Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Book Club

“I think I’m nervous” I admit to Brita. “I’ve wanted to be a part of a book club for years, so I’m excited to go. Thanks for inviting me. But now… I’m … well I wish I had dressed better.”
“You are dressed fine. It’s a down to earth group. Very accepting. Don’t worry about clothes.”
Easy for her to say. She’s wearing cute capri’s, a crisp white blouse, pink earrings and a matching pink necklace. Plus her toe and fingernails are a matching light pink.
“What kind of food are you bringing?”
“Persian. The book we all read this month takes place in the Middle East. So we thought we’d have a Persian Pot Luck.”

I haven’t read the book. I feel like I’m going to an English Lit final that I haven’t studied for. I wouldn’t have found any Persian recipes in my “Mennonite Treasury Cookbook” so it’s a good thing no one asked me to bring anything. I didn’t ask about a dress code, and now I’m feeling like a Surrey chick.
“So, where are we headed?” I ask as I get to the edge of Murrayville.
“White Rock area; Morgan Creek.”
Of course we are.

“So, who’s in this group?” I inquire nonchalantly.
“Oh, there’s a good variety of ladies. I think there are about 20 of us in this club.”
Twenty. A nice small intimate number. Not at all intimidating.

“How’d you get involved? Who invited you?”
“Well, a friend from way back invited me. Then she didn’t show up again for about a year. So I didn’t know anyone. But I kept going because it I liked it. I liked it that no one knew me, knew my past or anything. I’m just Brita who likes books.”
“How did the group get formed? Who is everyone?”
“Hmmm. Turn left here. You know. We don’t really get personal. Now turn right. I’m not sure what everyone does. Or what their last names are. Keep going straight, then right at the corner. Some ladies are neighbours, some work together… I’m not sure. But the good part is, it doesn’t matter. OK. Now right again. We just have really good discussions about the books we’ve read. And park anywhere in the circle”

Parked in the cul-de-sac are all manner of expensive rides. My red 4x4 SUV looks like a misfit in an area filled with sleek sports cars.

The house is, as expected, elegant, spacious and inviting. The host, Kim, warmly welcomes me into her home. I am introduced to a blur of women and encouraged to move out through the French doors onto the private candle lit patio. The outdoor furniture is comfortable and upholstered. The table is covered with a fabric table cloth. Everyone is holding their wineglasses with french-tipped manicured fingers. And I want to go home.

I feel as out of place inside as my Durango does outside.
Somehow we both will have to muddle through the next few hours.

Dinner is served, so to speak. We help ourselves to the Persian Buffet and engage in small talk. I turn to the gal on my right.
“Do you like my purse?” she asks.
“Yes. It’s cute. Perfect with your outfit.” I notice.
The purse in question is a vibrant pink leather squatty number about 10 inches long. Distinctive. And the exact same colour as her toe nail polish.
“My husband was in Montreal over the weekend, golfing with some clients. He saw it in a store window and picked it up for me.”
“Lucky you. He’s sounds thoughtful. Who does he work for?”
“Remple Concrete.”
“Yeah, those concrete guys know how to mix business with pleasure…”

The conversation moves over to include the gal on Pink Purse’s right.
“…I’m writing the curriculum this summer. Will be teaching it this fall…”
“What do you teach?” I ask
“I’m in the Art department at Trinity. I’m the instructor for a variety of courses…”
She is animated, articulate and amusing.

There is another TWU prof in the group. She teaches teachers how to teach. And she’s working on her doctorate.

I am dining with educators.
I am sitting in on a discussion with intellectuals.

And then a latecomer arrives. Bringing an out-of-town guest. Hallelujah! Finally someone else who is a double digit dress size. She, Ellie, I think her name is, is from England and talks just like Di did. She is a 33 year old wanderlust. She sold her Mini Cooper and has been traveling the world. By herself. For a year. Turkey. Malasia. Thailand. Australia.

Shortly after their arrival, another club regular arrives. Wearing a berkah. She is completely veiled. Anonymous.
We all try it on. (I like the fact that I can hide beneath it. No one can see me, read my thoughts or examine my chin hairs.)
This seems to be the trigger that moves the conversation from small to big. Everyone pulls out their copies of “Reading Lolita in Tehran”. Kim, the hostess, leads the discussion with quiet grace. She loved the book, yet her enthusiasm is not catching. Very few of the women in attendance finished reading it. And only three liked it. Never the less, the dialogue was lively. Everyone (‘xept me and the traveller) had an opinion and a chance to express it.

Eventually all that could be discussed was. Ellie asked what sorts of books were required reading in our school system.
“The same ones we’ve been reading for years” groaned a teacher from Pacific Academy.
“The books that we read in high school are still the same ones our kids are reading today.”
“I think it’s time to update the book list. For example, Lord of the Flies can be retired. It’s no longer relevant. There are a number of excellent books that should be considered.”
“I’d vote for “Men Of Stone”. That book is incredible.”

Are they talking about the same Men of Stone that I’m thinking of? My heart rate increases slightly. I know that book. I have an opinion. Maybe I could join in the discussion?
“I loved that book. It made me cry” someone says.
“I liked her first book better, “Janey’s Girl” someone else adds.

It is! I know those books. I have all of them; including the third one they haven’t mentioned yet. My cousin wrote them. Maybe I’ll say something.

“My cousin wrote those books.” A tiny cutie from the other side of the table says.
“She’s your cousin? I’m related to her too.” Luella declares.

“She’s my cousin too.” I blurt out.
Eyes on me.
“How is she your cousin?” I’m asked.
“Her maiden name is Neumann…” I start.
“I know that.”
“And my mom is a Neumann. She and Gayle are first cousins. Gayle would be my second cousin, I guess. And I love her books too. Although, of the three, “Janey’s Girl” is my favourite. How are you related?”
“She married my cousin…”
“…Brian Friesen.” I finish for her. “He was my Youth Pastor…”
“At Killarney Park church!” she finishes for me.
She looks at the rest of the ladies around the table. “It’s the Mennonite name game. That’s how it’s played.”

Luella looks at me more closely. “I think I must be related to you. You look so familiar. What’s your name again?”
“Jane Used-to-be-Klassen.”
Brita offers, “Did you ever shop at Billie’s Country? That little Victorian craft store …”
“… on 96th Ave. I used to go there all the time. You worked there?”

And so on.

I might go back in the fall. Become a real member. Do the homework. Buy an exotic cookbook.

Not because, like Brita, no one knows me. But because someone does.

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