Cloris Bell Struck Dead at Church Supper

I’m so popular, I get more and more mail asking me for advice. This week I got a letter from a woman named Myra who thinks so much like me, I held the letter right up to my nose and looked at who signed it to make sure it wasn’t from me.

She wrote, “Trixie, at the church where I go, some of the people who come to our church supper don’t bring enough food, then they eat up more than their share! I feel guilty getting worked up over something so petty. What’s your opinion?”

Well, Myra, since you’ve owned up to being petty, I don’t reckon it’s my place to deprive you of the designation. And if you’re so hell-bent to make a confession, hire yourself a priest. Who do you people think I am, anyhow, the Pope’s wife?

That used to happen a lot at my church, and one Sunday when we had a congregational meeting to address everybody’s concerns, I stood right up in the sanctuary and complained that there sometimes wasn’t enough food at the family night suppers. “The reason there’s not enough,” I said, “ is half you people that go to this church are too tight to bring your fair share and the other half of you are just hogs.”

I tried to go on to suggest a new bylaw that would allow me personally to shut the door to the fellowship hall in the face of anybody who showed up at a church supper with a half of a canned pear smeared with mayonnaise on a piece of lettuce on a saucer, the way Cloris Bell did, but a couple of the ushers hauled me out the back door before I could get into the specifics.

Believe me, Myra, I know just what you mean. This is a problem that is the thorn in the flesh of church people across this nation, and has more than once made me wish we Protestants had a Pope to raise holy hell over these little things that aren’t covered in the Bible.

I wanted to pinch off Cloris Bell’s head from day one, and not just because she was a skinflint when it came to church suppers. I knew she’d run with the men all her life and dipped snuff and had robbed money from the cash register when she worked at the Picadilly Cafeteria.

Then, late in life, like a lot of folks do when they look in the mirror of a morning and see Death looking back, she joined the church so she’d have a preacher to say words over her, a place in the ground to get planted, and a few people obligated to come to see her laid out.

She never put more than a dollar in the collection plate of a Sunday, when I’ll pinch and save all week and throw in a five. I knew she only dropped a dollar because I made sure I sat on the pew behind her where I could lift my head and see what she put in.

To the first church supper she came to she brought a fourth of a dried-up turkey breast still wrapped in the aluminum foil she cooked it in and proclaimed it a main dish. The next time, and half the time thereafter, she’d dump a can of peaches or pears on some iceberg lettuce, sling some mayonnaise on it and declare it a salad.

Then she’d proceed to bull her way into the line and pile her plate high with everything everybody else had brought.

One time old Ben McLaughlin brought a whole ham he'd smoked, it got all eat up, and somebody found her in the closet where they keep the choir robes, gnawing the last bit of meat off that hambone.

It all came to a head one night when I was helping arrange everything on the table in the fellowship hall. She waddled in the door bearing a little relish dish with some celery sticks smeared with dried up pimento cheese. “Is that all you brought?” I said, loud as I could so everybody could hear it. Heads turned. I heard some snickers.

“I don’t bring much,” she said,’ since I’m such a light eater myself,” and I looked her up and down and said, “Are you for a fact? I guess it takes a while for the effect to show.”

Now, that happened to be the same night that I had made a nice pot roast, potatoes, carrots, and onions. My neighbor Delores had brought a spiral-cut ham from Harris Teeters. My daughter Lou Ann had brought a whole bucket of Bojangles chicken.

I couldn’t even eat myself for just sitting back and watching Cloris Bell, Miss Light Eater, load up her plate. I finally had to give up counting how many times she went back to the table since I’ve only got ten fingers.

Bitterness rose up in me like acid reflux. I knew I was standing in the need of prayer.

I was so got away with I ran down the hall to the empty sanctuary and sat in a pew in the dark and prayed for patience. I was so wrought up, I wished I was Episcopalian so I could get on my knees. “Lord God Almighty,” I prayed, “thou alone art the wellspring of my exceeding generosity! I know that thou art the source of all my good and perfect works, and I know I’m not supposed to be doing all that I do for that ungrateful hog, Cloris Bell, over in the fellowship hall. I am supposed to be doing it as unto Thee.”

I tell you what: Prayer changes things. I felt better for two or three hours. But that night when I got home and went to bed, I dreamed I plucked a drum leg from that bucket of Bojangles chicken and chased Cloris Bell around the fellowship hall and walloped her with it upside the head with a supernatural force available to us mortals only in our dreams.

She died on the spot and even before I was good and awake and remembered it was just a dream, I felt right good about it, and if feeling that way for five minutes was wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Thanks for writing, Myra, honey. I sure hope that helps.

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