Tuesday, January 16
Mimi Plaisance groaned as she pulled her green Freestar minivan into a parking spot in front of the friendly but divey Lulu's Café in Southwest Ohio's Cheeksville. The other women's cars were already there. She hated to be late, especially for these get-togethers -- the one point of sanity in an otherwise chaotic existence. Mimi prided herself on being punctual. Even while rearing three children -- now five, eight, and ten -- she had succeeded at keeping it "all together." Well, almost. Last year had been a bust. And this year looked to be more of the same. Worse, actually.
All because of baby Milo. The child who refused to cooperate.
Well, she wasn't about to miss her lunch date with her three best friends, Jennifer, Felicia, and Lisa -- all pastors' wives, like her, from churches in her hometown of Red River, forty miles from where they secretly noshed every other Tuesday. It was their only chance to get away from their nosy, busybody town.
Because Mimi gave birth to Milo on December 22 -- the day of her church's live nativity and Christmas sing-along -- the four women had discussed canceling their biweekly gathering at Lulu's, at least until things settled down for Mimi. But they'd all quickly agreed: Their time together was worth juggling holiday schedules and maneuvering snow-covered back roads. Mimi was grateful; she desperately needed to get away and spend some time with adults. Being alone all day with a screaming, colicky baby and a whiny, ornery five-year-old in the afternoons was enough to make her pull out strands of her blond hair and tie their mouths shut.
But packing up Megan and her newborn brother and getting them settled at the baby-sitter's was a real trick. Not to mention trying to avoid the snoopy comments and questions from Gladys, the nearly-seventy-year-old who watched the kids for her.
Gladys had never before asked where Mimi dashed off to every other Tuesday. But now that Mimi had Milo, who was less than a month old, the upraised eyebrow and less-than-subtle judgments began. "It's not good for you to drive in this kind of weather -- especially since you have another baby ...Is Pastor okay with you runnin' off like this?...It must be somethin' mighty important for you to leave these babies every other week..." And on and on.
Mimi tried to be as noncommittal as possible without being rude. Where she went was nobody's business -- even though the members at her church, Trinity United Methodist, tended to think otherwise. The one good thing about Gladys was that she didn't blab. Mimi's secret was safe. At least she hoped so.
Mimi glanced at the dashboard clock. 12:02.
Well, technically, I'm on time. She pulled her red angora scarf tight about her neck, just in time to see one of her "favorite" people come out the door of Lulu's.
"Oh, great." She groaned and ducked to the side, hoping Katherine Katt, the notorious Kitty, wouldn't see her.
Tap, tap, tap.
Maybe if I ignore her, she'll go away, Mimi thought, even though she knew there was no escaping Kitty.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
Mimi inhaled deeply, pasted her best pastor's wife smile on, and turned toward the window. There stood Kitty in her trademark bright yellow coat and gloves, both with black fur trim. With her black bouffant hairdo, Kitty resembled a giant bumblebee more than the pastor's wife of First Presbyterian, the oldest and largest church in the county.
"Oh, hi, Kitty!" Mimi said as she opened the door to get out, acting as if she'd just noticed Kitty standing there.
Kitty smiled her big, toothy grin. "If I didn't know you better, Mimi, I'd think you were trying to avoid me." She laughed and pulled her faux fur collar closer around her.
"Not at all, Kitty." Mimi reached over, grabbed her purse, and held it up. "I was just getting this. It's nice to see you." God, forgive me, she thought as she uttered this obvious lie.
"Ah, yes. Well, I was just having a little chat with your girlfriends." She pursed her lips, as if just saying the words left a bad taste in her mouth, like sucking on a lemon.
Well, it would match her outfit, Mimi thought.
Mimi knew Kitty hated that the four pastors' wives got together routinely without involving -- or inviting -- Kitty. It gave Mimi a silent thrill to know that it must be eating Kitty alive not to have her hand in all things PW. The thought made her smile brightly -- genuinely, this time.
"Speaking of, I should probably get in there. I don't want to keep them waiting." Mimi shut the car door and stepped toward the curb as Kitty's hand reached out and grabbed her sleeve.
"You may want to talk to them about the pastors' wives' retreat coming up. I mentioned it, but coming from you..."
Was that a slight sign of defeat? Mimi wondered.
"Well, it's never too early to plan," Kitty continued. "I know you'll all want to be there. It will mean so much to your churches and husbands, I'm sure."
Leave it to Kitty to cop a superior attitude with a raw comment. Mimi knew where Kitty's line was going and mentally finished it. After all, you and the others have so much you can learn from me, since I am the pastor's wife of the largest and most respected church in the area, and your churches are, well, significantly smaller and less known. Kitty never could pass up a chance to remind the other pastors' wives how unimportant they were in comparison to her.
The snow was now falling in large flakes, covering Mimi's blond bob and dark- colored peacoat. "I'm sure we'll all be there. We wouldn't want to miss it."
"I have exciting things planned for this year's retreat."
"Something to look forward to," Mimi said, working her way toward Lulu's.
"I'm almost dying to tell you, but I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise."
"Definitely. We wouldn't want that. 'Bye now." Mimi slipped through the door into the brightly lit café before Kitty could say anything else. The warm air rushed from the vents above the door and swooshed around Mimi. It felt wonderful, even if she did feel flushed from her Kitty encounter. She shook her head and brushed off her coat, which appeared to be covered with dandruff.
In their typical booth toward the back right-hand corner of the café sat Mimi's three friends: the PWs, they called themselves. They'd first received that honorary title from their waitress, Gracie, who discovered that they were all pastors' wives. The name stuck.
"Ha!" Jennifer said, pointing and laughing. "She got you, too."
Mimi shook her head slyly.
"I liked your little football tackle move to avoid her," Jennifer continued. She ducked first one way, then another. "Whoo! Haah!"
"You know that never works with Kitty," Felicia said. "I've tried that move several times. Always backfires."
"Well, I saved it by grabbing my purse as my excuse," Mimi defended as she tossed her coat into the next booth and scooted in next to Felicia.
Felicia was, as usual, dressed in a business suit -- dark mauve this time -- since she'd joined them from her public relations firm in Cincinnati.
"Yes, I've even used that as an excuse," Felicia continued. "It's like hope springs eternal, you know? I keep thinking, This time it will work. This time I'll be able to avoid her."
"Who are you avoiding this time?" Gracie, their waitress, said as she came from behind Mimi and plopped a large glass of milk in front of her.
"You, if you keep pushing that homemade apple pie at me." Felicia laughed.
Gracie snorted and eyed Mimi appreciatively. "Look at you, girlie. How'd you get the pregnancy weight off so quickly? It's only been a month."
"With you taking off work, nobody's been here to feed me properly," Mimi joked. Mimi knew Gracie took off a month to visit her sister in Florida who'd recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She hoped that Gracie's brush with mortality had made her more open to the spiritual side of things. Mimi and the other pastors' wives had been working on Gracie since they first started meeting together for lunch here nearly two years earlier. Gracie had always told them she had no interest in anything spiritual, but a few times had mentioned that knowing the PWs had made her appreciate their faith. "Keep working, ladies," she'd told them. "Maybe one of these days..."
"Gracie," Mimi now said, "how's your sister?"
"She's okay. They took both her buddies, so she's mourning that. But they gave her a good prognosis."
"Buddies?" Lisa asked, seemingly bewildered.
"Breasts," Jennifer whispered.
"Oh!" Lisa nodded.
"We've been praying for her," Felicia told Gracie. "And for you."
"Keep it up, girls. Keep it up. Your food will be up soon. I went ahead and ordered your usual." Gracie tapped the table and winked at Mimi before she plodded off to her other customers.
"Am I that predictable?" Mimi said to her friends.
"Naw," Jennifer replied. "Only every other Tuesday. You look great, by the way."
Felicia and Lisa chimed in immediately with their agreement.
Mimi held up her hands. "Thanks, but I don't feel great. Obviously you aren't noticing the huge black rings around my eyes. Nor have you noticed the large, baggy clothes to hide the pooches. See?" She pinched her oversized cranberry sweater.
"Well, you still look great," Lisa said. "After having my two kids, it took me forever to lose the weight. Actually, twelve years later and I'm still trying!" She laughed.
"I'll loan you my four monsters," Mimi replied. "That should do the trick."
"I don't get it," Jennifer cut in. "You said four monsters. How can a sweet little baby be a monster already? I mean, with your other three I get the connection. But Milo?"
"Girlfriend, sweet little babies can be the worst!" Felicia said.
"Oh, Milo's sweet when he sleeps, which is never. The kid eats and poops and cries and cries. And that's it. I've never experienced a baby like him. My other kids were great. They were sleeping through the night within weeks. Not this one. The kid's got the lungs of an opera singer."
"Or a pastor!" Felicia joked.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Mimi continued. "I'm going deaf. I haven't slept since we brought him home from the hospital, and my breasts feel like I have a twenty- four-hour udder pump attached to them. I swear that kid's going to be the death of me." She lifted her glass of milk in a cheer.
"I remember those days," Lisa said. She touched just above her breasts. "I was so tender!"
"I guess the one good thing is that Mark's also so exhausted he hasn't had any energy to mess around. After this baby, though, I think I'd shoot him if he tried to!" Mimi remembered how they'd ended up with Milo. She'd been too exhausted to say no when her husband, Mark, gave her The Look. It was more like she'd simply asked him, "Do I have to do anything other than just be there?"
"Just keep reminding yourself," Lisa said, "this is only for a season."
"Yeah, well, I've got a name for this season: PK chaos." Mimi watched the girls nod in sympathetic agreement.
"Okay, now stop," Jennifer whined good-naturedly. "You're going to make me stop wanting kids."
"Any news on that front?" Felicia asked.
Jennifer shrugged and ran her fingers through her wavy strawberry-blond hair.
"Come on!" Mimi said, knowing instinctively that Jennifer was up to something. Jennifer had wanted a baby so badly that when Mimi had announced her pregnancy with Milo, there had been some tension between the two friends.
Jennifer sighed. "Okay, well, we have an appointment with Dr. O'Boyle on Friday afternoon. I'm getting tired of these fertility drugs, so I'm hoping he has another idea for us."
"So Sam's going with you then?" Felicia asked.
Mimi could tell that Felicia was trying hard to be compassionate, but she knew it was as difficult for her as it was for the rest of them. They loved Jennifer dearly, but her infertility struggles wore thin on them.
"What kind of idea do you think he might have?" Mimi asked hopefully.
"I really don't know." Jennifer hung her head. "I think all that's left is IVF."
Lisa crinkled her forehead. "Why am I so out of it today? Now what is IVF?"
Jennifer glanced up. "In vitro fertilization. You know, test-tube babies."
Silence covered the table. Mimi suddenly felt Jennifer's desperation for a baby, and she felt horrible for ever complaining about Milo.
Lisa smiled brightly. "Well, Jennifer, this just means we'll double up our prayers for you. God will clearly show you the direction he wants you to go. And he'll make it work out."
Coming from somebody else, those words would have sounded like platitudes. But not from Lisa. Mimi knew Lisa would double up her prayers for Jennifer. And Mimi knew Lisa really did believe that God causes all things to work for good.
"Lisa's right. God has something planned for you," said Mimi. "We just can't see the big picture yet. But he's putting it together."
Jennifer smiled softly. "Thanks, guys. I know that's true. Sometimes I just need to be reminded -- and not from church members full of unsolicited advice."
The women laughed easily at that.
"Speaking of children and church members," Felicia said. "You know, I thought it was bad enough to have hassles from the church family. I figured my home family should behave. But my own pastor's kid can be a real challenge."
"Ah, yes." Lisa nodded knowingly. "And how is Nicholas's biting coming along?"
"Thank God today was our day to get together, that's all I've got to say," Felicia answered. "With yesterday being Martin Luther King Day and Nicholas home all day, he had nothing better to do than practice his biting skills."
"Is he still doing that?" Jennifer said. "I thought you and Dave had controlled it."
Felicia shook her head. "Yeah, well, apparently not. He's at it with gusto."
Mimi joined Lisa and Jennifer as they tsked at the recurrent problem and settled into the booth a little deeper. She sighed contentedly as she surveyed her friends. It felt good to be there -- even though making the trip was difficult. The PWs had been meeting together now for almost two years and Mimi knew they all felt those lunches were a lifesaver. Of course, they had to sneak out of town to meet, but it was well worth the risk of discovery.
These friends had talked at length about how difficult being a pastor's wife was. They each loved the ministry and felt passionate about what God was doing through their families. But still, even with the feeling of being an instrument of God, it didn't make dealing with other Christians in their churches any easier. And even the other pastors' wives in the region had been difficult to connect with. Mimi wasn't sure if it was because of some sense of competition or just a fear of becoming too vulnerable, but the other pastors' wives would go only so far in their relationships. Everything was always "fine" when she'd talk to one of them.
That's what made their foursome so special. Lisa, Jennifer, Felicia, and Mimi, all in their thirties, had each taken a chance to truly open up to each other. To speak honestly about how difficult being in their position was. In the "Lord's business," you never knew whom you could trust. You always had to fight against other people's expectations of what you should be and do -- as well as fighting against your own. At times the pressure could become overwhelming. Then the one thing you wanted to do most -- other than tell somebody off -- was to run away.
She thought sadly about the pastor's wife who'd been in the news for shooting her husband. She didn't know what the situation was but felt terrible that this woman had had no one to turn to. No other pastor's wife. No one in the congregation. That was typical, Mimi knew. Church members wanted perfect people in their pastors' families. And it was a pastor's duty to make sure his family fit the bill. It didn't matter that that wasn't real life. It just made life's messiness even more messy and difficult. It's no wonder pastors and their families were leaving churches in droves. She'd considered it on many occasions. If it just wasn't for that whole "feeling God's call on their lives" thing...
But when things at the church were good, they were very, very good. The world was sunny and bright, and God was in control. Evil was being conquered, lives were being changed, and they felt the smile of God on them. Most of the time that seemed to happen, too, on every other Tuesday at Lulu's Café.
Mimi shook her head to clear her thoughts -- and to wake herself up. It felt so comfortable and warm in the back of the café.
Felicia was in the middle of telling a story about Nicholas biting her ankle when she told him he couldn't watch any more TV.
"What did you do?" Lisa asked, holding her iced tea glass in mid-sip.
"I yelped and was about ready to read him his last rites when I thought, WWSND."
Mimi blinked. "Huh?"
Felicia broke into a bright smile. "'What Would the Supernanny Do?' Supernanny would send him to his naughty corner and say, 'That is unacceptable.'" These last words were spoken in a rather bad British accent that got the women giggling. "So that's exactly what I did. I sent him to his naughty corner. Oh, did he have a fit."
"I'll bet," said Mimi, who thought of her kids -- especially her second child, Mark Jr., or MJ, as the family called him. If she instituted a naughty corner, he'd basically end up living there. She could set up a small cot and etch the words MJ'S NAUGHTY CORNER right into the wall.
"If we could only have a naughty corner for ornery church members..." Jennifer said conspiratorially, with a mischievous smile.
The women sighed in agreement.
"Speaking of ornery, was Kitty on her way to her son's?" Mimi felt odd saying son. It was only a few months ago that the women had discovered Kitty's secret: She'd had a son when she was a teenager and had given him up for adoption. She'd reconnected with him recently and visited him regularly in his apartment across the street from Lulu's. But her husband, Norm, still didn't know about Kitty's son's existence.
Jennifer nodded. "She picked up a carry-out order and was on her way there. You know, she now comes precisely at the time we're here so she can insert her way into our company."
"She almost had me pitying her, until she pulled that little stunt," Felicia said.
Mimi remembered that day well. The women had confronted Kitty, thinking she was having an affair, until they got her to confess to having a son. Lisa had done a great job showing compassion and understanding and mercy with Kitty. Like a true pastor's wife, Mimi had thought at the time. It was love in action and it had worked. That is, until Kitty regained her nasty composure and turned on the women. Her last words had been that she didn't have a problem, and they'd do well to remember that.
Lisa's eyes grew sad. "Really, we should still pity her. Imagine what it's like being her, living with the insecurity. I mean, she's living under grace, yet living so far from it. Every time I think of her or see her, I pray that God would make himself real in her life."
Mimi and the others grew silent. Lisa was right, Mimi knew. And Lisa was the one who always brought a sense of mercy and balance to everything. Besides Mark, Lisa was the one Mimi knew she could always count on to pray for her.
"What would Supernanny do for teenagers?" Lisa asked, seeming to want to change the subject.
"Take away their video games and cell phones!" Jennifer laughed. "Don't tell me your two angels are flirting with the dark side."
Lisa shook her head, then moved her mouth back and forth as if unsure about whether to open up. Finally she said, "Ricky's fine. He's a good kid. But Callie concerns me. I'm starting to see a bit of attitude toward God and the church. And toward her dad and me."
"That's normal," Jennifer said. "Kids that age all go through some form of rebellion. It's worse for pastors' kids."
"Maybe," Lisa said. "Callie's always been strong-willed and opinionated -- but in a good way. But we've been having some trouble brewing at the church. It's affecting Callie, I think."
Trouble brewing. The words sank in deep with Mimi, and she knew instinctively it was hitting Lisa and Joel hard, too.
"What kind of trouble?" Felicia asked quietly. "Trouble like, 'We don't want to change the color of the carpeting because it's always been rust-colored shag' trouble?"
Lisa fidgeted in her seat.
"Here you go, ladies," Gracie interrupted, setting down a large round tray filled with plates of hot food.
Lisa grabbed her napkin and spread it over her lap, as if glad for the interruption.
They got their plates and prayers squared away, and immediately the conversation went back to Lisa.
"What kind of trouble, Lis?" Jennifer asked.
Mimi was afraid to hear -- almost like it was a bad omen...not that she really believed in those things. But she and her husband had been in the ministry long enough to know that when one church was struggling, other churches would feel the tremors, too. And when a church was struggling, inevitably the worst hit was the pastor and his family.
"Several people in our church -- two in particular -- have started a campaign to commit mutiny." Lisa pushed back her shoulder-length brown hair, still with the red highlights the girls had made her keep up after they took her for a makeover last year, then she stabbed a fry with her fork.
"Lord, have mercy," Felicia whispered.
The table grew quiet as the women focused on their food and allowed Lisa's words to sink in. There was definitely trouble brewing.
A Matter of Wife & Death © 2008 by Ginger Kolbaba and Christy Scannell