Prather’s Pick: A novel written by a Colorado author
This week’s novel — just in time for Christmas — was written by Sandra Dallas, who lives in Denver. She has written 12 novels previously. “A Quilt for Christmas” is set in Wabaunsee County, Kansas, in 1864. Will Spooner has joined the Kansas Volunteers in fighting the Confederates. He has left his wife Eliza and two children to care for their farm.
As the novel opens, it is November and Eliza has just finished making a quilt, a Christmas gift for Will. Tomorrow she will take the quilt to Enoch Coldridge, a soldier who is home on furlough, and Enoch will give it to Will.
It’s a Stars and Stripes quilt, taken from a pattern that appeared in a 1861 Peterson’s Magazine. In the magazine, the quilt resembled a flag with a background of red and white stripes and a border of white stars. The center of the quilt was a blue triangle filled with stars. Eliza changed the pattern so that the quilt resembles a Union flag. She made a small quilt, too, so that Will can carry it around in his bedroll. Will has written that the army-issue blankets are “shoddy” so Eliza filled the quilt with down and then stitched it. Now the quilt is warm but lightweight.
The Spooner children, Davy, 14, and Luzena, 12, are old enough to help on the farm so Luzena cared for the house while Eliza and Davy brought in this year’s harvest. Eliza thinks that, if they’re frugal, the provisions will last them until next year.
On Christmas Eve day, Eliza hitches up the horse and goes to the general store/ post office to pick up two oranges. It has been a tradition to have the precious oranges each Christmas. This year Eliza warned the children that because of the war there might not be any fruit. But even though the oranges appear to be culls, their color is dull and they’re shriveled, she is able to take two of them home — at the high price of a sack of corn. There will be Christmas this year with an additional homemade gift for each child, some divinity and a stewed rooster, with potatoes and onions.
As Eliza is about to leave for home, a friend, Missouri Ann, stops her. Her friend says that she received word that her husband, Hugh, has been killed in battle. Missouri Ann doesn’t know what to do. She’s living with Hugh’s family, and they are mean to her. She’s pretty sure that they will make her marry one of the brothers. Missouri Ann has a little girl to think of, too. In the end, Eliza says they can come live with her. Missouri Ann plans to sneak away from the Stark home.
The next day, during church services, Missouri Ann and her daughter show up at church. When the Starks, not churchgoers, come to get her, Reverend Hamlin intervenes, and Eliza takes Missouri Ann and her daughter home with them. The Starks warn that “this isn’t the end.”
In January the unthinkable happens. Eliza gets a letter from the army. Will has been killed. Now the farm work is hers for good, but the children are there to help, and so is Missouri Ann. Once a month, five women, three of them widows and the other two with men off to war, meet to quilt. They plan to sell their quilts on Independence Day and give the money to the soldiers. One day, during their quilting day, Reverend Hamlin and another man show up. They want a favor, and it involves a slave.
There is a lot more to this novel, and Eliza gets to see her Christmas guilt again.
“A Quilt for Christmas” is published by St. Martin’s Press (2014). It can be found with the new books at the Moffat County Library or the hardcover book can be purchased for $17.99.