Signs of Life

by Mary Alice Hostetter

It wasn’t the first time the three of them had worked together on a quilt, not by far. They’d been helping each other make quilts for years, and that day they were helping Etta with hers. Most of their family members, and many of their neighbors in Tanner’s Gap, had quilts with their stitches in them. It was as if the whole town was connected by one long quilting thread. It wouldn’t always be like this. Most young people didn’t give two hoots about quilting.

Etta had been gone two months, off at her daughter’s in Clarksburg recovering after her surgery. Most everyone in town would have told you things weren’t the same without Etta around. Maybe they couldn’t tell you exactly what the difference was; maybe even if they did know, they might not have wanted to say, because it wouldn’t sound that neighborly. But Etta was back.

Fernie parked her Buick in the pulloff by the road at the end of the walkway to Etta’s trailer. She got out, swinging her legs first, grabbing onto the top of the door frame and hoisting herself up. If her dress had a waist line, you wouldn’t notice. Fernie had lost her waist line years ago, so, no matter what she wore, it looked like a shapeless sack. On the passenger side, Myrtle got out slowly, but without holding onto anything. She wore her navy blue polyester slacks with the elastic waist. Ever since she discovered how comfortable those pants were, she didn’t want to wear anything else. It was all she could do to put on a dress to go to church on Sunday.Fernie and Myrtle walked up the path, the yellow and purple crocuses sprinkled on either side. No doubt spring was coming. Daffodils were pushing up, and in the sunny spot by the little porch in front of Etta’s trailer, a few were already blooming. The grass had been mowed.

Etta was watching for them and opened the door to her trailer. She wore a sweater over her house dress. It looked like she had a fresh perm.

“Welcome, welcome,” she said, greeting Fernie with a warm hug. She looked over Fernie’s shoulder and said hello to Myrtle. Etta’d seen Myrtle at the Garden Club meeting three days before. Two hugs in one week might have been too much for Etta and Myrtle.

“Good to see you again,” Fernie said. “Seems like a long time.”

“It’s good to be back. It feels like I’ve been gone forever. I guess two months isn’t long, but it’s as long as I’ve ever been gone from home, that’s for sure.”

“You look good,” Fernie said. “You’d never guess you had surgery not two months ago.”

“I feel good too,” Etta said, taking Fernie’s arm and nudging her toward the door.

Myrtle followed Etta and Fernie into the trailer.

“Looks like you’ve already had your grass mowed,” Fernie said, “That onion grass sure makes it smell like spring.”

“Harley was over yesterday to mow. He knew you were coming to quilt. He’s the best son, Harley is.”

As much as she talked about almost everything, Etta never talked about how it happened she was living in the trailer at the edge of the farm, after Harley and his wife Pauline asked her to move out of the farmhouse, the very farmhouse her grandfather Tanner built when he first came to that valley. Harley’d said it was so she would be more comfortable, living on one level and all, but everyone suspected it was because Pauline got tired of living with Etta. It had to cost someone a pretty penny dragging that trailer over those twisty roads to set it up for Etta.

Fernie and Myrtle hung their coats on the hooks on the wall by the door—they looked like they were built in at the trailer factory—and went into the living room where Etta had stretched the quilt on the quilting frame. The furniture had been pushed to the sides of the room, and three chairs from the kitchen table lined up by the quilt. Etta had pulled in all three floor lamps. The quilt, spread out like that, took up most of the space in the living room.

“Well, here it is,” Etta said. “I’ll sit here at the end so I can get out easy when it’s time to start lunch. Whatever we get done will be a big help. I already started, and I’ll tell you, quilting around each of those patches takes some time.

“It turned out nice,” Myrtle said.

“Nothing like Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” Fernie said. “and those yellow centers sure do pop out.”

“It’s a graduation gift for Claudia, and this is her favorite pattern,” Etta said. “You don’t want to know how long it took me to figure out how to put this together, but I was determined.”

“This is one quilt I’d never even try to piece,” Fernie said. “How can you sew together patches with six sides.”

“It’s not bad once you get the hang of it,” Etta said.

The three of them sat down by the quilt. Myrtle and Fernie took thimbles and little scissors from their purses, cut off long pieces of quilting thread from the spool in the middle and put it through the tiny needles.

“This morning when I was setting things up,” Etta said, “I don’t know what came over me, but I dragged in a chair for Minnie. I guess I still don’t believe she’s gone. How can we do a quilt without Minnie?”

“Probably not a day goes by I don’t think of her,” Myrtle said.

“I could have had more people come to help,” Etta said, “but the two of you do such nice even stitches. I’m not mentioning names, but the last time I had a quilt in, when I still lived down on the farm, I ended up tearing out stitches so big they could have been basting stitches. Tearing out takes almost as much time as doing it yourself.”

“Well, Fernie, I guess we should feel honored,” Myrtle said. “Me, when I have people help with a quilt, I like to see the variety of stitches.”

“I think it makes a nicer quilt with fine stitches,” Etta said.

They knew who Etta was talking about. Since her stroke, Annabelle was not the best quilter, but she tried, not that the effort made much difference to Etta.

The three women settled in to quilting, pulling the knot through to the batting, lining up four or five stitches on the needle, feeling for each one underneath to make sure it went through the top, the batting and the backing, and pushing the needle with the thimble. You had to be careful not to poke the finger underneath. You could often see little specks of blood on the backing where some quilter had pricked her finger. They’d all had to take out those stains.

“Etta, things weren’t the same with you gone,” Fernie said.

“I didn’t think I needed to stay so long, but Margaret said she’d never forgive herself if I came home too soon and something happened.”

“Probably good for you to stay close to the hospital until you were sure things were healed,” Myrtle said.

“And it gave me a chance to get this quilt pieced together. I’m glad I took my scrap boxes along. It’s a perfect quilt for using up odds and ends. And Margaret has a real nice sewing machine she hardly ever uses.”

“You and Margaret get along, all that time?” Fernie asked. “If that was me, I don’t think it would be long before my daughter and I would be at each other’s throats.”

Etta snipped off a length of thread and tried again and again to thread the needle, jabbing the piece of thread everywhere but through the needle. Her eyes weren’t good, even with the thick glasses, but Etta would no more have asked Myrtle or Fernie for help threading a needle than Fernie would have asked for a ride, with her Buick parked right there in her carport, or Myrtle would have asked for help going up stairs. There might come a time, but not yet. Finally, using a needle threader, Etta got the thread through the eye, put a knot on the end and went back to quilting.

“Margaret and I got along fine,” Etta said, “but my son-in-law, that’s another story.”

“What did he do?” Fernie said.

“That man found more excuses to go out in the evening. Probably thought I didn’t notice. One night I heard him saying to Margaret after I went to bed, ‘Why does your mother think we need to listen to her gabbing all the time?’ Imagine. Him talking like that right down the hall where I could hear? I didn’t hear what Margaret said back to him, but I know she wouldn’t say a word against me.


Annabelle lived next door to Myrtle. When they were walking home together after the Garden Club meeting, the first either of them had seen Etta since she came back from Clarksburg, Myrtle had said, “Well, surgery didn’t slow her down one bit. She’s as much of a talker as ever.”

“Doubt she’s going to change,” Annabelle said.

“She did manage to change the color of her hair. I can still see her up there with the choir for the Christmas program with that blue hair. Think she went over to Cut ‘N Curl and said, ‘Could you give me blue hair?’”

“Changing your hair isn’t the same as changing a whole way of behaving,” Annabelle said. “Etta’s a talker, she’s going to stay a talker.”

“I don’t mind her talking, but she doesn’t listen,” Myrtle said. “We all have children and grandchildren, but who do we have to hear about all the time? Just because a couple of her grandkids went to college, and Claudia’s in nursing school, that doesn’t make Etta any better than the rest of us.”

Myrtle and Annabelle stopped at Annabelle’s gate. Myrtle reached in to undo the catch for Annabelle, who still had trouble with her right arm after the stroke.

“It goes way back with her, always wanting to be the center of attention,” Annabelle said. “When she was a little thing at school, always telling her stories and making sure we all knew her name was Tanner. That’s how Etta is.”

“Well, one day Etta’s going to catch me when my back’s hurting or I haven’t slept so good, and I might say things I shouldn’t,” Myrtle said.

“You know it wouldn’t do a lick of good, saying something. The way I see it, we need to accept how people are,” Annabelle had said as she’d walked toward the porch.


After they’d been quilting for a while, Etta got up to put the casserole in the oven. Myrtle put down her needle and stood up, holding her hand to the small of her back.

“There was a time I could quilt all day and never feel it in my back. Now if I sat too long without getting up, I wouldn’t be able to straighten up for days.”

“I hope I can be as spry as you when I’m eighty,” Fernie said. “If a couple kinks in my back is all that’s wrong, I’ll consider myself lucky. It’s these varicose veins slow me down. And it seems like there’s nothing they can do—“

“It’s the high blood pressure for me,” Etta said. “Claudia asks about it every time she sees me. Brings her stethoscope and that thing that goes around your arm, like a doctor, and takes my blood pressure.” Etta’s dentures slipped, and she stopped to adjust them before she went on. “When I went in for my operation—tell you the truth, I thought this might be the time I would die—the doctor said there could be complications because of my hernia, said he might have to put in some sort of screen so they could sew me up. I said, ‘Doctor, do what you need to do,’ and he said, ‘How can you be so brave?’ and I said ‘After you’ve seen a little boy cut up and bleeding, dead on the kitchen floor linoleum, a little surgery isn’t much of anything.’”

Myrtle and Fernie stopped stitching and looked up from the quilt.

“Can you believe it? I hadn’t thought about Henry in years, and that’s what came out of my mouth. To think, something like that from all those years ago.”

They all went back to quilting.

“The thing surprised me most that day,” Etta said, “and I know this isn’t a pretty thing to bring up, was the blood. You wouldn’t think a child would have so much blood. Now I’d seen blood. When we butchered, my father had to bleed the pigs and stuck the knife right in their necks, but all the blood in a big old pig didn’t seem like as much blood as Henry had. Of course, the pigs did their bleeding on the straw or dirt. On the linoleum there in the kitchen, there was nothing for the blood to do but sit in a puddle.”

Etta paused, wet the end of the thread in her mouth, struggled again to get it through the needle, squinting behind her thick glasses. “The doctor said to me, ‘Must have been awful for you, coming on a sight like that,’ and I told him I stayed real calm, and I was only twelve. I don’t think I as much as screamed.”

“I know I’ve heard you talk about this before,” Fernie said, “but how was it you knew this boy?”

“We always walked to school together, Henry and me, and it was strange for him not to run out the lane as soon as he saw me walking down the road. That morning I went up on the porch and called him. When he didn’t come out, I opened the kitchen door, and there he was, on the floor by the cookstove. I ran out to the barn where his aunt and uncle were milking. I might as well say they were his parents, because they were all the family he knew. Anyway, I told them to come right away, because something happened to Henry.”

Etta cleared her throat. “They’re the ones who touched him and found out he was dead, but you could tell without touching him. They didn’t have a phone, so Elmer, that was his uncle, went down to the store to call the police. His Aunt Clara was beside herself, and I stayed there with her.”

“I can’t forget that day,” Myrtle said. “I hadn’t been married a year. My husband Otis was at the store when Elmer came in to use the phone. Otis called to tell me what happened. He went out to the farm with Elmer to wait till the police got there. I was scared as can be, knowing there might be a killer on the loose and our place just down the road. Otis told me not to let anyone in. We didn’t have any locks on the doors, so I took the shot gun down and kept an eye out from the upstairs window. I was shaking. I’m not sure I ever prayed that hard. I don’t know what I would have done if someone came walking up the lane. I’d never shot a gun in my life.”

“Well, hearing about it’s one thing, but being the first one there, that’s a different story. I think it changed me for life,” Etta said.

“I don’t think you’re the only one it had an effect on,” Myrtle said, frowning as she went back to quilting.

“How do you think this changed you?” Fernie said.

“Not sure how I’d explain it,” Etta said. “I think people see things different when they’ve been touched by tragedy. I don’t say it makes them better people, but it gives them some sort of strength.”

“I’m not sure I see your point,” Myrtle said. “Lord knows other people around here have been touched by tragedy, but I don’t see how Harry Halloway’s stronger since his wife went so sudden like she did. Mostly goes out to Luke Tanner’s and gets drunk or stays home and gets drunk. And Irene Clayton. She’s gone the other way since Herbert gassed himself. Too ashamed to do much but work at the Post Office every day.” Myrtle sat upright, leaned back in her chair.

“I can’t say it’s true with everyone. It’s how it affected me,” Etta said.

“It could be different for different people,” Fernie said.

The timer on the stove buzzed, and Etta poked her needle in the yellow center patch on the flower she’d finished quilting. “Casserole’s ready.”

“I’ve been smelling it,” Fernie said. “Don’t know how it works that sitting here pushing up and down with a little needle is enough to work up an appetite, but I’m hungry.”

“Lunch is tuna casserole, rolls and jello salad,” Etta said, “nothing fancy. I wanted to do something wouldn’t make a lot of fuss, so I could do my share of quilting.”

Fernie and Myrtle got up from the quilt. The table was set in the corner of the kitchen. While Etta stirred up the dressing for the jello salad, they went over to the hutch in the end of the living room. They knew it was the hutch Etta’s husband Ernest gave her the year before he died, and she moved it to the trailer, even though anyone could tell you it was too big for the room.

Probably not many people in town who hadn’t heard about that hutch, how Ernest had the walnut tree that came down out behind the barn cut into boards, then took them off to some fancy furniture maker and ordered the hutch. It took almost a year ‘til it was finished. Some people said he couldn’t have used Ernest’s walnut if it was finished that quick—the lumber would take longer than that to dry. How could you tell which walnut it was? Ernest said he knew it was his tree, because he knew every grain in that lumber.

Fernie and Myrtle looked at the things Etta had on the hutch. There were photos of her daughter, two sons, eight grandchildren—as babies, at school, graduations, weddings. Photos of Ernest—with a cow, beside his tractor, with Etta on the beach when they went to Florida to visit his sister. That was some trip. Etta had never been so far from home, and she still talked about it.

Myrtle had never been out of the state of West Virginia, said she didn’t see the need. Fernie and her husband Wilmer had been as far as Washington D.C., and they were happy to get back home. She was glad her son-in-law had done the driving. She’d never seen traffic like that.

There was hardly space for anything else on the hutch with all the pictures, but Etta had fit in a couple vases filled with plastic flowers and a few rocks and seashells. Myrtle reached behind one of the framed pictures and pulled out a set of windup dentures. She’d given them to Etta when she pulled her name at the Garden Club Christmas party two years ago. They were supposed to get each other funny gifts. Myrtle wound them up, and the dentures sat there on the hutch chattering. Myrtle and Fernie glanced toward Etta in the kitchen, but she was pulling the rolls out of the oven and had her back to them.

“Come on,” Etta called, “before this casserole gets cold. You can bring a couple chairs along in.”

At the table Etta said, “Let’s take a minute to give thanks,” as if they wouldn’t have known any better, and after a quiet pause, she said, “Amen.” Etta served them from the hot baking dish in the center of the table, holding on to it with the embroidered “Home Sweet Home” potholder.

Fernie tasted the casserole. “This has a nice flavor. What did you put in it?”

“You can put almost anything in. I could have sworn I had a can of mushroom soup, but turns out it was chicken noodle. I used it, but it seemed wrong putting chicken and tuna together. And there’s noodles and cheese and corn flakes in it too.”

“And your mint tea is good.” Fernie said.

“It’s what’s left from what I dried last year, but it won’t be long till it’s popping up again.”

“I have plenty left over,” Myrtle said, “if you need more before the fresh comes in. I always try to make sure I don’t run out.”

They finished lunch, helped Etta clear the table and do the dishes, and went back to the quilt. They loosened the clamps on the quilting frame and rolled it to get to the next row of patches.

“Look at that,” Etta said, “we got more done than I thought.”

“We have a long way to go if this is to be finished for Claudia’s graduation,” Myrtle said. “Maybe we need more quilting and less talking.”

Fernie glanced at Myrtle, who was focused on threading her needle.

“It’ll get done,” Etta said. “It’s not a surprise, since Claudia already saw it. And me, I can quilt and talk at the same time.”

Etta shifted in her chair, and each of the three women started working on a patch in the new row. The only sounds were the ticking of Etta’s clock on the hutch and the whisper of the needle and thread going through the layers of fabric and batting.

“I can’t stop thinking about that poor boy,” Fernie said. “All that business happened the year before I was born, but I remember people talking about it. Did they ever figure out who did it?”

“The police came out from town, and they talked to people. Talked to me, since I’m the one found him. They looked around up at Elmer and Clara’s, but they didn’t come up with anything I ever heard of.”

“What did they ask you?” Fernie said.

“Oh, they asked me whether I saw anyone when I was walking up the road, whether Henry was acting any different the days before he was murdered, things like that.”

“But didn’t you have an idea who killed him?” Myrtle said.

“I never said I knew for certain,” Etta said, “but I did have an idea. I wasn’t but a child, but I gave it some thought. If something like this happened now, you know they’d be talking to me. In those days it was a whole different story. Children are more respected now. I told the police I’d be willing to go to court and testify, but I never heard another thing from them.”

“Testify. What were you going to testify about?” Myrtle said. “That Henry was dead? Seems like they already knew. Otis could’ve testified to that.”

“Not that he was dead. I wanted to tell them about the stranger I saw down at Marshall’s Store the day before Henry was killed. I went down to get some sugar for my mother, and I saw a man I’d never seen before. A big man, and he had a scar on his face and running down his neck, almost like someone tried to chop off his head and the ax slipped. He was buying some kind of canned food, I think. And my father said he’d heard about a prisoner escaping from the penitentiary while he was out working on the prison farm.

Myrtle leaned back in her chair, put down her needle and took off her thimble. “Let me get this straight. You think that man escaped from the prison, came all the way across the mountains, bought some canned food, picked out Henry to kill, and disappeared. Doesn’t that seem a little far-fetched?”

“When you put it like that, of course it seems far-fetched, but there’s more to it. You see, the man had motivation. I’ve read enough books and watched enough television to know there has to be a reason for people doing what they do. People don’t just up and do something.”

Etta glanced up from the quilt and looked at the other women, who had stopped stitching.

“So, why did he do it?” Fernie said.

“Before I go on,” Etta said, “is it too warm for anyone in here? When the afternoon sun shines in the window on this side of the trailer, it sometimes gets so warm. I’d be glad to turn the heat down. All it takes is turning a little knob. Nothing like what I used to do down on the farm, going out in the cold and carrying in wood, taking out the ashes, fussing with all that dust and dirt. When I moved up here, I didn’t think I’d be able to live without a woodstove, but I haven’t missed it for a minute. If I did, I could walk right down the lane to Harley’s and sit by their stove and get my fill. Say what you want about trailers, and I admit I said my share back in the day, it really is an easy way to live.”

“It’s not too warm for me,” Myrtle said.

“Me either.” Fernie said.

“Now what was I saying?” Etta asked.

“The motive,” Fernie said. “You were going to tell us the motive.”

“Yes. Of course. The police were sure it was all a coincidence. They speculated that poor little Henry found someone stealing chickens or something and threatened to tell. Now I’m sure the police get trained in something, but they must not get trained in horse sense. No one seeing Henry cut up like I did would believe that story. You want to stop a little boy from talking, you wouldn’t need to cut him like that.”

“Now, Etta, we get the idea. I don’t think we need you to paint the picture too real for us,” Myrtle said.

Myrtle snipped off a long piece of thread and put it through her needle, went back to quilting. But now she was making long, uneven stitches, not the fine ones she’d been making all day. Neither Etta nor Fernie looked at her or her stitches. They were focused on their own.

“And another thing,” Etta continued, “anyone who knew Henry would know it couldn’t have happened that way. Henry wouldn’t go up to a man who looked like the man in the store and threaten to tell on him for stealing chickens. Henry was so shy and kind-hearted, other children at school would sometimes take things from his lunch, and he’d let them, not tell anyone. I never did it, but I heard others talk about it. If that man wanted chickens, Henry wouldn’t have stopped him. If he wanted potatoes, Henry would’ve gone to the root cellar and gotten him a whole bag. I knew Henry.”

“So why do you think the man cut him so bad?” Fernie asked.

“I don’t know if either of you remember—Myrtle, I guess you might—how it was Henry came to be staying with Clara and Elmer in the first place. He was a little shaver when he came, maybe four of five, and he was living with his father down in Charleston before. His mother had already died—don’t recollect what took her. Anyway, his father was in a knife fight and left another man for dead. Well, that man was hurt bad, but not dead. So it’s clear the stranger was here for revenge.”

“But why come after the boy, if it was his father did it?” Fernie asked.

“That’s just it,” Etta said. “Henry’s father ran off after the fight, left Henry with some neighbors and disappeared. That’s when Henry came here. So there’s your motivation. Henry was who he could find.”

“But what makes you think the stranger at the store was the man in the fight with Henry’s father?” Myrtle said.

“The scar, of course. The man at the store had a scar, and I’m sure the man who was in the fight had a scar. I’m not sure about the man who escaped from prison, but I’m sure a lot of prisoners have scars.”

Myrtle stopped quilting her long, uneven stitches and looked at Etta. “You know, I saw a man on television the other night on one of those talk shows, and that man had a scar on his face. You don’t suppose he could have been the killer, do you?”

“He’d be old now, but I reckon he could still be living. What was he talking about, the man on television?”

“I think he was talking about a book he wrote,” Myrtle said.

“That doesn’t sound like the man I saw,” Etta said. “He didn’t look much like a book writer.”

“Etta, seems to me you have some good ideas on the case,” Fernie said.

“I tried to help the police. I told them what I told you, but they didn’t care about my ideas. I guess they didn’t think a little boy murdered back here in the mountains was worth looking into.”

“You still seem riled up about this,” Fernie said. “It was almost sixty years ago. Probably most of the police who worked on the case are dead. The one who did it too.”

“I don’t have much choice but to let it go,” Etta said, “but I can’t stop thinking about it, especially since it popped right out of my mouth when I was talking to the doctor.”

“Seems to me you did what you could,” Fernie said. She snipped off a length of thread and put it through her needle.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to look at a man with a scar on his face the same way again,” Myrtle said, smiling.

“I guess I don’t see anything to smile about, a little boy murdered,” Etta said.

The women were quiet and huddled so close over the quilt they could have reached out and poked each other with their needles. Fernie was working on the red gingham patch that matched the curtains in the kitchen. Myrtle was doing big stitches on the blue print from the cushion on Etta’s sofa.

“This patch here is from a little dress I did for Claudia,” Etta said, pointing at a blue dotted swiss. “I smocked it in red. I wonder if Claudia’ll remember that dress when she sees the quilt. And the lavender print there on your patch, Fernie, that’s from a dress I made when Ernest and I took the trip to Florida. It was a Simplicity pattern. I sure can’t fit into that dress anymore.”

Etta got up to adjust the shade so the late afternoon sun streaming through the picture window didn’t get in their eyes. She moved the glass prism hanging in the window, and for a moment rainbows spun around the room. She pulled the shade down carefully past the hanging spider plant, its runners and shoots draped around the window frame, hanging here and there on hooks. One of the clustered shoots fell to the floor.

“I guess I’ll have to root that and start another plant,” Etta said.

“You have such a way with plants,” Fernie said. “Is there anyone here who doesn’t have a spider plant started from one of your shoots?”

“They’re spread around pretty far,” Etta said. “Seems like this old spider plant can’t quit. I’ll pot this one for the new preacher. I took him a loaf of bread last week, and I didn’t see a single plant in his house. Can you imagine? I don’t see how you can live without signs of life around you.”

Etta was on her way back to the quilt and stopped. “I can’t believe we got so busy talking that I forgot to serve the pie.”

“I want to finish my patch here,” Fernie said, “and I probably shouldn’t have pie anyway. The doctor says weight’s the worst thing for these varicose veins.”

“I’d just as soon wait and do a little more quilting too,” Myrtle said. “And I don’t see that any of us really needs pie, especially with it getting on toward supper time.”

“I made a blueberry pie, and you can have it if you want,” Etta said. “I don’t think a little sliver of pie is going to kill anyone or ruin their supper.”

Fernie and Myrtle finished the patches they were working on. Fernie had a small slice of Etta’s pie. Myrtle chose not to. They packed up their thimbles and little scissors, took their coats off the hooks by the door and left.

If Etta or Fernie found Myrtle’s behavior rude the day they worked on Claudia’s graduation quilt, they never said a word. They ignored it, and life went on as before. Myrtle, as much as she might have liked to do more, as much as she might have liked to jump up in frustration so abruptly that she knocked over Etta’s kitchen chair and stormed out of the trailer, all she did was make some uneven stitches and thank Etta for lunch before she got into Fernie’s Buick, and they drove off. Those long stitches were as much as she could do and still sit there on the bench with Etta the next Sunday at church.


One by one the quilters in Tanner’s Gap died, Myrtle the last. Some of their quilts were preserved in closets or cedar chests. If they started showing signs of wear, they were put into dog beds or in stacks of moving blankets. Claudia’s Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt was in a stack of blankets and bedspreads in her linen closet. She and her husband used it for a time, but it didn’t fit their new queen size bed. Claudia may never have noticed the dotted Swiss patches from the dress her grandmother had made her, or Myrtle’s long, uneven stitches. Myrtle never mentioned them to anyone, but she never forgot them. She thought about those stitches at Etta’s funeral, sitting on the bench behind Etta’s family, and she almost laughed out loud. It surprised her how she missed Etta after she was gone.

MARY ALICE HOSTETTER grew up in Pennsylvania, the tenth of twelve children in a farm family. She paused a career in education and human services to spend a couple years living and working in a remote town in West Virginia. The experience inspired a collection of linked short stories, from which The Other Side of Cheat Mountain is taken. Previous publications include the New York Times (Modern Love), Gettysburg Review, Hippocampus, The Common, Prime Number, Appalachian Heritage and storySouth. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.