Sandra Dallas' introduction to A Quilt for Christmas calls it a Christmas book, written after her agent requested one. Well, there is a quilt given as a Christmas gift, and a couple Christmases in it, but it's really a novel about the effect of the Civil War on the lives of the people who lived through it, the men who fought, the women and families at home. And, it's connected to Dallas' novel, The Persian Pickle Club, which is now twenty years old. A Quilt for Christmas features the grandmothers of some of the women in the earlier book, with a setting in Kansas during the Civil War, instead of the Depression.
By 1864, Eliza Spooner's husband, Will, has joined the Kansas Volunteers to fight for the Union. Like all the other women in her quilting group, Eliza is struggling to keep her farm going with her husband at war. She also has a son and daughter to worry about. But, she worries most about Will, and sends him a Christmas quilt she made, hoping it will keep him warm while he thinks of her and home. In return, Will writes letters telling of the war, and giving her advice. But, when she receives the worst kind of letter, Eliza has to rely on herself. Each time Eliza has to make a major decision, she asks herself what Will would do. Would he have advised her to take in a needy widow and her child? Would he have advised her to hide a runaway slave? Would Will have forgiven the enemy and moved on with life?
Eliza Spooner's story is a woman's story. It's a story of those left behind by war, struggling to go on with life, working the farm, raising children, turning to other women for help and support. It's sad, and poignant, and uplifting at the same time. It's a story of courage that shows how strong women can be when they're tested.
It's also a story of war, of loss and futility, anger and hatred. It's about ordinary men thrust into war who realize they're fighting other men just like themselves, men who left behind wives they loved, children, and family farms. It's a tragic story, with traces of hope.
This week, I found Dallas' Civil War novel particularly poignant. I was home in Ohio, doing genealogical research on my grandmother's family. Two of her great-uncles fought in the Civil War, and we visited the cemetery where they are buried. One had been in a prison camp, and died soon after being exchanged and returning home. The other reminds me of the men in A Quilt for Christmas. All the way driving back to Indiana yesterday, I thought of DeWitt Clinton Wadsworth. We have letters about him. In one, he wrote and asked to have leave to come home and settle affairs. It was written shortly before he died. One letter describes the injuries that killed him. And, the family history says of him, 'DeWitt Clinton Wadsworth...died on the Chickamauga battle-field about September 20, 1863, while commanding Company C, 24th Ohio Infantry, "in defense of the starry flag," aged 40 years, 10 months, 13 days.' Later, it says, "He married Lucinda Foos and lived in the old homestead of his parents when he went to the army in 1861, as First Lieutenant of Company C, 24th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to captain of he company he was gallantly leading on the battlefield of Chickamauga, Tennessee, September 18, 1863, when he was mortally wounded and fell in the hands of the enemy." This kind of family story turns Sandra Dallas' A Quilt for Christmas to reality. It's a family story of a forty-year-old man who left behind a wife and three sons.
Sandra Dallas may think of A Quilt for Christmas as a Christmas story. I think of it as a Civil War story of courage, loss, regret, and love.
Sandra Dallas' website is www.sandradallas.com
A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, 2014. ISBN 9781250045942 (hardcover), 256p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy, hoping I would review it.