Mabel was a teeth grinder. That’s the only way I’d known her. Lots of folks described her as sweet. But I never knew her that way. If the minister asked everyone to stand for the closing hymn, Mabel would sit, and grind her teeth. If the hospitality committee set out white napkins at the potluck, she’d fume for five days straight, that the red napkins she brought up from home didn’t get used. They changed Sunday School curriculum back in 1983, and she never really got over it, calling the “new” curriculum “liberal fluff” when it referred to God as Mother. And it wasn’t beyond her, to accuse folks of faithlessness when hard things happened, like divorce or heart failure.
Clara on the other hand, was a martyr. And people described her as faithful. She was there, standing under the eaves in the rain, waiting for the doors to open so she could sort food that was collected over the weekend. She sat with spouses and partners when a loved one was having surgery. Clara stayed up three days straight one year, making costumes for the pageant, only to sleep through the entire thing on Christmas Eve night. And when her husband was dying and she heard that the church needed someone to cook the meals for the youth mission trip, she went on the trip. Her husband died while she was away, and she never quite forgave herself. But the kids needed her.
The two were sisters. But you wouldn’t have known it. One was mean as a hornet. And the other was as nice as the dawn.
And somehow, I’d gotten myself stuck in the middle of a canoe with the two of them. I told myself to make a mental note of reason #132 why you don’t take a bunch of women on a camping retreat in August.
Mabel the teeth grinder, was in the stern, or the rear of the canoe. Which, as I sat in the middle, seemed stunningly appropriate. My Girl Scout level knowledge of canoeing, reminded me that the stern, sorta always gets their way. Sticking an ore in the water, and reaching deep to steer, is pretty much their only job. I mean, sure…those in the stern will paddle, but let’s face it, it’s usually only when the stern gets caught eating a handful of frozen Snickers bars, and the one in the bow yells back, asking for assistance, that we really pick things up.
Clara the Martyr was in the bow today. And she was working just as hard as her 82 year old arms would work. We weren’t getting very far, and I could hear her say, “it’s okay…I’ve got it.” It’s okay, I’ve got it. And since she “had it”, Mabel the Teeth Grinder and I sat there, checking out the murky waters and remarking on the stifling heat.
Mabel the Teeth Grinder yelled up to Clara the Martyr to paddle harder, but this time, on the right. And so Clara did, without better results. Mostly because you don’t get very far, when one person is doing all the work.
And since we weren’t getting very far, Mable figured she had all the answers and started telling her all the ways she was doing it wrong. But teeth grinders don’t usually stop there. So she started accusing Clara of getting them stuck out in the middle, intentionally. And Clara the Martyr just kept paddling. Harder. Trying to prove to her sister that she had it.
And there I sat in the middle. In the middle of the canoe – or the thwart – as it’s called, keenly aware that though I was 25 yards from the shore and 125 miles from the church, I was stuck in the middle of the ecclesia.