They were the most feared of creatures and yet they appeared the most benign. They traveled in flocks of at least 2 and never more than 5. They were all female and well past their prime. They would emerge from their dens where even dust motes feared them and never settled to meet in the designated den of the leader. Their movement were tracked along with their speed. With each block, speculation abounded as to their final destination and the poor soul who was about to receive them with the utmost of courtesy even though they knew their fate was sealed. The door would open because to refuse entry was the most heinous of crimes and never forgiven nor forgotten. It was also an instant admission of guilt. As their speed slowed, speculation reached a fever pitch but no one would dare to place a bet upon their destination.
Upon emergence from the location of the poor target, their facial expressions were studied in microscopic detail. The best sign was a little smile for they never showed their teeth but it is rumoured they still had them. A grimace, furrow between the brows and set jaw indicated there was yet another target and speculation began anew along with a lot of sweating. Association was an admission of compliance as "birds of a feather flock together". Only when they were safely ensconced in their individual domiciles were we safe, for whenever two of more of them gathered, someone was a target.
All feared them from the Mayor, to the chief of police whose "police involved shooting" could be dismissed as "he just needed killin'" to the men of the cloth with the reversed colors. Politicians were afraid to look into their eyes and instead studied their sensible shoes with the complete fascination. Police were known to be whacked with the various tools of their trade usually an umbrella. Men of the cloth simply moaned. The rest of us tried to hide as guilt was optional in being convicted of the infraction.
They had uniforms, though not identical, that identified them as members of the flock. A shirt waist dress with tiny flowers, as ostentation was frowned upon, always with sleeves even in the dead of summer, a narrow belt regardless of their girth, a hemline that fell with precision that NASA would have admired to precisely the middle of the lower calf and white cuffs and collar. Pearl buttons indicated rank. There was always a hat, small and piously located almost on the back of the head with a small veil extending to the hairline and no further unless she was in deep mourning.
They each carried a small purse with the necessities to being a lady, one lipstick, a tissue for blotting, a handkerchief, a small change purse and wallet that held only a few bills. A comb rounded out the contents thought their hair, either in a bun or sensible cut, had not dared to move in years. Sometimes they carried a small umbrella but by and large, it did not dare to even sprinkle when they were about. The umbrella was a weapon and a really, really bad sign. In the other hand they carried a small black book completely covered in white crochet identical to the crochet pattern they made coaster and hot pads out of covered pepsi or coke caps. Even caps were vetted in their world and no beer bottle cap dare apply for even small pieces of round metal were capable of leading one into sin.
They were unmarried, either widows in which case their proper form of address would be the Widow so and so or had never married because no man had ever lived up to their standards or one had broken their heart. They never remarried because no man could ever live up to the image of the 'good' man they had lost or most frequently, they needed a long time to forgive the rounder they stuck with all those years. In the latter case, their proper form of address was Miss so and so. No one really knew if they had a first name.
The only reason for missing a Sunday in church was death and then they were perhaps the only ones who ever made a voluntary appearance at their own funeral. Missing a bake sale was only permitted if their hip was broken or they had advanced pneumonia. It mattered not whether they could boil water, you bought the bake sale item, you ate it there and you delivered the proper compliment. Otherwise you would receive a 'visit' and an explanation of the word 'charity' from the rest of the flock sans the offended member. You would send a written apology and blame your indiscretion on temporary insanity, a sour stomach and the total loss of your taste buds. Then you would receive the cake and have to eat it because the dog wouldn't even get near it.
They were the Church Ladies, the moral barometer of the town and a moral police force more effective than the FBI and the KGB combined.
I never feared them for I was condemned by virtue of my birth. My blood was mixed with Heathens or as they are called now, Native Americans. My family was psychic and it mattered little who we healed or who we helped, we were born condemned. It mattered not that my father cut their grass, fixed their car and painted their porch for free because he had shown the bad judgement of marrying my mother and they suspected he was an atheist. They had no idea how right they were. I knew their first names and planned on calling them by them just as soon I reached the respectable age of 40 or more. Standing on the front porch of our family house would have had them struck by lightening so we never feared a visit. We were the only ones.
I have seen preachers break out in massive sweats at their approach. I have seen police officers try desperately to find a crime to attend to, always their hats removed and pain evident as they, as officers of the law, were required to meet the gaze of the Church Lady. I heard a rumour once that gaze could turn you to stone or was it a pillar of salt? Politicians found interesting places to look and never in their eyes. They reminded us that we were our brother's keeper, the meaning of charity and the lecture on treating others as you wanted to be treated was delivered an hour at a time. They each had a embroidered sampler with the ten commandments in red and those commandments didn't have codicils. They never asked what Jesus would do, but rather did you think, have to audacity to think, that GOD would approve of this. The correct answer was no, with your head hung low and a promise to do better and after all, you would be told that was all GOD could expect because you were human, frail and prone to giving into temptation. Oh and the final incentive to reform, "We will be back." I've seen alcoholics go on the wagon at that threat.
It is too bad they have all passed on through those pearly gates (I always preferred wrought iron) as I would love to see a flock of them descend upon Congress next week and explain the Word of God as opposed to the Word of Ayn Rand to them. I still remember the lecture on charity myself. I think they might need replacement umbrellas by the second Congressman or woman. Ah well, there is one thing this little witch knows for sure, they will be waiting for them on the other side. If I were in Congress, I would start funding research into immortality, last week.
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c Janice Scott-Reeder