“Scurvy has broke out and I wish you could send me a sack of onions. We don’t eat so good now. Last night all I had was ramrod bread, which is cornmeal smeared on my rifle ramrod and cooked over a fire.”
Eliza is an exceptional quilter, and she sends a quilt she makes for her husband via a neighbor who will deliver it by hand to him. When he writes to her later how much her red and white striped quilt has comforted him, Eliza wonders if both Will and the quilt will survive the war and come back home to Kansas.
This ‘quilty’ novel set in Civil war times was an easy read. Eliza’s quilting circle helps her get through the war and the deprivations of war-time, as they meet once a month and quilt. They discuss the war, their hardships, their children, marriage and childbirth, and, eventually faced with a real-life personification of their presuppositions, they make a joint decision to help a runaway slave.
“You think it’s all right to own slaves?” she asked at last.
Mercy shrugged. “They get plenty to eat and a place to sleep and don’t have to pay taxes.”
“They don’t own land,” Ettie told her.
“I say it’s not such a bad life. Maybe it’s the natural order of things.”
“Well, I say God’s no more in favor of slavery in America than He was of slavery in Egypt,” Eliza said, catching her thread as she pulled her needle through the quilt, causing it to knot. She picked at the knot with her needle, her head bowed to hide the tears that had formed in her eyes. The sudden mention of Will’s name did that to her. She stared at the quilt, while she blinked back the tears, thinking of her husband lying under the Christmas quilt for only a few nights. She wondered what had happened to it.”
After I read “The Last Runaway” and enjoyed the quilting in that book, I was in the mood to read similar books. However the quilting itself is almost a side issue in this book. This is more about women surviving during an intense and difficult period in our nation’s history. Many (well, most), of Eliza Spooner’s friends are either already war widows or have husbands away fighting the war. They are left to raise children, manage their farms, make a livelihood, and make very difficult decisions without the benefit of a husband in a day when women were taught to be genteel and subservient, deferring even in their opinions to those of a man.
It is sobering to realize that many of the events that Sandra Dallas writes about actually did happen to families during the Civil War. Not being in the mood for anything too (stomach-churning) realistic, I was glad that she did not write graphically.
This book is not only about war and quilting but it is also about women finding their place and learning to adjust with huge changes in their lives and those they love, when there are very few hard and fast rules left to depend upon.
“Now that I have seen war and the suffering it brings, I am not so sure of myself. Those of us fighting are just men who want to go home and I believe now that the Johnnies are not different from us and perhaps more honorable, because they are fighting for their homes. One thing I know is that war is not noble. When I joined up, I hated all Southerners, hated them for along time and wished you and Davy and Luzena to hate them, too. But now I know that hate is wrong. It is not God’s way. It is forgiveness we need.”