Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mrs. Nash-Finch

Charles A. Petterson

Forget what Dickens wrote. It was the worst of times. Dr. Kelly went south for the winter and Ed Kenton got bailed out by a niece who thinks he has some money. (You have to love Ed for maintaining that illusion!) Sure, Tom Bradley was still around but there are very few card games one can enjoy two handed except cribbage and Tom is a bridge snob, so screw him. Tom and I partner for bridge, but that means having to play with two women.  You can guess what that means.

I thought of calling my nephew in Minnesota to see if I could use his ice fishing house for a few weeks, but that would more than likely mean he would want to be there with me on a weekend, so I scuttled that idea.
I called Mike Darcy, but he said he was laid up with gout.

Most of my address book is crossed out. That’s the one thing they never tell you about outliving your classmates: none of your friends will be at your funeral.

I was not in a good mood to start with and it deteriorated from there as Marjory Bennett (William’s widow) came into the common area. Her voice can peel paint, even the real good stuff. “Peter, are you here for “Trip to Hollywood” trivia?”

I would have ignored her if she had stayed near the coffee pot, but she was walking toward me. “No, Marge, I only know one movie trivia item. I’m afraid I wouldn’t add much to the rollicking good time that is in store for you gals this afternoon. But I will admit our social director comes up with ingenious ways to keep us content.”

“Really Peter! There is no need for sarcasm. Miss Fletcher does an excellent job with activities. She is much better than that Jones girl we had in here last month.”

“If you say so. She didn’t schedule birthday party.”

“Maybe there isn’t one this month. Last month there were seven.”

“Yeah, well I’ll just sing happy birthday to myself next week.”

“Is that what you’re so crabby over? I can speak to her, if that will make you feel better.”

“She can make me feel better with a personal visit after taps tonight.”

“Peter! I swear you are disgusting. You are becoming more disagreeable every day.”

“Then leave me alone and you won’t be upset.”

“I never!”

“Yeah that squares with what Bill claimed.”

She had an astonished look on her face and for the first time in four years I knew her, was speechless. Flo Gustafson called as she entered the room and Marge turned to acknowledge her, ending our tête-à-tête.
The room steadily filled with women and I returned to my two-deck solitaire. A few minutes passed and our latest social coordinator, Miss Fletcher, an early twenties bubblehead with a master’s degree in playground management, entered the room and started the program.

She began with easy questions; who played Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, who played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? I tried to block out the wild gaiety going on behind me by turning off my hearing aids, but a trio of screechy sopranos, one of them Marjory’s, were loud enough and in the frequency range where I still had a semblance of normal response that I could hear their answers.

Four losing attempts at solitaire passed and I noticed the fun behind me was losing some of its intensity. I was aware of Miss Social Director of the Month calling my name and I turned to acknowledge her, just out of courtesy.
“Mr. Dennison, would you care to join us? Do you have a favorite movie trivia question?”
I was trapped. All of the women were looking my way, and as intent as I was on staying out of the festivity I also was aware Cynthia Meadows was in the crowd and of all the women in the facility, I had a certain interest in Cynthia (not Cyndy, under any circumstance).

I smiled as I walked to the group of chairs set up in neat rows at the front of the room facing the piano, “I only have one trivia question, and I’m certain all of you ladies will just pounce on it, ‘who played Mrs. Nash-Finch?”

There was silence for a moment. It was a blessing, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. Marjory, predictably, was the first to screech, er, that is, speak, “What film?”

There was a sudden murmur of assent. As it died I offered, “Ladies, I’m disappointed, there are several to choose from. You remember Masterpiece Theater on Public TV?”

There was nodding and one of them offered a forceful reminder, “It’s still on!”

“Well, there were three shows with a Mrs. Nash-Finch character, ‘The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club,’ ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and ‘Upstairs, Downstairs.’ Certainly you remember Upstairs, Downstairs.”

The crowd nodded in unison and chirped agreement randomly.

“And if I’m not mistaken, a couple of Dorothy Sayers episodes on ‘Mystery;’ ‘The Nine Tailors,’ and ‘Five Red Herrings’ come to mind. Two actresses played those parts. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any credits for one of the gals anywhere else, although she was popular on the boards, as they say.”

The crowd convened several impromptu breakout groups, and their attention was focused on my question. I overheard Sylvia Harris announce, “I know every word of every Peter Wimsey story and I can say for certain there was no Mrs. Nash-Finch in Five Red Herrings,” but her compatriots ignored her protest, because they always ignore her.

I slid out the side door un-noticed as the women cackled among themselves. Trivia, I thought with an imaginary condescending snort, what a waste. Toss in a dash of pretentiousness and they fall for it every time. Will they never learn to leave me alone and not insist on my participation? I guess that’s an unfair question, because there never seems to be a second experience for the social director du jour. The women never catch on my examples are all bogus.

I went to my small apartment and picked up the social schedule for the next month. There it was, the second Tuesday: Travel Trivia. I smiled to myself; more than enough time to come up with something plausible. 

Charles (Chuck) Petterson lives with his wife of 43 years in rural Harrison County, Iowa. Following graduation from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Chuck enlisted in the Navy. He spent seven and a half years at sea with the Atlantic Submarine Force after two years of training as a nuclear plant operator. He worked for Westinghouse Electric Corporation as a nuclear instructor and field engineer for 18 years. Since 1991 Chuck has been an independent technical writer specializing in proprietary documents for electric utilities and industrial thermal facilities.

Chuck’s creative outlets include playing saxophone in a variety of community concert bands and dance bands. His writing efforts include contributions to a variety of hobby interest publications.  Polar Bear in Parrot Jungle is the first novel length story offered to the public.

1 comment:

TNeal said...

Chuck, excellent storytelling and delightful ending. Your curmudgeon curmudgeoned his way through the entire story. Thank you for this morning's gift of a big smile.--Tom