Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Betty the Church Lady

I was thinking of A Secret Infatuation the other day.

By the afternoon the drizzle had ceased but the mist was as thick as ever. It was almost teatime when the Reverend Mr. Watts phoned. He had a small house on the other side of the village, perched off the narrow road on the steep side of the open moor, no distance away but awkward to reach, some way away from the first of the village cottages. 
Eugenie, listening to his anxious voice, felt sorry for him. His cold was worse, he complained--if only he had some cough lozenges or even a lemon, and he had finished his aspirins.
"I'll come over with whatever you need," said Eugenie, cutting short his unhappy complaining. 

and later

There was a message for her when she got back home. Could she go and see the Reverend Mr. Watts about the Mothers' Union and the pram service and could she at the same time bring him some more aspirin?

Eugenie is just doing what a church lady do. Other heroines in the Canon bring flowers to the church or organize lines of Sunday School kids or host stranded travelers overnight because the Rectory is so massive and wash out large tea urns all in the normal course of church-y events.

I really relate to La Neels's church ladies. I belong to a congregation that exploits free labor puts one to work and over the years I've been a pregnant and nursing Cub Scout leader, Sunday School teacher, on the activities committee, president of the women's auxiliary, etc. Right now I have two jobs (never the flowers! Why don't I ever get the flowers?). For one of them I teach a class one hour a month on an assigned topic for an adult class of 30-ish people. The other is called 'Compassionate Service Coordinator' and I facilitate all the serving that needs doing. This means that at any given time I'll have a text on my phone that someone just had a baby or had surgery and needs meals brought to them or rides to the hospital or temporary childcare.

Anyway, I think it's made me wiser about my own human nature--how happy I can be when I've really done some good. And how hard it is to pick up the phone when I know who it is and what they'll need and how much time it will take.

Does anyone else have any fun church (or other secular service organization) service stories to share? Times you've been pressed into service like Eugenie up there?


  1. Being a Sunday School teacher for 30 years has made me grateful for my life. I've taught kids whose parents were ill, dead, in prison or otherwise absent. I realized that any kindness I showed might be the only kindness that experienced that day, which is why I always tried to bring snacks. My SS-teaching experience at an early age also showed me that I was not cut out for the teaching profession and I have great respect for teachers and other educators.

    1. Bringing snacks as a Sunday school teacher puts you in the top tier. You will be remembered forever.

      She had reached a dramatic point in her narrative when the room shook and trembled under the tones of the great bell from the church across the road.
      'Seven o'clock,' said Deborah, very conscious of Gerard's look. 'We'll finish next week,' and added, 'Sweeties!'
      at the top of her voice, producing at the same time the bag of toffees which signalled the end of play hour.
      She was marshalling her small companions into a more or less tidy line when the faint dry tinkle of the front door bell whispered its way along the passage and up the stairs. It was followed almost at once by the Mother Superior [...]

    3. Meant to add: Not quite the same, but The Great Betty believed in feeding the little beasts. ;o)

  2. yes, I'm organizing our hospital visitation volunteers for next month this morning. I love that Neels considers going to church to just be "what people do" on Sunday morning--she often mentions it in an offhand way that shows she just takes it for granted. lots of people don't these days, but there are still vast numbers of people who do, and it's nice that she includes it without being preachy or priggish about it.

    1. I love the offhandedness she uses too. I don't need to have it made into a federal case in a book but I feel cozily at home when it's there.

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  5. I'm just diving in here to introduce myself - Hi, I'm Betty Grace. I just recently discovered this blog and LOVE it!

    I started reading the Great Betty's books back in the mid 1970s when I was - wait for it - training as a nurse in a large London teaching hospital. For me, NeelsWorld was an escape from the grim reality of that life. We student nurses were worked like dogs and treated like dirt by most of the senior nursing staff. All the nice, Neels-type nurses - the kind who would send you off for cups of tea or acknowledge a job well done - couldn't wait to get out of the hospital system, and the ones who were left were like the nastiest of Betty's malicious Juffrouws. We used to joke that to be offered a Staff Nurse post after graduation you would have to score very high marks on the "How To Be a Sarcastic B*tch" exam.

    Oh well, so here I am 40 years later, married to a Professor (really, but Math not Medicine), living in America and binge reading the job lot of Neels books I found on ebay. Loving every minute, and loving the reviews here just as much.

    Hail to the Great Betty - your magic never fades.

    1. Welcome, Betty Grace!
      Training as a nurse in a large London teaching hospital - in the mid 1970s! Wow! I wish it had been a betty-er experience for you.
      I ♥ The Uncrushable Jersey Dress!

  6. Welcome, welcome, welcome! May we have many stories to share!

  7. Thank you for the welcome, Fellow Bettys. I just finished reading The Convenient Wife in which there is a fairly realistic sarcastic b*tch of a Staff Nurse making our heroine's life less than pleasant on the ward. I cheered when Venetia accepted Duert's proposal, though I do wish she'd told Staff Nurse Thomas where to shove it!

    I do love the Marriage of Convenience stories.

    Betty Grace