Missy Lake and granddaughters, Blanche and Carly Mae, strutted one block from their home to the Kiminee town square. “Land sakes,” Missy said. “I can hardly believe you girls are fourteen and fifteen already. Veritable young ladies, you are, and you’d better mind your manners. I don’t want you embarrassin’ me.”
“Oh, Grams, we know how important this is to you,” Blanche said.
Miffed, Carly Mae challenged her grandmother. “When have we ever embarrassed you?”
“It’s just my nerves talkin’; don’t take it personal.” Missy nodded to Carly Mae. “Hope has spread here like fairy dust since you came back. I’ve got no complaints. You’re both doin’ the town proud. Ray, too.”
Missy’s three grandchildren attended Kiminee Academy, which Jasper Skrillpod established shortly after Carly Mae’s return three years prior. They also took classes at nearby Riverwood College, which Jasper had been fundraising for through his Chicago connections. So Carly Mae and Blanche had plenty of schoolwork to do, but like teenage girls everywhere, they gabbed for hours on the phone and socialized at every opportunity.
“How long will this be?” Blanche asked.
“You’ll have time to meet up with your little crowd at the Five ‘N Dime—if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Each girl agreed when she was barely old enough to talk that she would join Kiminee’s Suzette Society when the time came. According to Missy, that time was today.
Trees lining the street blushed with fall colors supplanting summer’s shades of green. The sisters had begged to wear cutoff jeans, casual shirts and sandals on what they thought would turn out to be the last balmy day before fall’s chilly tentacles gripped their bones, but Missy had insisted they “look decent” for their induction into the club.
The trio marched diagonally across the green. Missy wore a dress of royal blue. Poking out from a hat to match were tufts of salt-and-pepper hair. Her white-gloved hands carried a platter of Ritz crackers topped with Velveeta. Her shoes, lace-up orthopedic clodhoppers, were polished to a black sheen. The girls, in gold shifts sewn following a Simplicity pattern, sported Thom McAnn flats that were already scuffed, though they had purchased them only a week ago. Carly Mae’s shining auburn locks and Blanche’s pale yellow tresses hung long and free. Blanche held a fresh pound cake, still warm and wrapped in aluminum foil. Carly Mae tripped but quickly regained her balance while grasping a pitcher sloshing with grape Kool Aid.
“Watch where you’re goin’ there. It’s Waterford crystal you’re carryin’,” Missy warned Carly Mae.
“Whew! That was close,” Blanche said to Carly Mae, who held tight to the pitcher.
They stopped at a storefront. In display windows on either side of the door were quilts, handkerchiefs, aprons, pillows, jewelry, pottery, jams and jellies, and various sundries—all handmade in Kiminee. The wooden sign hanging from a wrought iron holder said “Suzette’s” in script.
The society’s president, Maridee Pratt, stood at the entrance. Balancing a plate of chocolate fudge on one palm, she held the door open with her foot, and waved the trio inside. “You must be so proud,” Maridee whispered to Missy as the girls rushed into the shop.
“Slow down there, Miss Carly Mae. That pitcher is fragile,” Missy called out.
The girls continued apace, giggling.
“Remember when we were that young?” Maridee said as they proceeded toward the meeting.
“Why dredge up the past?” Missy marched ahead.
The interior was replete with additional handcrafted items, including furniture carved with intricate leaf and flower patterns. In the back room, they joined others in an area set up with three rows of chairs. They shuffled dishes around to make room for their snacks on an already loaded table against a wall. The ladies always make sure they had plenty of treats left over to give away.
After a fair amount of chitchat and nibbling, Maridee stepped to the podium and called the meeting to order. When all were settled, she said, “First, on this auspiciously warm autumn day, we want to welcome Blanche and Carly Mae Foley, two remarkable young ladies, who will be a credit to our organization.”
“Here a … here, new b, blood,” Abby Louise Chute shouted from the back row. Her face was flushed, and her breath was so laden with alcohol even the mice in the walls could smell it.
Maridee ignored her and gestured, palm up, to the inductees. “As you know, girls, you have great big shoes to fill, as do we all. Our proud tradition of community service began long ago when Charles and Fleur Kiminee lost their little girl, Suzette. From the shock, dear Fleur passed away. With no one to take care of the remaining children or keep his house, Charles came apart. And it’s an unfortunate fact he grew too fond of the bottle. It wasn’t right for his kids to see him like that.”
“He’s not the only one a little too fond of the bottle.” Missy whispered to Tempest Binsack seated to her right, but her words carried and sliced like a razor.
Maridee broke the ensuing silence with a cough and resumed her talk. “So the womenfolk of the town stepped in, taking turns minding the children, cleaning up and cooking good, hearty fare. Charles came to himself, and it was just a few years later that he married one of those women, the fine Dorothy Binsack. She is a distant relation of our very own Tempest, whose kin, I believe, also hailed from Louisiana, just like Charles and Fleur.”
She pointed to Tempest, who fiddled with her collar and said, “Dorothy’s in the family tree somewhere, but let’s not fuss over me.”
Maridee coughed and cleared her throat. “So the Kiminees were taken care of, but the volunteers had come to like their work and didn’t want to stop. No, it was more than that. They didn’t just like it; they felt the absolute power of it. They saw the awesome, thunderous force of love put into action.”
“Yeah, tell like ‘tis, Maridee-dee!” Abby Louise stood, wobbling, then crashed back into her seat.
Missy craned her neck to look over her shoulder. “Shhhhhh! This isn’t a revival meetin’, Abby.”
Maridee wiped her fair brow with a hankie. “And so, the Suzette society was born. Since then we’ve helped families in crisis and neighbors maybe just a little down on their luck.” She paused and scanned the room.
“Don’t forget to mention how we’ve aided all them soldier boys startin’ from the Civil War all the way through the Korean War,” Tempest said.
“Yes, of course,” Maridee replied. “And we’ve just sent our first care package to Dave Deely, grandson of Mick Deely. He’s joined the fight against communism in a far-off place called Vietnam.”
“Vieh whaaa?” Abby called out before pulling a flask from her pocket and taking a nip.
Missy turned around again. “Honestly, Abby Louise, isn’t that quite enough disruption for one meeting? We’ve got business to tend to.”
“Business, yes, our new members.” Maridee smiled at Blanche and Carly Mae. “So are you ready to join this long tradition? Are you ready to be instruments of love?”
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