“Ready to go and wish Godspeed to Eunice?”
“Stop being a baby!”
Okay, whining was worth a try.
“Kate, how much longer do you think you’ll stay as Mark’s secretary?” I just need to know.
“Already wanting to take over my job?”
“Not on your life. Just tell me before you quit. I don’t want to be at the church office without you.”
“Don’t worry, Chick-a-dee, I don’t think you’re going to be a church secretary for too much longer.”
I’m wondering why she said that. Were they thinking of replacing me? Maybe I should ask Kate. It’s always better to know. You get the bad news over with fast, and then, go eat chocolate.
Works like a charm for me every time.
We pull into the driveway of the church and park in almost the same spot we were in the last time we were here. I’m still trying to figure out an emergency that would take me away from here.
Nope. No such luck.
Okay, we’re in the Fellowship Hall, it’s packed. Obviously Eunice McGill was very much loved. So I’m checking out the room and the people there—looks like every Fellowship Hall I’ve ever been in—you know, seen one, seen them all, and you can identify the church members from the visitors! It’s that air of authority the sweet old ladies use to run the church kitchen with an iron fist.
The seniors wince and cover their ears.
That would be the predictable sound of the microphone switch going from off to on. It seems that even though the world has made incredible progress with sound systems, the church still clings to the old. I have a dictaphone in my office to prove this.
The soundman must have heard that horrible pitchy noise. He rushes out of the kitchen to adjust the levels, and then is gone again. What? Was he the chef too?
Okay, one microphone adjusted. There’s this greying, barely-hair-there, not wanting to admit to balding man, you know the ones that take those few strands of hair and comb them from one side of their head to the other…anyway, he’s got a huge belly hanging his belt and he’s very officious. I’m guessing that must be the pastor.
“Thank you for being present…” (beam, smile, wipe sweaty forehead with white handkerchief) “…to let our sister Eunice know how much we appreciate her, and her years of service to Jesuuuus. Prrrrrraise his holy name.” More smiles and wipes of sweaty forehead.
Jesus is going to be so impressed by how you pronounce his name.
“We are so grateful for the many, many, many unselfish hours Sister Eunice…” (dramatic pause with outstretched arms)…has given to keep this church going forward.”
Many cheers and loud claps. Eunice is sitting at what must be the head table. It has many dour looking men and women present. She looks so thrilled to be up there with them.
“Awww…Kate… Look at Eunice. I’m so happy for her. She really does deserve all this praise. Glad the church recognizes how much she does for them.”
“It’s probably the only time they’ve ever paid any notice to her.”
I think this is funny. Kate does have a point. Secretaries pretty much know this to be true a lot of the time.
Lunch is over. Thank God.
“Kate, I can’t take this any more. I’m going to die. This is soooooooo boring.”
“Just think how happy you’re making Jesus.”
“I think Jesus would be very bored…”
“Did you say Jesus would be very bored? Jesus bored? Well, I’ll never… I must say…I must say…in my prayer group…I must say…”
Just say it already. Kate’s staring at me and praying I won’t say anymore. I guess I’ve scandalized the women’s prayer group leader. I thought old ladies were heard of hearing.
Fortunately, the pastor chose that moment to ask Eunice to join him up front. Oh good, it will all soon be over.
Dear, sweet Eunice just glowed. She was so happy to be next to the pastor as he heaped on her much praise and thanks. By the time he had finished, in my mind, I had a picture of Eunice a la Samson raising the church high up with her own two bare hands. I was also playing “Rate the Pastor!” and, after all this while, he scored a perfect mind-numbing boring.
Now it was Eunice’s turn to say a few words.
“I want to thank all the church members who have taken time away from your busy lives to honor me. I don’t deserve it, but I’m very grateful to you all for making my service to the Lord such a blessed one as your church secretary.”
Much applause. Praise Jesus. Amens.
Eunice searches the crowd and adds, “I would like to make my particular thanks to two of my favorite colleagues, although they are much younger than I am.”
Who? I’m searching the crowd too.
“Kate and Natalie, could you please stand?”
What…oh Lord, nearly said the French word aloud here. That would probably finish off the women’s prayer group leader.
Now my guilt complex is kicking in again. Eunice had singled us out. I thought she had dozens of friends. If we’re her friends, at least, if I’m her friend, she must really not have a life.
Kate pulls me up, but I’m half standing, half clutching the seat of my chair. Uh huh. No way. This is as much as Natalie stands in this group.
Kate’s tugging, I’m not budging.
“You both are very special to me. Natalie, I encourage you to follow in Kate’s footsteps. You couldn’t have a better mentor, and, I would…” She carried on.
“See you can’t leave. Otherwise, I won’t be able to follow in your footsteps.”
More applause after Eunice finishes speaking. I’m not sure if it was because of what she said, or if it was because she had stopped speaking. I wasn’t paying attention as I’m focusing on the bruise I’m convinced I’m going to have from where Kate had gripped my arm. I wonder which gym she goes to.
“While you gentle people are finishing up your desserts,” Eunice’s pastor’s enjoying center stage again. He must never stop preaching on a Sunday. “I’d like to invite my beautiful wife…isn’t she beautiful? I am blessed man, a very blessed man… to bring the special gifts we have prepared for Eunice in gratitude for her service to the church.”
Loud cheering. It was like someone knew when to hold up the “Applause” sign.
Ah ha. One of the dour women with the doily dress (you know, the ones with the lace on the collar) was the pastor’s wife. Beautiful wife? Guess it’s in the eyes of the beholder. She’s very submissively handing her husband Eunice’s gifts. Hey, why can’t she give Eunice the gifts? I’m championing women’s rights here.
“Well, Eunice. Our elders spent a lot of time in prayer…a lot of time asking Jesuuuus… to find the right way to let you know how much you have blessed us. So here…please accept these tokens of our deep gratitude.” The pastor hands her one large wrapped gift, a medium-sized square envelope, and another smaller package. I’m calculating in my mind as to how much money they could have collected for her. The church didn’t appear to be hurting financially. She’d been there for fifty years, so I’m pulling for a nice little nest egg for all her many hours of selfless service the pastor had kept mentioning.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the lucky winner is Eunice with a trip to Paris avec chocolat.” Yes, my dreams are always Paris and chocolate.
With trembling hands, Eunice opened up Present Number One, and then held it up for us all to see. A nice album filled with pictures of the church members and Eunice, I guessed. I’m speculating about how many of those members had given her many nightmares?
So Gift Number One is Strike One.
Gift Number Two: The square envelope, a greeting card filled with best wishes from the congregation— Strike Two.
Two times unlucky, third one’s a charm. With trembling hands, Eunice rips the paper off of the third package, and everyone gasps. I mentally hear casino bells go off and the sweet winning sounds of the slot machine.
“This is too much. I don’t know how to thank you.” Eunice is choked with emotion.
“You deserve it, and much more,” the pastor gives her a hug. “Everyone is eager to see your gift. If you don’t mind…”
I wait to hear the amount.
“To our dear Sister Eunice McGill. In appreciation for your fifty years of ministry—” the pastor stops speaking. I mean, he stops, and proudly holds out a stupid, hideous plaque for the entire room to see, with poor Eunice at his side.
A respectful silence descends upon the entire room as people gaze at the plaque.
“What a rip off! Fifty years and they can’t even give her a damn silver dollar?”
Please let that not be me. Yes, that voice, that distinctive sound like no other. Yep, that’s me. That is the sound of my voice ringing loudly in my ears, and, you know, all those eyes that had been on the plaque are now turned in my direction.
Kate has slunk down in her chair, and I quickly stuff a whole bite of some marshmallowy sweet atrocity into my mouth. That is my punishment.
The pastor’s clearing his throat and there is tons more sweat pouring down his face. “Yes. Yes. Let us pray.”
And I didn’t mind that he prayed for a long time.
“Time to go and say bye to Eunice,” Kate nudged me to move.
“Why can’t we wait until everyone has left?” I’m trying to stay hidden. I don’t want to face anyone, particularly the pastor.
Easy for her to say.
Next time, I warn myself, keep your thoughts to your self.