Patches on the Same Quilt
By Becky Mushko
Patches on the Same Quilt, Franklin Publishing, 2001.
It was hard to decide which of Becky Mushko's books to review. Where There's A Will, a delightful collection of short stories for young people, is the newest of her works and include study guides for use in 6th grade Virginia schools under the SOLs. The title of The Girl Who Raced Mules and Other Stories is nearly irresistible, and is a collection of charming, funny and beautiful stories. Peevish Advice is just plain hilarious, described as "a fun and trashy reading experience".
Patches on the Same Quilt, the first of Becky's books that I read, was also my favorite. This short story collection, winner of the 2001 Smith Mountain Arts Council Fiction Award, spans six generations of a fictional Franklin County family. A member of each generation picks up the thread of the history of the family, telling the tale that begins with a young boy's longing for a horse. The family saga twists and turns with the changes of the 20th century, but the strong love of place and deep appreciation and love of fine horses stretches across the generations.
The author's sense of story and of place, as well as a deep understanding of the people of her unique county, are all revealed in the stories that take place in and around Penhook, Virginia. A good eye for detail shows in the descriptions of the area, settling the reader comfortably in the mountains of Franklin County. The dialect is well done, capturing the soft accents of the mountain people. Much of the intelligence and talent of the native Blue Ridge Mountain people is also revealed in the talents of the characters as artists and writers.
Particularly meaningful to me were the stories of the women. A mother grieves the loss of her soldier son, a young girl faces the consequences of a careless decision, a second wife faces the fact that her new husband is still in love with his dead first bride. The ties of mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, sister to sister; all are explored and revealed as strong women face sorrow, loss, gain and growth.
Horses figure largely in the stories, beginning with a Civil War survivor that was once a fine "singlefootin'" or racking horse that was crippled by the war. Her descendants are celebrated along with the family, and there are some telling revelations about the world of show horses and the corruption of the beautiful natural gaits by show practices in the later stories. The loss of the horses as a way of life leads to more hard changes for the family.
The title of the book is derived from a sampler that a character worked: "We may not be cut from the same cloth, but we're all patches on the same quilt" and serves as the theme of the book. The cover artwork is a photo of a family quilt, an heirloom that Becky Mushko has preserved. The theme that each life in a family serves as an interconnected part of a whole, captured in stories told in individual voices with unique viewpoints, is a revelation about the people of the mountains.
Becky Mushko's books are available on-line from several sources and directly from the author. Patches on the Same Quilt must be ordered directly from Becky and is in a second printing.
Becky Mushko, Writer