Summary: An AU story of Adam recounting a tale from his past to his daughter.
Rating: G 2,030 words
The Card Trick Quilt
As the rising winter sun slowly brightened the front hall, its rays glinting off the Nativity displayed on a side table, a lone figure moved cat-like over the wooden flooring toward the front parlor. Poking her head into the doorway she observed the low fire and the colorful Christmas tree in the corner, many presents nestled around its lower branches. The cheerful site of the room made her smile but the smile turned to a frown when she noticed the vacant chair by the hearth. Even though it was Christmas morning her father was not in his usual place, sitting by the fire and sipping his coffee, reading any one of his favorite Christmas stories.
Anna Grace Cartwright walked further down the hall wondering where her father could be. Before she took more than a couple of steps she heard a quiet thump somewhere above her. Wrapping her thick robe more tightly around her slender body she headed for the stairs.
Instead of sitting by the warm fire reading, Adam Cartwright was up in the chilled attic on the third floor of his Boston home. He’d been there since before sunrise searching for something he wanted to gift to his youngest daughter on this doubly special day, her twenty-fourth birthday. Adam let out a melancholy sigh as he shoved a few boxes aside, knocking one over in the process. This Christmas was going to be difficult in many ways. It was the first Christmas since his father, Ben Cartwright, had passed away. Although it had been in January and Adam’s wife Ana had been sick, they traveled west for the funeral. Just before that trip, their doctor confirmed that Ana’s time was short as well. It was on a late winter day in March when Adam said farewell to his soulmate, to his beloved Ana. Now on the other end of the year he had reason to celebrate, with some family announcements made in November. Despite the sadness of this year, Christmas still held a bright spot in Adam’s heart.
Adam had met his wife Ana in Spain where they remained for several years while their family grew to four children, Amanda, twins Emelia and Samuel, and Aaron. When Adam could no longer resist the pull of going home he and his family arrived at the Ponderosa for an extended visit one December. A year later Anna Grace, Adam and Ana’s fifth child, the only one to be born in America, on the Ponderosa, arrived in the late hours of Christmas Day. Now, twenty-four years later she was engaged to be married in a few months. Adam pondered the changes through the years as he continued to search for the one item he desperately wanted to give Anna Grace.
Discovering many other treasures from Spain and the Ponderosa, Adam paused in his search to consider how blessed his life had been with Ana, and now with his married children and grandchildren in his life, how full his days were. Sitting upon an old trunk Adam dropped his head into his hands, feeling despair creeping in to replace his joy.
“Oh Ana, where did you put that quilt? The one you made just before Anna Grace was born, where it is my love? You wanted her to have it when the time was right and now is the time. I want her to have it for her new home. Please Ana, show me where it is?”
Adam, startled by the gentle voice which broke the silence of the room, looked over his shoulder as Anna Grace’s head peaked into the doorway to the attic. She entered and carefully picked her way around boxes coming to stand by her father as he sat on the old trunk. Shaking off his sadness he managed a weak smile for his daughter.
“What are you doing up here?”
Anna Grace giggled, “I was looking for you. What are you doing up here?”
Her father smirked at the returned question. “I’m looking for something.” He reached for another large box and rifled through, then shoved it away in frustration.
“What is it? Can I help?” She carefully sat on an old chair, resting her hands against her velvet robe. Anna Grace studied her father’s profile as his eyes scanned the remaining boxes and trunks. She had noticed that as Christmas approached her father had become more agitated. Believing it was because it was going to be their first Christmas without his wife, her mother, Anna Grace reached out for her father’s hand, her gentle touch calming him immediately.
Adam placed his hand over hers and turned to flash a crooked smile at her. Oh how she resembled her mother, not only in looks but in spirit as well. “I’m fine sweetheart. I’m looking for something your mother packed away and…I can’t remember where she put it. I haven’t seen it since we left the Ponderosa.”
Anna Grace frowned as she realized it had been more than ten years since they had left the Ponderosa. “Tell me what it is and I’ll help you find it.”
Adam had to smile. This daughter never gave up when something flustered her dear old father. He was going to miss her sweet smile and gentle caring when she moved to her own home in the coming year.
Adam sighed, “It’s a quilt. And that’s all I’m going to tell you until we find it.”
Anna Grace stood immediately and with great determination began looking through more trunks but found nothing. Shrugging to her father she suggested they get some breakfast and try again later. Her siblings and their families would arrive late in the afternoon for their traditional Christmas gift exchange and dinner. With everyone bringing food for the event father and daughter essentially had all day to find that quilt.
“Sure darling. Let’s go see what treats Missus O’Malley left for us.” Adam stood and stretched his back. When he turned to follow his daughter, he almost stumbled over the trunk he’d been sitting on. Anna Grace turned at the noise and noticed her father staring at the trunk. Bending down he lifted the lid slowly. Anna Grace moved closer to peer over the lid and gasped. She rolled her eyes upward to see Adam smiling at her.
“Is that the quilt?”
“Yes is it. I can’t believe I was sitting on it the entire time.” He reached in and carefully lifted the large object secured in a muslin bag. “Let’s get it downstairs. Please close the lid and lock up the room.”
Anna Grace quickly complied for her curiosity was getting the best of her.
Downstairs in the oversized parlor, Adam gently laid the item on the center table between two sofas. Turning to his daughter he took her face in his hands. “This is something your mother and I want you to have but before we continue, let’s get something to eat. I’m famished.”
Laughter ensued as father and daughter strolled arm in arm into the kitchen to find what their cook had left them for the special day.
An hour later, in the parlor, Anna Grace, now dressed, took a seat by the fire as Adam moved over to the coffee table and began to unwrap the special quilt. As he began to reveal the quilt and its unique pattern his thoughts were full of memories and Anna Grace’s were full of curiosity of what her mother had made. When Adam finally had the full quilt displayed across the sofa he let his daughter explore it while he balanced on the arm of the sofa.
“I remember this, Papa. It was on yours and Mama’s bed when we lived on the Ponderosa.”
“That’s right. When we packed it away to move here, your mother told me she wanted you to have it when you got married since you were born on the Ponderosa.”
“Oh Papa, really? But why? This quilt was so special to you and Mama. And,” she paused as other memories of that time in her childhood came flooding back, “weren’t there smaller ones in Grandpa’s home, and…. Uncle Joe’s too?”
Adam smiled fondly at that memory. “Yes, and Hoss had one too, for when he had his own home. After your mother made this quilt, she made smaller versions for my father and brothers as Christmas gifts, the Christmas you were born.” Adam caressed the four-squared pattern in the center then reached out to his daughter, inviting her to sit by him on the other sofa. “There is a story behind this quilt and those given to my father and brothers. That is what I want to tell you now.”
Anna Grace sat patiently by her father, studying his dark features as many emotions crossed his face. As Adam searched those long ago memories to find a good starting point, he realized there was only one place to begin.
He turned toward his daughter and took her hands in his. Giving her a loving look he spoke quietly, “That year was the first year your mother, brothers and sisters were at the Ponderosa. I had not been home for over six years and when I finally made it I had my family with me. It was wonderful to be home again and to give your mother and your siblings a chance to meet my father and brothers. But it had also been a difficult year, with a couple of incidents that almost cost some lives.”
He regretted causing his daughter concern but as those times led to the concept for the quilt, Adam knew he couldn’t avoid telling about them. He reached a hand out to caress his daughter’s cheek. “Don’t fret, my darling, it all turned out okay, eventually.”
Anna Grace shifted her body closer to her father so as to lean against him. “I’m alright Papa. I’m ready to hear this story.” Adam smiled as he looked at the quilt once again, his daughter snuggled against his arm; so much like her mother she was.
As Adam began telling his daughter the history of the quilt, a frightening scene flashed in his mind.
It was early in November, just after Joe’s birthday. He had been playing poker in Carson City for several hours with a card sharp named Damien. He needed to win this final round in order to free John Harper, brother to Joe’s wife Alice, from Damien’s clutches. Those who lost to Damien were left in deep debt to him, some never to be seen again. Adam also needed to win to save his own life, as he figured Damien knew he was a plant to help John Harper. Adam had barely enough cash to make his final bet when his draw gave him the most extraordinary winning hand… a royal flush. Damien’s face showed he felt he had the winning hand so he called Adam’s final bet of all or nothing. When Adam revealed his rare and winning hand, all hell broke loose. All Adam had ever been able to recall after laying his cards down was Damien’s pistol aimed at him, gunshots firing from all directions and Candy’s face inches from his own begging him to live.
Through the hazy memories of frantic voices, the smell of ether and horrid pain, Adam recalled another voice. It was soft, gentle, calling him back to reality, to life. After opening his eyes for the first time after the shooting, he knew he would be alright. His Ana was there and that was all that mattered.
A couple of days later, he was in his old bed at his father’s home, to finish his recovery under the watchful eyes of his father and Hop Sing before returning to his own home. After a fretful night, he finally succumbed to sleep, awaking around mid-morning to the angelic face of his wife. She was not aware of his gaze as she worked methodically to sew some colorful patches of fabric together.
“What’s that you’re working on?”
Startled by the sudden sound of Adam’s voice, Ana jumped a bit then laid her sewing aside to sit on the bed. “It is something I started to keep me busy while I sit here.”
Ana brushed back Adam’s unruly hair and gently stroked his unshaven cheek. “How are you feeling mi amor?”
Adam almost answered with “fine” but remembered this was his wife. He knew she would never accept that answer. “Tired, sore. But better since you’re here.” He tried to raise his hand to touch her cheek but it took too much effort.
Ana caught his frustration and reaching for his hand gently placed it against her cheek. Adam then caressed her cheek and lips with his fingers as she leaned into the simple gesture. Sensing his fatigue she helped him lower his arm to the bed, the moment still lingering between them.
“Show me what you’re working on?” Adam indicated her sewing with his eyes.
Ana leaned over and pulled the center of the fabric into what remained of her lap. The movement caused their fifth child to start kicking inside of her. She placed Adam’s hand over the movement and together they waited until the child settled down. Ana straightened out the fabric and turned it so Adam could see it. Four large squares overlaid each other on a colorful background. As Adam studied it an idea formed, “It looks like a hand of cards.” He raised his eyebrows at Ana to see if he was right.
“Si, Adam. Candy told me you had won the card game against the man, Damien, with a Royal Flush.”
“Don’t know how and I’ll never be able to do that again.”
Ana smiled at his smirk. “After the doctor assured me you would be alright the idea came to me. I call this pattern a Card Trick. Each square represents a member of your family – Ben, Joe, Hoss and you.” She pointed to each square. “I hope to have this finished soon for us to use on our bed as I have other sewing I wish to do for Christmas gifts.”
Adam was intrigued by her choice of the pattern. “Tell me why you chose this pattern. Surely it’s not really connected to what happened with Damien and John. That is one night I’d just as soon forget.” He lifted one corner of his lips into a crooked smile.
“I believe we all would.” She tilted her head in agreement. “You did save Alice’s brother from that horrid man by playing cards, but this pattern is more than that. In the year that we have been here, my love, I have seen, even experienced, the bond that connects you and your father and brothers. No matter the circumstance, good or bad, each of you is always there for the others.
“When we arrived last December, unannounced,” she paused to let that sink in. She still teased Adam about the fact that he kept forgetting to wire his family that he, Ana and their four children were coming from Spain. She relished the look of chagrin he gave her now, “your family accepted all six of us without question. I felt the warmth of their love as if I had known them for all of the years we had been married.
“Then the Spring came and you went to help Hoss with a flooded creek even though your back was hurting you. You told me you needed to be with Hoss on that trip and you could not explain it. When I heard that Hoss, you and Joe had ended up in the raging waters and nearly drowned, I…” Her voice quivered and she lowered her head.
Adam took her hand and squeezed it, “Shh….I know, Ana.”
“But you made it through.” She smiled through her misty eyes. “Your father was so strong. He knew I would not stay home and he helped me find someone to take care of our children so I could go to you. That’s when I began to understand the strength of your family, Adam. Now I know that no matter what happens they will always be there for you and for me, and our children.” She rested her hand where their unborn child now slept.
Adam fingered the colorful squares. “It’s a wonderful design. I love it and I love you for thinking of it.” Adam tugged at her arm to draw her closer so he could kiss her.
After the lingering kiss, Ana straightened up, resting her hands on the fabric. “My father taught me to play several card games as I grew up but he also used them to teach lessons in life to me. I recall one such time when I never could beat my father at a particular game. He knew I did not like the game for that reason but he still made me play it with him. On one such occasion I wanted to quit in the middle of the game, I was losing quite badly, and he drew my attention from the cards to say something to me. He said, ‘Mija, my daughter, life does not consist in holding good cards but in playing well the cards you have*.’ After thinking about those words I rejoined the game and actually won, barely.” Her eyes flashed triumphantly with the memory. “I have never forgotten those words, and I have tried to live by them ever since.” Ana’s voice trailed off as she turned her focus back to her husband and the quilt.
Adam’s squeeze of her hand brought her back to him. “And you’ve shown me that truth many times since I’ve known you, my love.” They locked eyes for a moment recalling a particular time after they had first met.
Adam began to grow tired once more. Ana helped him to sip some water before he settled against the soft pillows and drifted into a healing sleep. She pulled the covers over him then stood for a moment in the silent room. The house was quiet as everyone was doing other tasks until lunch, so Ana decided to lay by her husband, laying the quilt over the foot of the bed. Snuggling up to him she felt a burden lift from her heart. Adam was by her side and would recover. For that she would be eternally grateful. Just before she gave into sleep, she reached for the quilt to pull it closer to them both.
A couple of hours later, Ben quietly opened the room door when no one answered his knock. What he saw warmed his heart more than anything else. Ana was curled up beside Adam hugging his good arm, both sound asleep. Draped over them was the beginning of a quilt. Ben marveled at the pattern of four overlapping squares. As he closed the door behind him and headed to his room to freshen up for lunch, he reflected on the pattern. It reminded him of him and his sons, his family.
Over the next several weeks, Adam spent time recovering from his gunshot wound. By early December he was back to a normal routine, and just in time to welcome Ana’s father to the Ponderosa. With her child due in the next month, Ana had spent those weeks doing quiet tasks and planning for Christmas. She also completed the quilt she had started when Adam was shot. It now covered their bed. In secret she found time to make her Christmas gifts to Adam’s family.
When Christmas Day arrived, Ben’s home was full of family. The joy he felt having everyone together rivaled how he had felt the year before, when Adam’s arrival home with his wife and children surprised them all. In the morning, after a filling breakfast, the children opened their gifts. Afterwards, Hop Sing provided a light midday meal, then the adults gathered by the fire to open their gifts. After the last ones were apparently opened, Ana asked Adam to bring out three boxes from behind the large tree by the staircase. She stood to receive them then proceeded to give one to Ben, one to Hoss and one to Joe. After returning to her place on the settee beside Adam, she nodded for them to open their gifts.
Joe was the first to see inside the box. With a puzzled expression he showed it to Alice as Hoss and Ben finally opened their boxes. Ben gently unfolded the small quilt and studied the pattern.
“This is the same pattern that’s on your own quilt. It’s beautiful. Thank you.”
Adam spoke up when he had figured out what his beloved wife had done. He glanced at Ana to confirm his suspicions. She nodded for him to continue. “Pa, I believe there is a story about the quilt you should hear. Ana?”
Ana shared a look with Adam then told the story of the Card Trick quilt design and what it meant to her.
“So you see, these small wall quilts represent the strength of this family, and like Papa said,” she shared a warm look with her father, “what matters is not what cards we hold but that we play them well.”
When she finished speaking, Ben glanced around the room, and then rested his gaze on Ana. “I believe I speak for everyone here when I say this is a most precious gift, and shall be cherished always. Thank you, Ana. And in the same light, you my dear are a treasure to this family, also to be cherished, always.” He rose from his chair and leaned over Ana to kiss her cheek. Smiling broadly he indicated his quilt. “I believe this will look very nice hanging by the fireplace.”
Everyone agreed and the discussions continued about the quilts and the story. By the time Hop Sing called everyone to the table for the Christmas feast, Ben’s quilt had been hung on the wall between the fireplace and the dining room. After everyone was seated around the table, Adam’s eyes rested upon the collection of squares on the quilt. He bowed his head, and before his father offered the blessing, Adam said his own thanks for the blessing of his entire family. It was indeed a joyful Christmas.
A crackling fire was the only sound in the parlor as Adam’s voice trailed off. Adam took in a deep breath and let it out slowly to settle his emotions. Anna Grace shifted beside him drawing his attention to her.
“And it was after that dinner that you chose to make your entrance into our lives. That is why your mother and I want you to have this quilt. As she told me, our family is always there for each other and, as you begin your new life as a wife, and someday as a mother, we want you to remember that your family, no matter where they are, are always here for you.”
“I know, Papa. I have always known. But I will treasure this gift as a wonderful reminder.”
Anna Grace leaned over to kiss her father’s warm cheek, then nestled against him, his arm reaching around her shoulders to draw her closer. This was a favorite position for both since she had been a little girl. Adam cherished the moment as one of the last ones he would have like this. As the fire burned and the candles from the Christmas tree filled the room with warmth, Adam’s eyes drifted to the portrait above the mantle. Warm brown eyes and a gentle smile seemed to be aimed right at him as he rested his eyes on the likeness of Ana. In his heart she was never far and he knew she was with him and Anna Grace in the room that Christmas morning. His life had been full of good and bad “cards” but when Ana had entered his life, he had learned to play them well. Now it was time to pass the lessons on, as he placed a soft kiss upon his daughter’s head, and gave a dimpled smile back to the woman in the portrait. As Adam closed his eyes to savor the moment, firelight cast dancing shadows across Ana’s Card Trick quilt.
*With thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson – “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand as well.”
Click here for the 2018 Advent Calendar – Day 17 – Flock of Geese by jfclover
Other Stories by this Author
- Christmas Child (by AC1830)
- The Light Inside (by AC1830)
- Angel of Love (by AC1830)
- Christmas Spirit (by AC1830)
- Circle of Life (by AC1830)