It’s so easy for writing to become revenge. I don’t mean this that way. And I apologize in advance for depicting my nemesis in this story as a toothless hick. I really do.
Last Sunday, Keren and I attended a picnic put on by a church we are considering joining. The first time we visited the church, the minister was away at a conference but we were welcomed cheerfully and generously by the deacons and laypeople.
We’ve been back a few times to — I’ll call it Downtown Church — since then. The picnic was maybe visit number four for us, so we’re getting pretty serious about this one. We’ve consistently enjoyed the services, especially the casual and very human way the minister interacts with her congregation, and the friendly congregants themselves.
At the picnic, Keren and I introduced ourselves to a few people, but when it came time to settle in with our hamburgers and salads, we sat with a husband and wife we had met on our initial visit. It was clear on our first meeting that they are both introverts, like us, so we thought we’d be safe from the exhausting work of small talk. Plus, I had noticed this couple had, like us, brought their own utensils from home so as not to use the plasticware on offer in the picnic shelter. Shy, environmentalist dorks, unite!
A fifth person was at the table and I sat next to her. She is a somewhat disheveled woman I had seen around town. Covered in rashes, awkward of gait, and thin of hair, she seemed like she was struggling with a lot of health issues. When I would see her, outside the library or walking down Main Street, I would always try to say hello, but clearly here at the picnic table she didn’t recall my face.
Keren and I talked with the couple about our recent move to the area, our jobs, their family, their jobs, etc. Occasionally, I would talk with the woman on my right — I’ll call her Bee — and she would tell me about her health troubles, her diabetic ulcers, the draining of the pus in her legs by incompetent nurses, all good lunchtime chitchat.
At one point, taking one of many sharp turns of conversation, she asked, “Have you been to that store downtown, Tulips?”
“Yes,” I said. “We went in there a few weeks ago and looked around.”
The store bills itself as a general store, with a little cafe, and some food, soaps, herbs, housewares, clothing, and gifts for sale. It was funny that Bee should bring Tulips up. Almost every local we have met has assumed we know the owners, the other obvious lesbian couple in town, but we don’t.
Bee dropped her voice. “You know what they are, don’t you?”
Uh oh. I knew where this was going, but I wasn’t going to buy a ticket. “No. What?” I asked.
Bee looked me right in the eyes. (I’m going to mention here that she clenched her seemingly toothless mouth shut, because toothlessness adds to the ability to lock a mouth down especially tight, not because I want you to think any less of Bee for lacking teeth.)
“Lezbens,” she said. (I’m going to spell it the way she said it. For accuracy. Not because I want you to think any less of Bee for mispronouncing words.)
I tried humor. “No!” I said, in mock surprise. Bee missed all the mock, but rode to town on the surprise.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, nodding enthusiastically. She then told of some community function recently where she was offered a chair next to “one of them” and she refused it. “I’m glad I didn’t have to sit down anywhere near ‘em,” she said. (I’ll record that as “‘em” because, well.)
The irony of her sitting next to me on the picnic bench sent a shiver of suppressed laughter through the rest of us at the table.
Bee went on a ways about the appropriate treatment of lezbens if you see them in the community. The couple tried, with somewhat heroic perseverance, to turn the conversation. The moment passed.
I looked at Bee. I sat with Bee. I listened to more pus stories. Then one about getting a prime seat at a music festival. Then one about an argument she had with her neighbor, leading to the neighbor calling the cops on her. Then one about the doctor saying her leg might have to be amputated.
I don’t know if Jesus would have bothered to bring his own utensils to the potluck. But I’m pretty sure he would have sat with Bee and listened to her stories, even after she talked a bunch of trash about Galileans. He also wouldn’t have mentioned the teeth.