The Crochet Lady provides a vivid portrayal of Colorado history through the words of one who lived it
From the beginning author Albert Quintana does not mince words about what his novel “The Crochet Lady” is about or what its conclusion will bring to both the protagonist and lector.
“The Crochet Lady’ is a proper example of life and death. … Her final exit was hard and painful. … It just seemed like it wasn’t right or fair for a sick, wonderful, grand lady to leave this world in such a manner,” Quintana writes in the introduction to “The Crochet Lady”. “Her story is beautiful. It is a story of love and hope that exemplifies true dependence on God to guide her life. … In her last days she asked me to write her story. Here is her story. She is ‘The Crochet Lady’. The promise has been fulfilled.”
The same exuberance with which he penned the introduction of his novel, Quintana lays out a narrative that focuses on his central character. In a style similar to that of Garcia Marquez, Quintana’s protagonist figuratively spins yarns - while literally spinning yarn - of her past from the bus to the senior center she rides on in the present. The narrative constantly shifts from past to present and present to past allowing the reader to feel how the Crochet Lady’s stories of her past bring on type of youthful rejuvenation, almost giving her new life, while her moments of solitude away from the senior center and her friends and family bring on the physical pain that is emblematic of her approaching the end.
Those stories, however, her musings of the past are, as she tells it, “a ‘corrido’, a song that tells a story of oppression, hate, pain, joy, love, adventure, and a lot of hard work.”
Much of her story - her ‘corrido’ - takes place in Southern Colorado - more specifically in the San Luis Valley - in the early 20th century. A time of traders, trappers and miners, the Crochet Lady - whose name, Maria, is mentioned only in conversation with friends and family - tells of her upbringing, which serves to the reader not only as an intriguing story, but also as an insightful look at Colorado’s rich history in the “Wild West.”
The story follows the Crochet Lady through a difficult upbringing that included a life of abject poverty - exacerbated by the loss of her father Juan Pablo to diphtheria when she was five months old. “We were very, very, poor, salt of the earth poor,” Quintana writes through the voice of the Crochet Lady. “Just imagine we survived the post-Depression years as lumberjacks, migrant workers and housekeepers. … Yes, you wouldn’t believe it. My three half-sisters and I were lumberjacks. Many called us ‘Tom-boyish’ and others called us ‘lumber-Jaquelines.’”
The reader can feel the humor and youth bursting from the Crochet Lady’s recounting of her past. Much like one feels that same youth when visiting the elderly and listening to the stories of their pasts. Her story, however, also has a bleak side. The side that conjures images of the physical toll of slowly dying. The falls, the aches and pains, the defibrillator on her pacemaker that brought on bone-chillings shocks, Quintana makes the last moments of the Crochet Lady’s life as visceral as her does her youthful stories.
Through “The Crochet Lady” Quintana manages to connect the reader to the life of an intriguing human being while also providing a vivid history lesson on both Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. If nothing else, “The Crochet Lady” serves as a reminder as to how important the stories of past generations are to both the person telling the story and those who are listening.