Monday, August 2, 2010


It’s an old Southern custom for folks of younger generations to address their elders by their first names, with Miss and Mr. appended, no matter what their marital status.

Miss Willa Beth Upchurch (mid-sixties, widowed in her forties) drives over to Miss Ardyth May Jessup’s (mid-eighties, also widowed, just in the last few years) house every Wednesday. She “takes care of” Miss Ardyth May two other days during the week---Mondays, when she changes the linens and gets her into the tub on that big white chair, as well as doing the week’s other laundry, dusting and righting the area around her big auto-chair in the den, with its surroundings of uplifting books, pens, newspapers, spare eyeglasses, big-drink thermos mug (filled with ice water and emptied three times every day), Tums, a box of Kleenex and the big roll of Charmin set on the lid of the adjacent potty-chair. There's also the days-of-the-week-sectioned box of carefully-counted-out medicines which goes with Miss Ardyth everywhere---even to the bathroom, whether she is to take a pill or not. It rides in a little cushioned basket inside the basket of her walker.

Fridays, Miss Willa Beth gives Miss Ardyth another good tub bath, and washes her little dandelion fluff of sparse white hair, getting ready for the weekend and church-if-she-can-make-it.

But Wednesdays---Wednesdays are the days that Miss Willa Beth and Miss Ardyth May drive to The Walmart. It’s THE DAY. They would not miss it, and have driven over through rainstorms, a very alarming water-over-the-road moment once last year, and even an unprecedented ice storm, in which the roads were almost impassable, and the few customers in the store were waited on by the manager and his wife when nobody else could get to work. Worse than the trip through the slick roads, however, was the absence of Miss Ardyth's customary Corn Dog---SHE got there; why would an 18-Wheeler have trouble?

The two ladies sometimes also take a short stroll through Goodwill, for it’s on their way, and Wednesdays flaunt the fading, flappy banner: Senior Day Wednesdays 30% Off. They go there first, for what if there were something really good and they MISSED it?

They make their way up and down the aisles---Miss Willa Beth at a pretty good clip toward the “Plus Boutique” to finger the poly-pants and floral blouses, flipping them out neatly like small bedsheets against her bosom and hips in front to check for size. Miss Ardyth May clops her walker through the purses and craft items, looking for gifts for her grown daughters---mostly picture frames, for those catch her eye every time, and she already has two boxes of them in the guest room closet, each sandwiched like books between single-torn sheets of Bounty. The two dozen purses ranged above, each noosed around a coathanger, hang like tiny sides of beef in their cool gloom, awaiting a holiday.

And then they go to The Walmart, making their way in past the Greeter, checking the buggies for a full-plastic flap on the baby-seat and four good wheels. Those things MATTER.
They stop immediately in the Ladies Room, where Miss Willa helps Miss Ardyth in and out and helps her freshen up after.

They stroll a bit, looking for the perky yellow face, checking out ranks of shampoos, over-the-counter medications, the nine TV screens all blaring Price Is Right---the varying quality and reception causing Bob Barker’s tan to range from George Hamilton to Boo Radley.

They shop a bit, pick up the things on their list, then head for the Garden Department, where they seat themselves in the comfortable chairs ringed round a wrought-iron patio table. They have quite a few sets to choose from, but these chairs are THEIRS--the chairs are a taupey-beige woven sling with black wrought iron---very elegant and strong. It’s where they sit every week, whilst customers pass by and speak and perhaps stop for a hug or a chat.

Miss Ardyth May is a retired music teacher, and her pupils some of the most faithful admirers one could wish---every Walmart visit is occasion of bright, happy exclamations of “Miss ARDITH MAAAAY!! Is that YOU, you Sweet Thing? I’m so glad to SEEEEE yew!” ---this accompanied by the awkward hibble-hops of the young and high-heeled bending to hug an elder who smiles from her nylon-webbing throne, receiving her subjects in the most regal manner.

Along about noon, Miss Willa Beth is dispatched to the snack bar. She orders Miss Ardyth’s customary Corn Dog and Diet Coke and her own small cheese pizza, no sauce---a nod to her own IBS. They set out their lunch and eat daintily, still keeping watch for approaching friends and visitors. Every passerby is greeted, either with fond recognition, a friendly “Hello,” or a cool nod, for they know everyone in town.

Occasionally other ladies in their age ranges will join them, setting up shop for a long afternoon of conversation and banter; the news of the county is thoroughly sifted and discussed, as are church happenings, Club bulletins, social occasions and thorough reviews of newcomers and gossip and the latest family news.
They're an odd little bunch, these Ladies of Wednesday, these store-squatters with big purses and slow, graceful speech; it's as if they have no homes, or are exceedingly wealthy, having rented out an entire floor for their private party. And the store manager would no more mention their constant usage of furniture-for-sale to them, or worse---their children---than he would fly.

With the makeup of the group, there are fits and starts to the conversations, as first one then another has to be excused to the Ladies, and then she has to be "caught up" on what she missed.

Around four, they all start gathering up their things to head home. They’ve gone out for the day, lunched with friends, swapped recipes, gossip and crochet patterns, and had quite as good a time as a much-younger martini-lunch crowd in Manolos. They all head home, refreshed and fulfilled, replete with a week's shopping and social obligations and need-to-know all at once.

Wednesdays at The Walmart Social Club---there’s one near you.


Indy Cookie said...

What a wonderful 500th post!! Congratulations and I am so looking forward to the next 500 :)

Chesapeake said...

Rachel, your writing just continues to amaze and charm me. Thank you, and I repeat I am looking forward to the next 500!

Maggie McArthur said...

WHAT a magnificent post! Thank you for the first 500, and your many fans are looking forward to your 5000th and beyond.

sherry said...

So many wonderful posts, this is my favorite by far!

racheld said...

Thank you all, my Dearies, for being here and for commenting---I love hearing that something has touched a chord or re-kindled a memory or just caused a moment of realization or mirth.

It's always wonderful to see a new comment pop up, and I hope you'll all continue to visit and chime in.

@Sherry---I have no way to visit YOU, but I do hope you'll continue to read and comment. I'm thinking you must be in Texas? Always good to hear from you.

And Maggie---5000? Woudja mosey on over and help me with my remembering? I fear there will be nothing left, even for the second 500. I have three little pieces started---one on pews, one on Bumperstickers and one on work-shirkin'---don't know if those are worth the finishing.

And NO ideas. Anyone? Bueller?

Maggie McArthur said...

Inspiration can be fleeting on many days -- trust me, I know! I long to hear about work-shirkin', (I'll be commenting on that one,)bumperstickers, (my current favorite is "Why do I have this handbasket and where am I going with it?") and especially pews! I've occupied many pews in my life and last week, at a friend's funeral,I found that the most uncomfortable pews in America are in the lavish modern St. Rafael Catholic Church in Naperville, IL. (And, sniff: no kneelers!)

Southern Lady said...

Rachel, your way with words, beautiful imagination, and sweet stories never cease to amaze, awe, and inspire me, and always brighten my days. I knew your 500th post would be memorable and I wasn't disappointed. Congratulations on reaching this milestone. I eagerly await your next 500!

Kouign aman said...

Woohoo! Congratulations!

Kim S. said...

Happy 500th, my dear Friend! And please, please, MANY more. You are one of the joys of my life - coming to 'The Tea' and finding a new post is like opening a gift. I adore the Walmart social club and it is one club that I could realistically aspire to. Alas, our WM doesn't run to corn dogs. Perhaps in a few years I could start a Target social club? They have Icee machines and Starbucks muffins. I can just see you and Miss Maggie and me - all three of us yakking and tapping away on our laptops when inspiration strikes. You will have a couple of Great-grands in tow to fetch our cookies, Maggie will have a bag full of aprons in various stages of creation and I'll be juggling said laptop, a couple of books and some 10 year old unfinished craft project. You and Miss Maggie, you prolific two will be working on posts one million or so, an I'll be struggling to reach 500 FINALLY!

Thank you, Miss Rachel for the 500 gifts you've so generously presented us with.

Tonja said...

Happy 500! Loved this post! My MIL used to always talk about going to WalmartS. I could see these ladies, and I do, actually, every time I head to my Wal Mart...the Supercenter, over on the North side of town. We never went until we moved over here. It's real nice...and real big. But, I miss my little Walmart, the first edition. No groceries or gas...just stuff you need. And, always gallons of milk by the check out lane!