Chapter 5 -- Greenfield
Before we proceed more deeply into the funeral week of President Jones, dear readers, allow me to take you on a flying tour of Greenfield. Thus far, you have only received glimpses into the kitchens and meeting rooms of its nobler citizens. This will not do – for Greenfield’s beauty is best seen in its grounds, its walks, its gardens, and its peaceful bowers. And to see these, we must examine its schools and churches, in almost an aerial fashion.
Greenfield lies north of Atlanta, far enough from the coast to be unscathed by hurricanes, far enough from the mountains to be genteel, and far enough from Florida to escape the note of Yankees. No interstate highway assaults its environs, but its proximity to the bustle of the big city prevents Greenfield from sliding into oblivion, or worse, the tired look that is common to so many Southern towns. The industry that keeps its citizens in pocket change and petticoats lies to the south of town. Leach Street, the broad avenue whose resplendent oaks battle the Presbyterian church spire for sunlight, runs north and south. The Presbyterians and the Baptists face each other, brick to brick, across the quiet asphalt, and rarely come to theological blows. For decades they have alternated weeks on Christmas programs, shared piano tuners and puppet show props, and mutually despised the Lutherans. They don’t even compete for parking space. Each Tuesday morning Dr. Cloudee and Rev. Rivers meet for breakfast at Murphy’s Café downtown.
Two blocks below the churches, Leach Street meets College Street and we find ourselves in the thick of downtown Greenfield. Through the stalwart energies of Mrs. Hipp, Mrs. Rivers and the town council, Greenfield’s downtown is awash in potted flowers, wooden benches, streetside parking and ornate black lamps. While the men of town frequent Murphy’s Café on College Street, the ladies prefer The Tuppence Tea Shop across the way. The women keep a weather eye on their husbands through the tea shop curtains, sipping Lady Grey carefully as the men order hash browns, ham and eggs, and coffee. Promptly at 9:00 each morning, the men move to the benches outside Barney’s Barber Shop and spread their newspapers to the morning sun. A few drift into the post office and return with yesterday’s mail. The women shop, making the rounds of the Fabulous Five and Dime, Mildred’s Dry Cleaners, Ace Hardware and the local Feed and Seed. The Piggly Wiggly is two blocks west. K-Mart set up shop in the industrial section and, due to such limited demographics, has thus far kept Wal-Mart at bay in the environs of Greenfield.
On the south side of College Street, just east of the post office, the mature grounds of Hezekiah Strong’s schools unfold themselves to the visitor’s appreciative eye. The seminary is first. Set back from the road lies the president’s house. Here, Mrs. Hipp observes all the goings-on in Greenfield and informs her husband of the evils committed by Greenfielders in the light of day, as if she were a pastor’s wife. Of particular note to her are the behaviors of the college students and the Lutherans. Wise seminary students and their wives take care never to pass before her windows. With her binoculars she can see to the back table in The Tuppence Tea Shop, if she stands very close to the windowpane.
None of the college or seminary buildings crowd themselves against the old iron fencing that runs the circumference of the campuses. Grass, azaleas & acorns abound. This fence is high enough to keep out dogs but low enough that many a college boy has leapt over it with ease to beat his curfew. The schools have expanded little, leaving plenty of space for the pecan, oak and elm trees that students and squirrels alike enjoy. The students doggedly put up hammocks, and Mrs. Hipp just as doggedly orders them down. She is a stickler for appearances.
As a line of demarcation between the two friendly campuses, a long pebbled walk runs straight south from College Street. It comes first to the library, shared by college freshman and learned seminary seniors alike. They brush shoulders over Bonnhoeffer and spar over copies of Spurgeon. The building itself is not as attractive as it might be, but it is serviceable – three stories of bookstacks, microfiche and study carrels. In the quietest, most distant corner of the third floor is the reference desk. Here, Miss Magenta Meager, grumpy librarian extraordinaire, waits patiently for a student who dares to approach with inquiries. She does not tolerate college freshman; she adores seminary seniors. She has barred babies from the hallowed walls of Hezekiah Strong’s library. This prevents the harried wives of her beloved senior students, with babies on their weary hips, from entering to retrieve their husbands from her adoring gaze. Occasionally one brave wife will watch all the children while the rest invade the fortress, later to emerge victorious with their spousal captives.
Behind this building is a rectangular fountain with chipping cement and two stone porpoises spewing blue water. Overlooking the fountain, and finishing the division between the underlings and the overlings, a beautiful gothic chapel stands as witness to the unity of heart and mind among Hezekiah’s descendants. Although the slim, brick structure is not quite large enough to seat everyone at once, twice each year the institutions do try. Commencement and graduation are times of giddy excitement, sweating, fanning, robe-wearing and long-windedness. Dinner on the grounds always follows, and at least one college student is customarily dropped into the fountain.
The campuses also include: administration offices cramped randomly into unused space in classroom buildings, student housing in constant need of repair, a green pond, a soccer field, and an old gym. Two homes grace the college campus, which extends east to Greenfield’s city limit. One is the mournful home of the deceased Jeremiah Jones, college president. Here, as we speak together, dear readers, Juanita Jones has already begun her ministrations as sister of the deceased, and squatting resident of his abode. She has changed the sheets on the bed. She has hung her polyester pants suits in the closet of the master bedroom. Her stockings dangle limply in the shower where only a week before, Dr. Jones offered up a rousing rendition of “Three Little Maids from School.” The spices in the kitchen have been alphabetized, all copies of “Golfing Weekly” are consigned to the recycle bin, and the Lazy-Boy in the den, the president’s own holy of holies, has been replaced – replaced, dear readers! – with a gliding rocker and an embroidered footstool. One does wonder how, in mere hours, the woman can have accomplished such transformations. Did she conjure them from the deep? Did she pull them, like Mary Poppins, from her carpetbag? Such are the dark arts of Juanita Jones, and for good reason do the elder statesmen of Greenfield respect their Amazonian foe. These simple tricks are only a prelude to the larger acts to follow.
The other house sits by the college gate. In it reside Dr. and Mrs. Ernest Greeter. Dr. Greeter is the college dean, professor, advisor and host. He is loved, respected, skirted around by students, sought after by faculty, and is generally the dog of all duty. Ernest Greeter is a capable, clever man. He has learned to avoid both collegiate and denominational politics, yet he knows how to conquer in both arenas when absolutely necessary. As the years have spread into decades, Dr. Greeter finds it necessary to conquer less and less often. He is a tall, stooped, but agile man with waving wisps of sandy hair streaked with gray, that flap around happily as he lopes from classroom to office to meeting to home. He peers benignly over his little slits of spectacles and smiles in a most disarming way. No one would ever call him handsome, but the tender kindness in his brown eyes, and the gentle sweetness of his friendly smile have warmed many a freshman’s anxious heart. And although he may give a frazzled and absent-minded impression, Dr. Greeter is no slouch in organization abilities. He can get more done in a good morning than a committee of Presbyterian women, and that is saying something. Lastly, he has the uncanny gift of many older academics to read the minds of those around him. This perturbing trait allows him to escape many a sticky trap from the likes of Willina Hipp. Dr. Greeter has learned how to warmly squeeze Mrs. Hipp’s hand, while simultaneously extracting himself from her clutches.
He is companioned in this life by his spousal partner, Emilia Rockingwood Greeter. Mrs. Greeter would join her husband in his duties on the campus grounds, but she seldom leaves the house. Like Nero Wolf, she surveys the vicissitudes of this world from the safety of her parlor, with the assistance of telephone, computer and village gossip. Her husband is the legs of the operation, she says, and she is the mouth. From the nerve center which is her writing desk within her bay window, she knows who comes in the college, who is going to town, which young couples are dating or engaged, who did not make it to Mt. Moriah Church on Sunday, whether Dr. Cloudee is doing visitation, what shoes Mrs. Rivers is wearing to the tea room, and which of the 42 children from the seminary apartments are absent from Greenfield School today. She is a busy woman. Her titles have included: community newswriter for the county paper, president of the SNARK Presbyterian women, secretary of the Greenfield Music Society, Sunday school teacher, garden club president, and church librarian. Just as a lively dog seems unimpaired by the absence of one leg, Mrs. Greeter moves happily through her duties, unbothered by the limitations of her four walls. Since she and Dr. Greeter are known throughout town as the bastions of hospitality, she assumes everyone will prefer to come to her, rather than wait for her to come to them. And she is right. No home was ever so pleasant, welcoming, and calm, as the Greeter home. No hostess was ever so able to put her guests at their ease. And since she will not leave her door to dash about town, I have had to take you to her door, patient reader. Thus concludes our initial tour of the city.
Copyrighted by M.K. Christiansen