Chapter 2 -- Minding Babies
The rays of afternoon sun that greeted Dr. Cloudee’s eyes as he turned in at his garden gate, initiating a headache that would nag him the rest of the day, also sifted softly through the perky red gingham curtains in the kitchen at 117 Highland Circle. Two ladies sat before a table piled and overflowing with baby clothes. Slowly, to the rhythm of their conversation, they sorted and folded little shirts and tiny over-alls, placing them in plastic tubs. This is Athena Shepherd, lowly pastor’s wife, and her dear friend, Connie Waight, whose yet more lowly husband is a student at Strong Seminary. The two women, whose little ones slept warmly together in the next room in a little crib, were unhappy.
Athena snapped a onesie into submission with one crisp flick of her wrists. Her red mop of hair bounced in its ponytail. “We’ve been having this rummage sale at Mt. Moriah’s for thirty years at least! There’s no reason to haul all our things up to Leach Street, just to have all the sales go into their offering plates! Honestly, Connie, we have to say something. Sam will just let it happen and never utter a word.” Sam Shepherd is Athena’s devoted husband, and pastor of Mt. Moriah Presbyterian Church. Mt. Moriah, you understand, is a small flock lately brought into the larger denomination by the bumpy reconciliation process. Many of the old SNARKians live with the unsettled expectation of being absorbed wholly into the SNACK hive. This they stubbornly resist. Athena, being a red-haired Scottish lass, resists more firmly than most. Her friend Constance spends much of her time easing Athena’s outbursts of indignation.
“But we’ll get more customers there, Athena. And they do have such a large fellowship hall – and air conditioned!” Connie smoothed a frilly dress that Athena had folded badly.
“But we have nicer things,” Athena countered.
“And they sort theirs into sizes, and price each item.” Connie looked at her tidy stack of bloomers on a chair.
“But,” Athena attempted.
“And,” Connie interrupted, “they have food.”
That, of course, was the trump card. People always came for food.
“What kind of food?”
Connie smirked. “It doesn’t much matter what kind of food, you know. Probably store-bought cookies and watery lemonade. But people will walk a mile if it’s free.”
They sat quietly for a moment, each one rumbling in her thoughts. Their eyes met over a stack of bibs.
“If we had homemade …” Connie began.
“…cookies,” Athena added.
“Or, or … donuts …”
“Donuts!” Athena spat out. “Donuts are hard!”
Connie snapped a lid on her container of clothes. A baby cried.
“We’ll have punch to their lemonade, cake to their cookies, and popcorn to their crackers. What do you say?”
“Deal!” Athena exclaimed. Both babies cried.
Ten minutes later, the babies were changed, comforted, and lying in the playpen in the middle of the kitchen linoleum, with bottles in their fists. Connie embarked on the next topic.
“What will your Aunt Hipp say to our plan?” Athena Shepherd’s aunt was wife to the president of Strong Seminary. Willina Hipp was a force worth considering before any ecclesiastical action could be taken within the city limits of Greenfield.
“Auntie Willie will have to be got around,” Athena admitted. The niece never used such a familiar name in her aunt’s presence. She was always addressed as Aunt Hipp. To her husband, Athena would occasionally call her by her favorite title, Hippy. “She doesn’t much like Leach Street, although she and Mrs. Cloudee are friendly enough. She’s only supported joining the rummage sales because she hates Mt. Moriah’s fellowship hall.”
“Well, she’s right, you know,” Connie interrupted. “It’s pokey and dark, and hot in the afternoon. And we’re well off the beaten path out here, Athena. If people weren’t expecting our sale every year in the middle of May, we’d have a hard time attracting any crowd at all.”
Athena contemplated her baby’s face. He already resembled his father, with fair skin and dark brown eyes. “I can’t stand to move it from the church,” she said softly, wondering if baby would also have her dearest’s thick brown hair. “But it’s worse to have it fail altogether.” She picked up the baby and kissed his head, waiting just a moment to smell where she had kissed. “I wonder if Hippy would like to move our sale to the seminary?”
Connie slapped her knee. Both babies jumped. “That’s it! A new sale, on the seminary grounds, while the students are still here – what a great idea! Do you think she’ll go for it?”
“Oh, she’ll go for it,” Athena replied. “She’ll go for it because she’ll be in charge.”
This felicitous thought was abruptly broken by Baby Waight’s throwing up noisily in the playpen. “Oh!” said Connie, leaping up.
Baby Shepherd, having grasped the edge of the tablecloth in his tight fist, succeeded in pulling the cloth and three piles of folded clothing off the table to the floor, as his mother stood to help her friend. Small babies can create chaos more quickly than any other force of nature. At this moment, Sam Shepherd entered his kitchen.
“Goodness, ladies! I think it looks worse than when I left after lunch!”
Athena gave her husband the exasperated sound that only wives can give. He decided to help. As he heaped recently-folded infant clothing onto a chair, Athena tried to re-fold them just as fast.
“We’re moving the rummage sale to the seminary, Sam. What do you think?”
“You’d better hold off on that, Athena. President Jones died this afternoon. The visitation and funeral will occupy everybody for the next week.”
“But!” she began.
“Aunt Hipp will ask you to sing,” he added.
“Uhhh!” she exclaimed.
“And Juanita will be in town.”
“Oh, Sam.” Athena plopped into a chair. “What a mess that will be.”
“Who’s Juanita?” Connie inquired. She had stripped her baby down to her diaper and was wiping out her ears.
“Juanita Jones is Aunt Hipp’s best friend, college roommate, and Jeremiah Jones’s sister,” Sam provided.
Athena shook her head. “And Dr. Cloudee’s old flame from college days. And when she comes, she never leaves. How long was it last time, Sam?”
“Nineteen months, two weeks, and one day.”
“Oh my,” was all Connie could say. Baby Waight burped on her shoulder.
Copyrighted by M.K. Christiansen
Copyrighted by M.K. Christiansen