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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

From the Nightmare to the Ring--Chapter 3

The Gifts
Friday December 1, 1944

Sundays were truly a day of rest and worship in Wilson, Colorado. Since many families had to drive quite aways into town, it made sense to spend the whole day there if they wanted to attend vespers. So after morning services and the potluck dinner, the men would stroll through town, past the closed storefronts, talking crops and prices. In warm weather, they might pitch horse shoes in the churchyard, shirt-sleeves rolled up, drinking cold root beer. Now that winter was here, they would stay inside and play chess or checkers. The women of the church gathered in the fellowship hall to do needlework--knitting, quilting, crochet, embroidery. They didn't feel like it was idle chatter if they were doing something constructive while they talked. Some of their projects were destined to become family heirlooms and some were for donation to the Red Cross for soldiers overseas. The women's skills varied, but all enjoyed the time spent catching up with neighbors and hearing the news from around the county.

In the beginning, Livy took up quilting just to spend time with the others, a break from the isolation and solitude of the farm. Her mother and grandmother had quilted and she had some basic skills that were improving with time. The intricate patterns fascinated her, and she hoped to one day try her hand at something really special. But for now, she was happy just piecing a simple pattern, a Colorado Nine-Patch Hourglass. Martha had given her some scraps to practice on till she felt ready to start the blocks for her quilt. When Abby found out Livy was quilting, she was thoughtful enough to send Livy their mother's supplies. The day that box came was an emotional one for Livy--every piece of fabric held a story. Some were from dresses her mama had made the girls. Others were from clothes she remembered her grandma and mama wearing. At times she could not resist holding these to her face, hoping to catch a wisp of mama's lavender powder or the faded scent of granny's rose water perfume.

It was early Fall when Livy started piecing her quilt. When Ray saw her sorting through the scraps, he gave her a box of old clothes that he was going to use for rags. At first, she thought it was just his old shirts, then she realized some of the clothes belonged to his parents and Daniel. That was when she decided the quilt would be for Ray, her Christmas gift to him. She had mixed emotions at the thought of the holidays...if she left for Denver as planned, she certainly would not be here for Christmas. She pushed those thoughts aside -- she would worry about that later...

Since Livy had scared him with her pre-labor pains, Ray had made good his promise to stay close to the house. As much as she found comfort in this, it caused a bit of a dilemma! Till now, she was able to work on the quilt while Ray was busy with the farm and away from the house all day. Luckily, she only needed to bind the edges of the quilt. So she had asked Ruth to spend the night, and help her finish it up. Since Ruth would be with Livy, Ray could go to the beet factory for his regular night shift. Before he left, he made sure to tell them he wouldn't be home till late Saturday afternoon, as he had some business in town--actually, Ray had some Christmas plans of his own!

Saturday, Dec. 2, 1944
Ray climbed into the Beet Box, pumped the gas and set the choke. He grinned as she sputtered to life--the old girl was no beauty, but she was dependable! He started out for La Junta sipping from his thermos as he drove. He was confident that Livy and Ruth were not at all suspicious about his story. His appointment with Mr. Henry George was at 1:00 p.m., so he had all morning to do his banking and few other errands beforehand. Instead of being tired after working all night, he was excited about surprising Livy. He thought about their situation--he knew Livy still had her mind set on leaving. And he was pretty sure it was mostly fear of the unknown that was sending her back to Denver to have their baby. He'd tried to tell her that she would be fine--babies were born at home everyday, and that Martha and Doc McCutcheon would be attending her. He realized, too, that she probably never wanted her mama more than she did right now. He aimed to show her that no matter what, he wanted her in his life. If it meant going to Denver to convince her to come back home, he would do it. But he hoped to change her mind about leaving at all.

The little town was bustling, it being the first of the month, and only a few weeks before Christmas. Ray headed right for the bank. His passbook was showing a substantially smaller sum when he walked back out, but he had lived pretty frugally for some years now, and it felt good to be able spend money on his family. The next stop was Marshall's Department store, and Livy was first on his list. He looked so flustered as he tried to pick out a new gown and robe for her that an elderly saleswoman took pity on him and helped him with his selections. When he explained that he also needed baby things, she felt compelled to take him under her wing--she was a grandma, after all, and she could surely help him pick out the necessary items! Ray was grateful for her assistance. He wanted to have everything ready, just another way to show Livy how much he loved her and the baby. When he left the department store, he was loaded down with packages, and he stopped to deposit them in the truck. He could drop them off with Ruth, and she would be happy to wrap them for him. He checked the clock on the square, 11:45--plenty of time for a quick bite before meeting Mr. George.

Eating his lunch in the diner, Ray looked over his receipts. Yup...looked like he got everything Livy and the baby needed. Tiny shirts, gowns, booties and a sweater, hats and bibs, some flannel pads for the cradles, blankets and diapers. He smiled to himself, thinking of the two 'special' things he had purchased. Livy would chide him for doing it, he was sure, but whether this baby was a boy or girl, it would have a present under the tree that Daddy had picked out all on his own. When he saw the tiny outfits on display, he just couldn't resist! The baby girl's was a tiny navy blue taffeta dress, with a traditional 'sailor' collar and navy grosgrain tie. The dress and collar were piped in red and white and came with ruffly petticoat and socks. The baby boy's was a miniature flannel version of a 'real' sailor's uniform, complete with tiny white cap. He couldn't help a sad smile, thinking how proud Uncle Daniel would have been to see his niece or nephew decked out in honor of him. Slipping the bills in his coat, Ray finished his coffee and set out for George's Jewelry Store.

Mr. George greeted Ray himself, and took him back to his office. After deciding on a price range, he brought out a selection of items for Ray to choose from. Ray had read up on fine jewelry, and Mr. George was impressed that this farmer knew what to look for and was well educated in his questions. Ray finally picked out a nearly flawless diamond ring for Livy. In his heart, he had known all along this was what he wanted for Livy, to make up for not having a ring the day they were married. This particular ring reminded Ray of Livy. It was delicately set, yet the stone was strong and resilient. Ray wanted only the best for her. After all, this was an investment in their future and it would last a lifetime. He walked out of the jewelry store with the small velvet box close to his heart, knowing that Livy would recognize this as a symbol of his love for her. A small cloud of doubt hovered, though...when should he give it to her? He wanted it to be a Christmas present for her, but if she kept her plan to leave, he would have to give it to her beforehand. So be it. For days now, out in the shed, driving in the beet box, milking the cows, he had been practicing over and over. "Livy, I love you..." or " You know I love you, don't you Livy?" and just plain "I love you". Never had words come so hard to him! He FELT the words, he just didn't know how he was going to say them out loud.

In the meantime, Ruth and Livy had finished binding the edges of the quilt. Ruth insisted on making dinner for Aunt Livy and Uncle Ray, one of her 4-H projects. So Livy took the quilt upstairs and spread it out over the bed in Martha's old room. She let her fingers roam over each block, thinking about the garments that fashioned the pattern. She knew Ray would recognize many of the fabrics and treasure the memories that were associated with them. With a twinge, she thought about missing his reaction when he opened it Christmas morning. He probably wouldn't realize that she had put her love and gratitude for him into every stitch. Deep in her heart, she hoped that once the baby arrived, he would come to Denver and ask them to come back---back home where they belonged, with him. She didn't know if he could overlook the circumstances of their marriage, and worse, her betrayal of writing to Edward. It was an awful lot to ask any man to forgive. She sighed. At the last moment, she had embroidered their names and wedding date in the corner. Now she wondered if that was a good idea...it might only remind Ray of a costly mistake. Well, it was done now. Hmmph--if it bothered him that much, he could have Martha remove the stitching for him! Hearing the truck come up the drive, she quickly folded the quilt, wrapped it in a clean sheet, and hid it in the bottom drawer of the empty bureau. He'd never have reason to look in here!

Coming down the steps, she was greeted with a blast of cold air as Ray hurried inside.
"Whew! It's getting colder by the minute!" Livy took his coat, hat and scarf while he got his boots off. He sniffed the air, and hollered into the kitchen.
"Ruthie, something smells mighty good in there!" Ruth grinned as she peeked around the doorway.
"Just wait, Uncle Ray! I made a chicken pot-pie, green beans and apple crisp for dessert. I sure hope you like it!" Livy laughed.
"Oh, Ruth, Uncle Ray surely will! He's been subjected to my poor cooking efforts for too long now," Ray just gave her a lopsided smile, and chucked her under the chin.
"I'm still here, aren't I? Haven't got rid of me yet!" Livy swatted at him as he bounded up the steps.
"I'll be down soon's I wash up, all right?" Livy went in to start the coffee while Ruth set the table.

Upstairs, Ray sat on the bed. He took the little box out of his pocket and watched the light dance off the diamond. He couldn't wait to give it to Livy. All he had to do was get those three little words out when he did! He put the box in an old tobacco tin of his daddy's, and quietly snuck into Martha's old room. He opened the top drawer of the empty bureau...she'd never have reason to look in here!

to be continued.....