Grandma Lucy snipped the stragglers with a tiny pair of scissors that were shaped like a golden heron. They hung from a broad ribbon she wore around her neck whenever she was sewing. Her eagle-eye spied every stray thread, while her crooked hands tenderly smoothed every square. Sometimes, her fingers would linger on a square and her eyes would close for a moment. Each square told a story she treasured in her heart and repeated to herself to make sure she never forgot.
Maddie tried to learn the stories, too. They were a record of days gone by, but they were her stories. They were stories that could never grow old. “Remember, Madrigal,” her grandmother had warned, “this quilt is a treasure, but it isn’t a treasure to hide away. If you do, you will forget it’s stories, and they will cease being a part of your life. Please, don’t let that happen.”
As Maddie anticipated her big day, the days she had spent with Grams—learning and watching and making and being—had meant more to her than any shower or party or gift.
“Gwammy, did you bring the bwackbellies?”
“Oh, yes! We can never forget those.”
Madrigal held the little hand tightly as they walked towards the beach. At the edge of the sand she slipped off her sandles and dropped them in her basket. Lucy plopped down and kicked off her own shoes. “My shoes!” Madrigal smiled down at her little Lucy as she put them in the basket—along with scoops of sand.
Their favorite spot was waiting for them. Madrigal spread out the beach quilt and sat down to unpack their picnic. while Lucy started her first sand castle of the day. As Madrigal laid out the berries and carrot sticks on a little plate, her mind wandered across her quilt and lingered over certain squares. She told herself their stories to be sure she never forgot. She’d mended it many times over the years, and added many of her own squares. One day she would tell Lucy their stories, too.
Magridal read down her Christmas list again, making sure no one was forgotten. The box for home was already in the mail. Check! She made a Gingerbread Man or Woman for each person in the family. That was her tradition. She couldn’t be with them this year, but at least they’d have their Gingerbread Cookies. Slabs of Peanut Brittle and Cranberry-Walnut Fudge helped fill the box. That was definitely her biggest expense this year, especially shipping, but it was worth it. Oh, how she wished she could climb in that box and squeeze herself in between the cookies and fudge! It was not going to be easy to have Christmas alone, but (chin up!) it was going to be OK. She would get through it, and next year would be better.
Let’s see, she said, returning her attention to her list. Most everyone would be getting similar gifts, a selection of her homemade sweets. Lenny was the exception. She had made him a small lap robe from a scrap bag she had purchased at work. Southern California winters didn’t get very cold, but she had noticed Lenny often had a towel wrapped around his legs. Maybe, they got cold from the lack of circulation. He did spend most of his time sitting.
She didn’t have many coworkers to give to—it was a small shop—but she wanted to be sure to give them all something. Most of them had children at home, so she would make the little ones each a Stocking Cookie. Tomorrow was dedicated to making batches and batches of Spiced Caramal Corn for her neighbors. They would pack up nicely in brown paper bags she had decorated with glitter snowflakes. Bits of ribbon would tie the bags closed.
Looking down her list, except for the things she’d purchased at work, Madrigal realized all of her Christmas shopping had been done at the market. In fact, now that she thought about it, she’d hadn’t been into any of the shops downtown. They were all decorated so beautifully—luxurious bows, enormous wreaths she imagined smelled just like the woods back home. One shop set out a Nativity scene every day, and another had the most cheerful display of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Oversized Christmas ornaments adorned every lamp post and strings and strings of lights were wrapped around every tree. She couldn’t take her eyes off it all as she rode to work on the bus, but she hadn’t dared to go inside a single store. Perhaps, that would be a nice way to spend an evening with a friend. A little window shopping never hurt anyone. That thought made her happy. Maybe, she could ask David. Oh, no! How could I have forgotten about him? She would have to come up with something to give him for Christmas, too.
It is a handsome lap robe, she thought. She was pleased with the colors and how everything came together so well. She carefully folded it into a small rectangle and wrapped it in tissue paper. She had quilted it with yarn ties, the way her mother quilted their quilts at home. Machine quilting looked so neat and lovely, but she thought a tied quilt seemed cozier. Hopefully, Lenny would think so, too. She wanted him to know how much he meant to her. He was more than a neighbor to her, afterall; he was practically her guardian angel. When she came home from work late, his porchlight would be on until she was safely inside her own place. She never saw him watching out for her, but she just knew he was there. When she need advice about the landlord, or how to unclog her kitchen sink, he was there with wisdom and a plunger. Yes, he was much more than just a neighbor.
Madrigal smiled thinking about her boss’ secret role in Lenny’s lap robe. She hadn’t realize it at first, but she finally put the pieces together when he asked a third time about her “Lenny blanket.” Mr. Ramirez was a busy man. Why would he think to ask about a sewing project she’d mentioned just once months earlier? It was just a passing comment. She’d gone into work early to browse the new, Autumn fabrics. He asked what she had in mind, and he had seemed a little more interested than usual in her plans. The very next day, there were new scrapbags for her to stock. Right there, all together in one plastic bag, was everything she needed: the perfect fabrics, some bric-a-brac scraps, and a length of yarn. Dear, generous Mr. Ramirez! She couldn’t possibly let him know that she had discerned his benevolence, but she would definitely return his kindness by being a good employee—extra cookies for him, too! She wrote that down.
Maridal looked across the room and saw Lenny’s chair in the corner. She still needed to return that to him. Maybe, she would wait until his gift was wrapped and the Spiced Caramal Corn was done.
After she tied the bow on Lenny’s gift, she took it over and placed it on his chair. As she turned back around, something on her bookcase caught her eye, and she suddenly she knew exactly what she would give David. I better write that down.
Madrigal was trying to stuff the cornbread mix into her pantry, when she found the bag of buckwheat flour. She stared at it for a split second and started calculating in her head. She hadn’t planned to bake a cake, but if she was quick about it the cake could be done by the time they were ready for dessert. David had volunteered to wash up the dishes, so what else did she have to do?
She grabbed the sack and dropped it inside the one clear space on her tiny, kitchen counter. She spun around to set the oven to preheat, and then sashayed over to her mixing bowls, grabbing the largest one from the stack. Balancing it on top of the roll of paper towels, she reached across David for the whisk. “Sorry!” She quickly measured the dry ingredients into the bowl and gave them a quick whisk. As she waltzed over get a second mixing bowl, she looked at David from the corner of her eye. She was surprised by how much she enjoyed sharing her little kitchen with him. He didn’t feel “in the way” at all.
Grabbing a dishtowel to dry off the spaghetti pot, he paused and watched Madrigal dance around her kitchen. She filled the kettle with one hand, while reaching for vinegar with another. Butter, milk, and eggs seemed to fly out of the refrigerator with just one sweep of her hand.
“And just like that, she baked a cake!” David said, placing the pot on its shelf and returning to the sink. At that moment, Madrigal was deciding which baking dish to use—which one is going to bake fastest, she wondered—but his comment got her attention. It was just a casual comment, lightheartedly floating in the air now. Yet, it made her stop and look at him. She was so curious about this new friend.
He smiled at her and she smiled back, somewhat self-consciously, because she suddenly realized she could be seen.
He could see her.
She chose a baking pan and carried to the stove, and silently repeating his words to herself. She didn’t want to forget them.
Pouring the batter into the pan, she wondered how he knew where she kept the spaghetti pot.
Dedicated to The Saxophone Player. Happy Birthday! XO