Mrs. Patrick waited at the stop sign as several cars passed by from either direction. As a large construction pick-up truck barreled towards her from the North, she suddenly hit the accelerator and lurched out, turning left in front of it, narrowly missing being T-boned.
All within the same time frame, Kay whipped her arms up across her eyes waiting for the crash that never came. Mrs. P had just made it by without so much as a whistling wind passing to spare between the two vehicles.
With the calm and assurance of a grandmother who had seen many risky ventures of children and grandchildren play out safely, she said, “He’ll see me and slow down.”
“She shouldn’t be driving!” Kay murmured to herself in shock. But how could she say anything? The ride was for free.
Kay was visiting with her sister in the small coastal town on the Sechelt Peninsula. Heather had her medical reasons for no longer driving, and anyway, her husband always had their one vehicle which had graduated from car to van to truck over the years. Heather had lost her assurance to drive it and therefore, had become dependent on him or her friends to drive her to all her activities – swimming and exercise classes, the weaving club, choir and church events and various other things that might come her way.
Today was the day for the Christmas lunch for women of their church and Mrs. Patrick had agreed to take not only Heather and Kay but Mrs. Boop who was sitting in the front seat of the flashy new Buick. Dear Mrs. Boop was rapidly losing her eyesight, thought Kay, or she should have equally sent her arms up to protect her face from the oncoming monster truck, but she turned and looked calmly at Heather and inquired after her most recent trip to Nelson to see Lizbet, Kay’s other sister. No one but Kay was having this anxiety attack. Kay admonished herself to be calm.
Mrs. Patrick then made an announcement. “I’m not going to park in the parking lot today. You will have to climb the stairs from Hudson Street. Last time I did so, Stella Smith smashed my front headlight; and I had parked there expressly to avoid the traffic on the street.”
“So I won’t park there again, ” she restated and continued: “I felt so sorry for Stella, but it was her fault, so she just paid me for it. I checked with someone else who saw it all, and they agreed it was Stella.”
“It cost her five hundred dollars because they had to take the bumper off to get at the headlight!” Mrs. Patrick exclaimed. “It’s so very expensive now to get cars fixed. The least little thing… and now you will just have to climb the stairs and walk.”
Kay groaned. Not that she cared about climbing the stairs. It just seemed that perhaps Mrs. Patrick’s car was a giant shiny magnet for other cars and that her nonchalant attitude was too devil-may-care. In Mrs. P’s books, others could look out for her. Kay was not at all reassured and wondered if they would actually make it to church and then home again.
At the church, Kay thanked her foresight for having eaten a sturdy breakfast of two boiled eggs and coffee. Long folding tables were set up for about eighty women. Each table had four places set on each side and two on either end. On each table were two large chargers filled with baked goods – date squares, Nanaimo bars, coconut creams, cherry berry thimbles, speculas, cranberry slices, nut squares, some pink moussy confections and other Christmas sweets.
Kay marvelled at the variety and the quantity. There was a lot of sugar represented on those fancy plates, enough to keep a Cuban sugar plantation busy for a year. She looked at her waistline and prayed fervently for something more healthy, more substantial than sugar for lunch.
Having chosen a place to sit, with Heather to her right and Mrs. Patrick and Mrs. Boop across the furthermost table from the front, Kay took the time to survey the company. With a swift glance, she estimated there were four potential candidates for the under sixty club and with a sigh of come-uppance she realized that she, too, was no longer eligible for that group. Way more than half of the others were over eighty and the telling features were the colours of their hair.
Mrs. Patrick had a lovely even golden-brown colour, tastefully maintained and curled tightly in a cap, trimmed smartly at her neck. Mrs. Boop’s short, wavy hair was salt coloured with a good dose of pepper and coiffed a little looser. Across the room Kay saw three or four absolutely white heads gleaming. One of them was decorated with a pair of red felt antlers that jutted out a foot above her head and had little brown ears. She looked quite charming.
Beside her, an ash blond woman wore a jester’s cap of felt in red and green; and another to her left, was wearing a red Santa Claus toque with white rabbit’s fur. A few ladies had tinges of pink and blue in their hair. Most had been recently coiffed for this event at the hair dresser and the tightly curled hair-dos wafted the scent of salon spray throughout the room.
One table was reserved for the ladies choir, not the church’s, but a local glee club. Each lady sported a white blouse, a necktie with a predominantly red plaid tie around the neck and a poinsetta corsage backed by a red foil doily pinned to the right bosom.
At twelve o’clock precisely, the congregation of women was called to order. An agenda was read and an apology was made that the luncheon would have to be followed by a church women’s meeting because there were cheques to be written for which the group’s approval had to be given.
Next the choir of plaid throated women sang in reedy voices. The choir-mistress introduced and welcomed their new choristers as if, in this mid-sized town, everyone should have remembered the names of the others from the previous year. There was only one young singer in the group.
The choir mistress proceeded to say that since everyone must be hungry, she would keep the regular concert short, though we listened to Christmas hymn-classics for the next twenty minutes. There was a solo number by the youngest member which was quite lovely. She had a trained voice and sang with a rich, clear voice.
A devotional story followed, read by a lady standing at the back and then Grace for the food that still was not in sight was given by the Minister of the church who was the only man present. He grinned from ear to ear. Never were the odds so good for this retired and greying preacher. Eighty to one!
An hour had passed before four ladies began to bring out chargers of delicate sandwiches cut in four small triangles, two chargers per table of ten. There were egg salad and ham salad sandwiches and tuna. It was now twelve thirty and the ladies were hungry.
Mrs. P. took two quarters and announced it loudly, then passed them along. Everyone followed suit, then refilled their plates as the sandwiches were consumed. In less than a minute the plates were empty. The ladies serving them brought more plates of sandwiches. Mrs. Boop mumbled something about having taken seven quarter sandwiches and someone else rudely muttered, “but who is counting?”.
There was no wait between sandwiches and sweets. Heather, who was fond of chocolate, joked that all the chocolate ones were for her. This suited Kay who could not eat chocolate without getting a migraine. Nobody spoke to each other as the food was consumed. It was serious business.
After most of the sweets were gone, the women began to catch up on news, to introduce themselves to new attendees and to discuss the weather. The voices rose clamorously. A woman stood and called the group to order, but the ladies were absorbed in their discussions and the noise drowned out her voice. Kay took pity and tapped her tea cup with a spoon loudly. The voices subsided reluctantly.
“You all know Stuart McLean of CBC,” she announced. “I am sure you have heard this before, but no matter how often it it is played, it retains it’s humor. There is always something new to hear in it. It never gets old. We are going to listen to one of his best Christmas stories.”
She had before her an ancient boom box with a tape in it. She flicked the switch and Stuart began in his unmistakable voice the story of Dave having to cook turkey for Christmas dinner. There was a hush and then silence. It was true, everyone loved this story. There was not a disturbing interruption for the entire tale; and when it finished, the silence remained in the room until the hostess again rose and invited the treasurer of the group to open her fund-approving meeting.
When expenditures for Christmas hampers for the poor, a Christmas supplement for the Minister and his family, and contributions to the Haiti project had been approved with formal motions, seconding and the raising of hands to vote, the meeting was adjourned. It was time for the singalong.
The hostess now invited the ladies to open the newsprint Christmas song books on their tables and join in a sing-along.
The choir’s accompanist scuttled to the piano and introduced some chords to Jingle Bells. The first verse was terrible but as the crowd warmed to the singing, the fervor developed and a decent chorus rang throughout the church hall.
Jingle Bells was followed by Go tell it on the mountain and Christmas in Killarney, What child is this, King Wenceslas and God Rest you Merry Gentlemen, three rousing verses of each. Finally the accompanist announced the last carol, We wish you a Merry Christmas.
It was almost over.The hostess reminded all that the Junior High students of the congregation had fostered four children in Haiti. Without everyone’s help, that work could not continue. A collection basket would be coming around. Would everyone please be generous? An osier basket topped with a wooden carved duck’s head came from table to table for offerings and each lady pulled out some paper money out of their purses to place it soundlessly into the basket. Tacitly, the luncheon was finished now.
Ladies got up, chairs scraping the linoleum floor, and discreetly tried their limbs, stiff from too long of sitting, arthritis and other ancient aches and pains. The women regrouped to greet friends they had not sat with. Mrs. P began to herd her car-load towards the door and stood beside Mrs. Boop with visible Christian patience as Mrs. Boop caught up on a friend’s family doings.
It was a quarter of an hour later that Mrs P, Mrs Boop, Heather and Kay exited by the side door towards the steps and down to the waiting car.
When they were all buckled safely in with their seat belts, Mrs. P drove around the block to get back to the main road. They had not gone far before Mrs. Boop cried out, “Mrs. P! Where are you going? You are supposed to be taking Heather home.”
Nonchalantly, Mrs. P answered, “The car knows its way to my home. It just took the road to the left by itself.” She continued on up the road several blocks when she should have been going back down to the main road and turning right towards the sea in the direction of Heather’s place.
Not to worry, Kay consoled herself. At least she isn’t driving on the road most traveled. That would mean less chance of destructive car magnetism occurring. Worst come to the worst, Kay and Heather could walk home from where they now were.
But Mrs. P soon took a road descending towards Maple Street and at Heather’s house, thanks for the ride were given and Heather and Kay went inside. Jason, Heather’s husband, was waiting to welcome them home.
(To be continued)