Love’s Labor’s Lost—and Found!


Christmas was just a month away, and the perfect gift for my wife’s parents was nearing completion in our living room, where it had completely dominated the scene for weeks.

Since Susan’s father had a bad back, her parents had a custom-made bed, larger than king size, with a hard side for her dad and a soft side for her mother, Elaine. Since it nearly filled the bedroom, the bed did cause a special problem. Elaine frequently complained, “None of our quilts are large enough. They are always pulling out at the bottom or slipping to one side or the other. I wish I could find a quilt large enough for that bed.”

And so in October Susan had decided to make a giant quilt for the bed.

After a number of trips to town she found just the right material, a festive flower print in warm pink colors that would fit perfectly in their bedroom. A lady in the ward was happy to lend us her large quilting frames. And when we finally got the frames up, and the quilt thumbtacked into place, the living room was totally filled. We pushed the piano into the hallway, and stored the furniture in every available space. And we entertained the home teachers in the kitchen.

As for Susan, she spent every extra moment working on the quilt. It was her first, and she stayed up hours at night, quilting. When she finally came to bed, and we clasped hands in prayer, I could feel her fingertips, raw from the pin pricks. But slowly the quilting frames moved nearer to each other, as row by row the job got done.

It was hard to keep the quilt a surprise. All the time the quilting frames were up, Susan’s parents had not been invited into our home. This was sometimes embarrassing. One cold day Elaine came to our front door on some errand. Susan wasn’t home, and I answered the door, half-clad, having just showered. She must have thought me a very odd son-in-law, not to invite her in, but I passed objects back and forth, always keeping the door closed. Finally she left, obviously perplexed.

The night we took the frames down Susan was so excited and proud of her efforts, she couldn’t suppress a few tears. “I can’t wait to see mother’s face!” she said.

But those few tears would turn into a flood before Christmas.

The next morning, after I had left for school, Susan wrapped the nearly finished quilt in a plastic bag for safe-keeping and decided to hide it in the partially remodeled family room. A carpenter had been working on new cupboards in there, and that evening he came again. The large plastic bag was in his way, so he moved it to the garage.

I guess I was the real culprit, though. It was garbage night, and after I took the garbage cans out and emptied the wastebaskets from the various closets, I finally took out the garbage in the plastic bags.

When I came home the next day, Susan greeted me with red—but dry—eyes. Looking up from the cupboard where she was working, she said quietly, “There’s been kind of a tragedy today.”

Then the dam broke. I held her in my arms while she wept, and finally she explained, “I guess the quilt went to the garbage.”

Indeed it had. Through her tears, Susan told me that she had missed the quilt about noon. Since I was away on a field trip and couldn’t be reached, she called her mother, explained about the quilt, the weeks of work, and about the garbage. She and her mother, with our two-year-old son tagging along, had gone to the garbage dump and searched.

They wandered through row on row of heaped garbage, some of it already covered by dirt pushed there by the large equipment. There were a lot of plastic bags, but none that contained the soft pink quilt with the festive flowers.

“When’d they pick your garbage up?” asked the man in charge.

“Early this morning.”

“Prob’ly covered up by now, then. We don’t waste much time. Sorry.”

“Thanks anyway.”

There was little I could say to console my wife. The perfect Christmas gift was at the bottom of the garbage dump. It was two or three days before we could laugh about it, and even then, it was hesitant laughter.

There wasn’t time to start over. At least not enough time for one person to start over.

The story circulated quickly. One neighbor told another of Susan’s tragedy. Soon the Relief Society president knocked at our door.

“We’ve all decided to help. We won’t take no for an answer. You get some more material, and I’ll have the women here—in shifts.”

Susan couldn’t find the same pink material. But she found a delicate white print with small red strawberries in squares—perfect for quilting. We got the frames up, and the women came. An army of women!

When I left for school in the morning, they were already there, needles piercing in and out. When I came home, the fourth shift was up. The frames were moving closer together.

Susan marveled at how rapidly some of the women worked; others were slower. But all of them worked with care. Several worked all day—stopping at intervals to run home, prepare a meal, and then come back. They laughed as they worked, sharing stories. We’d only lived in the ward for a short time. Vague faces became warm and familiar.

In just a few days, they left as they had come. An army had advanced, conquered, and gone. And in the army’s wake, Susan held a second beautiful quilt, an occasional droplet of blood from a soldier’s finger the only evidence of the magic that had passed through our house.

Now we had a real surprise for Susan’s parents. They knew the tragedy, and also knew that doing another quilt in so short a time was impossible. With real excitement we crammed the quilt into a too-small box and wrapped it. That way, they’d never guess.

And they didn’t. When Elaine opened the box on Christmas morning, and the strawberries quilted on delicate white popped out, she cried. Susan cried, too. Soon we were all crying.

Six years have passed since that memorable Christmas. Now we are inclined to regard that quilt as the best Christmas present we’ve ever given—or received.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mike Eagle

Kim R. Burningham, speech and debate instructor at Bountiful High School, serves as a high councilor in the Bountiful Utah Central Stake.