This morning, John's blog post about the Jehovah Witnesses visiting him popped into my head. I mused about those who think themselves religious and recalled when Himself was elected to vestry and made Junior Warden. Our church had term limits when serving on vestry. One could serve two consecutive terms, then had to take a term off. A number of usual vestry candidates figured that our rector would retire in about 5 years, so those who didn't want to have to sit out the odd term during Father's retirement decided to sit out just prior. They also thought that Himself would be a good vestryman and encouraged him to run.
He did run, was handily elected, and to the surprise of both of us, was chosen to be Junior Warden. The Senior Warden had been a vestryman for years and was a wonderful administrator. Himself has wonderful diplomatic skills, which served him well, although we were both shocked that other long-term vestry members would openly embrace him to be Junior Warden rather than put themselves out there for the position.
Having this new position meant that we were suddenly invited to a lot more
get-togethers than heretofore, and moreover, given that Himself was Junior Warden, we were expected to go. And go we did.
Most of the people attending these functions were at least 20 years older, much better versed in the ways and means of how these things run, and much more affluent, as we were only starting out then. Some gave condescending nods of approval, the way a parent encourages a child when he embarks on a new task. Himself is the type that is eager to please, so it went well for the most part.
I tend to feel somewhat shy at large gatherings, which often surprises people. I don't feel adept at small talk, and while i can and do, it takes an awful lot out of me. I've gotten better with practice, but then it took a lot more effort, and i think i made more blunders or was much harder on myself. I tried to please as well, knowing, however unfair it may be, that Himself would be judged not only on his behaviour, but on his wife's. I wanted him to succeed and wished to do what i could not to encumber that in any way.
So, there we were, at a Big Do, with all the money players, held at the spacious house of one of the Biggest Parishionners. I always got the feeling that the wife went to church because she wanted to worship God; the husband went to church because he felt it was expected of him to attend; but he always gave me the impression that he wanted to be anywhere else on a Sunday morning besides the sanctuary. They were very nice to us, extremely welcoming as we walked into their manse, and i took care not to have my jaw drop.
Their house was beautifully and tastefully decorated with that air of affluence. Not flashy or nouveau riche, and not quite old money either, but with that quiet confidence that comes from having had a most comfortable income for years. The husband offered us drinks right away, and i realised i was surrounded by the three martini lunch crowd. My father's generation. While i'm not a teetotaler, i don't drink very often or very much when i do drink. I did accept the drink to give my hands something to do, and Himself after securing his drink, worked the room like a politician. I was left to my own devices, tried making small talk with some of the other women present, and felt a dismal failure.
I prayed a silent prayer for help, acknowledging that i was out of my league. Well out of my league. Just then i espied a cat, and was immediately drawn to it. I stooped down to pet the kitty, who purred and welcomed my attentions. After a few minutes, i thought i should break away from kitty and find a place to sit. All of the chairs were taken, and no one seemed ready to give them up, least of all for the youngest person there, so i threw manners out the window, and sat down on the floor to pet the cat. After years of being youngest at any number of events where chairs were at a premium, i had always sat on the floor, and to this day, i'm still a floor sitter.
One of the older women gasped at this. I could hear her tsk-tsking me in her mind. She always had the look of eating too many green persimmons, and when she did try to smile, it looked completely unnatural, as if the concept itself were distasteful and foreign.
The cat, meanwhile, thought my idea a capital one, and immediately got up in my lap and made itself at home.
The hostess came into the room, took one look at me and the cat, and said, "You'll have a friend for life now, although he's not usually so friendly with strangers. He'll want you to stay like that for the rest of the evening, but you don't have to do that. When you've had enough, just stand up, and he'll move."
I smiled back, and as we were catless at the time, i told her it was all right with me, as i dearly loved cats and didn't have many opportunities like this. It was true, and the most heartfelt thing i said at the gathering up till then.
The Green Persimmon woman also loved cats, and came over to pet the kitty. He allowed her to pet him, although stopped purring as soon as she patted his head. Her whole face changed as she looked at the cat, and her involuntary smile was genuine. I looked away before she caught me staring at her and thinking me rude.
The food was ready, so i got up from my comfortable floor seat. I was hungry, but reluctant to make the cat move. He also seemed reluctant to allow me to rise. The spacious dining room table couldn't quite fit all of us, and several card tables had been set up to allow seats for everyone. Himself and i sat at one of the card tables. The Green Persimmon woman and another woman, who turned out to be a delight, sat with us.
We all had just sat down. I had unfolded my napkin and placed it in my lap, and Father gave the blessing, to which we had all bowed our heads and said amen, when the kitty, who was patiently sitting beside me, stared hard enough at me, that i happened to notice him. I made eye contact, and in a flash, he jumped up into my lap, and settled himself quite nicely on my napkin. I couldn't help thinking he thought it a hammock for his especial enjoyment.
I smiled at him, patted his head, and commenced to eating.
Himself was talking about some pleasant topic, when the Green Persimmon woman interrupted. "Sorry to interrupt, this just won't do. YOU"--and here she pointed at me, yes POINTED--"CANNOT allow this cat to remain on your lap while we're eating!"
The tone was that of the sternest schoolmistress, which indeed she had been for many, many years. The cat, who had commenced to cleaning himself, stopped in mid-lick to look at her. My face was aflame, everyone in the room stopped all talk and movement, and watched.
The cat slowly drew his outstretched leg in, leaned against me for just a moment, jumped down, and walked out of the room. I fervently wanted to follow and watched him go.
I returned my focus back to the humans at the table. The Green Persimmon woman was in midstream, stating once again that she couldn't quite believe i would tolerate that for an instant. I found my voice and said quietly that i was surprised the cat had done that, but once he settled in my lap, i knew he wasn't going to walk on the table, and i didn't think he was bothering anyone. He had even left me a goodly amount of the napkin to use, which i thought most polite.
Here, the other lady laughed out loud and deftly changed the subject, asking Himself about a church matter that was coming up and dear to her heart, would he mind if she explained a bit of the background?
As it turned out, the rector decided to announce his retirement soon after Himself was elected. As Junior Warden, he was automatically on the Search Committee for the new rector and also had to interview the Interim priest. That meant more get-togethers, including a Big Do at the Bishop's. There were no cats or dogs there for the St. Stephen's party, but i had learned a lot more about what was expected, and felt much more at ease. Those who had sat out the odd term were more than a bit put out that Father chose to retire a bit early, and their envy was plain when the Bishop's wife approached me at our church's coffee hour and said how much she enjoyed Himself and i attending their St. Stephen's bash. We chatted easily, and i thanked her once again for such a lovely time. Best laid plans, eh?