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Authors: Earlene Fowler

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BOOK: Tumbling Blocks
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People often ask me where they can find histories of quilt patterns. There is no single book that tells all the histories of every quilt pattern. Like making a patchwork quilt, I piece together the history of each quilt pattern using a variety of sources such as books, magazines, newspapers and the Internet. I have found the following books particularly helpful in my search.
 
Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns
, compiled by Barbara Brackman
 
Quilts: Identification and Price Guide
, Liz Greenbacker and Kathleen Barach
 
Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them
, Ruth E. Finley
 
Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them
, Marie D. Webster
 
The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America
, Carrie A. Hall and Rose G. Kretsinger
 
101 Patchwork Patterns
, Ruby McKim
 
The New Quilting & Patchwork Dictionary
, Rhoda Ochser Goldberg
 
849 Traditional Patchwork Patterns
, Susan Winter Mills
PROLOGUE
December 1996
D
EAR ALICE,
It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again and, as I promised thirty-two years ago, I’m writing to let you know how Benni is doing.
It’s been quite a year. In January, our girl helped a nice young couple get their dude ranch up and running. There was some excitement involving a love triangle and a fire, but, thankfully, Benni wasn’t hurt. The Broken Dishes ranch is doing a real brisk business now, not a little bit because of her. She’s a good and loyal friend who I wouldn’t mind having on my team any day. Then again, could be I’m a tiny bit partial.
Things went along pretty smoothly through the spring and summer. We don’t see each other as much as we used to, what with her responsibilities as museum curator and being a police chief’s wife. We did have some real fun times putting up strawberry and plum jam. The strawberries were plentiful this year. She is always right there to help me whenever I ask.
She’s done much better being a police chief’s wife than I expected, not that I should ever underestimate her. As you well know, she’s a good worker and always tries her best, something I know she inherited partly from you. I remember those last days when you struggled so hard to fight that cancer. I guess it just wasn’t in God’s plan. Like I told you that last day you had on earth, when you were so scared your sweet girl would face her whole life without you there to help her, that I would take care of her for you and let you know every year at Christmas how she’s doing. Someday, when I head up there myself, Benni will find these letters and know that all along you and I have been partners, watching over her.
Oh, dear Alice, we almost lost her last month if that hostage situation had turned out differently. Those were some hard, hard hours. There were moments when I thought Gabe was going to just fold up and die. I do believe he would if something happened to Benni. That man is so in love with her. When Jack came up there to be with y’all, I truly thought Benni would end up like me, alone for most of her life (though Isaac has been such a joy and well worth waiting for). But I couldn’t have in all my imagination thought up a man more suited to her than Gabe. He’d do anything for her, stand in front of a bullet to protect her, if need be. He’s a good man.
Despite what she went through, she seems happier than I’ve seen her for a long time.
You know, I’ve learned a lot watching Benni with Gabe’s son, Sam, her cousin, Emory, Elvia and her family and the people where she works. She throws herself into helping whoever crosses her path. That has taught me something about who we should consider family. I don’t think I would have been able to open myself up to marrying a second time if I hadn’t seen how willing she was to love again. As you well know, I’m real good with giving advice, not so good at taking it. There I was telling her to take a chance on love again, when I’d been so scared to do that very same thing for most of my life. She has taught me courage.
I’m so proud of her, as I know you are too. She went through a lot last month, and though she hasn’t said it, I know she thinks that she failed with Gabe’s cousin Luis. She and I have talked a little about what happened. I’ve told her that what she did was right, but I can tell she still relives it in her head, wondering if she could have done something different. Truth is, though we want to believe we have the ability to change others, every one of us has free will to choose. She’ll understand that better as she gets older. Though my heart hurts a lot more for people now, I don’t blame myself as much when I can’t help them. Ultimately, each of us just has to flat out decide on our own what we’re going to do with this gift of life that God has given us.
Right now, I can see that she’s worried about Gabe. His mother is here, and there is some big sadness between those two that I’m praying will be resolved. I’m worried about Benni worrying about him. And Isaac’s worried about me worrying about Benni. I guess that’s what family is, a basket weave of people loving and worrying on each other.
You know, I picture heaven being a place where every person we worry about is right there for us to see—all safe and happy and healthy. A place where we never have to worry again. Am I right about that, Alice? I know you can’t answer, but it seems right to me. I guess I’ll find out eventually.
Well, I’d better get moving. The chickens are getting restless. I bought myself a bunch of Holland Whites. I’m not sure how they are going to do, they seem rather flighty, but they are fun to watch. Though I’d never admit this to anyone but you, I name my ladies. I’m here to tell you, it makes it hard to make a stew out of them. Just between us, I give my favorites away simply because I can’t bear the thought of them in a bowl of dumplings. That’s my true confession for this year. Some ranchwoman I am, ha-ha!
The alfalfa’s looking good, and our Ben’s just as stubborn and sweet as ever. I always felt bad that after you passed on my son never found someone else to love. As you can imagine, there have been plenty of willing ladies throughout the years. But he swore he could never love anyone but you. Who am I to doubt him? I knew you were special the moment he brought you home. He has a new colt and a new puppy, so that’s keeping him busy.
I look forward to seeing you again, sweetie. Until then, know that I’m watching over our girl, not that she needs it so much anymore. We miss you every day and long for the time when we will all be together again in that place where there is no darkness, no pain and no sorrow. Say hello to the Lord for me. Tell Him I’ll see Him soon (But not too soon! I still have plenty to do down here).
I remain always, your loving mother-in-law,
Dove
CHAPTER 1

M
Y SYSTEM IS RUINED!” ELVIA GLARED AT OUR IMAGES in the oak and brass full-length mirror while I attempted to zip up her gray fitted Anne Klein dress. The zipper wasn’t cooperating. Screaming in protest might have been a more accurate description. My friend’s two-month pregnancy was already creating havoc with her precisely tailored wardrobe.
“Your system?” I tugged gently at the zipper. There was no way I could sneak it past her definitely thickening waist.
“My clothing system,” she said. Her tone was snappish as a water turtle.
Attempting to restrain the laugh gurgling in my throat, I answered, “You have a clothing system?”
She arched one dark eyebrow. “Within a six-month period, I never wear the same combination of clothing. My schedule is computerized and makes suggestions for alternate choices due to weather fluctuations. Today is the pewter Anne Klein silk dress with my black Dolce & Gabbana wool jacket. It’s on the list.”
“You have a computerized list?” I watched my mirrored mouth gape in surprise. “It takes the weather forecast into consideration?”
Her tone grew haughty. “Don’t act so superior. Everyone has a system. Mine is just a little more organized than most people’s. Admit it, you have a system.”
I couldn’t hold back. Laughter burst from my mouth. Arrows shot out of her glossy black eyes, causing me to hold up my hands in apology. “Sure, whatever is clean and closest to what is appropriate for what I’m doing that day is what I wear. That’s my system.”
And
, I added mentally,
the system of most normal people
.
She growled at me, sounding like an angry little terrier. “I refuse to let this pregnancy ruin my system.” She stomped one foot for punctuation. The burnished oak floor of the airy upstairs bedroom reverberated. We were in one of the guest bedrooms in the flawlessly restored Victorian house that she shared with her husband, my cousin, Emory Littleton. This particular room held three armoires, which housed only a small part of her extensive wardrobe. Emory had wisely hightailed it out of here about ten seconds after I arrived, though he was kind enough to give me a vague heads-up.
“Just a warnin’, sweetcakes,” he’d said in his loamy but sexy Arkansas drawl. “My darlin’ wife is huntin’ bear this morning.” He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, then shrugged into his navy suit coat. “Best put on your flak jacket and try to dodge all incoming flaming arrows.”
“That is such a weird image I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear it,” I said, laughing. “For the record, I don’t feel a bit sorry for you. It’s your fault she’s in this emotional tizzy.” I straightened a slightly skewed velvet and crystal cupid ornament on their ten-foot blue spruce Christmas tree.
He had grinned, not even trying to hide his pride at his upcoming fatherhood. “She might’ve been a willing participant at some point in the festivities.”
“We could safety pin the back of your dress,” I suggested to a still-glowering Elvia. “Just don’t take off your jacket. No one will know.” I admit, I was trying to wrap this dilemma up quickly so we could focus on my many problems, one of whom was arriving by train from Wichita this very day.
She whirled around, her glossy red mouth grimacing in horror. “Safety pin it? Are you crazy?”
“Yes, I am,” I said, in my most soothing keep-the-temperamental-artist-or-rich-patron-calm voice. It was a voice I’d cultivated to perfection in my job as curator at the Josiah Sinclair Folk Art Museum and Artists’ Co-op. “I am completely insane. What was I thinking? Please, forgive me. I have an idea. Let’s simplify your system. I could run down to Target and pick you up a couple of Hawaiian muumuus to see you through the next seven months. Wash one, wear one.” I grinned at her, proud of my joke. Actually, Target didn’t carry muumuus, something Elvia wouldn’t know, because I was certain she’d never bought any clothes there.
She was speechless for a moment. Her bottom lip began to tremble, and tears moistened her dark-lashed eyes. “Don’t make fun of my system,” she whispered. “It’s my . . .” Her voice faltered. “. . . my system.”
Seeing my normally levelheaded friend about to melt down because of a stuck zipper and an out-of-order dress stirred a flood of pity inside me.
“Oh, Ellie Mae,” I said, using the childhood nickname I only used when she was really sad or upset because its silliness and absolute incongruity always made her smile. I reached over and took her cold hand. “Did you really think you could have a baby without putting on any weight?”
A single tear ran down Elvia’s smooth, brown cheek. She must have been wearing waterproof mascara, because it was as clear and lovely as the diamonds on her wedding band. “I’m being silly,” she said, swallowing hard.
“You’re allowed,” I said, putting my arm around her shoulders. “My advice is, take advantage of the next seven months and make my cousin and all six of your brothers wait on you hand and foot.”
She gave a wet, unladylike sniff, causing both of us to laugh. “My brothers have been avoiding me like a poor relative. Emory, on the other hand, would carry me around in his pocket if he could. He’s driving me loco.”
“Welcome to the club. He’s always driven me crazy.”
Downstairs we could hear her housekeeper, Janey, singing an old Broadway musical song my gramma Dove used to sing to us as children while she was rubbing shampoo into our hair: “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.” It always made us giggle.
“Remember when you asked Dove why a man was in her hair?” I said, trying to make her smile.
Elvia inhaled a shuddering breath. “I took things so literally.”
I started flipping through the dresses in the open armoire. “Everything’s literal when you’re in the second grade. Now, until we can track you down some outrageously cool and hip maternity clothes, let’s be wild, throw your system to the wind, and find you something to wear this fine December day.”
“Okay,” she said, suddenly docile. “I have a bunch of catalogs. You have to help me pick out some clothes.”
Now I knew that my friend had gone completely round the bend, asking me, the queen of manure-caked boots and Wrangler jeans, to help her pick out a new wardrobe. I had a sneaking suspicion that she’d be fine by this afternoon and that soon Emory would fly her down to Orange County to hit all the fancy maternity shops at South Coast Plaza and Newport Fashion Island. She’d develop a new system in no time with weight gain and swollen ankles factored in.
BOOK: Tumbling Blocks
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