Sunday, January 24, 2010
Valentine Sunbonnet Sue
I wrote a little story for Sue for Valentine's Day. I'm making a quilt that goes with this little story. It won't be finished, I don't think, until after Valentine's Day but I will offer the pattern as soon as it is done....well in time for 2011.
Sue is remembering something from long ago, as she sits by the fire, waiting for her Dear Heart, James, to come in from feeding the livestock. She and James have been married almost fifty years and it's 1913. In her mind, she relives a wintry day all those many years ago, when they were young, and James was courting her.
In her mind's eye, she remembers walking along through the snow with her sweetheart's Valentine under her arm, taking it to him a few miles from her home.
It's 1863 and the Civil War is rumbling on. James, lies in his bed at home, recovering from a wound in his leg. Plans for their wedding had to be postponed when, instead of coming home on furlough, he came home wounded. James' mom and dad had a farm adjacent to Sue's parents' place and both sets of parents had laid off land for James and Sue to have when they married. The doctors say James will recover fully, but then, she asks herself as she walks along, will he be called back to fight? She hopes not, yet, she so wants the war to end.
She and her neighbor women in the farms along the Wabash River have met weekly to make clothing, quilts and blankets for the troops. In the winter just upon them, they had even cut up carpets, canvas, old clothes and old curtains to make warming items for the soldiers in their camps across the war front. Cotton fabric had to be imported and was expensive but wool was still available on the bolt.
Sue made herself a wool coat and jumper, especially for Valentine's Day to cheer and impress James. It was an extravegence, she knew, but warm and comforting against the clear, freezing day. The day before, she had taken James a new quilt for his bed, made of woolen scraps from old clothes. She longed to make an Ohio Star quilt for him but materials were too dear. She had to settle for the old wool and velvet crazy quilt instead. He loved it, he said, and spread it over the couch, where they visited, for all to see.
They had talked about marriage but with the war and all, Sue didn't even have an engagement ring. She knew she wanted to be married right away, whether James went back to the front or not, so didn't see the need for a ring or an engagement. She loved him so much. These were her thoughts as she walked along, the chill wind blowing her scarf and slowing her progress. They had talked of a summer wedding, after James had built their new home. Even now, the beams and lumber lay under tarps along the creek at the homesite, ready for saw, hammer and nail. Progress to build the house in the autumn had been stopped when James had gone off to fight. Many in the township had gone off to fight; some, never to return. It was a somber country in those days.
Sue's heart was full of love and hope and dreams for the future. The South couldn't hold on much longer. She wanted to beat them, even though she had many cousins there in Tennessee from where her family had come a generation before. No word had come from them for many months, since the outset of the conflict and she wanted her family to be safe. Her cousin, Tassie had not been to visit since they were both sixteen, four years ago! In years past, Sue's Indiana family would have gone to Tennessee at least once a year to buy and sell stock and visit the old neighborhoods. Their hearts were as much in the South as they were in the North. It was a troubling thing to have to be so divided in thought and affection.
She turned in at the road leading to James' place and looked up to where the house stood in a stand of trees about a quarter of a mile on. Smoke rose from the chimneys and it looked cozy and warm. Most of the cattle were in the barn that morning but some stood in the cold sunshine and perked their ears at her approach to the farm. She heard James' mare, Pixie, whinney, stretching her head out over the top of her stall door and nodding a greeting. Sue thought, a sleigh ride WOULD be fun, if it weren't so cold. She trotted up the steps and across the wide veranda. James' mother, Mrs. Pace, opened the door to her and said, "Come on in, Sue, you must be frozen stiff!" Sue whisked into the house and was enveloped in the warm cheer of the fireplace and the aroma of baking bread.
She took off her coat and went over to where James sat on the couch, his leg on a hassock and covered with the wool quilt. Her cheeks were rosy from the walk in the cold and her curly auburn hair had begun to form into little ringlets around her warm face. She held the Valentine behind her back, leaned down to kiss his cheek and said, Happy Valentine's Day! When she drew back, James brought his hand out from under the quilt and opened it to reveal a tiny velvet box.
"Happy Valentine's Day," he said to her. Sue's mouth fell open and she looked from the box to James' eyes and back to the box again. She pulled up a straight-back chair to sit close to him, putting her Valentine aside. Taking the box in her hand, she opened it and inside was the most precious little amethyst ring she had ever seen. The amethyst was centered among a ring of tiny diamonds in a platinum setting. James took if from the box and held it for her to place it on her finger.
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
He reached for her and she leaned into his arms and thought how happy they were and how happy they would be together all their lives.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you, too," she said, and she turned her face up to him. He kissed her softly on the lips.
The sound of stamping feet and the draft from the chill outside air, interrupted Sue's reverie. James, tall, white-haired and cold, the snow melting on his jacket, came into the kitchen and said, "It's begun to snow. Melody's going to calve tonight, I'm afraid, and I'll have to break the ice out of the troughs in a little bit, again."
He stopped and looked at Sue, where she stood by the table, wearing a red woolen skirt with a white lace blouse, her once-auburn hair turned up and smoothed under her cap. He hung his coat on the hook, kicked off his boots and keeping his eyes on her, he came toward her in his stocking feet. She looked as beautiful as the first day he knew he loved her, so many years ago. Something about that red dress, brought back the memory of that early Valentine's Day...... Sues rosy cheeks, smiling eyes and cheerfulness in all weathers, were a treasure to him. Her simple and abiding faith in the Lord had sustained him and their family many times and taught them to bend their knees and pray. She was a treasure....a virtuous and humble and gentle woman. He still felt like the luckiest man on earth, when he was with her.
Looking into her eyes, he pulled a tiny velvet box from his pocket, offering it to her in his palm.
"Happy Valentine's Day," he said. He opened the box and revealed a precious little diamond ring, the center stone flanked by a row on each side of all the birth stones of her children, six in all.
"Oh," Sue, whispered, as tears sprang to her eyes. James took the ring from the box and placed it on her finger. Then he took her up in his arms and held her close. He leaned close, drawing her up to him and kissed her lips. She kissed him back.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you, too," he whispered.
Fifty years of loving and living; of laughing and sighing; of good times and hard times; of prayers and hopes; of peace and danger; were embodied in the two as they sat together, remembering it all. Outside, the snow fell softly through the night, covering the world with a beautiful blanket, which, from the lofty reaches of the angels, looked like the palest of patchwork quilts. Prairie Stitcher