When Christmas Eve comes to Elm Creek Manor, the tenor of the holiday is far from certain. Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, the Master Quilter, has her own reasons for preferring a quiet, even subdued, Christmas. Her young friend Sarah McClure, however, takes the opposite view and decides to deck the halls brightly. As she explores the trunks packed with Bergstrom family decorations that haven't been touched in more than fifty years, Sarah discovers a curious Christmas quilt. Begun in seasonal fabrics and patterns, the quilt remains unfinished.
Sylvia reveals that the handiwork spans several generations and a quartet of Bergstrom quilters -- her great aunt, her mother, her sister, and herself. As she examines the array of quilt blocks each family member contributed but never completed, memories of Christmases past emerge.
At Elm Creek Manor, Christmas began as a celebration of simple virtues -- joy and hope buoyed by the spirit of giving. As each successive generation of Bergstroms lived through its unique trials -- the antebellum era, the Great Depression, World War II -- tradition offered sustenance even during the most difficult times. For Sylvia, who is coping with the modern problem of family dispersed, estranged, or even forgotten, reconciliation with her personal history may prove as elusive as piecing the Christmas Quilt.
Elm Creek Manor is full of secrets, from a Christmas tree with unusual properties to the sublime Bergstrom strudel recipe. Sylvia's tales at first seem to inform her family legacy but ultimately illuminate far more, from the importance of women's art to its place in commemorating our shared experience, at Christmastime and in every season.
Chiaverini, author of the Elm Creek Quilts novels, delivers a rich holiday tale that predates last year's Master Quilter, also set during the Christmas season. Sylvia Compson, n?e Bergstrom, 77, is determined to make it the dullest holiday ever at Elm Creek Manor, to which she returned, a year and a half ago, after 50 years of estrangement. Her Bergstrom relatives are gone; her memories of Christmas past are fraught. But young Sarah McClure, Sylvia's partner in the quilting camp that's brought Elm Creek back to life, wants to spend Christmas with Sylvia-and she wants it tinsel strewn. Home is here now, not with the mother who dislikes Sarah's husband, Matt. Sylvia reluctantly agrees to visit the trove of ornaments in the attic. As the women discover an unfinished Christmas quilt, a mixed bag of memories spills out along with the feathered star blocks: strudel making in the Depression; tree trimming during World War II, which claimed Sylvia's husband, brother and a baby born too soon because of her shock; memories of a sister, Claudia, who forfeits Sylvia's love until it's too late. Reconciliation and redemption: of course. But it's not won cheaply-there's no saccharine in this sweet story. Agent, Maria Massie. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Simon & Schuster
October 31, 2005
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Excerpt from The Christmas Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Chapter One Sylvia's childhood home was so full of memories it was a wonder there was any room for furniture. As the December days grew colder and the nights longer, the bygone years seemed to encroach ever more insistently into the present -- vexing Sylvia day and night with their persistence. She imagined spirits of Christmases past crowding the halls, arguing over favorite chairs by the fire, looking about Elm Creek Manor, and shaking their heads in dismay over how she had let the place go. She would earn a small fortune if she could charge them rent, but regrettably, the spirits offered only longing whispers and mournful sighs. Nothing would appease them save an old-fashioned Bergstrom family Christmas, with all the trappings of the holiday, every beloved tradition fulfilled to the letter.If Sylvia addressed the spirits -- which she would not do, she was seventy-six but not quite ready to speak aloud to an empty room, thank you very much -- she would warn them that they were bound to be disappointed. As much as Sylvia missed the Christmas joys of her youth, the Bergstroms were gone, every last one of them save Sylvia herself, and their traditions had passed on with them. Besides, Sylvia had a plan whose success depended upon this being the dullest, least festive, and most yawn-inducing Christmas in the history of Elm Creek Manor.Her young friend Sarah McClure laughed off Sylvia's warnings of a dreary Christmas in their remote central Pennsylvania home. "Excitement is precisely what I'm trying to avoid," explained Sarah as she sewed three quilted stockings to hang before the fireplace in the library. "Christmas at my mother's house would be interesting, but for all the wrong reasons."Exasperated, Sylvia strengthened her resolve to bring about reconciliation between Sarah and her mother. After all, Sarah had promised to try. A year and a half earlier, Sylvia had returned to Elm Creek Manor after a fifty-year absence, the sole heir to the Bergstrom estate upon the death of her estranged sister, Claudia. She had intended to sell it, but with Sarah's help, she made peace with her past and realized that she could never sell her beloved family home. The question remained, however, of how to restore life and happiness to the manor, which was much too large for one old woman living alone. Sarah had devised an ingenious solution, combining their love for quilting with their need for community by turning the Bergstrom estate into a summer retreat for quilters. As Sylvia and Sarah negotiated their business agreement, Sylvia, in repayment for all Sarah had done to help Sylvia reconcile with estranged loved ones, decided to add a clause that would encourage Sarah to mend fences in her own life."I don't know what kind of conflict stands between you and your mother," Sylvia had said, "but you must promise me you'll talk to her and do your best to resolve it. Don't be a stubborn fool like me and let grudges smolder and relationships die."The unexpected request had clearly caught Sarah by surprise. "I don't think you know how difficult that will be.""I don't pretend to know, but I can guess. I don't expect miracles. All I ask is that you learn from my mistakes and try."Sarah had hesitated so long before making her reply that Sylvia had feared she would refuse and that their agreement to create Elm Creek Quilt Camp would fall through, but at last, Sarah agreed. Sylvia took her at her word and both women devoted themselves to the creation of Elm Creek Quilts. They worked so hard that first year to realize their vision that Sylvia could excuse Sarah's failure to make good on her promise. They were so busy, working fourteen-hour days or more with the help of Sarah's husband, Matt, and their talented staff of quilting teachers, that Sarah had no time to visit her mother and resolve their differences. But then camp ended for the summer, and still Sarah did little more than call her mother f