Chapter 19 – A Little Spat
What is left to tell, dear reader? Whom have we neglected still? With only days remaining before the rummage sale, Sam Shepherd is meeting with his session to defend Billy Greeter’s reputation. All the knitters, crocheters, and sewers of Greenfield are finishing their offerings for the yearly sale. Horace Hipp’s hostas are happily ensconced in their new pots and are thriving under the shade of the live oak trees. He considers it a small offering for the sale, but small offerings are how he has managed in life. Athena Shepherd and Connie Waight have stacked twenty-seven Rubbermaid tubs full of clean, used children’s clothing in the fellowship hall of Mt. Moriah church. Mrs. Grey baked eight dozen cookies for the sale and bagged them in pairs. Emilia Greeter, in addition to her CD’s of Mozart, prepared three cakes, four pies and a cheesecake for the baked goods auction.
And what of the institutional stalwarts, the pillars of college and seminary? What were Miss Jones and Mrs. Hipp doing? They were drawing up diagrams, counting tables and chairs, delegating grunt work to college boys, forcing college girls to draw posters and signs, and generally ordering everyone about. Willina Hipp, in response to the Southern warmth, has replaced her flowing dark wool robes with flowing dark cotton ones. She has decided that the heart of the rummage sale should be by the fountain, smack in the center of the two campuses. On Thursday afternoon, she commanded the area to be swept, scrubbed, and cordoned off from all students, staff, and marauding squirrels. She requisitioned use of the library’s storage rooms to place all the sale goods, so they would be close at hand. The chapel foyer was crammed with tables, chairs, tablecloths, umbrellas, boxes, stools and any other objects she thought might be remotely useful.
“I told you Hippy would take over,” Athena said to her friend Connie as the women hefted their clothing tubs into the trunk of Athena’s car. “Leach Street will never get this sale back on their property now.”
Miss Jones, meanwhile, was ransacking the town as her partner in offensiveness was ransacking the schools. Juanita Jones had knocked on every door, dragged every non-participating citizen into guilt, squeezed donated goods from every cupboard and attic, and where goods could not be found, she stood on doorsteps requiring cash instead. As she trekked through Greenfield, she pulled a large trolley cart behind her, piled high with donations. Clever citizens began looking out for her and locking their doors. Adel Busby claimed Miss Jones took clothing right out of her closet without asking, and Earline Givings merely stood up from her patio to offer Miss Jones a lemonade, when the woman took her lawn chair right out from underneath her! It was scandalous. Jonquil was mortified.
“Really, Aunt Juanita, you must stop!” was all she could say.
Emilia Greeter avoided such awkward moments on her front porch with a simple ploy; she hung an imposing wooden plaque on her front door, embellished with flowers and butterflies. On it was printed in large flowing letters “NOT RECEIVING TODAY.” When the plaque was on the Greeters’ door, all of Greenfield knew that not only was Emilia not coming out that day – they were not getting in.
And this would work for most people.
So Emilia Greeter did not answer the door the first time Miss Jones called. Nor the second. Nor did she succumb to the pressure of the semi-masculine voice hollering into her kitchen window, and then later over her azalea bushes above the bay window. Emilia had retired to her boudoir. In the inner sanctum of her own room she had a chaise lounge, a mini-bar and kitchenette, and a small upright piano. She was whiffling gently, dreaming of Chopin and George Sand, as Miss Jones pounded on the door in vain.
“Why, Miss Jones, what are you doing?”
Ernest Greeter had barely spotted her, crushing his white azaleas as she peered into the bay window. She wheeled around, surprised, and nearly fell into a holly bush.
“Oh! Dr. Greeter! How glad I am to see you. Is your wife well? I can’t seem to get her to answer the door.” Miss Jones picked pine needles from her sweat pants. A sprig of holly berries was lodged on top of her head.
Dr. Greeter extended a hand. “May I help you from the bushes, Miss Jones?” He did. “My wife often does not receive guests. She is probably asleep.”
“Asleep? At this time of day? Surely not, Dr. Greeter. I’ve never thought of your wife as a sluggard. Perhaps she is out shopping.”
“She does not shop,” he replied.
“Then,” Miss Jones continued, “volunteering. Does she volunteer, Dr. Greeter?”
A pained smile latched onto Dr. Greeter’s mouth. “No, Miss Jones. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get inside for lunch.”
“Donations, Dr. Greeter. I’m here for donations for the rummage sale. A good cause, you know!”
“Indeed. I believe my wife has already given of both her musical and culinary talents. Mrs. Hipp has her donations.” Dr. Greeter moved toward his carport to escape.
“But –“ Miss Jones interjected. “Something for the furniture tent? Or some clothes perhaps? Tools or lawn chairs?”
Dr. Greeter paused by his carport shed. “An old croquet set, will that do, Miss Jones? I think only one ball and one wicket are missing.”
Finally he was relieved of her, and Ernest Greeter went inside. It had taxed his sanctification to talk with that woman, he thought. He walked quietly through the kitchen, living room, and into his wife’s room. She lay there, on the chaise lounge, one silk slipper dangling from her large toe. She was beautiful still. He knew she was somewhat delicate, and perhaps even spoiled. He had never wanted an Amazon in a wife. His wife’s primary concern was that their home, and his life, be as full of beauty as she could manage. At first, in his marriage, he had considered that a trivial thing, but as the years had transpired, he’d grown more appreciative of this simple, constant goal of his wife. When all else in life seemed ugly or unpleasant, he knew her presence, and her home, were always a solace to his soul. He touched her shoulder.
“Ernest. Back already? Have you had lunch?”
“No. I’ll make some tuna salad. Is that okay?”
She slipped back into her satin footwear and held his hand as she passed out of the room.
“How was the session meeting this morning? Anything important?” she asked.
He sat in a kitchen chair and began playing with the placemat.
“Yes. I came home to talk with you about it.”
“And here I thought you’d come for my tuna salad,” she said, and smiled at him.
“That too.” Ernest rolled the placemat and then opened it again. “We had a discussion about Billy.”
“Billy?” Her stomach contracted, but she kept stirring mayonnaise into the tuna. “What about?”
“I guess you could say it was more of an informational meeting.” He put the placemat on the other side of the table, but then withdrew a paper napkin from its holder. He began folding it. “Sam Shepherd wanted the session to know that there are evidently some complaints about Billy, about his … um, his behavior.” Ernest Greeter paused and looked at his wife. “Have you heard anything about this?”
There are two kinds of wives in the world, those who say their minds, and those who don’t. Emilia was of the second sort. She was a diplomatic woman. Part of the beauty she longed to create within her marriage meant that she caused her husband the least possible amount of pain. She’d kept from him the conversation she’d had with Lily Cloudee. She’d hoped the scandal would fade away, that he would never need to know. She did not consider it lying. Now he waited for her answer.
“I wondered why Billy had left Atlanta like he did. It seemed odd to me, didn’t it to you?” She often avoided saying what she disliked saying, by asking a question.
“Of course.” He reapplied his attention to the wrinkled napkin. “Some problem with a woman, evidently. I guess Billy told Sam. And Sam only brought it up to the session because apparently that Hipp woman wants it addressed,” he paused, reluctant to say the next words, “addressed as a disciplinary matter.”
“A disciplinary matter!”
“Yes, Emilia. I can’t believe it.” He turned his tortured eyes up to her. “Why didn’t he say anything to us?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart.”
He unfolded the napkin, refolded it longways, and began to twist it into a skewer.
“I don’t understand,” he murmured.
She came from the kitchen, leaned over him, and rubbed her hand along his shoulders. “I’m sure Sam brought this before the session to preempt Mrs. Hipp. Did he defend Billy? Did he explain anything?”
“Yes, yes, he did. Billy’s done the right thing.” He pushed the napkin away, and she picked it up lightly.
“You and your twisted napkins.”
He smiled weakly. “It’ll be fine, I hope. The session understands the issue at hand, and even if Mrs. Hipp demanded action, they won’t take any now.” He stood up and walked the room. “But it’s the fact that she wants it – that’s what makes me mad!”
“Ernest – “
At this point, Billy sailed through the backdoor with a huge smile on his face. “Hello, parental units! How’s things?”
His mother’s face told him instantly the lay of the land.
“Ahh. Bad time.” He backed toward the door. “I’ll just come back later.”
“No, no, Billy,” his dad said. “Come in. We need to talk.”
Billy hated those words. He knew immediately from his mother’s face, his father’s voice and body language, that the issue that had been hovering over his life for so many weeks was about to explode. He stayed standing by the door. What Billy needed now was damage control. In such situations, he chose the opposite tack from his mother.
“So. You heard then? About why I left Atlanta?”
“Who told you?”
“Sam?” Billy was surprised at this.
“At a session meeting.”
“A session meeting!” Billy was agape. “Sam discussed this in a meeting with a roomful of people?”
“He had to.” The father studied his son’s face. He could still detect a sense of shame from the young man. “A suggestion has been made to proceed with disciplinary action against you, and Sam wanted to warn the session about it.”
Billy’s lips tightened. “A suggestion. From whom?”
“It doesn’t matter, Billy,” his father replied.
“Billy –“ his mother began.
“It does matter! It matters to me!”
Ernest Greeter frowned. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Ernest!” his wife interposed.
“Tell you?” Billy said. “ How could I tell you? I knew you’d judge me, just like this whole town’s gonna judge me!” Billy’s face twisted into anger and hurt. “I did the right thing – at least I tried to. If I’d stayed in Atlanta, you’d never have known. I came back here to get away from it. Clearly that was a mistake!” He spit these last words out, and rushed back through the door.
The husband and wife had nothing left to say.