Excerpts from Chlora's Book of the Month: June and November
Copyright 2015, Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora's tucked into bed on a balmy summer night.
The ceiling fan clicked out its mesmerizing rhythm.
Even though it was officially summer,
it cooled the bedroom enough
that Chlora happily reached down to the end of her bed
to pull up her careworn quilt.
It was folded up like a favorite bedtime story
begging to be told.
It was a Holy Comforter,
covered with images of divine hospitality.
The quilt had been raffled off at the bizarre bazaar at church
and Chlora, who'd bought only one ticket, won it.
Her friends teased her,
said she was smothered by her security blanket,
but Chlora adored her quilt
almost as much as she loved Teddy, the bear.
The quilt was something to wrap your life around,
to cover you in all-cotton prayer.
She wasn't about to
take it off her bed even when the weather turned hot.
The blanket she used last winter
was scary at night. It got itself all electrified,
and flickered and sparked in the dark,
like Snap, Crackle & Pop cereal.
And instead of smelling like an old toaster
the quilt smelled cozy.
It was much more Chlora's style than the
perfumed pink eyelet lace bedspread
on her sister's bed across the room.
When Chlora won the raffle,
one of the proud quilters had told her
the quilt represented Biblical hospitality.
On each flowery square Chlora envisioned
a different story of hospitality out of the Bible,
attempting to see just how far the concept
of hospitality can go, as in "Who IS my neighbor?"
She counted off stories with hosts and guests,
like Mary and Martha,
one who had cooked for Jesus
while the other listened to him.
Then there was Zaccheus stuck up in his tree,
making Jesus both host and guest.
Along the quilt's edge was Jesus playing with little children.
There were so many stories that many
were half hidden in the folds,
stitched in somebody else's memory.
Chlora liked to fold up the quilt so its corner
would display the square with the Gleaners.
She called it the compassion corner,
after that Jewish harvest law
to leave grain in the corners of fields
so that travelers passing through could eat for free.
Look, he'd say, the fields are white for harvest!
That meant the wheat was ready
and they better get off their duffs
because people depended on them.
Chlora liked paintings of fields.
Van Gogh was especially good at observing fields
and the workers who made them flourish.
Some squares took hospitality beyond charity
and into wild civility,
like the Good Samaritan.
Who didn't like that story?
Or hospitality as radical forgiveness
like when Jesus ate with the sinners.
Hospitality could also be a subversive
act of solidarity such as Simon of Cyrene
carrying the heavy cross for Jesus
when he really didn't have to.
The quilt itself was a piece of hospitality,
endless and lavish, so it included a picture
of the Sower who tosses good seeds everywhere
even when he knows it is wasteful.
Chlora would like to have a sower costume
one of these days.
It was a crazy quilt
that showed crazy love,
the kind that expands the concept of hospitality
from polite etiquette toward our own beloved
into making room for the other.
If hospitality is love made tangible,
the quilt embodied it.
It was edged in blue satin to bind it all together,
and Chlora loved to rub the cool smoothness
against her cheek.
Such details should give you an attitude of gratitude.
If not, you have a heart problem.
The Sandman must've been delayed tonight,
for Chlora couldn't even yawn.
She pretended the familiar crisscrosses of stitches
on her quilt were lines of Braille
worthy of Helen Keller.
It was Chlora's Grandmother and her church lady
friends, "The Girls", who had made the quilt.
Those little old ladies in tennis shoes
ruled the roost. But they did it with the finest manners.
They were all such nice ladies,
having loud tea parties all the time,
sorting cans at the food pantry
or cast-offs at the thrift store.
They visited all the shut-ins
knowing full well they'd be one too before long.
Sometimes they moaned and groaned
about the golden years, said they were tarnished,
and traded remedies for arthritis.
Grandmother swore the copper bracelets
that turned her wrists green
actually helped the aches and pains.
Plus she smelled better than the ones who
drank garlic juice.
Every time somebody in town died,
the ladies circled up, got out the masking tape
and labeled their hamburger casseroles and pies.
They were hospitality professionals
before there was such a thing, and they were
often under suspicion for altruism.
Grandmother and all the keenagers,
as they called themselves,
were very busy for old ladies.
They liked to go and do.
Besides all their charity work,
they made time for Breakfast Beauties,
Lunch Bunch, Supper Club, Garden Club,
sorority meetings and Bridge Club,
and would not think of missing
the weekly hair do at the beauty shop,
unless it conflicted with a grandchild's
birthday party or a church meeting.
They laughed more than kids did.
They even had their own choir,
which hurt everybody's ears.
Their raffle quilts were the predecessors
of the cause quilts,
like that ginormous one made for AIDS victims.
Their quilting bee produced an annual quilt or two
to raise money for the church hospitality fund
so they could have proper hot lunches
after a funeral and
host wedding receptions for couples
who couldn't afford a fancy party.
Those brides would get a reception
whether they wanted it or not.
The ladies would even bake a wedding cake
if they had to. They'd
smear icing on styrofoam dummies
to make it stack up and poke garden roses
into the spots where the icing wouldn't stick.
They'd do anything but turn water
into wine, since only Jesus could do that
and besides, they were tea-totalers.
The Lord might drink wine
but as good Christians,
they weren't about to imbibe.
With the wedding planning they'd get themselves so
wrapped up in the minutia of napkins and centerpieces
they could then ignore what was happening in Bosnia.
The "girls" would do some finger wagging
while decorating the fellowship hall,
but at the reception they'd giggle,
and when asked if they'd like more cake
would reply don't mind if I do,
exclaim that the bride was pretty as a picture
(a picture of what?), and the ceremony
was a masterpiece
(which one, Goya's Third of May, 1803?)
Will wonders never cease?
When the happy couple
left, they'd shout Toodaloo, and
don't do anything I wouldn't do!
They enjoyed their quilting bees
and said things in colorful snatches, such as
Mr. Bossy Britches, big as you please,
just let him split his own pants,
he will rue the day!
Then someone would bring up the story
of Joseph forgiving his mean brothers or
the parable of the prodigal son
and they'd all get quiet.
In the whole scheme of things just
remember the Lord provides for all our needs,
even forgiveness, but excuse me,
that parable is a real humdinger.
Later they'd get all flabbergasted over
one of their own familial issues—
Bless your heart!—
and gang up on that friend to
just back your ears and do it,
more power to you!,
or, Plan B, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em,
or the last resort,
make do or do without—
all the while stitching away,
with their peepers on the tip of their noses
and their own sewing baskets at their feet.
They turned out patchwork beauties
that reflected their own complexities
Sometimes they got holy depletion
and just stayed home.
But if they did, that would be cause
for the tongues to wag, for goodness sakes,
so they always came back.
Once at a coffee at her house,
Chlora overheard a few of the old ladies
gossiping their prayer list.
Some of them didn't want to
give their fine baked goods
to the sluggard-drunkards who made bad choices
or girls who went fanning around with married men
like Rahab the harlot, and got themselves pregnant.
God helps those who help themselves, they said.
Grandmother inquired whether Ben Franklin or Jesus
had said that. While the ladies flared their nostrils
she pleasantly asked them to help themselves
to their own bad choices, fudge or divinity?
And to please pass around the Half & Half.
Looking at her quilt, Chlora figured
it was a Little Red Hen
who scared the poor annunciated
Mary into a corner of the quilt
since she was an unwed mother.
But Mary knew how to receive well
and that is part of hospitality.
When all was said and done,
grandmother's bunch was a
Chlora wondered how do you get wise?
IS experience necessary?
Grandmother advised her to
just keep trying to figure it all out,
but don't underestimate the mystery
that's bigger than all of us.
Like the mystery of creation.
You could turn that into a sequence of facts,
but you gotta admit
this garden of Eden we live in
is beyond understanding.
Chlora reckoned this was true.
Old ladies are something else.
Someday we will be like them.
God willing and the creeks don't rise.
Chlora visits at the family farm for Thanksgiving, and after the big dinner an ice storm rolls in, the power goes out, and the large family has to make do.
As evening settled in,
sleet clicked on the roof.
This was too bad because bedtime at the farm
was always preceded
by a wondrous look at the night sky,
full of unnecessary but redemptive beauty.
But it was just a flat, gray blur out there.
Uncle Ernest went outside to check it out,
hiding from the sleet under his cowboy hat.
Chlora asked is this the same as a hell storm?
Suddenly everyone wondered
who turned out the lights
and realized the electricity was off.
Even the phone was dead,
but nobody realized what a gift that was.
Only the embers in the fireplace offered any light.
When it got chilly inside,
Aunt Helen scurried around
for candles and matches and Uncle Ernest
found a few oil lanterns and flashlights.
They clustered around the radiators for
some residual heat.
Uncle Clarence sang a Thanksgiving tune
about ere the winter storms begin.
Were they going back to the Ice Age?
Chlora considered rubbing together
a pair of silver half-dollars
to reincarnate Ben Franklin to reinvent electricity.
Chlora's big sister used up the
last of the hot water to
bathe by candlelight.
Aunt Helen was an ace at hospitality,
prepared to deal with whatever struck.
She was not one of those overwrought hostesses
who over-functions to prepare for guests
and then resents them for it.
Nor did she allow the guests to overtake
the hospitality. They all knew upfront that
fish and houseguests stink in three days.
But the residual of an ice storm could go on
for a week or more, if the roads were frozen
and the power company became overwhelmed.
Aunt Helen observed the children's concern, and
said, hey it's not the Last Supper.
Even without power we can whip up
enough food for 5000
just from the turkey leftovers!
If the fridge loses its cool we can put food
outside in coolers, and cook in the fireplace
like the pilgrims used to do.
See, I've got the old cast-iron pot and kettle ready.
Soon it was bedtime, dark as it could get,
and the family realized the only choice
they had was to come together.
Clarence broke into We Gather Together.
No more pallets on the floor for you kids,
it'll be too cold.
Instead, Aunt Helen announced
sleeping arrangements with the assured aplomb
of a society hostess assigning seats at a
diplomatic dinner table.
It was simple and apolitical:
three or four of us will pile into each bed.
Just pretend you're the animals
happily stuffed in Noah's ark.
Nobody wanted to sleep in the middle because
they'd get squashed. Or on the outside because
you might roll off the bed or get pushed off.
Aunt Helen climbed into the attic
with a big lantern and tossed down quilts
from the cedar chest.
These were prized heirlooms,
used only in emergencies, which is what
family heirlooms are for.
Here, take up your bed and walk!
Chlora didn't see it coming when
one quilt fell on top of her head.
It carried a faint scent of mothballs
but it felt like the quilt back home
that grandmother and her friends had stitched.
It was weighty yet light at the same time.
Chlora yearned to see its patches
and compare the two, but all she had to go by
in the dark were the textures of the fabrics
and the fine lines of stitching.
Aunt Helen assured her that
these patches were lovingly collected
and well connected.
She could tell by feel that the one Chlora got
was the album quilt embroidered with names
of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
Aunt Helen told Chlora she should learn
to embroider, and she'd lend her a hoop.
It was a well-bred family who relegated
heirloom status onto homemade things.
On a farm, the ethic of frugality reigns,
and fabric scraps, whether from flour sacks,
blue jeans, curtains or outgrown Sunday clothes,
were all fodder for that wonderful human capacity
to create beauty out of scraps.
Scraping by is just how you live on a farm,
alternating between scarcity and plentitude
depending on the weather, the country roads,
the market, and the application of the
Protestant work ethic.
Chlora shivered as she wrapped up in the quilt
like a pig in a blanket.
She warmed herself with
her Biblical imagination.
She chuckled, recalling the story of
Peter's vision of the unclean animals
all caught up in a blanket lowered from the heavens.
Back then some of those critters had been
excluded from menus for centuries,
and here Peter declared all of them
fit for consumption after all,
which was a hint we should
include everybody, even the repellent ones.
Chlora waddled upstairs to the assigned bedroom
with her brother and sister,
thankful Aunt Helen hadn't resurrected the sleeper sofa.
When she opened up the squeaky thing
on their first night,
a very dessicated, very dead mouse
fell out of the folded mattress.
No telling how long it had been squished in there.
No way I'm sleeping on that hide-a-bed
her sister had declared.
Hence, the pallets on the floor
layered with blankets.
Now that more blankets had fallen from the heavens,
Chlora hugged the mothballed quilt tighter.
The one back home that her grandmother had made
was dubbed Patchwork Hospitality.
Hospitality done well always engenders gratitude.
Here they were, living off the grid for once,
like Abraham barbequing ribs
for his three mysterious visitors,
and Chlora was grateful.
She tiptoed by Uncle Clarence
and Aunt Hilda Marie's room.
Behind the closed door she heard
him declare that even with Hilda Marie's
fleshy abundance, it was colder than
a witch's tit in there.
What a contrast from last night
when it got hot and heavy
and the two of them
were rolling like thunder under the covers,
according to Elton John.
I guess that's why they call it the blues.
Chlora had been on her pallet in the room below
and it sounded like the floorboards would cave in.
Chlora wanted to be an undercover agent too.
Down under the bed clothes,
there was some hidden agenda,
down below where you felt the other side.
If inclusive hospitality and piecemeal creativity
represented the top of a quilt,
what was its flip side?
Exclusivity, hidden boundaries, creative evil?
Stories about that also abounded in the Bible.
Let's hear it for biblically-based slavery,
like in those Egyptian brickyards,
or genocide of babies
or submission of women, or the abomination
of love so strong that it crosses gender boundaries.
How do inclusivity and exclusivity co-exist?
Which boundaries protect fragile hospitality,
and which ones break it?
That separation of sheep and goats still bugged Chlora.
Chlora wasn't sure she wanted to see the quilt's flip side.
She also didn't want to succumb
to blanket-heavy apathy,
or let her faith get too homey, too comfy,
so she resorted to praying her favorite,
the 23rd Psalm, where you walk through
Death Valley, eat dinner on a battlefield,
spill your cup of milk and get greasy hair.
This helped her doze off
fully blanketed in prayer.
She was cuddled up with her brother and sister
and for once they needed one other.
All were snug as a bug in a rug,
much better off than a mouse in a couch.