Somewhere I have a small wooden box with a historical picture of my church building on the cover. It was given to me by a lovely lady of our church.
Yesterday, as the saying goes, we sang her home.
Slipping into one of the back pews, next to the men whose wives were in the church choir, I looked around to see who was there, and was struck by who was not. There’s Gene, and Peter. Oh how I wish Alfie was here, with the brood taking up two rows. The Sawyers have gone ahead of us, and Rose’s Mom, and mine. We the children are starting to be pretty creaky around the edges, and the choir loft is filled with the, now gray haired, “younger generation”.
Elizabeth was a member of our church choir, and our church council, for more years than I can remember. She was a snappy dresser, and her ensembles were a source of jealousy for my mother, as were her hats. Mom was especially jealous of a scrumptious blue tartan kilt. She had a gleam in her eye and a soft word, or little joke for any who needed it. Fiercely independent, Elizabeth kept an immaculate home, and kept up with families and organizations around the county.
Elizabeth was also smart as a whip. A wizard with figures she worked in an insurance office at a time when most women who worked outside the home were teachers or nurses. I would imagine an early feminist, though I never had that discussion with her. She has been a life force in guiding our church’s financial decisions through very precarious times, including keeping our books in order, balancing to the penny.
Elizabeth was no slacker in the arts of the home either. She could sew and do needlework, and oh could she cook. Elizabeth made lemon bars, from scratch, including the lemon curd, that were to die for. She also developed a repertoire of tasty treats for a diabetic diet. A constant presence at church suppers and functions we all wonder how we’ll continue to do a good job without her. She knew all the recipes, how much we needed of each and where everything was kept. She and Myrtle kept the listings of how many tables and chairs were needed, and how to arrange them so they fit. She could also usually tell you how much a particular event cost us in the past, who donated what, and how much we made. If she didn’t know she knew where to look it up.
Elizabeth loved history. She knew her family genealogy back many generations, and in a small community like ours, that meant she probably knew something about our family history too. All those stories your aunt or uncle told, she knew them too, and could give the dates, locations and people to back them up.
After the service we joined the family in the fellowship room for a light meal. Church and community members provided sandwich fixings, finger salad, and a table of deserts that would be the envy of a Martha Stewart party. We ate off real plates using real silverware and drank from real cups and plates. Table cloths draped from each table. No paper/plastic waste. In our small country church the $ savings were a boon, but more importantly, the fellowship with friends and neighbors as we set up and then cleaned up, was wonderful. Sharing memories over washing and drying dishes is invaluable.
I no longer get to attend my church every Sunday. I now live a distance away. I’m trying to build a relationship with a church in my new town.
Working with these old friends yesterday it struck me,
I can tell you one thing,
those of you who do not have a church family, that holds you up in times of trouble, that gives you an opportunity to give to others in their time of need in a concrete way, who share in a community conscious,
you don’t know what you’re missing.
And now to tell a little tale on Elizabeth, (in church, as we say).
As a new member of the church. In my youthful arrogance. I saw this older woman, with suitable attire, articulate speech, and a fluency in Robert’s Rules, as possibly a bit of a priss. As I got to know her, I saw that she was kind and compassionate. When she corrected someone, it was with patience, kindness and humor. And then the thing happened
One October evening the youth group put on a costume party for Halloween. Ghosts and hobos, and cartoon characters mingled with princesses and robots. Then we heard the outer door open and close, and here came Elizabeth – dressed as a flapper (in a real flapper dress) with a long, long string of pearls (real ones – hers) high heels and the perfect hat. She didn’t just walk in – Elizabeth strutted her stuff, swinging her pearls with a huge smile on her face. At that moment I knew that there was WAY more to Elizabeth than met the eye, and I had been selling her short.