This is a story I wrote to go with the cloth doll, Willow, and her own patchwork quilt:
The Prairie Quilt
For-w-a-r-d --Ho-o-o!!! The command echoed across the early morning air, and with a jingling of harnesses, movement rippled along the teams of horses as each wagon lurched forward and started another day's journey across the worn pathway. Dust began to rise and circled the sojourners. Our wagon was at the end of the train.
The Clay plantation had been home for our family for three generations. Granny had been Miss Becky's mammy, raising her own children alongside the frail little girl. She and my ma were the best of friends. Mrs. Clay allowed Ma to study with Becky from her books, and Granny had taught them to sew. So it was no surprise to anyone, when Becky's husband died in the war and the plantation was almost in ruins, that she told Ma, "You and Peter take the children and go find a better life. You're free to go now." She gave them a covered wagon, a team of the best horses left on the farm, and a milk cow.
Ma could barely hold back the tears that morning when we all got into the wagon to head west. Miss Becky took a pillowcase from the porch and put it in Ma's hand. "This is a bag of scraps I have saved from the dresses we made. Take them with you and maybe there will be some good use for them in your new home."
We had been on the trail for a few weeks before Ma realized that she had time to spare while riding in the wagon, and she decided to make a quilt. She had told Pa if things came to the point that some of their belongings had to be thrown out of the wagon, she would walk and carry that pillowcase full of scraps! She measured and tore squares from the scraps, sewed them together, and made a lining from a new piece of fabric Becky had bought for a dress. An old blanket went inside for a batting. Each day, with the quilt scrunched up in her lap, she quilted when the wagon train began to roll. Most of the time her stitches were straight and small, but when the wagon wheels rolled over rough trails, they were uneven and large.
Each square held its own story: brown pieces from Pa's work shirts and tan ones from brother Tom's shirts. Big sister, Tess, had pink squares from her dresses, and Baby Rosie's pieces had lilac flowers on them, and in the fourth row was a faded blue and pink square taken from the ruffle on Granny's old garden bonnet. There were squares from Ma's brown paisley Sunday dress and blue stripes from my dress.
As Ma quilted, she came closer and closer to the blue chambray square at the top of the quilt; next to it was a red plaid. She wiped a tear from her eye and turned away from me, looking out over the vast, empty land we had just crossed. I knew she was remembering the little pants and shirt made from those pieces of fabric. Pete only wore those clothes one time before that terrible stiffness came into his neck and his jaws were clinched together tightly. Ma always said she should have given the clothes to some other little boy, but Pa had said, "No! When my little man walks up to those golden gates of heaven, I want him to be dressed in his very best!" So Ma had put the chambray pants and the plaid shirt on his little limp body and let Pa lay him in the wooden box. It had been hard to leave Pete behind.
Ma folded the work and laid it away for the rest of the day. "Willow," she said to me, "I'm going to give this quilt to you; we'll call it the prairie quilt."