Sunday, March 22, 2009

LOL: Little Old Ladies

Hear the story read by the author

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Every Sunday afternoon three of the women of the church go to tea at a little café called “Roger’s.” The trio consists of dour, 70 year-old lifetime congregant Henrietta Miggins; 75 year-old African-American choir member Celia Simmons; and 73 year-old Betsy Davis, a proper Southern lady who only recently moved to town.

This weekly tea party has been going on for thirteen years. Originally the group consisted of Henrietta, Celia and Marjorie East. After Marjorie passed away, Henrietta and Celia kept the tradition alive for about a year until Betsy arrived to restore their threesome, much to Celia’s relief. Celia and Henrietta were dear, long time friends but Celia found Henrietta a bit difficult to take one on one.

As they approached Roger’s one recent Sunday, Celia, who was a retired English teacher, said, “I hate when restaurants use apostrophes improperly. You would think before they spent all that money on a sign they’d consult someone who knew something about grammar.”

“It’s not incorrect,” Henrietta replied. “It stand’s for Roger’s café. It’s possessive.”

“That would be true if the word café was in the sign, but it’s not.”

“It’s implied,” Henrietta sighed. “Have you ever met anyone named ‘Rogers’?”

“Rogers is a common last name,” Celia said.

“But it’s not a last name. The café was started by Roger Anderson. It says so on the back of the menu.”

Betsy ignored the argument. Celia and Henrietta had been having it every Sunday for thirteen years. Neither was ever going to win.

When the three women entered they discovered an unknown woman standing behind the hostess station. She was a slim brunette with a large mole on her neck. She welcomed them to Roger’s with an Eastern European accent none of the ladies could place.

“Where’s Doreen?” Henrietta asked.

“She does not work here anymore,” the woman said. “I’m Sasha. There are three of you today?”

“Yes, there are three of us,” Henrietta said. “We come here for tea every Sunday and we always sit at that table.” She gestured toward a table by the window, only just then realizing it was occupied by a young couple. Henrietta noticed the man was wearing a baseball cap. Inside. While dining. She fixed him with a disapproving gaze though he didn’t seem to notice.

“I am sorry, that table is already occupied,” Sasha said. “Perhaps you will like this one?”

She indicated a table in the corner.

“Perhaps we will not,” Henrietta said.

“It will do for today,” Betsy quickly interrupted. Henrietta harrumphed but acquiesced and the ladies were seated.

“I didn’t think it was possible to find a worse hostess than Doreen,” Henrietta mused, “but they seem to have done it.

“She’s new, bless her heart,” Betsy said.

“She’s foreign,” Celia noted. They all nodded sagely in unison as if that explained everything.

It took a few minutes more than usual for their regular waiter, a young man named Keith, to come take their order. There had been an argument in the kitchen because the ladies were not in Keith’s section today. Keith thought that meant he was off the hook. But the waiter whose section it was insisted he take that table. After losing a game of rock-paper-scissors, Keith agreed.

“Your usual tea and basket of scones, ladies?” he asked after they had finished complaining to him about Sasha and her failure to sit them in their accustomed location.

“What are your specials?” Betsy asked. Keith rattled them off.

“What’s the soup today?” Celia asked. Keith told her it was French Onion.

“Is the salmon fresh?” Henrietta inquired. Keith assured her it was.

Several minutes later the ladies ordered tea and a basket of scones. Just like they had every Sunday for thirteen years.

Over the next hour as the three ladies drank their tea and ate their scones they critiqued that morning’s church service. Celia complained that Missy Moore had mangled the hymn she sang for the “special music” and shouldn’t be allowed to solo ever again. Henrietta bemoaned Thad Wheeling’s inarticulate delivery of the scripture. Betsy, who had been brought up not to say unkind things about anyone, expressed sympathy for the parents of the child who cried through communion. “It must be so hard to be a good parent these days, bless their hearts,” she said.

They all agreed the sermon was far too long, of course.

When they ran out of tea, scones, and things to criticize, the ladies split the check, leaving Keith their usual twelve percent tip.

“You know, the nice thing about this table is it’s not under the vent so the air doesn’t blow on you,” Celia observed.

“That’s true,” Betsy agreed. “And it has a nice view of the park.”

Henrietta stopped Keith on their way out. “That tip’s all for you,” she instructed. “Don’t give any to that horrid new foreign hostess.”

“You have a nice afternoon, now,” Keith replied.

“Oh, and make sure she seats us at the same table next week,” Henrietta said. “It’s better than our old one.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Daylight Savings Time

Hear the story read by the author

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. One Sunday morning the Pastor of the church, Henry O’Donnell, was shaken awake by his daughter, Katie. “Dad, wake up!” Katie said. “It’s after eight.”

Henry blinked at his alarm clock, trying to get the digital numbers to focus. It said 7:03. “It’s seven,” he mumbled. “I have half an hour until my alarm goes off.”

“Did you forget Daylight Savings Time?” Katie asked.

Henry has not, in fact, forgotten Daylight Savings Time. The night before he’d changed every clock in the house save the one on his night stand which he figured he would reset just before he went to bed. But he’d stayed up late watching a movie and when he finally stumbled bleary-eyed up to his bedroom, he had forgotten that final, all-important clock. His wife Jennifer was on a business trip so she hadn’t been there to remind him, either. The shot of adrenalin as Henry realized all this brought him fully awake.

The first service of the morning started at 9:00. Henry knew from experience that the latest he dare leave his house was 8:30 a.m. That gave him twenty-seven minutes. Actually twenty-six. He’d used up one precious minute making those calculations.

Henry pulled on a clean white shirt and slacks. Having less than half an hour to get ready meant he had to set priorities. For Henry, breakfast was a priority. He could skip his shower, forget about the paper, but he was not a man who allowed himself to miss meals.

Henry elected for the quickest breakfast he knew how to make: toaster waffles. He wolfed down four with a glass of orange juice and cup of coffee.

Katie looked up over the comics section of the paper as Henry shoved the last enormous forkful of waffle in his mouth. “You’ve got syrup on your shirt,” she informed him.

Henry dashed upstairs to change his shirt.

The time was 8:22. Henry continued his mental prioritizing. Forget brushing his teeth – he had mints in his glove compartment. But he had to shave. He might get away with one day’s growth, but he’d last applied his razor to his dark beard on Thursday, the day his wife had left for her business trip. He could imagine the disapproving looks he’d receive from certain ladies of the church if he showed up sporting a three-day stubble.

In his haste, he dripped a dollop of shaving gel on the fresh shirt. Using language that would have made the ladies at church gasp even more than the sight of an unshaven pastor, he soaked a washcloth and dabbed at the spot. The small seed of gel bloomed into a large blotch of greenish foam. Henry’s rubbing was only expanding the area affected so he pulled off the shirt and got another clean one – wisely waiting until after he finished shaving.

At 8:27 Henry was filling up a travel mug of coffee and thanking Katie profusely for brewing it that morning. And then the cup slipped out of his hand, bouncing on the counter and splattering his shirt.

He was out of clean dress shirts but found one in the hamper that appeared relatively fresh to the eye if not exactly to the nose. At 8:30 he was pulling out of the driveway and resisting the urge to inform Katie that her coffee was a little on the strong side.

He made it to church at 8:54, much to the relief of choir director Shane Reed and church secretary Tammy Billings.

After church, Henry dropped Katie off at the movies to meet a couple of her friends. He then went through a fast food drive-through to get lunch. “Whew,” he thought, “thank heavens that’s over!” He ate in the car, dripping ketchup on his shirt, then drove out to the airport to pick up his wife.

He was an hour late. He’d forgotten to reset his car’s dashboard clock for daylight saving’s time.