back home seventy-five miles away.
It wasn't more than twelve minutes after they had left that Darling Wife turned to me and said, "Straighten up. I still have to find a project." She headed for the stairs and was gone in a flash. A lightning flash.
She returned in twenty minutes, skipping down the stairs, skipping toward me where I sat at the kitchen table I had just "straightened" and was now drinking tea. I swallowed my last sip and looked at her. "You found a project?" I asked, hoping that she had, fairly certain she had as her skipping and her smiling usually accompanied her finding a quilting project that not only she wanted to do but one she had to do in order to make her life complete.
"I looked and I looked," she began, still smiling brightly with each word. "But, alas, there were no projects to be found."
"Alas?" She never said 'alas,' never.
"Woe, then," she corrected herself.
"Woe is better," I said.
"I gave up looking for a new project," she said.
"And that's why you are skipping and smiling?"
"I said new project. I found an old project to do."
"And old UFO? A WIP?" She had many unfinished quilts and works in progress. I never saw them. They were begun and then mysteriously hidden away in some dark place where I never dared to look. Not that I wanted to look. There was enough to see in what she showed me.
"I found an A," she said.
"You found an A?" I asked, hoping I was hearing her correctly.
"The letter A," she said.
"And that's making you skip and smile and be happy?"
"It's a nice letter A."
"Tell me about it," I said. Who wouldn't want to know what she was talking about?
"It's the first letter of the alphabet," she said.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. In response to a quilter, there are many types of 'oh' expressions. She knew what I was exclaiming. She knew what I suspected. But I had to hear her tell me.
"I have one more alphabet quilt to make," she said.
"One more? But, but, didn't you just tell me...?"
"Yes, I did, but I found the letter A and it 's lonely and needs to be with its family."
"The rest of the alphabet. family. You know, B, C, D, E."
"One more alphabet quilt for one more child, a child you do not know of, a child who doesn't already have an alphabet quilt???" I added two extra question marks to my voice. Then I knew what she was saying. In a flash. Lightning. I knew!
"Someone will need one sometime," she said.
"Someone? Like Zachary someone?"
"I have to get busy," she said, and she turned from me and smiled and skipped back to her sewing room. I hoped she wouldn't trip on the stairs as she skipped. In a while, I knew, she would finish the quilt, and once again she would tell me that the last thing she wanted to be was a factory woman. But for now, well, no one wanted Zachary to be cold again. And then there was that matter of his learning to read.
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