QUIET AS IT'S KEPT
The five goldfish rapidly swam back and forth eating as sixty-year old Eleanor “Ellie” Bumbry Stubbs dropped pinches of flaked fish food into the ten-gallon tank. While feeding her fish, Ellie was thinking about her son, Linny and her grandchildren when the telephone rang; it was Marietta Carter.
“Quit foolin’ ‘round wif dem durn fish, woman,” said Marietta when Ellie picked up the receiver.
Ellie chuckled. “How’dju know Ah was feedin’ ma fish?”
“’Cause Ah been knowin’ you all yo’ durn life an’ Ah knowed if you was doin’ nuffin else it was tendin’ ta dem God durn goldfish. Am Ah lyin’?”
“You jus’ as crazy as a junebug.”
“Naw, you de crazy one. Foolin’ wif dem nasty goldfish. Need ta git some fish people can throw in a pan full o’ some Crisco so dey cain be ate wif some grits and biscuits. Speakin’ of which, dem rascals of yourn gittin’ pretty big. Might haveta git some hot grease goin’ fo’ dey asses.”
“Hush up, Marietta Carter. Deed God knows ya ain’t got a bit a sense,” Ellie laughed.
“Wair’s dat crazy husband of yours?”
“Upstairs sleepin’,” answered Ellie. “Ah thank he’s playin’ cards tanight down at Dickey’s.” Another local resident, Dickey Franey occasionally allowed a few of his friends to play poker in his garage.
“Ah’ma invite maself ta wunna dem card games,” said a laughing Marietta. “Clean dem boys out!”
“You’d betta stay away from dem. Dey cheat each uvver, so you know dey ain’t got no problem takin’ yo few dollas.”
“Ain’t dat de trufe,” said Marietta. “Anyway, what time’s de club meetin’?”
“Same as always. Six uh clock.”
“It’s still at Dot’s, ain’t it? Dorothy “Dot” Jenkins lived in Opal, a small town approximately five miles outside of Creston.
“Yeah,” replied Ellie. “Ah’m brangin’ some fried chickin’.”
“Okay. Ah’ll pick you up ‘round five thirdy or so, case you wanna stop by de sto’ or sumfin on de way dere.”
“Awright, see you den.”
“Ah’m brangin’ a hot pan o’ grease fo’ yo’ fish, too,” said a laughing Marietta.
“Be quiet, wif yo’ crazy self,” said Ellie, as she laughed and hung up the telephone.
One Saturday evening each month, Ellie, Marietta and three other women, who were all of similar age, held what they called their “club meeting.” The location for the meeting was done on a rotating basis, with each woman given the opportunity to host it. In addition to the person hosting, each woman provided a dish of some kind. This monthly gathering was used to discuss various happenings in Lennix County. At the meetings, they also paid into a joint Christmas Savings Club fund; each January, one of the women was designated as the fund’s treasurer.
Later that afternoon, Ellie put the last pieces of fried chicken into a Tupperware bowl and then went upstairs to bathe, change clothes and put on her make-up. She came back down to watch a bit of television with Franklin, then went outside and sat on the front porch to await Marietta’s arrival. At approximately five-thirty Marietta’s wood panel station wagon turned into Ellie’s dirt and gravel driveway. Marietta and her husband, Douglas, lived in another Creston subsection, Marble City, which was only a few short miles from Ellie’s house. She and Douglas’ two children, Walter and Yvonne, lived in the nearby city of Warrenton with their respective spouses and children.
Carrying a shopping bag holding the chicken-filled Tupperware bowl, Marietta came down the porch steps and got into the car. “You gon stoppat dat sto’ in Opal befo’ we getta Dot’s?” she asked, as Marietta backed out of the driveway.
“Ah figgered Ah might as well,” said Marietta. “Needta git some smokes an’ chewin’ gum.”
As they drove along, Ellie looked over at Marietta and thought about how they had become friends. Almost fifty years ago, Marietta and her family moved to Creston from Warrenton. She and Ellie, whose shyness caused her to be a loner, became fourth grade classmates, as well as best friends.
In contrast to Ellie, Marietta was a confident extrovert who excelled at almost all playground games, even those that were predominantly played by boys. Additionally, as the only girl and the youngest of five children, she had been taught how to fight by her older brothers. So, whenever one of the other children began to bully or tease Ellie, it was almost certain that, courtesy of Marietta, they would have a bloody nose or busted lip before the school day ended. Unless she were seen fighting by one of the teachers, Marietta was never punished, because the boys didn’t want to admit that they’d been beaten up by a girl, and the girls were just plain afraid of her.
“How’s de Peytons’ bad ass little boy?” asked Marietta. Like Marietta, Ellie was a domestic housekeeper for a white family, the Peytons.
He’s gittin’ betta,” replied Ellie. “But, Ah swair it’s sumfin wrong wif dat boy.”
Marietta laughed. “You want me ta come downnair an’ whip his little ass?”
Ellie laughed and said, “Ah know you would.”
“Dat’s right,” said Marietta, “Tear his little hind parts up wiffa switch. Whip some sense innat dat bad ass.”
“You ain’t changed a bit since we was kids,” said a laughing Ellie. “Whatjude brang dis time?”
“Ah made some macaroni salad from a ol’ recipe ma muvver gave me,” she replied.
“Ah bet Charlene’ll brang dat spaghetti like she always does,” said Ellie. “Durn if dat gal don’t love her spaghetti.” She laughed.
After reaching Opal, Marietta drove into the small parking lot of Sibby’s Mini-Mart and drove up to the front entrance. As Ellie was exiting the car, Marietta started to speak, “Ah need . . .”
Ellie cut her off in mid-sentence. “A packa Kent’s an’ some Doublemint.”
Marietta laughed and said, “Shut up, you fool.” Ellie went into the mart.
A few minutes later, Ellie returned to the car and got in. “Ready when you are. Ah got your stuff.”
“Thank you, my dear,” replied Marietta.
When Ellie and Marietta finally arrived at Dot’s house, they saw her husband, Clarence, sitting on the front porch smoking a cigarette. Clarence operated a livery cab service using the pay telephone at the Creston Car Wash as his business telephone number. Marietta steered and parked her stationwagon behind an already parked Chevrolet Nova. She and Ellie gathered their respective dishes and exited the car.
“Eve’nin, ladies,” said Clarence, “Ready fo’ some heavy duty gossipin’ tanite?” He laughed.
“Shut up, you fool,” said a smiling Marietta. “You know’ll be eatin’ lef’overs soon as we out de door tanite.”
Clarence laughed. “Ah hope it’s better den what y’all had las’ time. Whatever Dot bought home gave me de shits fo’ a week.”
Marietta and Ellie laughed.
“Dat’s good fo’ you. Ya greedy freeloada,” said Marietta. “Now open-nat screendoor.”
A grinning Clarence did as he had been instructed, and held the door open until both Marietta and Ellie entered the house.
“Gonna take a ride upta Warrenton while y’all havin’ ya’ll’s meetin’,” said Clarence. He then headed for his pick-up truck, which was parked several yards from the house.
When they entered Dot’s large diningroom, Ellie and Marietta greeted two other club members, Charlene Gilliam, a retired schoolteacher, and Tessie Brent, who worked for a federal government agency in Washington, D.C. Dot, a nurse at Cherokee Springs Nursing Home, was in the kitchen adjacent to the diningroom.
This was a group of five women, all natives and residents of Lennix County, who had noticeable, as well as similarities and differences in backgrounds, experiences and personalities. Therefore, what they were tasked with doing each month, not only seemed sensible, but the proper thing to do. It was the same with the many women who had preceded them in the years since Lennix County was incorporated into the state of Virginia. They handled issues specifically affecting the townships in which each lived.
“Y’all wanna eat while we havin’ de meetin’?” said Dot from the kitchen.
“Might as well,” replied Charlene. “Ma spaghetti’s still warm.”
Ellie and Marietta exchanged subtle glances and smiles, and then walked into the kitchen with their respective bags. They came out a few moments later.
Tessie said, “Dot if you brang me de stuff, Ah’ll set de table.”
Dot entered the diningroom and handed a tray of knives, forks and paper napkins to Tessie, and then returned to the kitchen. While waiting for Dot to finish setting up the food, the four women talked about an assortment of topics, including an upcoming bus trip to Atlantic City being sponsored by one of the local churches; how a woman’s husband had been caught cheating, but she took him back anyway; and the recent outbreak of shoplifting thefts from area supermarkets - - each woman having a theory as to who the culprits were.
Approximately twenty minutes later, Dot came out of the kitchen again. “It’s ready y’all.” She then went to the front door, closed it and double locked it.
The other women went into the kitchen, made their plates and then returned to take their seats at the large oval, diningroom table.
“Ah put a plate fo’ you over dere, Dot,” said Ellie.
“Thank you,” Dot responded, as she sat down. “Who wants ta say Grace?”
“Ah’ll do it,” said Tessie.
All five women bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Tessie began. “We thank you Lord . . .”
Approximately an hour and a half later, when the meeting finally ended, Marietta, who had been selected as the club’s leader, began a review of the decisions they’d reached.
“Okay, y’all hair we go,” she said, as the other women silently looked on. “We’ll let dem remove de track ta make a new bike and walkin’ paf in Harrisonton. Correct?”
“The track,” as most of Lennix County’s residents referred to it, was a commercial railroad track that ran approximately ninety-three miles from Richmond north to Creston. Its starting/ending point in Creston was just below Main Street. Up until approximately eighteen months ago, it had been used five times per week to carry assorted commodities. Now it lay dormant, with local residents still using it to walk back and forth to the small commercial area referred to as “town,” as well as other points along the way. The club had been asked its permission to dismantle it for the creation of a bicycle and walking path for residents.
“Deed yes,” said, Dot. “Dat track ain’t doin’ nuffin but tairin’ up people’s cars’ ‘spensions an’ whatnot when dey go up dat hilly road over de track.”
“Secon’ly, said Marietta. “We approved de request ta let Greyhound buses goin’ norf an’ souf make stops at de 7-Eleven ‘cross from de Sunoco station on de bypass.”
Charlene, who had dissented with this particular decision, said, “Ya’ll gon see. We gon git all kinda riff raff an’ whatnot comin’ up from de Carolinas an’ comin’ in from D.C. hangin’ out dere on de bypass doin’ dis an’ dat. Upta no good.”
“Ah see ya point,” said Ellie. “But, les at least give it a try fo’ a little bit.”
“Hrumph,” said Charlene, sucking her teeth. “Ah’ll give it a year. Two at de mos’ an’ den y’all’ll see.”
“Fine’lly, we decided against lettin’ dem Disney folks build a new ‘musement park in Bristol.”
“Yes, indeedy,” said Dot. “Be way too much traffic out dere onda bypass.”
“’Sides dat, dere’s already dat uvver ‘musement park down in Dowsell,” said Charlene. “Den ya got Splashdown in Manassas. Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Hell, what folks trynta do, turn Virginia inta a big ‘musement park?”
The other four women laughed.
“Let dem folks keep goin’ on dere way downta Flor’da,” said Charlene. “Ah’m sure Disney’ll be alright.”
“Okay, den,” said Marietta. “Ah guess dat’s it fo’ dis monf’s meetin’. Ah’ll call Herbert uppat de county office on Monday ta tell ‘im what we decided. An’ don’t fo’git ta give Tessie yo’ money fo’ de Christmas savin’s fund.”
“Ah put paper plates an’ ‘luminum foil on de kitchen table,” said Dot, as the women rose from their seats. Charlene and Ellie headed toward the kitchen. “An’ don’t make a big mess innair.” She laughed and smiled.
The women heard a vehicle pull into the driveway. A few minutes later, they heard footsteps on the porch, keys jingling, and when the door opened, Clarence yelled out, “It’s jus me, y’all.”
He walked into the diningroom and said, “Finished already?”
“Yeah,” said Dot. “Hadda good meetin’.”
“Maybe Ah’ll come ta de next meetin’,” he said.
“Naw,” said Tessie. “You’d be bored ta def.”
“Jus’ enjoy our lef’over food an’ behave yo’self,” said Marietta.
Clarence laughed. “Y’all prob’ly right. Y’all’s gossipin’ would drive me crazy. Too bad y’all cain’t put alla dat gossipin’ ta some good use.”
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