Midwest BSFA member, Renee Tecco, is back with another story for you! Check out the veterans-themed “Remember the Tried and True”!
Sunny Smiley, the august chairperson of the Tryed Stone Historical and Genealogical Society, patiently tapped her toe as if she were counting out the seconds for the Main Tryed Stone Public Library to open. It was 8:58 on a Saturday morning and she needed to get inside the library’s media room to prepare for the Veteran’s Day program that would be held at noon. As a cold wind blew around her bare ankles and down the front of her winter coat she took her gloved hands out of her pockets and clasped the open neck of her coat together all the while grumbling about Ms. Lathrop denial for her to have her very own key.
There were local veterans to greet in a few hours. Perhaps no more than 10 will be there all together. Cervil Riestack, World War I veteran died last year in a home on the west side of town. A few vets from WWII were still breathing and kicking but weren’t able to make it out of the home. Maybe Thomas Jefferson Washington Davis will come; his daughter said he looked forward to it every year even if he did have to drag his oxygen tank and nurse to accompany him along with his daughter. Other vets who haven’t passed on have moved on to bigger cities. And the vets from the first gulf war have been shipped out to serve in the latest one, so as things were looking 10 was a good healthy number to attend.
Sunny heard the church bell chime and kept her steady gaze on the door. As the bell rang for the fifth time she saw Ms. Lathrop open the slats of the Venetian blind. On the seventh ring she slowly reached up to pull back the top latch, and then slowly she stretched down to get the bottom.
“She does this on purpose,” Sunny thought to herself. “She knew I was out here waiting.”Cora Lathrop dramatically opened the door and with a large smile said, “Good morning, Mrs. Smiley! Its brisk out there today, isn’t it?”
Sunny scanned the body before her up and down and then matched her eyes with Cora. The difference between the two women was striking. Sunny was dull and short. She was in her early 50s but looked a good ten years older than that. Her hair was permed and cut in a short style; it gave the appearance of an overnight roller set. Her clothes were conservative and a bit old fashioned. Beneath her coat she wore a mid length navy blue skirt that hit her at mid calf, cutting off her legs and making her appear more squat and square than she really was. Her navy blue jacket was rectangular on her torso. Under it she wore a high collared lacy blouse that she recently bought from a Nordstrom catalog but on looked as if it came from an estate sale.
In comparison Cora was thin and tall. Her hair was pinned back into a neat bun and wisps of curls framed her face. She was similarly dressed in a navy blue skirt but hers was form fitting and paired with a pointy toed blue and black stilettos. Cora was wearing the same high collared lacy blouse that Sunny was wearing, sans jacket. With the key chain dangling from her hand Cora gave off the impression of a dominatrix and not an austere librarian.
With a wan smile that radiated all the coldness of the outside climate Sunny replied “Yes, it is. It would have been nice to have come inside even a minute earlier instead of at 9:01.” She jerked her head toward the clock on the wall and then added, “Since I don’t have my own key.”
“Well, actually when you walked in it was nine on the dot. The clock just moved to 9:01.”
“You know very well what I mean,” Sunny threw over her shoulder as she moved toward the middle of the room towards the veterans display.
There were big glass display cases that held the precious relics from previous wars. There were firearms from the Revolution through the Vietnam War that were on loan from the Harrison family who own the auction house outside of town. There were war medals from various families, empty grenades, newspaper clippings, family photos and a metal hook that was once the hand of Harvey Lockhart who died last year but wanted to leave a piece of himself behind.
The new library assistant –Zaida, wasn’t it?– was putting a spy glass inside the case. As Sunny approached her Zaida turned toward the footsteps. A wince quickly came and went as Zaida turned back around, close the lid and locked it. Without glancing back, Zaida walked brusquely into the back room.I wonder what that was–, Sunny didn’t have a chance to finish her thought. Cora was right next to her asking her if she liked the display in the coffin cases.
“Coffin cases?” Sunny asked slowly. Her glove stroked away a blur of dust that was marring the clarity of the glass.
“Yes, they are called coffin cases. What do you think of the arrangement?”
It was nicely done. She would have told it to Zaida herself if it wasn’t for her quick exit. But she couldn’t hand over a compliment to this woman. ‘Its fine,’ Sunny answered coolly.
“Well, good,” the plastered smile that Cora was wearing was beginning to droop. The program room is already set up for the program and Zaida is your lucky assistant today. She can handle anything that needs to be done. She’s waiting for you there now. So, I’ll take my leave and if there is anything else ask Zaida and I’ll be around.”Both women left the room in different directions, Cora headed for the back office and Sunny, after ten years of Veterans Day programs at the library, went to straight to the hallway that lead to the big empty space that served for special programming.
Inside Zaida was putting on the finishing touches there, too. There were red, white and blue banners draped around the upper wall. The official Tryed Stone Historical and Genealogy banner was at the front of the room. In the front stood a large cedar podium with five sets of chairs on either side of it. The room had a seating capacity for 100 people but there were only enough folding chairs put out for 50. Zaida stood in the back of the room, smoothing out a plain white plastic covered table cloth. The patriotic spirit had captured Zaida , too; there was a small flag pin on her lapel.
“You’re doing a wonderful job here, Zaida,” Sunny called across the room. Zaida looked up and gave Sunny a bright smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Smiley.” Zaida called back to her. Well then, if she wasn’t the reason she flew out of the room then who was it? Sunny wondered. It must have been Cora. Ever the nosy person, Sunny began thinking of ways to figure out what was going on between those two when a couple grey haired members of the historical society arrived with refreshments for the afternoon.
The women came in and began to set up platters of finger foods, chips, and beverages. While working they plied each other with the latest gossip they had to tell. Who had died, whose child was heading off down a bad road, someone else’s child was doing well. Zaida, who didn’t know any of the people the women were discussing, paid no attention to what the women were talking about and only paid attention to the orders the three women variously gave her.
“Could you please put these in a vase?” the woman pushed a bunch of red plastic poppies toward Zaida. She then turned to the other woman and asked “Isn’t it sad what happened to Paul Oakes?”
“What happened to him?” asked the other.
“He was found out on route 22, near that abandoned farm,” began the first woman. “He was–”
“Is everything alright, Zaida?” Sunny asked loudly so loudly it cut into the conversation of the other two women.Zaida was bent over the floor picking up the red poppies scattered on the floor. A frown had come across her brown as she snatched a couple off the floor. “Everything is fine. ”
At about 11:15 people began to arrive and take seats for the program. Zaida was there as a representative of the Tryed Stone public library. She greeted people, poured punched and pointed out books in the library’s collection about local history, wars and armaments.
“I do like this,” one young woman said as she sipped her punch. She was a white woman but was wearing ethnic clothes: a brightly colored Tibetan sweater, rough fabric drawstring pants and Birkenstocks with socks. She was carrying her sleeping baby in a baby sling around her shoulder. “My father served in Korea, his father was in World War II. I come every year. But, I wish there was a program for peace. Do you think you guys could do that? Have a program for soldiers of peace?”
“Umm… yeah, that sounds good,” Zaida said hesitantly. “I’ll… I’ll see what… we can do?” her voice rose up on the last part.
“Good, I’ll love to come to that,” the woman was rocking from side to side now and patting her sleeping baby.
“I have to swing it past my supervisor first. I can’t say that we will, but it sounds interesting. But it’s all on her.” She tried to sound reassuring of the nutty idea and moved on to the next guest in the room.
In front of her stood a tall man dressed all in black. His shoulder length stringy hair was dyed black and his skin had a cast of grey. Even his eyes were black and had the depth of eternity in them. How does a white person’s skin get like that, flashed across her mind as her proper manners kicked in.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“Thank you,” the man reached out his grey hands and accepted the drink from hers. I should have checked his nails, Zaida thought as she watched the man walk to the front of the room to sit down.
“Thanks everyone for coming to our annual Veteran’s Day memorial program,” Sunny Smiley spoke into the microphone. She was a natural at the podium and as soon as she began to speak, people recognized the note of authority in her voice quickly began to sit in their seats. Sunny then began to thank each member of the historical society (five in all), the gentlemen and women who came to sit on the panel (only six showed up; but Thomas Jefferson Washington Davis was there, although breathing more heavily than usual), and again a special thanks to the two board members who helped to provide the wonderful refreshments.
Cora had come in while the patrons were milling around talking to one another. She walked up to the podium, her smile replenished and bestowed it upon Mrs. Smiley. She then greeted everyone to their Tried Stone public library and talked about how wonderful it was to have Sunny host the Veterans Day program for another year. After that she handed the microphone back to Sunny and sat on the far end of the stage from her.
The program began with everyone singing the national anthem to tape recorded music, after that the recitation of the pledge of allegiance.
“Now we will have a very special speech from one of our youngest citizens of Tryed Stone. Please welcome Ocean Shreves as he recites what freedom means in a time of terrorism.” Sunny first adjusted the microphone, pulled out a short stool before clapping enthusiastically as a very small fourth grader came from the audience to make a speech.
Zaida listened at the back of the room. She could tell that Ocean’s mother was the same women who work the socks with sandals on this cold day. Ocean’s speech sounded like it collaboration between his mother and teacher.
“The principles of fweedom is one that effwect us all. Not just here, in Twied Stone, but acwoss Amerwica and throughout the world. Fweedom is something we must all stand for…”
“Isn’t he just adorable,” Philip suddenly appeared next to her, gushing. “He’s one of my favorite students from the school. He’s just the most precocious thing.”
“Are you here to help?”
“No, no. I’m just popping in. Have you seen Bertha?”
“Not since I came in this morning. She’s probably making her rounds.”
Phillips face seemed crestfallen as he nodded. “Yes. Perhaps she is.” Zaida turned back to hear Ocean end his speech with a flourish and the 25 people who were in attendance leapt to their feet to give him a standing ovation. When Zaida looked back to where Phillip was standing he was gone.
Next up was the oxygenated Thomas Jefferson Washington Davis. His speech was cut short or maybe it was short to begin with. Zaida couldn’t tell through the mask.The rest of the program began to drag for Zaida. She looked up to where Sunny sat behind the podium and seemed to telepathically know what it was she wanted her to do from the back of the room. The smile seemed to transmit to make sure the refreshments were replenished and the historical society pamphlets restocked. Zaida did all of it quickly as Sunny nodded at her from across the room.
A full two hour program, Sunny reflected smugly to herself as she milled about greeting people at the end.
“Yes, yes it was a wonderful program, ” Sunny said to one of the guest as they stopped her to shake her hand. “I am so glad you could make it this year. Have you seen the display cases out in the library lobby?”
No, no they hadn’t. They missed it. And Sunny walked them over to the cases (coffin cases, how morbid thought Sunny) and gave a small group the history behind each piece and how the small town of Tryed Stone had done its part in almost every war.
Zaida stayed behind in the program room to take down the displays and clean up what she could before the custodial crew came in. The two little old ladies from the society divvied up what refreshments were left. One woman walked towards her with a covered plate. “Here,” she said. “Now you take this home and eat it. I don’t want to hear a word from you. Now take it. ”
Zaida did as she was told, thanked the old women as they left out of the room. She wanted to ask more about Paul Oakes but decided to pick up a newspaper on the way home. Where had she heard that name before and why did it give her the creeps?
Zaida left the program room pushing a three foot high metal book cart with two tiers. On one the top shelf were the book not taken from her display, on top of that was her carefully placed plate of food. On the bottom shelf was the vase, the tablecloth and the banners. As she pushed the cart through the hallway she saw Sunny walking out the door with the last guests from the program. Cora, who was working the desk, looked up with a real smile aimed at Sunny’s departing back. Bertha was perched on her stool at the end of the desk. Across the room she spied him. He was sitting in the lounge area reading a newspaper. It was the man with grey skin. She could tell now that his fingernails were a shiny bright pink. He looked around his newspaper at Zaida and smiled.
Originally posted on the Liberry Gurl blog.