I am hard at work, writing THE LAST WALTZ. Its origins are complex and storied since this novel was conceptualized during my penning of THE DAWN.
In a very real and tactile sense, however, this Northern French novel began with my creation of the Sophia Quilt.
During the summer of 2005, a former co-worker was expecting her fourth child. I sewed a quilt for her expected newborn, and I named it after that daughter-to-come. The quilt was promptly appropriated by the soon-to-be dethroned youngest daughter and used in her bed!
I had no words of advice for this friend because my own Dear Daughter, a teen at the time, asked me to make her a Sophia Quilt for herself!
I fulfilled the request, and saved what little was left of the cabbage rose border fabrics. Those yardages were of the same floral pattern but with two different color palettes. One was in pale gold, the other moss green.
Sometime during the summer of 2014, I decided to stitch a Sophia Quilt for myself. I re-visited that fabric stash and determined those materials, with their antique-y muted shades, were insufficient for the borders of another quilt. I consequently purchased a rose print in much more vibrant cotton for those border pieces, after having decided to liven up the shades in the set pieces, the nine-patch squares. The background color in aqua pulled together all of those tonal elements.
I then possessed my own Sophia Quilt. The heroine known as Sophia began to emerge from that tangible creation.
My character, Sophia Dolliver Charpentier, is not a quilter, but she is a seamstress. If there is one fictional heroine for whom I have quite directly drawn from my own self, from my own experiences — sewing and otherwise — and from my intimate desires, designs, and dreams, it is Sophia.
She’s become a treasured person to me, an amalgam of women I’ve known and not known, of women I wish I’d known, and perhaps have yet to encounter.
To me, Sophia is a woman of the past, reaching into modernity, sans the vulgar obsession with self. She represents the fantasy of Woman, the alluring creature whom God made for man. She equally exudes the authenticity of Woman:
she who seeks to love, in spite of heartache, or because of heartache; and in defiance of the world crumbling down around her, this anonymous member of the fairer sex.
My personal philosophy regarding the fairer sex is that they are not fair in the least. Women ruled from the very first moments of their mysterious existence. And the wise ones were intelligent enough to remain silent about their extraordinary powers and strengths.
For decades, nigh on a century, the feminine mystique has been trashed by the harridans in the streets with their placards and pompous protests. During childhood, I had to watch them, the harpy loudmouths, out there, in the public square, even as I was surviving shrews in close quarters. Newer versions of the miserable juvenile hags, the young old maids of the millennium, have appeared, like crabgrass, to shrilly take over, complete, the sights and sounds of fakery as news.
The real news is that virtuous, hard-working, quiet women of this nation, of the world, are the ones tending to the business of keeping those home fires burning, keeping a sane and civilized society going, keeping life — alive.
I can not witness the publicized profanity of humanity, the spoiled-brat beasts of womanity. In my mind, creative and otherwise, those girls in the bodies of women no longer exist.
There does exist, in actuality, in glorious reality, the tender but resilient woman-ness that is the birthright of every babe born a girl.
The deeply feminine qualities of any woman became horridly endangered during the past fifty or sixty years in America. Kindness, compassion, self-sacrifice, gently sincere etiquette, devotion to duty, and duty to devotion: those traits do not a doormat make.
A real woman is a combination of virtues and vices, fortitude and frailties, and faults and foibles that a loving nature nurtures into a better person. That person is not only capable of caring for others, she prefers to do the work of tending to the needs of the less fortunate, the sick, the weak, the weary, the heavy-laden. That heart-felt work does not render her an exploited beast of burden or an underpaid and manipulated mule of drudgery. Quite to the contrary, the professional victims are the ones who look like complete and utter asses, griping and moaning about rights and privileges in a world where tragedy so cruelly devastates unknown victims every day.
To be selfless does not indicate a lack or absence of self. To be selfless is to have earned the state of zen that comprises motherhood. The mere act of giving birth to a child does not transform a woman into a mother. Many are the females who birth babes they cannot love; and many are the women who are unable to bear children, but who care for others with sensitivities that are impossible for the heartless breeder to comprehend, much less feel and act upon. There’s a profoundly necessary process that a woman undergoes during those 40 weeks of being with child, of being enceinte, as the French say.
Knowing that your body now prepares the way for the life of another human being, a miracle of life whose very survival depends upon you — that task is a sacred responsibility that God has given to woman. In the realization of that basic biological function, a woman either proves herself superior to the male of the species, or she reveals all of her baneful defects and debased desires: jealousy, self-loathing, gluttony, enmity toward others, including her own offspring.
That wretched fact of life about self-destructive women shall never end, but I, for one, need not remind myself of it on a daily, hourly basis. I choose to celebrate the victory of love over hatred, and the triumph of life over death. I choose to honor and applaud genuine women, natural women, the female human that makes a man complete.
Mystique, mystery, miracle and fount of exultation: there is woman in her state of nature. Sophia Dolliver Charpentier, in becoming Sophia Dolliver Charpentier Granville, begins the journey of fulfilling that destiny of becoming a wife during the summer of 1944. By December of that year, Sophia resides, alone, in a beige stone house, a maison de maître that she inherited from her father, just outside Bastogne. Her groom, her beloved, the father of her unborn child, has returned to the battlefield.
In that sheltered antique abode, she learns how to deal with the sorrows of her past. She rises to the demands of dealing with the dangers of the present. She extracts le bon tiré du malheur, the good from the bad. And she gives birth to the future.
In time, I shall give to my heroine a Sophia quilt of her own making, because she shall have earned it, richly and resplendently.