Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Golden Needle

Katy shoved the door shut with her heel, grasping to maintain her hold on the bags of groceries, the mail and her purse. A bead of sweat glistened on her brow, impossible to wipe away, as she struggled with the bulky load. Blowing up at the drop that threatened to flood her eye, she set the bags on the kitchen table. Living alone, with only her cat and three dogs to keep her company, Katy had long given up speaking aloud very often. It seemed the animals were empathic to her moods and they communicated mostly in facial gestures, affectionate cuddles and body language. It had been a couple of weeks since she'd had a conversation with another human being, and most of her friendships were now with people she'd met online. Ever since Lucy had passed away, it just seemed easier and far less painful than to work on face-to-face relationships. Her favorite place to visit was a message board that was frequented by a lot of quilting enthusiasts across the nation.

Pulling a chair away from the table, she absentmindedly stroked Loopy's head, as he nuzzled into her lap. She picked up the stack of mail, thumbing through to see what had come that day. Removing the regular bills from the pile to place in the outgo tray on her desk, she noticed an envelope that was a bit different from the rest of the mail. Katy set the bills aside and studied this envelope with curiosity. There was no return address and the contents felt rather mushy. With a silent laugh, she couldn't help but wonder if this was some credit card gimmick she hadn't seen before and opened the envelope.

Slowly Katy peered into the depths of the yellow envelope and was amazed to see what lay inside. Ever so gently, she pulled the contents from their simple yellow boundaries and laid them on the table separately. Again, she turned the envelope over to see if there was any way to determine the sender. The postmark was smudged so she had no clues there. "Well, well," thought Katy to herself, "This is certainly a credit card gimmick I can live with!" It startled her to hear her own chuckle in the quiet house. Simply replying with please or thank you had sufficed well enough at the checkout when she did venture into town for supplies. Mrs. Bumphry leapt onto the table to investigate the spread out bounty on the table then moved toward the sack of groceries.

With a sigh, Katy carefully returned the gifts to the envelope and got about the business of putting the canned goods in the pantry. She was careful to make sure the mysterious envelope would not be in danger of her inquisitive cat's destructive claws. More than once, Lucy had telephoned her with outrageous stories about Mrs. Bumphry shredding a bill that arrived in the mail. The dogs seemed to tolerate Mrs. Bumphry well enough, much to Katy's relief. Loopy, her old yellow Labrador even went so far as to tolerate the cat's occasional tendencies to groom him. She really believed the old coot secretly reveled in the personal attention, though his pride would never allow him to publicly display any appreciation. Still, Katy was glad to adopt the silly feline, knowing she would have surely gone to the pound after Lucy's will left no instructions or special requests for Mrs. Bumphry's care. But then, they both, she and Lucy, had assumed they'd live long and relatively happy lives, never suspecting the cancer that was slowly weaving itself through Lucy's marrow. The diagnosis came as a shock and Katy was still filled with anger that Lucy had chosen to accept the doctors' prognosis of only a few months to "get her affairs in order".

Shaking her head, as if to toss these painful memories to the back of her mind, Katy opened a tin of food for the cat. She filled the dish and set it atop the microwave oven to keep it out of the dogs' reach. Trying to be quiet, she scooped the dry kibbles from the container that held the dog's chow and filled the three bowls. Checking their water dishes, she was satisfied that it was a good time to get back to that strange envelope that arrived today.

Pouring a tall glass of iced tea and vigorously stirring in the two heaping spoons of sugar she always added, Katy wondered who could have sent her something so special. More importantly, why would anyone have sent her something this nice without telling her whom it came from? Try as she might, not a name came to mind of who might have been so generous and so anonymous. With her iced tea in one hand and the envelope in her other, Katy walked to the bay window in the small cottage living room and settled into the comfortable old rocking chair that Lucy had left to her. It was a chair she had loved to sit in when she visited Lucy and it was the chair she'd pulled up next to the bed where Lucy spent her last weeks of life.

Katy had rocked in the chair for hours, reading the quilting catalogs to her dear friend, describing the new lines of fabric, filling in the order blanks with requests for fabrics and notions. Orders that were never mailed, because she knew they might not arrive before Lucy would ever see or touch them. Instead, Katy started visiting the local quilt guild and asked the members, whom Lucy always spoke so highly of, for a tremendous favor. They were wonderful about loaning Katy the newest yards and fat quarters, so she could take them to Lucy to touch and see. Katy would pre-wash the fabric, just as Lucy had taught her, and then take her time to meticulously iron each piece. She thought it was rather odd that Lucy would find the smell of the hot iron and the sizing on the damp fabric comforting, but it seemed a little thing to do for her friend. The quilters from the guild didn't seem to mind getting their fabric back all ready for piecing much either, so the plan worked out for everyone's benefit.

She smiled to herself, remembering how the ladies would come to visit Lucy and exclaim their jealousy of her wonderful stash of fabric! She was so proud of those great women, hiding the secret of the fabric so well and trying to boost her spirits when they knew her heart was being ripped apart. She recalled the many times a few of the guild ladies would bring their latest projects asking Lucy's advice as to what quilting she recommended, which thread color to use, and if she would ever share her recipe for that decadent fudge of hers. Katy marveled at the secret language those quilters spoke and the marvelous gift Lucy had for setting everyone at ease, even when the pain was so excruciating. The camaraderie of these special ladies drew Katy's curiosity about quilting further and further in. Soon, they had her working stitches in scraps of their fabric, learning how to fashion simple blocks by hand. Lucy beamed at Katy with such pride when she saw the first friendship star Katy made.

The tall glass of tea sparkled as the evening sun shone through the window and Katy's attention returned to the surprise in her lap. Lucy would have called it a "Serendipity-gram" and frequently received such things in the mail. In the years of their friendship, Katy had observed Lucy opening these things and squealing with delight when a wonderful card, a piece of fabric, a tiny book of prose tumbled onto her sewing table. It had always amused her how incredibly insane Lucy would get when it came to fabric, quilting or anything related. It amazed her they had even become friends! She fondly thought about the day they had bumped into each other outside of their favorite shops, which were side by side. Both of them had exited the quilt shop and antique store, arms laden with their latest purchases and walked into the other with an incredible bang of noise and confusion! All around them on the sidewalk was a pile of musty old tins, spools of colorful threads, brilliant billows of fabric and a shower of the old Broadway sheet music Katy loved. The explosion of their collision was such a shock and the expression each of their faces bore caused them to laugh at the entire calamity. Katy remembered the two of them sitting amidst the pile of chaos, laughing so hard her cheeks hurt. Rising, they had dusted themselves off, picked up the purchases and tearfully laughed apologies to the other. Katy had gone home from there, and smiled at the little bruise her ego had endured. The following morning her telephone rang and it didn't take long for her to realize who the caller was. Lucy introduced herself and mentioned she'd found Katy's credit card receipt in one of her packages, looked her up in the phone book and would she like to come for tea and get it? Katy accepted the invitation, wrote the directions to Lucy's and so began a wonderful seventeen years of friendship.

Smiling to herself again at these pleasant memories, Katy pulled the contents of the envelope out. Within the confines of the yellow paper were three items, each carefully wrapped in a pretty tissue paper. Her hands trembled with anticipation as she carefully unfolded the delicate wrapping around the most obvious of the gifts. Katy gasped at the beauty of the colors, gently stroking the carefully folded fabric. It was the fabric she had admired, along with Lucy, when they had gone through the catalogs together. This was one line of fabric that none of the guild ladies had purchased yet, although many agreed it was a prize worth obtaining. Katy grinned to herself and looked around the living room, as if to see if anyone might be watching. It was at that moment she realized Lucy had infected her with the addiction to fabric and she began to wonder what she could make with the delicious Color Bridge fabrics in her lap. Katy marveled at how much prettier the fabrics were than they showed in the catalogs. Feelings of joy, mixed with excitement began to bubble up inside of her and it was all she could do to stay seated. Giving in to the joy a little, she held tightly to the treasures upon her lap and let her feet do the happy dance she'd seen Lucy do when she found her perfect focus fabric. Katy finally let go with a squeal of delight that caused the animals to come running in her direction, tails wagging and barking with frenzy. Laughing at the dogs, Katy spoke to them in as calm a voice as she could muster, reassuring them that she was okay. It had been so long since she'd felt that sort of happiness and her throat ached a little from the squeal she released. The animals lay near her feet carefully avoiding the runners of the rocking chair and settled down to keep a close eye on their mistress. Katy sipped the iced tea and set the glass back on the steamer trunk that served its purpose as a table under the bay window.

Carefully setting the fabric back within the layers of tissue paper, she laid it on the trunk, away from the glass of tea. She was cautious to make sure it wasn't exposed to the beams of sunlight and looked to see where naughty Mrs. Bumphry might be hiding. The last thing she wanted now was for that goofy cat to shred her prize fabric! Of course, Lucy had told her the odd cat had never destroyed the fabric or quilts, but would purr contentedly for hours atop a pile of half square triangles. She never figured out why her cat would shred the bills and not the packages from the quilt shop, but then in the small village they lived near, the utility companies were quite familiar with some of Lucy's eccentricities. Lucy used to swear the cat did her damage to the bills so that she would have to take the short trek to town to pay her bills in person, just so she'd get plenty of exercise.

Still, Katy didn't want to risk Mrs. Bumphry taking exception to the new stash she'd just received. The stash she did have wasn't very big, mostly because she really knew very little about quilting and had given almost all of Lucy's fabric to the friends from the quilt guild. Each of the ladies had insisted Katy keep some and invited her to start coming to the meetings to learn more about the time-honored craft. With every bundle of fabric she handed to the various guild members, she was handed in return a fat quarter of this, a couple of yards of that. The ladies stubbornly told her she was going to need it someday and refused to let her hand any back. Katy hadn't gone to any of the guild meetings after the funeral and had kept herself isolated. Her work allowed her the freedom to avoid people since she did telecommuting on her computer. Many mornings she didn't even dress for the day, instead sat in front of the monitor in her flannel pajamas until her work for the day was complete. It had only been this last week that she had noticed her haggard appearance in the mirror and started to work on taking better care of herself. She knew deep within that her friend would never approve of how badly Katy had let herself go. She could imagine Lucy shaking a finger in her direction, scolding her for not eating right, not doing something with her hair. It was easy to hear Lucy's voice in her mind telling her off, "Katy girl, if you were the last thread on earth, the way you look now, I'd never use you on a quilt! So go fix yourself up right this minute!"

Reaching down to pet her smallest dog, Boombottom, she still had no idea where her friend had come up with his name. Boombottom had come to Katy's door one day and never left. He looked like a hot dog with a stumpy tail, the funniest looking dog she'd ever seen. He soon warmed his way into her heart, however, and in no time at all, was sleeping at the foot of her bed. His face was a constant in the bay window whenever she came home from a trip to town. The first time Lucy had come over to see the new addition to Katy's family, she called him Boombottom and the name stuck. It wasn't the most regal of names, but then this wasn't a very regal dog, either. It was apparent he loved Lucy and the feelings were quite mutual. Anytime she came by he would excitedly yap and run in circles with his stump fanning the air like a short propeller. Lucy's lap was always his favorite place to sit, but she refused Katy's offer to take the dog home with her. Her reason was if nothing else, the dog served as a great excuse for her to come to Katy's house for a healthy dose of unconditional love. To this day, Katy still questioned whether Lucy had placed the dog on her doorstep.

Boombottom's tail gave a feeble wag when she touched him and it was obvious to her that he missed his friend, Lucy, as much as she missed her. Katy scratched under his chin, chiding herself for not paying more attention to his grief. He lifted his head and the tail moved in a happy thump - thump on the hardwood floor. With a sigh that sounded to Katy like contentment, he rested his head on her foot, while the stumpy tail continued in its metronome beat on the worn oak boards. She lifted the envelope and reached in for the next bundle of tissue wrapped treasure. This was small and tied with a bit of purple satin ribbon. Seeing the ribbon reminded her of the purple bows Lucy would don upon her shoulder before she left for quilt shows. When Katy inquired about the purple bow, Lucy told her that was how her quilting buddies recognized each other. Katy recalled all the purple bows that were worn on the shoulders of the mourners at Lucy's funeral. In any other circumstance, Katy would have thought the adornment was ridiculous, but knowing the significance behind the bows touched her heart. After the graveside services, each of the women had silently placed their bow atop the beautiful mahogany casket, some wiping tears from their cheeks. She wasn't surprised to see so many at the funeral, though. Lucy had that sort of effect on people, a way of making each feel special and always acknowledging the talents and gifts anyone had. Katy wondered if she was odd to think Lucy's funeral was, perhaps, the nicest she'd ever been to.

She untied the purple ribbon and opened the paper bundle. Inside was a small envelope with the letters "V.Q.Q.G." scribbled on it. Carefully, she untucked the flap of the envelope to see what lay within. A key and a needle that appeared to be gold were all the envelope contained. The brass key looked as ordinary as any door key she'd seen before, but the reason it was sent to her had her baffled. Removing the needle and turning it over in her hand, she saw at once it was ornamental, with delicate engravings on one side. She knew enough from the days spent around Lucy's bed with the guild ladies that this couldn't be used for sewing of any kind. This was exquisite and she knew it must be special. Katy took a minute to wrap the needle with a piece of the tissue paper, then inserted it with the key, back into the tiny envelope. The mystery behind the key and golden needle intrigued her immensely. She hoped the final tissue wrapped packet provided answers to her questions. The tiny envelope was set upon the fabric to her left on the steamer trunk and she shook the final packet to hear if it rattled. Nothing except the crinkling of the paper that held it together.

The grandmother clock in the dining room chimed, reminding Katy it was near her dinner hour. Stretching as she rose from the chair, she picked up the fabric, placing it in a drawer until she could wash and include it in her small stash. The tiny envelope was returned to its larger host and she strolled toward the kitchen with it and the unopened tissue. Stopping just in view of the kitchen doorway, Katy froze in horror! Covering the entire floor, from wall to wall, were little shreds of paper. Sitting on the chair Katy had pulled out from under the small kitchen table earlier was Mrs. Bumphry, daintily preening. Katy glanced at the spot where she had set the bills aside and saw the pile missing. Why hadn't she heard any noise from the kitchen? She knew she couldn't blame the cat, not with the reputation that followed her. Katy knelt to pick up the tattered bits of paper, trying to match the portions of each bill with its companions. It was useless for her to attempt it. Glancing at Mrs. Bumphry's smug expression, all she could do was laugh. She knew it wouldn't be long before the utility companies in town were thinking a bit of Lucy had rubbed off on her after all those years. Katy made a mental note of which utilities she would have to pay in person on her next trip to town. Cringing, she realized it would require an explanation and she'd have to actually have a conversation. It certainly wouldn't do to walk up to the clerk and say, "How much? Cat ate the bill."!

Katy laid the yellow envelope and the last item to open in the microwave, closing the door. This was not a toy for Mrs. Bumphry and the microwave was a safe place for now. She swept the bills onto the dustpan and shook them into the paper bin under the sink. Looking into the fridge for something for dinner, her choices were a piece of cold chicken and some salad she'd made yesterday. Mrs. Bumphry jumped to the floor as Katy nudged herself on to the chair, and walked to her soft pillow in the corner of the living room. The salad and chicken took little time to consume, and Katy wanted to get that last item opened. She rinsed her plate and set it in the sink to be washed later.

She retrieved everything from the microwave and returned to the rocking chair. The sun had almost set by now, so Katy pulled the little chain to the tall lamp beside her chair. A soft glow shone over her shoulder and she pulled the grandmother's flower garden lap quilt around her shoulders. The quilt was beautiful, a gift to her from Lucy several years ago. Many of the flowers for the quilt had been crafted in the very rocking chair she now sat in. Lucy had carried a pouch for months that was always full of paper templates and scraps of fabric, some thread and needles, never revealing to Katy the project was for her. Katy had been speechless when she opened the box to discover the completed quilt Lucy gave to her. The label on the back of the quilt, embroidered in lovely pastels, had Lucy's name and the date she finished it, along with its title. Lucy had named this fine handiwork, "Katy's Forever Hug" and told her it was for the days the weather kept them apart and she needed a boost.

Again comfortable in the rocking chair, she lifted the tissue slowly. Lying neatly inside was a letter, folded in half. The stationary was familiar to her and her throat felt dry. The stationary was the same her old friend had used for years and Katy suddenly was afraid to read the letter. She glanced at the glass of tea on the trunk where it had been left, no longer iced, and took a sip anyway. Her hands trembled slightly as she set the tea glass on the trunk once more. The letter seemed to beckon her to unfold and read it. The faint fragrance of Shalimar scented the letter, causing goose bumps to rise on Katy's arms. This was the only perfume Lucy had worn the entire seventeen years she'd known her. She knew Lucy had allergies to many fragrances, but this was one she could wear without reactions. Unless, of course, one counted the time the two of them had that perfume battle at the department store!

The images of that memory still had the power to trigger convulsions of laughter in Katy. Lucy had wanted new shoes to wear to some quilt retreat and invited Katy to join her. They often went on shopping excursions together, though Katy knew little about quilting and Lucy saw no sense in paying outrageous prices for old things that were probably in someone's trash at one time. They had just simply enjoyed being in each other's company. Katy had been trying on a pair of sandals, to replace the pair Ima Dogtu, her only purebred canine companion, had destroyed in a teething frenzy. Katy truly thought Lucy had suggested the footwear binge out of guilt feelings, since she had convinced Katy her life would be incomplete without the adorable little blond cocker spaniel. Ima had ravaged no less than four pair of shoes, one half of a purse and several objects that were unidentifiable before she and Katy had completed puppy kindergarten.

As Katy leaned over to fasten the sandals to her feet, she felt the cool moisture on her back before realizing Lucy was standing behind her. Her often-mischievous friend was vainly attempting to hide something behind her back, as she struggled to maintain her composure. In seconds Katy had a subtle hint about Lucy's behavior. Lucy bellowed with laughter when Katy's own expression turned from quizzical to astonishment to shock. As Katy stood to peer over her shoulder to survey how much damage had been done to her blouse, Lucy collapsed into a nearby chair. She held the tester bottle of Shalimar to her chest, shaking vigorously, tears streaming down her cheeks. Horrified at how aromatic she now was, Katy marched toward Lucy, demanding the bottle of perfume. She snatched the bottle from Lucy, who was powerless from her laughing to stop Katy. With the bottle in hand, Katy turned toward the perfume counter, her head held as high as she could, but unable to walk away from the fragrance that permeated the air around her. She stopped in her tracks, and lunged in Lucy's direction. In a swift movement, the front of Lucy's dress was saturated with the perfume! Katy relished the experience of observing Lucy's face go through the same changes her own had only moments ago. Satisfied, she walked to the perfume counter with the nearly empty and returned it to the tray with the other tester bottles. A clerk behind the counter approached Katy, as she was setting the bottle down, wearing the plastic smile seen on so many of the clerks in this department. As she neared the umbrella of Shalimar around Katy, the clerk began to cough, excusing herself repeatedly as she inquired whether there was anything she could help Katy with. Katy considered asking if the clerk could suggest a perfume removal spray, but instead declined with a smile and walked back to Lucy.

The real fun began as they walked through the mall in the direction of the car, which they'd parked at the opposite end of the building. Both ladies were lavishly drenched in the perfume, often drawing strange looks, glares and the odd comment as they strolled slowly past the vendors stationed within the center of the promenade. Katy and Lucy repeatedly stopped, paralyzed with bouts of laughter as the occasional passerby hacked or gawked in their direction, in reaction to the exaggerated swing Lucy added to her stride. Eventually, they made it to the car, driving to Lucy's house, where they took turns showering and changed into unscented clothes.

Distracted from her thoughts by Loopy's whimper, Katy stood up with the letter and walked to the front door to let the dogs out for their evening environmental impact statement. She flicked the porch light on and went to the screened door, peering through the mesh to be sure the front gate was securely fastened. Boombottom, Ima, and Loopy exited the screened-in porch through the doggy door built into one of the outer walls. She settled onto the hanging swing, arranged a pillow behind her back and inhaled deeply. She unfolded the letter and began to read. It was typewritten, and she was puzzled about the date at the top. It had today's date and the signature at the bottom was a shaky version of her friend's elegant penmanship. Confused, she resumed reading...

"My Dearest Katy Girl,

The most difficult part about letting go, at the end of my illness, was the knowing that the best friend I'd ever known would suffer grief in my parting. You may never know, I doubt, how deeply indebted I am to you. How do I thank the one who is more like a sister than any other I've known in my life? For all the days and nights you stayed at my side, during my final days, I cannot express my gratitude with words. Your devotion to my care was a comfort and the tears you shed when you believed me sleeping were cherished. Can you ever forgive me for putting you through such a horrid ordeal?

I do hope you are well and doing something with your hair, as you learn to adjust to life, minus my existence. Please cling to and find joy in each day, remembering every precious moment we shared as friends. As my friend, you taught me so much, for which I will eternally be grateful. Your friendship led me to appreciate the beauty of music long forgotten by many. How long has it been, beloved friend, since you played your soundtrack to My Fair Lady and danced around your garden as the speakers blared for the world to hear? If it has been awhile, I pray you'll find reason to dance again soon. You constantly amazed me with your gift of restoration, whether it involved bringing new life to an old armoire you found at Gracie's Antique Shoppe or the many sheets of music you learned to play on those lovely summer evenings. How I admired your ability to play so well!

In turn, I am grateful for your patience with my passion for needle and thread, all that the lust for fabric entailed. Beautiful Katy Girl, I do hope you weren't insufferably bored with my constant going on about
quilts and such. I was thrilled to see you joining my guild friends when they came to call. Keep up the practice with your stitches and you'll see you have that gift as well. You are a natural born quilter dear, so please do not ever stop. You will find there is medicinal value in the craft; all healthy if one ignores the addictive nature sometimes observed. Your natural talent for creating beauty from scraps will grow. My hope is someday, someday soon, you'll collide into a new friend and fashion a special quilt to hug her on the days she needs it most.

Now, my dear, you are probably wondering why & how this letter has arrived today, as well as the other things that came with it! If you have not dawdled too many days before reading this, then tomorrow should be Saturday. The key and the golden needle are very special to the Valley of Quaint Quilt Guild. They will be meeting tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. and it is imperative that you deliver these two items to the Bee Queen Bee!! Because I have always been able to trust you to help me in every emergency, arrangements were made, long before my passing for these to be delivered to you prior to this meeting. Please dear Katy Girl, I ask that you make haste to the morning meeting, when all will be explained. Obviously, I must thank you in advance!

Do not waste too many days grieving my departure, but instead try to live a life that will honor the days we shared as friends. Remember to smile, to laugh, to listen to others and share your heart. Keep a part of me there and I will never be forever gone, dear. I have loved you for many years; a love that time nor distance can never dissolve. If God ever grants me the opportunities, from where, hopefully, I now abide, I will send you evidence of ~

All my LOVE,

Katy lowered the letter to her lap, dazed by the words and her lips trembled. Clenching her fists, she drew her legs toward her chest, lowered her head to her knees and began to cry. The sound of her deep wrenching sobs brought the dogs scurrying through their special door to her side. With a whine, Loopy clambered onto the swing near her feet and leaned into her legs. Ima and Boombottom sat side by side, gazing up to Katy, tilting their heads in unison. Darkness had crept outside the span of the porch light's amber tint and an evening breeze whispered through the screens. The night echoed her mourning song, as her heart and soul released the emotions long buried since the day Lucy had been laid to rest.

Katy awoke the following morning to Mrs. Bumphry's tail swishing under her nose. She attempted to rise but found herself pinned beneath the raggedy quilt she'd purchased at a yard sale three summers ago. Her dogs surrounded her, cocooned within the coverings on the wrought iron poster bed. She was unsure of when she'd finally moved from the swing on the porch to the comfort of her bed, but she knew it had been very late. Turning her head and peering through the wisps of Mrs. Bumphry's tail, she glanced at the clock sitting on the bedside table. The urge to grab just ten more minutes of sleep was strong. It was Saturday and her telecommuting work was caught up. Mrs. Bumphry stood up, stretched and sauntered over to Loopy, who was lying across Katy's legs. Glad the two smaller dogs didn't weigh as much as Loopy, she wrestled her arms free from her confinement to brush her disheveled, long auburn hair from her face. Glancing at the clock, Katy saw it was nearly 8:40. Still somewhat groggy, Katy sat up and nudged Loopy from her legs, then swung them over the side of the bed. She searched the floor with her toes for her slippers, finally sliding them into the comfy chenille scuffs. Stretching her arms as she meandered down the hallway toward the front door, Katy took a sideways glance at herself in the mirror above the small deacon's bench.

"Oh, if Lucy could see this wreck!" Katy thought to herself and stopped suddenly. Lucy. The letter. The meeting at nine!

Quickly she opened the front door for the dogs so they could exit for relief and bolted back towards the bedroom. Opening the drawer in the bedside table, she grabbed the letter from Lucy and the tiny envelope which contained the key and the gold needle. She put the items in her purse and ran to the bathroom to hurry through her morning routine. No time for a shower, she washed her face and hastily ran a comb through her curly locks. Swishing her toothbrush in the mouthwash bottle, she eliminated the fuzzy taste from her mouth, then ran to the kitchen to feed her animals. Swiftly, she washed then filled the water and food dishes, setting them in opposite corners of the kitchen. Mrs. Bumphry's dishes were barely placed atop the microwave oven when the huge cat jumped up to begin her breakfast. Katy was feeling frantic, glancing at the clock on the kitchen wall to see it was now 8:55. It was at least a ten-minute drive to the village and she still needed to change from the tattered T-shirt she favored sleeping in. She blazed down the hall to throw on a pair of bib overalls and her sandals. As she tucked the T-shirt into the overalls, she hoped no one at the guild meeting would comment on her attire.

"If nothing else, maybe the ladies will say I'm a trendsetter." Katy chuckled to herself. She headed out the front door, sure to lock the screened porch behind her. The dogs followed her to the gate with their tennis balls and rope toys gripped in their jaws, ready to play. "Not now, kids. Be good and watch the house. I'll be home as soon as I run this errand." Katy spoke into the wind, as she drove away in her old Jeep.

The door to the grange meeting hall was left slightly ajar and she hesitated before pushing it open enough to walk in. Katy's heart was pounding and she was unsure of how the women here would receive her. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears and she realized she was shaking terribly. "Why am I feeling this way?" she wondered. Taking a deep breath, she stepped over the threshold and into the foyer. The grange hall was a familiar building to her, having been here for many quilt shows and local craft fairs with Lucy. Her feet automatically turned toward the direction of the stairs that led to the large dining room in the basement. The Village of Quaint Quilt Guild met here every other Saturday morning for their business meetings and quilting bees. Hearing voices rising up the stairway, she tried to walk as quietly as possible on the squeaky old steps. She knew there was one particular step that screamed in agony whenever anyone landed on the right side of it and desperately wanted to avoid it. The voices in the basement stopped speaking as soon as the traitorous step gave away her arrival. Someone giggled as another hollered to her, "Just git yerself down here, honey, whoever ya are! We don't bite nothin' here but fudge!" Katy recognized the voice immediately and felt some of the tension fade. Squaring her shoulders, she plastered an artificial smile on her face and clomped down the remaining stairs for effect. If she was going to make a fool of herself, she figured she ought to do it right!

The room was large, filled with long cafeteria-style dining tables and old wooden folding chairs. A row of antique theater seats lined the length of two of the walls and some were piled with jackets, sweaters and handbags. A few held various boxes, which contained secret quilters' treasures to be revealed at Show and Tell. The women who knew Katy welcomed her with a chorus of greetings. Chairs scraped on the floor as many stood and hurried to wrap her in warm, friendly hugs. Katy felt a lump beginning to grow in her throat and squeaked a feeble hello in return. The last thing she'd expected was such a hearty welcome, since these kind ladies only knew her from the last few months at Lucy's home. She felt her eyes beginning to well up and fought the tears that threatened to give away her feelings of confusion, loneliness and insecurity. A chair was offered to her, which she gratefully accepted. The ladies around her were smiling and grinning, some nudging a neighbor here and there, and a couple winked at her as their heads nodded in her direction. A younger girl, perhaps eight or nine years old, set a napkin and a cup of apple-chamomile tea in front of her. She offered Katy a plate covered with a mound of home-baked goodies and fudge. Katy's stomach growled as she smelled the chocolate and gladly took a blueberry muffin, as well as a wedge of fudge to settle the rumbles.
"Alright gals! Let's settle back down to business here!" The woman speaking, Katy recognized as Judy, otherwise referred to in the guild as the Bee Queen Bee. Judy peered over her glasses to Katy and smiled with as royal a welcome as she could. "For those of you here, who have not met our esteemed guest, I'd like to introduce to you Katy. She is the special gal who helped our dear departed friend, Miss Lucy, in her time of illness. I know a bit about this fine lady from the good things Lucy shared with me, over the years. If memory serves me correctly, Katy is with us today for a very good reason. Katy, would you like to say a few words before I go on?"

Surprised by the introduction and smiling with a mouthful of muffin, Katy nodded as she swallowed, then took a sip from the tea. She blushed as she reached for her purse and removed the tiny envelope and Lucy's letter. An older woman across the table from her gasped, covering her mouth with her hand as her eyes widened. Katy looked around her at the guild members, hearing the murmurs that circulated among them. "I, er, uh... ahem. I would like to thank those of you who were so kind in coming to visit Lucy when she was sick. It meant a great deal to her to be surrounded by her quilting friends when she could no longer get around. I am grateful, also, to those of you who cared for her those times it was necessary for me to run errands, get groceries or fill her prescriptions. Without your help and support then, I don't know what I would have done. Lucy always spoke well of each of you and I want you to know she treasured your friendships."

Katy paused and opened the tiny envelope, removing the key and the beautiful gold needle. Holding them up for all to see, she continued, "Yesterday I got a mushy package in the mail, with no return address, containing some fabric, these two items and a letter to me from Lucy with yesterday's date on it. The letter stated that all of this mystery would be revealed if I came here today. Could someone please offer me an explanation?" She saw her hands were still shaking and sat in her seat again, waiting to hear a reply.

Judy stood again, raising her hand to quiet the buzzing comments that flowed between the guild members. "Katy, we hope you can forgive the mystery and the shock you must have endured because of the letter in the package. We call those packages squishies, because that is how they feel with the fabric in them. I'm sure you must have seen Lucy with a few squishies during your friendship?" Katy nodded and Judy went on, "During the times we were visiting and you got a break for yourself, even if it was only to come to town for supplies, Lucy requested our help. It was her idea to be sure the squishie was mailed to you so that it would be delivered yesterday. Please forgive our little conspiracy here, but it was important you come today. The golden needle has a very special heritage among our guild members. Before our guild secretary, Maria, tells you about that, I'll ask each member to accept responsibility for her part in this whole scheme. Ladies, if you'll please stand and introduce yourself to Katy, then help her put the puzzle together?" Judy reclaimed her position at the head of the first table and gave a regal parade wave to encourage the women to begin.

One by one, the women stood and did as Judy had requested. Katy was amazed to hear their contributions to ensure Lucy's plan was successful. Anne had ordered the Color Bridge fabric on Lucy's behalf, making sure the order was safely wrapped in acid free tissue paper. Wendy snuck the parcel of fabric to Lucy when she'd brought some patterns to show Lucy. Sally purchased the envelope and made sure Laura delivered it stealthily to Lucy. Elly wrote the letter that Lucy had dictated, Dawn typed it and Roxie returned it so it could be signed by Lucy. Tracy, whom Katy knew from Butch's grocery store, admitted to purposefully detaining her with lots of questions about Lucy and how she was getting along, so the others would have time to tie everything together. Cher grinned as she told how she had arranged with Postmaster Matt to mail the squishie on the appropriate date and be sure the postmark was smudged well beyond legibility. Almost every person in the room had some part in the ploy and Katy was soon chuckling as the confessors revealed their secrets.

Eventually they were done sharing their involvement and Maria arose from her chair. She walked around the table to stand behind Katy. Placing her hands on Katy's shoulders, she began to narrate the history of the golden needle that lay on the table next to the key and tiny white envelope. "Our region was first homesteaded in the early 1860's. Life was difficult then and the women of the area had to be very resourceful when it came to having nice things for their homes. One of the ways they were able to decorate their homes was by creating beautiful quilts, often out of scraps of fabric from worn out clothing. During that time, a young woman from England moved here with her husband and children. Before she left her wealthy family and the life of luxury she had always known, her grandmother commissioned a jeweler to create a special needle for her as a reminder of days they had shared quilting together in England. The grandmother had taught this young lady everything she knew about the craft and encouraged the young lady to continue the tradition of passing the craft on. This young woman was May Tristan, a name you might be familiar with if you have ever visited Tristan Square in town."

Katy turned her head to see who interrupted Maria with a hoot of laughter. "Isn't that where that fancy tourist lost her overbeckies in the middle of the street last year?"

Giggling, Maria replied, "Yes, Kathy. Thanks ever so much for reminding us!" and went on with her narrative. "May taught her skills with needle and thread to her daughter, who then taught her own daughter. This daughter, Terrie, was one of the founding members of the Valley of Quaint Quilt Guild. She had inherited the golden needle you see in front of you, as it was passed from generation to generation, along with a love for quilting. For a time, it seemed quilting was going to be a lost art, so Terrie met with the few members of the guild and they set a pact among themselves. You can read about this in detail, if you check out our club archives, but I'll tell you the basics in a nutshell. They determined to mentor young women in the area and keep the passion for quilting alive. When a young woman was discovered to be, as we call it, a "natural born quilter", she would inherit the golden needle and be given the responsibility to find, mentor and qualify her successor. In all the years since the Valley of Quaint Quilt Guild has been established, none have refused the Quilter's Scepter, as we call the golden needle, nor have they refused the responsibility that goes along with it." Finished with her speech, Maria squeezed Katy's shoulder affectionately and returned to her seat.

Judy stood again and asked Katy to stand and bring the golden needle to the head of the table. Katy was obviously stunned and pondered whether she should bolt for the door. Instead, she complied and walked toward Judy, her head swimming as she digested what she had just heard. When she reached the head of the table, Judy wrapped her arms around Katy, giving her a gentle hug. Her eyes were brimming with tears as she drew away and she smiled warmly at Katy. "My friend Lucy, who was your friend as well, was the best judge of character I have ever known. Katy, Lucy inherited our Quilter's Scepter when she was twenty years old. She screamed and kicked, fought mastering the quilting for the first three years, but her mentor believed in the talent hidden within the novice. You have seen the beautiful quilts our dear friend created. You helped me pack all of her trophies and ribbons she'd won over the years with her creations, too. If Lucy believed enough in you to pass the golden needle on to you, then I trust her wholeheartedly."

Turning to face the ladies in the room, she asked, "Does anyone here dispute Lucy's choice of successor?" Every face in the room was solemn, each shaking their head no. Judy looked back to Katy and posed the question to her, "Do you dispute Lucy's choice of you as successor?"

Katy gazed at the delicate engravings on the needle and took a deep breath before she answered. "I don't know that much about quilting. The only things I do really know about the craft are what you all taught me when Lucy was sick. There's no way I could ever be good enough to deserve this honor. Isn't there someone else, who has real talent, whom you think has earned this instead of me? What would I have to do?"

"Why, I'm so flabbergasted, words fail me right now! This is all so sudden and overwhelming!" She never considered herself to be a quilter, hadn't worked at all on the squares she'd started when the guild ladies began to teach her, since she'd taken them home from Lucy's empty house.

Anne raised her hand from where she sat, getting Katy's attention. "My dear, did you learn anything from Lucy during all your years of friendship about quilting? Did you not pre-wash a tremendous amount of fabric and prepare it for us, just a few months ago? Did you ever help Lucy cut her templates or fabric? Can you thread a needle, child? Have you ever made a block that is done well enough it could be used in a quilt?"

Katy had to nod in agreement to each of Anne's questions, except the last one. "I made a block for Lucy, but haven't seen it since I gave it to her. It disappeared and it must have been thrown away when some of her things were sorted to give to charity."

"You're qualified enough for us, Katy!" Judy motioned her to take a seat next to her and nodded to a woman Katy didn't recognize.

The woman, Tina, quietly took the few steps to one of the boxes on the chairs along the wall. She brought the box to the table and lifted the lid. With the help of Sally, the two ladies lifted an exquisite pieced quilt top and held it up for all to admire. In the very center was the friendship star block she had made for Lucy! The entire quilt top was made of the same pattern, but with a marvelous variety of colored fabrics floating on the white-on-white background. Katy saw on each block a signature, except for hers; names of the women here today. She gave Judy a puzzled look, then glanced back at the quilt top. "What is this?" Katy asked.

"It's what we call UFO bait. Lucy worked on that block that is next to yours. Do you see which one I mean?" Judy continued, as Katy confirmed her question with a slow, amazed nod of her head. "This top is yours, whether you choose to accept the Golden Scepter or not. We just want you to know how much we care for you. We hope, with this small gesture, to thank you for all you did for one of our best of friends, one of our best quilters. It is up to you to finish the quilt and any of us will help you. We are all hoping you will someday have many UFO's, but more finished quilts are always better! Everything we shared with you today must be overwhelming, so we'd like you to take some time to think it over seriously before you give your answer, please."

Katy gulped and promised the guild members she would meditate on the matter and give them her response as quickly as possible. She thanked them all for the gift and then remembered the key on the table where she had left it. "What about the key that came with the golden needle? Does it have a special significance, also?" she asked Judy.

Judy laughed her reply, "Oh no! That was the key to this hall that Lucy had for years, also. Several of our members have a copy of the same key so that someone is always available to open the door for the meetings. I'll tell you what. You just hang on to that key and the Quilt Scepter until you make your decision. If you accept, you'll already have a key to let yourself in to start the coffee and tea when you're the first to arrive. If you choose not to accept, well then, you are always welcome to come back and hand them over. No one here would dream of judging you for the decision you make, whether yea or nay. You might be thinking we are handing you some pretty big boots to fill, but it's really not the worst responsibility in the world to assume. You have friends here who will always be glad to share their experience in quilting, if you have the courage to ask for help.

Judy patted Katy on the back, inviting her to stay for the Show and Tell portion of the meeting. She was relieved to no longer be in the position of the main attraction this morning and sat in her original seat to enjoy the parade of quilts shown. As the quilts were displayed and the techniques used to create them discussed, she thought about the letter she'd gotten and everything she'd been told this morning. After a fairly quick session of Show and Tell, the guild meeting was officially over, but as was their custom, the ladies then brought out their current projects to work on. The hall's long tables provided wonderful space for sandwiching the layers together for basting and a couple of the women began spreading out their backing fabrics for just this purpose.

Katy watched the activity silently, but with a smile, feeling a strange sense of familiarity to the action surrounding her. She listened politely to the chatter of the women seated near her and began to realize she was glad she had come. It almost was as if she could feel the presence of her departed friend and got goose bumps. The little girl who had served the refreshments when Katy arrived late came from across the room with some fabric in her hand and sat down next to her. She beamed up at Katy, held a needle and a length of thread up, then began to try to thread the needle. Katy became interested with the method used by the child, as she observed her moistening the needle's eye before attempting to push the thread through. She was surprised to see the child cleanly thread the needle in one quick motion!

"My name's Susan!" said the little girl to Katy. "The ladies sure are happy you came today. They were saying they was afraid you wouldn't ever come. They was worried you were gonna throw the special scepter 'way, too. I'm glad you came because my grandma has been teachering me to do sewing, but I know she likes to visit her growned up friends when we come here to sew. Please say you'll come here again! I promise you, cross my heart on Grandma's stash, I will show you everythin' Grandma teached me so far so you can learn too! Please? Please say you will?" The words tumbled from the little girl's lips on one breath and Katy grinned down to her new companion.

Leaning over to Susan's ear, she whispered, "I believe you are one of the nicest quilters here. I must think very hard before I decide what to do. I promise to keep what you have just said very close to my heart when I am thinking. Thank you for your generous offer to teach me what you know. There is a lot for me to learn, if I am to accept the Golden Scepter! Why don't you show me something now, okay?"

The morning passed quickly and the quilters began to pack their belongings, heading out the door. Katy thanked the guild ladies for their hospitality and again promised to notify Judy with her decision soon. She drove home slowly, replaying the recent events in her mind. Pulling her Jeep over to the side of the road, near the Llama Rescue Sanctuary, she brought the vehicle to a rest. She sat in the driver's seat and watched the graceful creatures grazing blissfully on the long grass. A pair of cria scampered together playfully, bleating their joyful warbles to each other. Somewhere in a nearby tree, a meadowlark serenaded her with a beautiful song. Katy closed her eyes and prayed for guidance as she sat in the warmth of the noon sun, listening to the sounds of life going on around her. It had been a long time since she'd experienced this kind of simple pleasure and serenity. Opening her eyes, Katy smiled and started the engine. She knew what her decision would be.

When she had spent some time tossing the tennis balls for Loopy, Ima and Boombottom, she walked into the house and straight to the telephone. Reaching into her pocket to remove the slip of paper Judy had scribbled her phone number on, Katy picked up the receiver and began dialing. When Judy answered, Katy began to speak, "Judy? Hi, it's Katy. I've seriously thought about it and have made a decision." She listened to the voice on the receiving end and nodded. "Yes, I'm very sure. Thank you for this morning and everything you all did to help me understand the squishy I got yesterday. I hope I can live up to my responsibilities as successor to the Guild Scepter. Is it alright for me to call you tomorrow to learn more about what this entails?" She laughed as a scream of joy emitted from the telephone, quickly ended the call and turned around to face her animals.

"Well, you guys, it looks like we're going to try to enjoy life a bit more often. I do believe this calls for a celebration!" Katy walked over to her stereo cabinet, removed a CD from its dusty jewel case and placed it in the CD player. She turned both of the stereo speakers toward the window facing the garden, increased the volume, then pushed the play button. Laughing, with the dogs in tow, she walked out to the garden as the music began to blare through the open window. She threw her head back and yelled toward the blue sky overhead, "Lucy!! This dance is for you!" With that done, Katy danced in her garden, real joy pounding in her heart, and felt glad to be alive again.

{copyright 2002 - 2007 by K. K. Taylor}

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