Delilah Gross picked her way across the lawn, her five children – ages 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8, raced away from her in all directions. She yelled instructions that fell on deaf ears. The children were quickly absorbed in the family atmosphere on the back forty lawn.
As Delilah approached the table, thin hair pulled back in a ratted tail, threadbare dress sticking to her armpits in the growing heat of the day, she inspected the growing assortment of baked goods on the overworked picnic table. She stared down at her own foiled-wrapped offering with a dawning expression of dismay. Mama Lou saw her hesitation and stepped over to her with a welcoming smile.
“Ms. Delilah,” said Mama Lou, relieving the younger woman of her package. Mama Lou pulled her down in a tight embrace before placing the package on the table. “What you got here, suga?”
“Oh, nothing.” Delilah made a grab at the package but despite her age, Mama Lou was fast. Delilah’s head bowed in defeat as she mumbled, “just a few cheese danishes.”
Mama Lou unwrapped layers of foil. As each layer was peeled of, Delilah grew increasingly agitated. “I wanted to participate. First Lady Charlotte said we all got to do our part. I didn’t realize everything would be so fancy.”
When Mama Lou reached the last layer, she revealed a small box which contained ten cellophane-wrapped packages of cheese danish. A familiar red-headed little girl flashed a bright smile on the cover. “Let me clue you in on a little secret, suga.” Mama Lou leaned in closer, a mischievous smile crooking her lips. “Half the stuff on this table had similar beginnings. Can you picture Jackie or Jack-ay, hovering over a hot oven for any length of time?” A tentative grin pulled across Delilah’s face. “No? Well, me neither. The only difference is the presentation. Let’s see what we can do.”
Ethel Mae smiled to herself as she watched her friend pull a gilt-edged platter from a box. While Mama Lou found a paper doily to line the plate, she instructed Delilah to unwrap the cheese danish and sort them on the platter. Once the task was completed, they wrapped the platter in plastic see-through wrap and added it to the table.
By the time they finished, Delilah was all smiles. She slipped into the crowd of mostly women and young girls, marveling over some of the other baked goods that had been prepared for the silent auction.
Ethel Mae was in process of setting up the buffet table for the potluck supper. The lawn was starting to fill up as members of the Friendship Community church arrived for their annual fellowship.
“Just look at her. She ain’ got no shame at all. And with all these kids around.”
Ethel Mae turned towards the sound of the voice and saw two women in lawn chairs a few feet away. They were so engaged in their gossip they hadn’t noticed her presence. Ethel Mae followed the direction of their eyes and saw that First Lady Charlotte was once again the object of gossip. Ethel Mae shook her head, rolled her eyes and went back to her task.
“The man’s wife is barely ten feet away. You’d think they would be more discreet.” That came from the second woman.
Despite herself, Ethel Mae glanced again towards Charlotte Griffin and noticed the man she spoke to. Ethel Mae recognized him as one of the members of the Deacon Board . . . Jones? Perry? . . . she wasn’t sure. Ethel Mae just saw two people engaged in casual conversation. It never failed to amaze her the lengths to which people would go to make something out of nothing.
“It’s bad enough that she scooped up Pastor Griffin before poor Maybelline was cold in her grave, but looks like now the little floozy is after Francine’s man.”
“She’s trying to line up the next one, since rumor has it that Pastor is about the kick her to the curb. You heard about – ”
At that point, Ethel Mae cleared her throat loudly, making them aware of her presence. She’d had enough and these women needed to be reminded that they were on holy ground.
The two women threw startled glances in Ethel Mae’s direction and then had the grace to lower their heads. One of them started a loud discussion about the weather and tomorrow’s forecast for rain.
Ethel Mae turned back to the table in satisfaction. She didn’t want to acknowledge that the gossip had gotten to her, especially when she observed Charlotte Griffin throwing a look over her shoulder before disappearing in a stand of trees with Deacon Perry.
NEXT UP: Earline’s Devilled Eggs