“Tonight’s a big night for your mom and grandmother.” Mildred placed miniature butterflies on the table reserved for the night’s honorees. “One day you’ll follow in their footsteps like I have mine.”
Baxley shivered and grimaced. The Southern Butterflies were not her thing. She’d joined to stifle the constant conversation of why she wasn’t one. “I’m sure Janie is more the traditional butterfly.”
“Janie has always been a sweet girl.” Mildred repositioned the floral arrangement for the third time. “Always organized and on top of things.”
“That she is. I guess she’s her mother’s daughter after all.” Baxley hated the constant comparison to her saintly older sister. “I need to get home and check on the kids.”
“Sure. I think we out done ourselves.” Mildred surveyed the room. The Southern Butterflies held their monthly meetings in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church.
“It’s because you’re our version of Martha Stewart.” Baxley knew when she was paired with Mildred that her job would be easy. Mildred felt that since she was the town’s florist no one could top her creative talents. All Baxley had to do was answer the insane amount of emails from Mildred with ideas and decisions.
A hum of conversation buzzed down the corridor of the church hallway. Elvina adjusted the skirt of her new suit. She was glad Twyla Faye was able to work her in for hair. Elivna knew the spot had been a standing one for Tootsie Harper for the past ten years.
“That scarf does add some pizzazz.” Zolena always appreciated her friend’s rebel streak. When she saw the zebra stripped scarf she knew it would be perfect for Elvina.
“Who said sixty-five had to be defined by the colors of taupe, beige, and cream?” Elvina had chosen a crimson red suit.
“Definitely not you.” Zolena spotted her daughter among the crowded room. “There’s Sadie. Twinkles did a great job on her hair.”
“Twyla Faye did.” Elvina refused to call the girl Twinkles. Twyla Faye had been one of her best students until she dropped out of high school.
“Hi mom.” Sadie hugged Zolena. “Elvina you are fashionable as ever.”
“Same can be said for you Madam Monarch elect.” Elvina was equally proud of Sadie.
“Too bad Mimi is going to miss tonight.” The thought of wayward daughters made Sadie scanned the room for Baxley. “Looks like my youngest is running on her usual schedule. We better get our seats. I think Flossie is getting ready to start.”
Baxley opened the door with ease, and slid through the narrow opening. She hoped no one would notice her tardiness. That hope was dashed with the squinted look and pursed lips of her mother. Her best friend and partner in many crimes, Cissa, gave a quick wave. Baxley took a vacant chair at the last table. Great she was stuck sitting with two of the biggest gossips of the group, Hattie Mae Purvis and Mavis Dickerson. It served her right for being late.
“I bet Tootsie is rolling in her grave with Elvina Ward being pinned a Tiger Swallowtail.” Mavis whispered. “She always said it’d be over her dead body before that woman held any position on the board. God rest her soul. Can you believe Twinkles gave Elvina Tootsie’s spot? She was sitting in Twinkle’s chair when I came in the shop today. I’m thinking about going to Paulette’s to get my hair done.” Hattie Mae shared Tootsie’s dislike for Elvina. “Look at that suit she’s wearing. A woman her age should dress more like her age and not some floozy.”
“Can’t imagine what she was thinking with that scarf. Anyway, remember how bad Paulette butchered your hair the last time.” Mavis realized the connection sitting at their table. “Baxley, we are pleased that Zolena is becoming a Tiger Swallowtail. Your mom has worked hard and deserves the Monarch pin tonight.”
“By all means. And let’s not forget how wonderful my sister is.” Baxley did not care how snarky she sounded. She liked Elvina and felt protective of her. This was why she hated these meeting. Everyone had an opinion and believed it was their right to share it.
”Ladies, I call the Unadilla Chapter of the Southern Butterflies to order.” Flossie Gunnar’s squeaky voice tried to speak above the room’s conversations. She had to stand on a foot-stool to reach the microphone and see over the podium.
“Ya’ll quieten down.” Mavis shrilled a loud whistle.
“Thank you, Mavis.” Flossie smiled but inwardly did not appreciate the crude way Mavis often handled situations. “Nonnie will you give the blessing for the meal?”
“I will.” Nonnie, the wife of the First Baptist Church pastor, walked to the podium. “Let us bow our heads and give thanks.” Nonnie had accepted a long time ago that people seemed to think her marital status gave her a better connection to God. She’d also learned that people expected prayers to be short, sweet and not a mini sermon. She gave her standard words of thanks.
“I tried to hold you a spot at our table.” Cissa held her plate and spooned green beans onto it. “Sorry you got stuck with Hattie Mae and Mavis.”
“With those two we don’t need The Weekly Reporter.” Baxley poured dressing over her salad.
“Your momma looks nice tonight.” Cissa considered Sadie her second mom.
“She does. I think Mrs. Elvina is rocking that suit.” Baxley followed Cissa to the drink counter. “I wanna be like her at that age.”
“Maybe we are the younger version of them. I’m your Zolena.” Cissa giggled.
“You girls are having a good time.” Zolena reached for a glass of sweet tea.
“We are Grandma. These meetings are the highlight of my social calendar.” Baxley took a sip of her tea.
“Don’t be sassy.” Zolena admired her granddaughter’s spunk but wished she’d learn how to control it. “Uh-oh. Looks like Hattie Mae is circling the wagons. Let me get back to Elvina.”
“I heard they found her in her daylily bed.” Hattie Mae had an inside source with the sheriff department. Her grandson. “Drew said she’d been there for a while.”
“Poor Tootsie. I hear her closest relative is a cousin twice removed and lives in California.” Mavis couldn’t phantom why anyone wanted to live where there was threat of falling into the ocean.
“Must be her daddy’s side. Her mother was an only child.” Mildred knew the lineage of anyone in the county. She watched life’s cycle come through her shop. Pink and blue flowers for a new arrival, assorted arrangements for birthdays, and a blanket of favorite to drape them in death.
“She never got over Harold.” Fannie joined the group and was not surprised by the topic. Her face was flushed and her breathing heavy. She felt like she was always running at full speed and behind the eight ball.
“At least Zolena will be the second Tiger Swallowtail. Shame that Anna Bell had to step down.” Mavis was still haggling with the woman’s car insurance about the accident. Anna Bell plowed her car into the sign in front of the Happy Hooker Bait and Tackle store. “It’s gonna take another six weeks before my sign is fixed.”
“I’ve never been sure which one was more blind. Her or the dog.” Fannie thought of the times Anna Bell brought her little dog, Muffie, into the vet. “Her son moved her to an assisted living place over in Americus last week.”
“Janie make room for you sister.” Sadie moved her plate and chair to open a space at their overcrowded table.
“She’ll be fine where she is.” Janie hated having to make concessions for her younger sister. “One day she’ll learn to be on time.”
“Janie. Do as your momma asked.” Zolena agreed with granddaughter but felt her tone disrespectful to her mother.
“Yes ma’am.” Even as a grown woman, a simple admonishment from her grandmother made Janie feel like a child.
“I can move to another table.” Twinkles started to gather her plate.
“You don’t need to do that Twyla Faye. We’ll be fine.” Elvina scooted her chair and moved her plate.
“Are you sure Mrs. Ward?” Twinkles liked that Elvina used her given name. The way she spoke it made Twinkles feel smart and special. Twinkles fell in love with reading because of Elvina’s passion about the characters and stories she taught them. Secretly, she dreamed of writing one day. But, who would want to read what a high school dropout turned hair stylist had to say?
“Baxley. Come over here.” Sadie spoke above the crowd in an attempt to get her daughter’s attention.
“Momma there’s not enough room.” Baxley could tell by the scowl on Janie’s face that her mother was forcing the issue.
“I want my girls sitting with me.” Sadie moved a chair into the spot she’d created.
“I’m sorry Twinkles.” Baxley wedged herself into the space.
“No worries. I’m just glad to be off my feet.” Twinkles had closed the shop early for tonight.
The rap, rap, rap of a gavel brought a hush to the room. Flossie cleared her throat and spoke into the microphone. “The first order of business is the dedication of the plaque commemorating Tootsie. Hattie Mae if you’ll come up.”
Hattie Mae’s knees shook and her voice quivered. Tootsie had been her best friend. “Tootsie Harper spent her life dedicated to the Southern Butterflies.In memory of Tootsie the plaque will be placed in the Butterfly Garden on the square in town. Some of her prized daylilies will be transplanted into the garden.”
“Tsk.” The sound escaped Elvina before she could stifle it. “Sorry, had a tickle in my throat.” Elvina quickly took a sip of tea.
“At least she will forever be with her blessed daylilies.” Zolena whispered.
“The next order of business is the installation of our new Tiger Swallowtails. It is rare that we have a double induction.” Flossie directed her attention to Zolena and Elvina.
“Zolena, Elvina, Twinkles and Sadie if ya’ll would come on up.” Flossie sat down and checked her watch. Her favorite Tuesday night show came on at eight. It was already past seven.
“The Tiger Swallowtail is known for its endurance of making long flights. That is why it is the symbol for Southern Butterfly Ambassadors. Those chosen to become a Tiger Swallowtail must include years of dedicated service to one’s chapter, be active in one’s community, and obtain strong moral character.” Twinkles spoke from memory. She knew nothing less would have been acceptable from Mrs. Ward.
“Elvina Ward and Zolena Hayberry exceed these requirements.” Sadie turned to her mom. “For as long as I can remember, you have always been a Southern Butterfly. Your dedication to this chapter, our community and your family is unfailing. It is your example that I strive to live my life daily.” Sadie took a pin replicating the butterfly from the box in her hand and placed it on her mother’s lapel.
“When Flossie asked me to present Mrs. Ward with her pin I was beyond words.” Twinkles looked at Elvina. “You inspired me every day that I sat in your class. You continue to inspire me each time you sit in my chair at the shop. It is with great honor that I pin you tonight.”
Elvina rarely found herself choked with emotion. But, Twyla Faye’s words had created one of those occasions. She accepted the former student’s embrace and whispered, “You are smarter than you allow yourself to be.”
“The last order of business tonight is the induction of the Monarch.” Flossie stood next to Sadie. “The final duty of the current Monarch is to pin the new one.” Flossie removed the pin and attached it to Sadie’s jacket. “As the outgoing Monarch, it is keeping with tradition that I now hand over my gavel to you.” Flossie took the gavel and presented it to Sadie. “Congratulations, Madam Monarch.”
Sadie accepted the gavel and took her position behind the podium. She looked at the table where her family sat. Baxley’s subtle movement to wipe a tear surprised her.
“As Madam Monarch, it is my first duty to officially end tonight’s meeting.” Sadie rapped the gavel on the podium.