Welcome to Fiction Friday, a chance to share some of my stories with you. For the past two Fridays I’ve posted excerpts from the first two novels in my Shenandoah Album series. Today’s excerpt is from book three, Lover’s Knot, which was reissued in May as a trade paperback.
All three of these books are also available as audiobooks and can be found at Amazon, Audible and other stores that carry audio books as well as at libraries.
If you’ve read any of the Shenandoah Album series, then you know that quilts, quilting and quilters are used in many different ways in the novels. Characters appear and disappear as they walk in and out of each other’s stories, but this is the only one that uses a quilt as the major clue in a family mystery.
Kendra Taylor, one of Lover’s Knot’s major characters, was introduced in book two, Endless Chain. Here she gets a starring role, along with her husband’s grandmother, a woman named Leah Blackburn whom Isaac Taylor, Kendra’s husband, never met.
All the Shenandoah Album novels have entwined stories in both the present and the historical past. In Lover’s Knot we learn Leah’s story, which has a direct and powerful effect on the grandson she will never know. Today I’ll share an excerpt from the first scene in which Leah is introduced, which appears in Chapter Five. From that point on, Leah’s story and Kendra’s alternate as Kendra sets out to learn more about Isaac’s mysterious grandmother.
Enjoy this excerpt from Lover’s Knot.
Lock Hollow, Virginia
Flossie and Dyer Blackburn were as healthy and strong as any residents of Lock Hollow. It was ironic that Flossie, who had doctored so many of her neighbors, succumbed to typhoid fever a week after her husband, when others with no healing skills were spared.
Birdie, Leah Blackburn’s older sister, claimed she was the first to know their mother would follow their father to his grave. She had taken over Flossie’s nursing care when Leah, who had been at the bedside for a full night and day, could no longer keep her eyes open.
“You go on now and sleep a spell. Let me watch over her,” Birdie told her sister, and Leah, who was afraid their mother would either get better or pass without anyone to note it, had let her.
Later Birdie had recounted the events of the next hours. She had stoked the fire in the woodstove, because Mama had complained of being cold despite three layers of quilts. As she moved the logs, a spark leapt from the fire and into the room. “It appeared to me right then,” she said, “that Mama would be gone by morning. It surely was a sign.”
Leah was skeptical. She had witnessed sparks showering the room before. Once a big one had set fire to a rug that Mama had plaited from strips of wool, and Mama had gone after it so furiously that Leah had been forced to remind her that both the rug and broom were suffering. No one had died that day, nor on others when the fire burned white hot.
But Birdie needed comfort. Leah thought that, in some curious way, Birdie’s belief that she had predicted their mother’s death helped her through the aftermath. Birdie had always believed in signs and omens. They helped her make sense of the world into which she had been born, a world that had not been kind to her.
In 1919 poliomyelitis had come calling in the mountains and hollows of Virginia, and eight-year-old Birdie had been one of the first to feel its feverish fingers. She had nearly died from the encounter, and when the worst was over, she’d been left with a crippled leg and a body that into maturity remained as frail and weak as a child’s.
Two days before Birdie was struck down, their mother had visited a neighbor and walked through the house without sitting down before leaving by a different door. This was a certain invitation to bad luck. At Birdie’s bedside, the neighbor had reminded Mama of this foolish act, and Mama had ordered her never to set foot in the Blackburn house again. But Birdie, nearly delirious with fever, remembered that conversation. For years afterward she whispered the story, like a haunted bedtime tale, to Leah.
In the month since they buried their parents, Birdie had said little. It was not the way in these mountains to grieve loudly. Quietly she had turned the mirror to the wall and made certain the bodies of their parents were carried out of the house feet first, traditions that were important to her if not to Leah.
Twice, neighbors—some who had also lost loved ones—had filed silently past the coffins a neighbor had brought by wagon team to the Blackburn farm. Their parents had died within a week of each other, but there had been separate funerals, with the lumberjack preacher who lived down near Dark Hollow coming each time to assure those in attendance that the Blackburns were in a better place.
Since that time, Birdie had mourned in silence. She had been Mama’s pet. Flossie Blackburn had been known for many miles as a fine seamstress, and she had carefully taught those skills to her oldest daughter. “Sewing is something it don’t take strong legs to learn,” she told Birdie. “And up close, you can see right smart, Birdie girl.” Birdie learned the finer points of making a home, their mother’s closely guarded recipe for green tomato pickles, the proper distance to mark and stitch a quilt so the batting stayed smooth. After butchering in the fall, Birdie always received the choicest cuts of meat. After harvest, she was given the tenderest vegetables. Every night Mama brushed Birdie’s hair more than the customary one hundred strokes. She embroidered the collars and cuffs of Birdie’s nightdresses with daisies and roses.
Birdie lost more than a mother; she lost the person who tried hardest to shield her from the reality of her life. At her mother’s graveside, Leah had silently sworn to Flossie that she would never abandon her sister.