From New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas, a Christmas novel set during the Civil War in which a woman makes a quilt for her husband and learns about love, grief, forgiveness, and healing
In Sandra Dallas' novel A Quilt for Christmas, it is 1864 and Eliza Spooner's husband Will has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates, leaving her with their two children and in charge of their home and land. Eliza is confident that he will return home, and she helps pass the months making a special quilt to keep Will warm during his winter in the army. When the unthinkable happens, she takes in a woman and child who have been left alone and made vulnerable by the war, and she finds solace and camaraderie amongst the women of her quilting group. And when she is asked to help hide an escaped slave, she must decide for herself what is right, and who can she can count on to help her.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||855 KB|
About the Author
SANDRA DALLAS is the author of thirteen novels, including Fallen Women, True Sisters, The Bride's House, Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale, Tallgrass and New Mercies. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.
Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. She is the author of The Bride’s House, Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale and Tallgrass, among others. Her novels have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for films. She is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award and the two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. For 25 years, Dallas worked as a reporter covering the Rocky Mountain region for Business Week, and started writing fiction in 1990. She lives with her husband in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
A Quilt for Christmas
By Sandra Dallas
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Sandra Dallas
All rights reserved.
Christmas Eve, 1864
The postmaster handed Eliza the letter the day before Christmas. It had sat in the box for a week, waiting for her, he said. "I'd have sent it along, but nobody was going out your way. I figured you'd be in for the oranges. I set two aside for you, the best two." The man operated the post office out of his general store.
The oranges were the reason Eliza had hitched old Sabra to the wagon and driven into town. She had a sack of corn in the back to trade, a steep price for two oranges, but it couldn't be helped. There were no coins to be spent. Will had promised to send her his thirteen dollars a month pay, but so far, she'd received nothing.
"It's from Will, is it not?" the postmaster asked, fingering the letter as if it were his own.
"It is." Eliza snatched the missive, as if she feared the man would open and read it himself. Perhaps he had already, for the letter was not sealed with wax but merely folded into itself, forming its own envelope.
But the postmaster didn't comment on the contents. "A nice Christmas present for you, then. I'll fetch them oranges."
Eliza nodded. The oranges were likely not the best ones at all but the culls, dull orange in color, shriveled, the juice half gone. But they were oranges, and it wouldn't be Christmas without them. She had told the children there might not be oranges this year, what with the war. After all, oranges came from somewhere in the South, so maybe the storekeeper wouldn't be able to get them. Davy and Luzena had said they understood, but she knew they would be disappointed. They had always had oranges at Christmas. When they were younger, Davy and Luzena would consume the fruit all at once, letting the juice run down their fingers, but now that they were older, they carefully savored each section so that the orange lasted the entire Christmas day. And they saved the peels for their mother to dry, then chop up for her cooking. Once Davy had cut his orange in half and scraped out the pulp with his teeth. Then he had fastened each half of the cleaned orange to the bottom of a bottle, where it dried hard into a cup. He'd hidden the cups a whole year, until the following Christmas, giving one to Luzena, the other to Eliza, who used it for her pins.
This year they would have the Christmas oranges after all, along with the divinity candy that Eliza had set aside when she made the batch for Will, had secreted it in a tin for a surprise. She would stew the rooster she had killed that morning and add potatoes and onions, mix in a few herbs she had collected and dried in the summer. And then she would surprise the children with the presents — a knife for Davy that Will had found on the road just before he left. Eliza had rubbed the rust from the knife, then polished it until it looked almost new. And there was a wooden doll for Luzena, although she was nearly too old for such a plaything. Will had carved the doll before he left for a soldier, and had given it to Eliza to hide. She'd made an indigo dress for the doll and wrapped it in a tiny quilt made from scraps left over from the Stars and Stripes quilt. Now, best of all, there would be Will's letter to read. She wouldn't open the letter until Christmas morning. They would read it before church.
As she left the store, the letter and the oranges safe in her basket, Eliza scanned the sky, thinking the three of them might not make it to church at all. The snow had threatened even before she set out for town, and she had worried that it might come quickly and make the driving difficult. But a snowstorm would not have kept her from the Christmas oranges.
The snow was coming fast, in flakes as big and as soft as the down in Will's Christmas quilt. As she hurried to the wagon, Eliza wondered if he had received it. She smiled to think that Will would spend the night before Christmas wrapped in the down-filled quilt she had made for him. She wondered if he would rub his hand against his name and hers and know how much she had loved stitching them, how much she loved him. She climbed into the wagon and flicked the reins against Sabra's back, and the horse started up, taking a quick step or two before settling into a walk. The horse was old, and Eliza was grateful the mare could pull the wagon at all.
As she slapped the reins against Sabra's back a second time, she heard someone shout, "Eliza!" and reined in the horse. She turned to the voice, unsure in the snow who was speaking to her.
"It's me, Missouri Ann Stark," a young woman said, emerging from the store and coming up to the wagon. "I saw you in the post office. I guess you didn't see me." Missouri Ann was small and pretty, with green eyes and hair so pale it was almost the white of the snow. But her face was gray and gaunt.
"I ask you to forgive me. There was a letter from Will, and for just about a minute, I forgot where I was." Eliza saw that her friend was clutching her own envelope. "Did you hear from Hugh, too? That would make Christmas all the better if we both got letters."
Missouri Ann shook her head. "Hugh can't write. Couldn't."
Eliza stared at the woman. "What do you mean, couldn't?"
"Oh, Eliza, Hugh's dead. I'm a widow woman." She stopped, as if studying the words, and repeated them. "I'm a widow woman. I don't have a husband no more." She rubbed her shawl across her face, then steadied herself. "It says right here in this letter that Hugh's killed hisself in the battle. They's wrote he died. Here, I'll read it to you. 'Missus Stark, your husband was perfectly resigned to dying. His final words were, "I die for a worthy cause." He died a-praising the Union and said for you not to worry because he was going to a better place.'"
"Do you believe it?" Eliza blurted out. She shouldn't have asked such a thing, but those were not words Hugh Stark would have spoken. More likely in his final moments, he would have profaned the Lord as well as the Union Army for playing such a rotten trick on him as to let him pass over.
"No, but it's nice they wrote it." She looked up, her face damp, but whether the wetness came from tears or snow Eliza didn't know. "Oh, Eliza, what's to become of us?"
"I'm sorry, Missouri Ann. It isn't fair the war's taken our men. I suppose you and Nance will stay on with the Starks." Eliza didn't like the Starks. They were loud and foulmouthed and lived like hogs. Hugh's brothers were too unpatriotic or too cowardly to join the army. After they married, Hugh and Missouri Ann had gone to housekeeping on their own place, but when Hugh joined up, he moved his wife and daughter in with his family. Eliza had called on her friend only once at the Stark farm, because she could sense Missouri Ann's embarrassment at the way her husband's family lived. They were lazy and stupid, without sense enough to put butter on bread. Eliza couldn't think how they kept themselves, because nothing ever hatched on their farm.
"I can't. I'm between a hawk and a buzzard. They won't let me go, but I can't stay. They treat me like chicken scratch, and with Hugh dead, his brothers likely ... Only thing protected me was they knew Hugh'd womp them if they didn't treat me right."
"But they're family. And surely they dote on Nance." Missouri Ann's daughter was not quite two. She was a pretty thing, with fine golden hair and hazel eyes.
"Not so's you'd notice. Only Mother Stark does. The men blame me she's not a boy."
"So you'll go back to your own people, then?"
"I can't. When I married Hugh, my folks said I couldn't never come home again."
"But they didn't mean it."
"They did, all right. They wouldn't take me in if it was snowing ice cakes and I was dressed naked."
Eliza understood. Missouri Ann's family was as judgmental as the Starks were mean.
"Oh, Eliza, I thought about it, 'course, thought what I'd do if Hugh got killed in the war, but never did I come up with a plan."
Eliza got out of the wagon and put her arms around Missouri Ann. "Do you have to tell the Starks that Hugh's dead? You could wait until you've found a place for you and Nance."
"I wish I'd thought of that. But I told the postmaster what was in the letter, and you know how you can't never trust him to keep a secret. Besides, Dad Stark gets the paper from Topeka every week where it lists the dead. He has me read it to him, for he can't read, neither. And how am I going to just skip over Hugh's name if it's there?"
Missouri Ann tucked the letter into the bosom of her dress and wiped her face with her hands. "I guess I should be mourning Hugh instead of worrying about me and Nance, but I can't help it. I got to think of us first. Mourning's for rich folks."
"Have you prayed?" Eliza said, and immediately regretted the words. When would Missouri Ann have prayed? She'd just received the letter. Besides, Missouri Ann hadn't been in church for a long time. She wasn't a praying woman.
"Me and the Lord ain't too acquainted of late."
"Maybe not, but surely someone at the church would find a place for you."
"Maybe you forgot Nance came awful early, and there's some that holds it against me, believes me to be a prodigal woman."
Eliza did remember now, but the gossiping had been more about Missouri Ann fornicating with a Stark than about the early arrival of the baby. The baby had been the only explanation Eliza could think of for why Missouri Ann, that sweet girl, had married Hugh. She hadn't wanted to have a briar-patch child, a bastard.
Missouri Ann looked Eliza square in the face and said, "I could come live with you."
The new widow had been holding her breath, and now she said in a rush, "You got that hired man's soddy out back of your house. I could work around the place to pay for lodging. And Nance won't be no trouble. We wouldn't be a burden to you."
"But it's a ramshackle house with a hole in the wall where the snow drifts in. That's no fit place for a woman and child."
"I'm a good fixer. You should have seen me at the Stark place, nailing up boards. I wanted it warm for Nance. I asked the boys, but they're lazy as summer rain. They don't do nothing and don't start that till after dinner. The roof on that cabin is awful bad, and Mother Stark complained the rain was coming in on her bed and asked them to do something about it. So they went upstairs and moved the bed. That's all the good they are, and her their mother, birthing and raising them. She was the only decent one in the lot."
Eliza laughed despite herself. She wondered again why Missouri Ann had married into such a family, why she'd fallen in love with Hugh Stark. Maybe it had been his good looks and the slow way he smiled. He'd seemed truly taken with Missouri Ann, however, and might have been a better man than she'd given him credit for, although she wasn't sure. And then she remembered that Hugh Stark's widow was standing in front of her. "He was a good husband. I'm sorry about Hugh, Missouri Ann. Truly I am."
Missouri Ann looked away. "Like I say, I can't think about that now. I got to ponder what I'm going to do. I best have plans before the Starks find out about Hugh. They might expect me to marry Edison."
The woman had said that last in such a low voice that Eliza had strained to hear her, and even then, she wasn't sure she had heard right. "Marry Edison? Edison Stark? Hugh's brother?"
Missouri Ann nodded.
"But why would you do that?"
"It might be I won't have a choice. You don't know the Starks, Eliza. Mother Stark said if anything happened to Hugh, I'd best get away fast, or it might be I'd never get another chance. She said it was too late for her, too late by thirty years, but I still had time. The Starks don't want me, but they won't let me go, neither."
Had Hugh been like the rest of them? Eliza wondered. Had the sins of his father passed on to him? But Missouri Ann cared for him, so maybe he was different.
"Hugh was the best of them," Missouri Ann said, as if she knew what Eliza was thinking. "He was a good man. I'll raise Nance to think well of her father." Then she added, "Maybe I could stay with old Aunt Grace. She needs someone to have a care for her."
Old Aunt Grace was a slattern who lived in a shack in the woods and trapped wild animals, eating their flesh and selling their skins.
"No," Eliza said, horrified. "You'll move in with us." She said it quickly, without much thought, but now she realized she had no choice but to take in Missouri Ann and Nance. What if Will had been killed and she and the children had had to leave the farm? Where would they have gone? "We would welcome you and Nance, Missouri Ann."
Missouri Ann stared at Eliza. "You sure?"
Eliza said they would go and get Missouri Ann's things right then, before the storm got worse.
"Cain't. I'll have to sneak away. I'll walk to your place."
"In this snow?" Eliza thought a moment, then said they could meet at church the following day.
Missouri Ann frowned. "Starks don't go to church, even at Christmas."
"Then you must tell them you are going to church for Nance's sake," Eliza said. "What about your belongings?" "Ain't got any," Missouri Ann said.
* * *
As she rode behind the slow horse back to the farm, Eliza wondered what had happened to her friend in the past few years. She'd been shocked, of course, when Missouri Ann married Hugh Stark. He was a comely man with a smile that would have melted ice in midwinter, but there had been something about him that Eliza feared. Missouri Ann had been raised by a family of holy willies whose only joy was pointing out the sins of others. Eliza's friend knew from an early age she was going to hell, so what did it matter if she broke a few of God's laws, especially the one about fornication? But with a Stark! Missouri Ann was guileless and good. She could have done better. And then to be dumped at the Stark shanty when Hugh went off to war! Missouri Ann was a tough girl, but she had grown depressed, beaten down in the last months. Well, who wouldn't be, living with a family like that? Eliza chided herself for not having been a better friend. Then she wondered if Missouri Ann had any friends at all or whether, like Eliza, they'd been discouraged from visiting.
Of course Eliza would let Missouri Ann and Nance live at the Spooner farm. She wondered that she had hesitated at all. Things would be tight. They would all have to be careful to make the food last through the winter. The harvest had been all right, although even with the help of men working on shares, they had had to leave some of the crops to rot. Eliza had tried to persuade Will to wait to join up until after the harvest was over, but he was anxious to kill the Rebels. He'd said she could manage, and she had, although not as well as if he'd been there.
Even if Hugh's pay came through, there would be little money for necessities and none for extravagances such as more oranges. It was doubtful Missouri Ann would bring so much as a penny with her. But they would make it. Having another woman living on the place might help the loneliness she had felt since Will enlisted. And Eliza and the children would be safer with another adult there. She'd worried about safety ever since Davy found that tramp in the barn.
The cold had begun to seep into Eliza's bones, and she tried to hurry the horse, but Sabra couldn't be persuaded to pick up speed. Eliza hoped the Stark horse was faster, because she didn't like to think about baby Nance out in the cold. She had glimpsed the child peering out of the window where Missouri Ann had left her when she came out of the store to hail Eliza. Then Eliza realized there hadn't been another horse tied to the rail next to Sabra. Unless one of the Starks had driven her into town, which wasn't likely, Missouri Ann had walked to the store, tramping through the snow with her baby. Now she would be hurrying back in her thin shawl, carrying the little one. Not for the first time did Eliza thank God for giving her such a good life, such a good husband.
* * *
Eliza did not tell the children about Missouri Ann and Nance for fear they might mention to someone at church that the two were moving to the Spooner farm. She heard Davy and Luzena get up early, giggling, tiptoeing to her bed to see if she was sleeping. Eliza kept her eyes closed until Luzena crawled into bed beside her and asked in a loud whisper, "Aren't you awake, Mama?"
"Why, it's early yet. Go back to bed. What possesses the two of you to rise so far from dawn?"
"It's Christmas, Mama," Davy told her.
"Why, so it is. I forgot."
"You didn't forget," Luzena said. "There's two oranges on the table that weren't there last night."
"I wonder where they came from," Eliza said.
"From you!" Davy told her. "You said you couldn't get them, but we knew you would."
"There's something else for you, from your father," Eliza told them, pushing back the quilts and stepping into her shoes. "Why, son, you already built the fire."
Davy shrugged. "Papa always did it before you got up. I guess I can now. That's my Christmas present to you."
Excerpted from A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas. Copyright © 2014 Sandra Dallas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read the book in one evening. The story centers on a group of women during the civil war. They meet once a month to work on a quilt. Each woman has a story with Eliza being the main character. The story is not so much a story about Christmas but a story of these women and their plight during this period of history. Eliza's husband is killed in the war and she is left to deal with the farm and her children. There is so much in this book, the war, the lives of the women and their children, hateful men and a runaway slave. Ms. Dallas always portrays her women in a sympathetic way. They are women of courage and devotion to family and their friends. There are several plots going on the book but Ms. Dallas wraps it up very nicely at the end. If you like her books, you will like this one too. I am not a quilt maker but after I read one of her books I want to make a quilt.
ALL the Sandra Dallas books have been wonderful. This is her latest and one of THE best -- she continues to amaze us all because each book is so different yet so smashing! Best idea for a Christmas gift you could have if you know a reader!
Thank you to St. Martins Press for a copy of A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas in exchange for an honest review. I have actually wanted to read one of her novels for a long time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Synopsis: Eliza and Will have been married for many years with two children Davy and Luzena. Will leaves to fight in the War Between the States. Eliza must run the farm by herself with help from herself. Will she be able to handle this task by herself? She and Will exchange several letters where he requests items that would be useful for his duties as a soldier. So Eliza decides to make a Christmas quilt to help keep her husband warm. Will he receive the quilt? What will become of the quilt? My Thoughts: I have wanted to read a Sandra Dallas novel for a while. This story is set at Christmas of 1864 and finishes in Christmas of 1865. It is also set during the Civil War. This novel is a prequel to The Persian Pickle Club one of Sandra’s other novels. I like the story. I would be interested in reading other novels by this author. I was a little disappointed with the note at the beginning at explaining how this novel came to be. The note did not create a positive vibe for me. Then I remembered that it is a Christmas novel. The theme is the gift that keeps on giving. In this story it is a quilt that becomes a gift to Eliza. What is the most precious gift you have ever received? by Jencey Gortney/Writer's Corner
For me, this is one of Sandra Dallas' best books. The interaction between those in need, forgiveness between enemies, and the companionship between women in war times was especially well done. During the last year of the USA Civil War, Eliza Spooner and her two children are waiting out the war times missing their husband and father. Will is a loving and compassionate man who has joined the Union Army. At home, Eliza takes in a war widow and her baby daughter, a run away slave woman, and a soldier at the end of the war. Letters from Will help keep his family going. Excellent combined story lines and characterizations. Dallas handles many of the consequences of war times in 1864 very realistically. I've read many books in this time period and this is one of my very favorite!! I listened to this on Audible and enjoyed it very much.
Excellent short noveL. A heartbreaking story of a quilt made for a loving husband who is a soldier during the Civil War. The story of forgiveness. A+++++
My interest in historical fiction largely lies with the "behind the scenes" stories that one doesn't usually learn about in history class. How are "regular people" affected by large scale political events? A Quilt for Christmas gives me some insight into how families and friends come together in hardship in Kansas during and after the Civil War. As usual, the female characters in this book are strong, life-long learners in "real-life" situations, so the story is compelling to me. Fans of Dallas' work will recognize names from The Persian Pickle Club. I love how Sandra Dallas writes her characters in different books--I feel like I'm catching up with old friends, but this story stands on it's own, so readers new to Dallas can enjoy the book as well.
Not my favorite ending
Good read, I plan to read some of her other stories!
Ms. Dallas does a excellent job of portraying women who possess strength, compassion, wisdom and grace.
Liked the book. Easy read