Friday, April 5, 2019

The Intervention by Beryl Ensor-Smith

When the old church sisters have a big argument with the newer, younger members, their husbands are forced to stage an intervention; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

"It's really most awkward," Marion Klopper complained when the group of older church sisters met for tea at the Welcome Inn. "The only time we can speak openly now that we've so many younger members is when we lot get together here or at the Astonishing Café."

"Without them, you mean," Suzie van Blerk said, adding mischievously, "so that we can moan about them."

"Well, we've got a lot to moan about," Christina du Plessis bleated. "They keep coming up with new ideas that make my life a misery. How can a woman of my age be expected to climb ladders, break her back packing and unpacking boxes and do all kinds of gymnastics to turn the crazy things they dream up into reality?"

"Most of their ideas are very good," Helga Swanepoel admitted reluctantly, thinking that she had yet to see Christina climb a ladder. It would need to be very sturdy indeed to bear that overweight body! "Our charity funds have more than doubled since they've come on board and they're hard workers, you must admit."

"They're not the only ones who work hard, Rina van Wyk pointed out. We do our fair share!"

"But we aren't as clever as they are in thinking of new fundraising schemes, or ways of making people's lives better," Sarie Blignault said timidly.

Much as most of the women crowded around the table would have loved to argue the point, they couldn't. Sarie was right. Since Dominee had decreed that the two opposing groups should unite in sisterhood, the younger members had shown up the older with the many new projects they had introduced.

"The Saturday Market; the Merry-Go-Round Top Quality Secondhand Clothing Boutique; the new Fresh Produce Stall; the Child Minding Centre for working mothers," Elaine Ferreira ticked off her fingers. They're making us look bad, that's what!"

When Miem Gouws went home, she put her mother in the picture. Ma Gouws listened to her petulant account of all the new ventures the young church sisters had introduced and grunted with approval.

"I told you it was time the sisterhood had a shake-up, Miems. You lot were in a rut." Seeing her daughter's mutinous face, she added consolingly, "Ag, you'll come up with good ideas too. You just need to put on your thinking caps."

Whatever thinking caps they had didn't seem to fit. The next time they got together was at the home of Elsie Fourie, chosen because they wouldn't be overheard and she baked superbly. She could be counted on to produce something delicious in the way of eats, unlike the stale offerings of their usual haunts! When Helga called the seated ladies to attention and asked for ideas, all she received were blank stares.

"Come, come," she chastised waspishly, "this won't do! You've had a week to think of proposals. Surely someone has thought of something?"

They squirmed uncomfortably in their seats, resentful that she, their leader, should expect from them what she was clearly unable to deliver herself.

"I told Hans that he and his mates should try fishing instead of spending so much time drinking at the Sports Club. If they caught enough, we could have a weekly fish stall at the Saturday market," Christina said sulkily.

"Lo! Suzie muttered to Miems sitting next to her, "how's that for passing the buck, not that she would have succeeded, but if she had, can you see her anywhere near raw fish, never mind handling it?"

Nevertheless Christina's attempt to show that she, for one, had come up with an idea sparked similar efforts to justify themselves among others in the group.

"Now the young church sisters have a fresh produce stall, perhaps we can start a market garden in the township, teaching the squatters how to prepare vegetable beds and how to care for them? That way they can benefit too, providing for their families as well as our stall. We'd add a bit extra to their prices to make a small profit for the charity tin."

"A good idea, Rina," Helga responded heartily, "and you can start putting it in motion immediately. Reverend Motsepe will be able to help you find a suitable plot for a garden, and participants, and I'm sure our local supply stores will donate gardening tools, fertilizers and seeds. Get to it, girl!" beaming at Rina, who stared back, aghast. Why had she opened her blasted mouth?

The next victim was Miems, who should have known better. "We should try to involve the residents of the Old Folks' Home in something," she mused. "Most are bored out of their minds not having enough to do. Many are quite good at handwork. Perhaps they can knit jerseys or crotchet squares for blankets and we can have a new stall at the Saturday market, again making a small profit for our funds?"

"Now we're getting somewhere," Helga purred. "Call round and chat to the matron, Miems. She'll help get you started."

"But... but," Miems floundered, trying to backtrack, "we'd need donations of materials, patterns, all kinds of things, to get started!"

"Ask Dominee to appeal at next Sunday's services; I'm sure you'll get a good response," Helga said airily, "and this is another example of killing two birds with one stone; an outreach programme that will benefit both the contributors and the charities we support."

"Even if Miems gets the old folk to contribute, can you see anyone wanting those baggy, old-fashioned cardigans they knit or one of Tannie Classen's strange paintings?" Elaine whispered to Elsie. "She says her style is Impressionistic, but if you ask me, they're so hazy and indistinct because her eyesight's poor and she can't see what she's doing!"

No further suggestions were forthcoming, the women now wary of saying anything at all and Helga accepted with resignation that she was unlikely to coax any more unintended commitments from her reluctant cohorts. Nevertheless she had enough ammunition for the next monthly meeting of all the church sisters, which she chaired, and made the most of it, turning to the younger members and emphasizing that the two ventures the old guard were embarking on met two aims held dear to the sisterhood:

"These endeavours will serve a social service by involving and enriching the lives of members of the community as well as augmenting the monies we contribute to different worthy causes," she pronounced, flushed with triumph.

"Silly verbose old trout," Sonja Kleinveld muttered. "Their 'endeavours' will doubtless need us to get them off the ground. A lot of effort for a few cents added to the kitty? Not bloody worth it!"

Christina sitting behind her overheard her comment and snarled, "Not nearly so much work as looking after a lot of squalling toddlers; whose bright idea was that? We church sisters have to spend a whole day every fortnight caring for other people's offspring, including changing nappies and spooning revolting slop into their mouths." She shuddered with distaste.

"I've not seen you doing either," Darleen Jansen flared, her voice rising, attracting the attention of all present. "You spend most of your time bossing around the domestic workers and drinking tea! Come to think of it," speaking so forcefully that some women shrank back into their seats, "that particular project of us younger church sisters provides jobs for the unemployed, a social service, as well as bringing in lots of cash from grateful moms!"

Momentarily there was a deathly hush before pandemonium broke out, the two groups of women, both younger and older, feeling disgruntled and unappreciated, angrily raising their voices and talking over one another until the volume rose to shouting point, insults being hurled in all directions. Later, Diwald Oosthuizen whose office was behind the hall where their meeting was held, quizzed his aunt, Elsie Fourie, about the fracas he had overheard.

"What on earth was going on? It sounded like a street brawl with all that yelling."

"It wasn't that bad," she countered, embarrassed; "just a bit of a disagreement and people having their say."

He shook his head. "That's the understatement of the year; from the sound of it, it was all-out war!"

Elsie turned her back on him pretending interest in something going on in the street outside the kitchen window. "You're making a mountain out of a molehill," she said uncomfortably, reaching for cutlery to set the table for dinner.

"If you say so, aunt, but even so I won't be following your advice to take up with any of their 'lovely daughters'. Imagine having a wacky church sister for a mother-in-law?"

Elsie wasn't alone in feeling mortified at the provocative behavior and loss of dignity that had disrupted the meeting. Helga had appealed for calm, but offended members gathered up their belongings and departed, leaving those undecided gaping at them. Only later, when they had calmed down, did the absurdity of the situation hit home and every last member of the sisterhood felt humbled by their total loss of self-control. It reflected poorly on all of them.

Christina too, felt chastened and was so subdued on reaching home that her husband was concerned. "What's the matter, my girl?" he asked kindly.



"Oh Hans," she said, bursting into tears, "such an hysterical outbreak at our meeting today that we'll never be able to put things right. We women can be such foolish creatures at times!" Which unbelievable admission left him totally lost for words.

Miems was also downcast and unable to hide her bleak mood from her mother, who soon coaxed her into revealing every last detail of its cause. She also learned that Miems had been trapped into starting a market garden in the township and was expected to find sponsors. Seeing how close her beloved daughter was to tears, Ma Gouws said gruffly, "Just you leave that side of things to me. A frail old woman is hard to refuse, especially face to face." She sighed. "As to restoring the peace, it's such a pity that Anna, the one person who could do it, is in Pretoria visiting her mother. It's no use involving Dominee, he hasn't a clue how to handle women's problems and is likely to make things worse!"

Word soon spread to other women of the parish, young mothers and those who had jobs and had not been at the meeting, such as Marie Minaar, receptionist at the Welcome Inn, Mina Venter who helped husband Koos in their supply store and Hilda van Dyk who while uninterested in joining the sisterhood, took on other church duties and had that day helped out in the office in Anna's absence. Christina was disappointed that her best friend took the rift among the church sisters very lightly.

"Eat humble pie and apologise," she said, shrugging her shoulders, clearly not interested in becoming involved.

Marie, ashamed of the glee she felt on first hearing about the split, tried to make up for it by pinning up a notice in the hotel foyer asking for donations for the Saturday market. She arrived at Helga's house with a hotel porter one evening, driving a borrowed truck filled with miscellaneous goods, even furniture donated by a couple soon to move into the Old Folks' Home. Faced with the problem of where to store the stash once they had offloaded it onto her driveway, Helga had no choice but to appeal for help from Sonia, in charge of the Saturday market. Keen to make amends for her thoughtless comment that had led to the chaos at the meeting, Sonia arrived with husband Paul in tow and was genuinely pleased on seeing the generosity and diversity of the donations.

We can certainly use these," she said briskly. "There's a cot, a table and a chest of drawers that will go towards furnishing the room we use for the infants. Thank you so much, Helga. Paul, let's get this lot into the back of our bakkie."

Helga invited them both inside for coffee once the job was done, grateful for their help.

So was the first small crack created in the iceberg dividing the sisterhood.

Vijay Moodley, shop-owner competitor of Koos Venter, walked into the shop after lunch one day to find his wife Surita placing incense burners on every available surface.

"What is it?" he asked, startled, "have we had an infestation of... oh, no, not cockroaches?"

"Worse that that," she replied, alarming him more than ever. "There's a bad vibe in this town, Vijay, wafting off most of the women who have come into the store today."

"And how," he asked perplexed, will all this help?" waving away the smoke drifting into his nostrils. "All it will do is chase away other customers. The smell is overpowering!"

"It's meant to be," she retorted. "It's purifying. I intend finding out what's causing the bad feeling and will do everything I can to help get rid of it, and, Vijay, so will you!"

He shook his head knowing it was futile arguing with Surita when she had made up her mind about something.

She contacted Mina Venter later that afternoon. Their husbands might be rivals in business but she and Mina trusted one another and had become friends. Surita raised her concerns about her troubled lady customers and asked whether Mina had any idea what was wrong. After a moment's hesitation Mina confided that the church sisters had had a major fall-out, without disclosing the reasons. As most of the population of Prentburg was Afrikaans and belonged to the dominant church in the village, Surita got the picture.

"That's very unfortunate. Is there anything we can do to heal the rift?"

"Well," said Mina, "the two opposing groups have a number of community outreach programmes and are always in need of something. I'm insisting that Koos give those carpets we've had in the back of the storeroom for as long as I can remember to the young church sisters who have just started a crèche to help working mothers. All they have is an empty room. Koos is, of course, not that keen as he sees profits flying out of the window."

She snorted in derision. "We'll never sell those dated carpets. I'll get him to deliver them this afternoon."

"And I had Ma Gouws in here this afternoon asking for donations of craft materials for women in the Old Folks' Home to make goods for the church sisters to sell. I'll pack a box of anything I can think of and deliver it to the church this afternoon," Surita assured her.

"That's exceptionally kind of you," said Mina gratefully.

"It's essential to the wellbeing of the entire village that peace is restored," Surita responded.

True to her word, Ma Gouws had spent the entire morning visiting local businesses she felt could contribute to creating and maintaining a market garden in the township. She leaned heavily on her stick and exaggerated her breathlessness while making her appeals and was met with sympathetic kindness and generosity. From Gideon Visser who owned the local hardware store, she extracted the promise of seeds, garden tools, a hosepipe, fertilizers and pesticides to get it started.

"Once the ground's been prepared I'll also lend you Frans, my foreman, for a day, to show the workers how to plant and protect the seeds from birds and insects and advise them how to water and care for them."

Ma Gouws left the store a lot more briskly than she had entered it, a satisfied smirk on her face. Gideon watched her go, shaking his head.

"Crafty old witch," he muttered before giving vent to loud laughter.

The husbands of all the church sisters had heard about the acrimonious monthly meeting. Most resolved to keep their heads down to dodge the fall-out. Those married to the older ladies were taking more flak from their unhappy wives than the younger men, their women having less time to fret, ferrying children to and from school and extra-mural activities or being active farmers' wives; or in the case of Darleen Jansen, taking care of an invalid mother.

The Sports Club was the haunt of most of the village husbands either because they were actively involved in playing sport or simply because they enjoyed socializing. There were some, like Hans, who used it to escape from their wives, as apart from a few women golfers, the village women disapproved of the club and seldom deigned to set foot in it. As far as they were concerned, it was to blame for their husbands' frequent inebriation! Klaus van Dyk was particularly unpopular with the wives as he was the manager. This bothered him not one whit, nor his wife, Hilda, who had encouraged him to apply for the position as she knew he needed to keep busy as he became bored very easily.

Having much in common, the husbands of the younger church sisters grouped together at the club, and similarly, so did the older men. They were affable when they met but were acquaintances rather than friends. After their wives' quarrel, they eyed one another uneasily until Paul Kleinveld plucked up the nerve to approach the men clustered at the bar talking to Klaus, who was keeping a weather eye on Alf, the barman, who tended towards slackness.

"This is a bad business between the wives," Paul said bluntly.

"Yes it is," David Klopper agreed, "and from the little I've managed to get out of Marion, they're all equally to blame!"

"If they would only apologise to one another it would blow over," Bennie Ferreira added glumly. Elaine had been very difficult to live with the past fortnight!

"Apologise? A woman? Pigs will fly first," Hans du Plessis snorted.

"So what can we do about it?" Paul asked. "Let's put our heads together and see if we can come up with something."

For the first time the two groups of men crowded around a table, ordered another round and swapped ideas. An hour later, satisfied, they called Klaus across, told him what had been decided and what they needed from him.

"I can arrange it but it will cost," he warned. "It'll mean hiring extra staff and overtime for this lot," with a disdainful nod towards Alf, who was wiping down the bar, ignoring bellows for service from a table nearby. "Mind you, if you're prepared to muster up enough support through ticket sales, that'll be a different matter. Enough money up front and I'll guarantee a special meal and a disc jockey too."

"Done!" said Paul.

"Anything for peace," Hans sighed.

"Now to sell the idea to our wives, never mind the general public," David raised his eyebrows.

They all silently resolved to be their most persuasive, thoroughly tired of living with the brides of Dracula!

They presented it as a fait accompli to their wives, as being their contribution to the church sisters' fund raising efforts; a social evening at the sports club for the general public. They had made all the arrangements and would sell the tickets, some of the proceeds going to the club to cover costs and the rest to the church sisters. Klaus was pushing the boat out and it was going to be a special occasion that could well become a regular event on the club calendar!

Their wives were nonplussed and rather wary, but all arguments were met with implacable determination and once the women were assured that their only part in the arrangements would be to turn up dressed in their party best, they capitulated, albeit somewhat dubiously.

Village business owners were once again approached, this time by the husbands, to promote the affair by displaying posters of the upcoming event and selling tickets. In normal circumstances many would have balked, but they, too, had been affected by the gloom hanging over the village and readily agreed.

Klaus, astonished at the way attendance numbers were growing, had to call a halt to further ticket sales when he realized that they had as many couples as the club could cater for, and lived up to the men's assertion that he was making it a special occasion. When the women arrived, it was to a room tastefully decorated, tables set with pristine white cloths and an array of glittering cutlery for what proved to be a delicious three-course meal; as also an area for dancing presided over by an astute disc jockey. He quickly summed up the age-group present, tossed aside the modern 'pop' favoured by the hip younger crowd and included some golden oldies and fun songs. Between courses he played dance music, and finding the husbands slow to participate, tempted the ladies onto the floor with "Girls Just Want to have Fun", followed by "Good Golly Miss Molly". The church sisters couldn't resist joining in, dancing in a circle, and even Christina let her hair down, giggling and breathless after "The Birdie Song". It wasn't long before they hauled their husbands onto the floor and hours later, those same husbands had difficulty persuading their wives that it was time to go home! By then all rancor between the women was a thing of the past, dispelled by the fun and laughter they had shared. Greatly relieved, they parted with friendly 'good-byes'.

Grateful to their husbands for ending what had become a tricky situation, they heaped praise on them, especially when they were handed a fat cheque to bolster their church funds.

"What a great idea this was," Poppy Olifant sighed when they were having tea after the next Sisters of the Church weekly meeting. "Not only do we have enough to buy cots and toys for our baby centre, we can now employ extra helpers so that we can reduce the load on all of us, and," smiling at Rina, "the same applies to your market garden, there'll be enough for everything you need to keep it going; and your project with the old folk, Miems."

"Another positive spinoff, Mimi Viljoen said cheerfully, "is that both groups of husbands got on so well together that they've formed a team to take part in the monthly club quiz."

"Hey, that's nice," Truida Spies agreed. "They'll have a range of knowledge between them and should do well. My Bruno is reserved and needs to be tempted out of the house."

There were murmurs of satisfaction from all but one person. It had just dawned on a grim-faced Christina that Hans now a legitimate reason to slope off to the Sports Club for yet more drinking sessions with his new buddies!

5 comments:

  1. A lot of characters in this story. A happy ending.

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  2. A fine human interest story full of engaging characters and local color that pulls you in.

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  3. Another fine story exposing the foibles in all of us
    Great stuff, Beryl!

    Mike McC

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  4. Thank you Harris, David and Mike for taking the time to read and comment on my story. Much appreciated.
    Best wishes,
    Beryl.

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  5. I love the characterisation in this! I enjoyed the humorous parts. The details are nice too. Great work!

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