Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If I were a Thrift Shop, I'd want to be French

Preparation for the upcoming Spring Bridal Show has given me renewed zeal for the perusal of cast-off stuffed shops. Eyes bright and with a spring in my step, I haunt their aisles sleuthing for veils and crinolins, well-meaning centerpieces, and glassware.

My area of the universe is sharply divided into communities based on its original immigrants. All the "St.-towns" signify the arrival of the French people. All the "darps", "felds", and "villes" house those of Germanic descent. The felds and darps each humbly boast about eighty plain stuccoed churches per town and are known for their abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, dancing, gambling, and often smiling and laughing. The Saints have tall steeples, community halls, and weekly bingo nights. Although there is movement between these people groups, its been enlightening to observe these still prevalant distinctions after having lived in a more diverse area, then returning to darpville as an adult and feeling my (bible) belt pinching just a little.

The nursing home that I used to work at is held in an old Roman Catholic convent. On the third floor, empty of residents, some volunteers turned its echoey rooms into a thrift shop to raise money for the people who dwell beneath it. The volunteers are happy, generous people who like to hug visitors, offer discounts, and leave out boxes and boxes of junky toys for the kids to play with while the moms shop to their hearts content. There are rooms overflowing with neckties and stuffies, plastic virgin Marys and light-up Jesuses. The housewares room is stuffed with ten cent glassware and wine glasses that no one pretends are actually candle holders. If a customer is shopping for say..... a tacky bridal party, one of the volunteers might listen to the tale with interest, then insist on carrying heavy boxes of plates and petro Canada wine goblets down the elevater and straight into the limo... AND give me a killer deal for them. While dancing about my twelve dollars fed into their plastic cash box, they might even share a few stories about their own theme parties. We might joke about having a few drinks together sharing the glass that I found with Steven Harper's signiture on it.

Energized by my windfall of disposal dinnerware from St. Elsewhere, I strolled down to my local church-ville-endorsed-mission-statement-burdened love-your-darp-neighbor establishment to see if I could find some pearl drop earrings or pink dyed pumps. The cashiers must have been feeling quite a pinch in their brassieres and a bit of a cramp from their hush puppies based on the welcome we never received. They fed stern glares at the preschoolers gazing at their polished plastic toys locked away from dirty, dirty hands, enshrined behind proudly polished glass. Their faces looked permanently lined in all the wrong places, set in patterns of sheer determination to put in some goodwill missionary volunteer hours, sell some scrubbed trash to dirty people from one of those St towns, and then tidily send a cheque off to some starving people far, far away. I did a quick circuit, noting their tidily stacked corelle plates, $35.00 wedding gowns from 1979, and ice cream pails for 25 cents.

While gazing at the fake pearls safely locked down beside the cashier, I couldn't help but overhear an altercation between a young mother, her daughter, and the volunteer at the cashier post. The child had asked for her things to be packed in her own bag, to which the cashier Hmmmmphed; (with face and body language to match her dour mood)

"I don't know which stuff is yours". Her displeasure was palpable.

I cringed inwardly, and hunkered down to more closely study the pearls.

Mother of child had clearly tired of being treated suspiciously and as a total inconvenience. She interjected on her daughter's behalf and thanked the cashier never so very much for being rude to the girl, a bona fide customer with rights to respectful treatment.

I stole glances at the women manning their precious cash register. One of them noticed me and took the oppurtunity to share her displeasure by rolling her eyes and berating the customer for allowing her daughter to "Run around the store with valuable glass stuff". I hearded my crew a little closer, fearing they too might accidently smash some rare crystal goblet and feel the wrath of the be-church-ed lady with bun-too-tight.

The story goes on, but I grow weary of telling it. I did get involved. (DUH). I did try to tactfully engage the volunteers in a discussion about customer service and the true intent of goodwill efforts. I was told that I "had no right to give them heck,as I didn't know them, that the volunteer was not responsible, as she had a heart condition and wasn't feeling well....". I did go out of my way to seek out the snubbed customer and offer an apology for the crummy representation of our town and our do-gooders. And being somewhat over ananlytical, I did walk home feeling nauseated. I also considered boycotting the store, but we all know what nonsense that is. That would be as crazy as giving up say... Coffee, or gin, or or my bi-weekly game of bingo in the neighboring town...

It reminds me of what Jesus warned us about. Be careful not to go right back to RELIGION, which is what I just set you free from. Be careful not to get so caught up in rules and regulations, rights and wrongs, that you forget to love your neighbor. (Even when that means a customer from one of those towns.) Don't forget Who you represent. Don't forget that you are not above reproach.

The part that really bugs me is that as I was walking home and stewing on these things, I had a little whispery thingy in my head that said;
"Well, Joyce, if its grace that you're talking about, does that mean that you too will have to mentally offer grace to those self-righteous, pew-warning, rule-keeping, under-pleasured girdle girls?"

Maybe I should offer to join them for a cold one on the church steps poured into Francios petro Canada goblets.

Those valuable glass ones.


it's a gong show... said...

I feel very saddened by your post today Joyce. I, myself, have been glared at by these "do-gooders" and felt like I needed to check my purse at the door along with any articles of clothing that might have pockets but then of course I would be naked...hmmm now there's an idea.

It is so unfortunate that things have gotten so screwed up over the years. My hubbie and I used to live is one of those St. Elsewhere towns (and I believe it is the town that you are secretly hiding your hidden treasure store) and there are definitely days when we think about moving back.

Heather Plett said...

I did the ultimate missionary work and went and married one of those St. Elsewhere types. :-) And then we both abandoned the churches of our youth and found something palatable for both of us.

To be fair, though, I can tell you that the St. Elsewhere towns have their baggage too, even if they have friendlier thrift shops. I certainly wouldn't rush to move into the town my hubby grew up in.

joyce said...

Yes, I'm sure you're very right Heather. Sometimes the pain you know seems uglier than the pain that you imagine. Its just humanity, and that's everywhere, in every town.

Anonymous said...

Recently found your blog...I enjoy your sense of humor, even in writing such posts as today. Sort of describes some local churches here where we are. But that is ok. We just meet with a few friends to worship now in our homes and are all much happier for it. I do wish that our young adult daughter had some REAL fellowship too, however...she does attend a group some, from several churches, on a weeknight...but it is not the "family" kind of situation we grew up with. A sign of the times...

Anonymous said...

Oh Joyce, you kill me..."francios petro Canada goblets"....priceless...yes I too married a St. Elsewhere kinda guy....my mother "necksct" (pouted) for weeks....because I was doomed...but being the rebel that I am I didn't listen and it's been a hoot...ya know to her dying day my mom tried to make it up to Guy....she was a victim of her era I guess, and didn't have the "guts" to stand up to her menno "peer pressure"....great post....Lindalew

gloria said...

Absolutely LOVED the post Joyce. How accurate your description of those poor ladies, and we do have to classify them as poor, as they are missing out on the joy of being friendly to strangers and perhaps making a new friend. All we (and yes I do mean me) pure blood mennos can do is hope that we walk down a different road and give hope to the future of the darps and villes.

gloria said...

If a child lives with oppression, they learn to persecute.

joyce said...

I keep coming back to this post, editing it, re-reading it. I don't want to communicate disdain for the Menno ladies, even though I must confess I am struggling with the emotion. We (I can say that, I grew up in the culture) can so easily miss the mark of "being good", and feel confused if someone confronts us. I'm sure those ladies are so used to the sound of internal condemnation, that their automatic reaction is defensiveness. I felt that we were talking in two separate languages, and it saddened me.

shelley said...

When did you start going to bingo? I don't believe you. ok, if you do, I want to come. I love bingo. Just so you know Niverville used to have bingo night in the Pines resaurant. Oh that was fun, eating a chocolate bar and a pepsi in a room full of second hand smoke. There is more to this town than you give credit....and about the ladies, you are right they do represent our town, and if claming Christianity, they more importantly are representing Christ. Sad thing is, so many people look at the Christians and not Christ, and make their preconcieved ideas about Him, because of us.(and those ladies). Which is scary. Is there blood than on our hands?(the ones that watch us) We surely are not teaching the truth in our lives. Back to the ladies, It seems so many don't know the difference btw religion, and a relationship with Christ thus they are in the trap of rules and regs ; bondage! No wonder they are miserable. They don't know what they are missing in the freedom Jesus has given us. Truthfully though, we all have areas in our lives that are a poor representation of our Lord. Great thing is, there is enough Grace for us all.

joyce said...

Elizabeth- I'm glad you saw the humour in it, I was trying to be irreverent without being too offensive. I really love my town, bumps and all.

Linda, I remember my best friend's mother sobbing through the entire wedding of her daughter who chose to marry a man of colour. *sigh*

Gloria- nor do I want to run away from my heritage or mock them out. They know what they know, and are doing what they believe is required of them.

Shelley- I don't really go to bingo. I hate and fear numbers and most games. They show me up as the brainless fool that I am. All the points that you make are excellent, and the reason that I still feel ill is that I fear that what I tried to say to the ladies yesterday just enabled their hostile approach to the "velt".
Grace enough for us all. That's the kicker. And God give me humility when someone cares enough to point out my areas of deception and hurtfulness.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

hey Joyce,I think what you did today was great as too many people would have observed and walked away not wanting to get involved and wanting to keep the peace. I think as christians we are called to confront the behaviour in others that calls into question or misrepresents God or our faith. Of course we must do this in a loving and respectful manner! Maybe their reaction of justification was just purely out of being surprisingly confronted or pure embarassment. We can only hope that they go home and in private take a good look at themselves. It may take more than one dismayed confronting customer or individual in their lives, having a say, for it to sink in as some of us have really thick skulls. Isn't that what we all face in one way or another for us to grow.

I don't personally live in that environment that you've described, but have some close friends in the Barossa Valley in S.A. that do. They moved there from Sydney just over 10 years ago to be confronted with the behaviour and scowls you describe so well. They still face it now but it is getting less. They have managed to break down the barriers by demonstrating loving and friendly behaviour regardless (even if that means to address it in a gentle way) and have deliberately put themselves in the everyday sphere of those who are difficult to befriend them and have them over for duck!!! They have been God's gift to that area. Many people now love them and they even work together on occasion.

I think it sad that when we are disappointed in the behaviour of others that we shut ourselves off and form seperate entities of like minded and like behaved individuals so we can enjoy our moments and not have to deal with confrontation. This does not represent a true picture of the body of Christ to me as I'm sure God intended for us to rub shoulders with scary, ugly, difficult, rude, abrupt people so that WE could grow to be more like Him in the way we react and conduct ourselves. I think it is for our benefit, and in reality it is a blessing. If the people around us are only ever agreeing with all that we do, we remain blind. There is a saying that Thomas repeats to me often, "smooth seas never made for a skillful sailor!"

Joyce, I think that drink you spoke of is probably just the thing those women need! Behind every grouch there is a story!

Anonymous said...

Another reason why you should move to the big evil stadt where the unsaved divorced homosexual people live.
The saints and the stiffs all live on the same street.

Anonymous said...

Let's go easy on the old gals. It's humiliating to find out you were so wrong, when you thought you were so right. And God has a sense of humor about these things. He lets us learn the lesson and sometimes even lets us save face.
I'm hoping this turns out to be true for the old ladies.

joyce said...

Donna, I absolutely love what you say about being careful not to surround ourselves with only like-minded people. So true.

Joanne, yes and amen. To both comments. I'm no more righteous than they, my scabs are just in other areas. And I laughed a good belly laugh at the "unsaved divorced homosexual" bit. Very clever. You must be proud that you are in the mission field.

Roo said...

they almost didn't take my cheque cuz i didn't have ID. :) (until someone reassured them i was a "preacher daughter" eeeeegad! )gettin' kinda strict in there. yeeepers.


Anonymous said...

The only mission field I am concerned about is my kids.

Maybe sometime we could have a chat about this one. One cannot be trusted without consequences, right?

joyce said...

Joanne, you've intrigued me now. You know you can send me an e-mail by going into my complete profile? (and i assume you know I was tongue-in-cheek with the "mission" thing?)

Ruth, you really squirmed your way out of THAT one, didn't you?! Maybe I should have brought up that my daddy was a Mennonite deacon?

gloria said...

I wonder if the ladies are aware that they are displaying navel rings in their locked display case...

Anonymous said...

I have sisters like those ladies, self righteous, hypocritical. The difficult part I face is much like you, even my sisters and those ladies deserve compassion and kindness, which is a hard one to swallow but true nevertheless.