The continuing Saga of the
Toenail Ridge Shortline
Chapter 25: The Way to a Man's heart.....!!
Uploaded December 29th, 2000
It doesn't take too long in most places for the need for a diner to arise. A man can take sandwiches to work only so many days a month, he can go to the saloon for cheese and pickles only so often, and the dining room at the hotel gets expensive and time-consuming.
So it was that within a few months of Selbyville graduating from a farming village to a railhead that a young woman from Georgia, Mary-Jo Pears by name, made her way into the Valley of the Toenail Ridge via the Shortline and set herself up in business dispensing home-made victuals to the workers in the various offices and shops spread along the length of Main St.
Mary-Jo had had considerable experience in the restaurant trade in her youth, having been employed as a cook in a local eatery in her home town, so within a pretty quick time the products of her kitchen had earned a well justified reputation for taste, quantity and quality that made her little cafe a place of bustle and hustle every weekday noon. In fact, even such an eminent personage as New Jersey Jack Lazyacre himself, the owner of just about everything in the town and area, deigned to visit and partake of the culinary delights that Mary-Jo provided daily.
Now it so happens that some women don't take too kindly to their menfolk coming home after work and extolling the sublime delights of another woman's kitchen, so while Mary-Jo rapidly had a large group of male admirers, few of the local wives were any too pleased with her presence in the town and in their men's lives.
As it happens Mary-Jo had had a religious upbringing so she pretty soon started to show up at the little church of Reverend Jermiah Little, where her presence was duly noted by Little's Women. One of the functions of a church, ranking right up there in order of importance, is (1) providing a good living to the minister (2) keeping the kids quiet at Sunday school so the parents can have a sleep-in on Sunday mornings,
Oh.... and (3) & (4) providing moral and spiritual leadership,.....
....... to raise funds for various worthy causes. (See point one above.)
And to that end Little's Women had become experts at the bake-sale, the trading table, the craft stall and the extort-donations-from-local-businesses appeal. So while some of the ladies weren't too pleased about Mary-Jo's effect on their menfolk's lunchtimes they soon realised that her cookies and muffins made the bake-sale stall a focus of high attention at every opening and pretty soon money was flowing into the coffers at a rapid rate. (Interestingly, this connection between filthy lucre and the produce of the baker's art is often suggested as the origin of the word "dough" for money......this is not true....)
Anyway, Mary-Jo spent her weekdays baking and cooking for the lunchtime trade of Selbyville, and Saturday nights baking for God, or at least His designated local go-between, Rev. Little. And very much did Little appreciate this latest addition to his flock. For not only was Mary-Jo an excellent preparer of toothsome victuals, she was extremely easy on the eye, having achieved that fine balance between pulchitrudinous voluptuousness and comfortable late youth, that delightful stage where an attractive woman is well aware of her physical assets and is totally at ease with them and the uses to which they may be put.
Now Jeremiah Little has been elsewhere described in these chronicles as a tall, thin, red-headed, parsimonious man, a man with a permanent pursed lip and jaundiced outlook on life. The type of man who in another age would be automatically typecast as a tax collector or mortician. However, a gradual and subtle change slowly overtook the God-salesman the more often he saw and talked to Mary-Jo. He was even observed once or twice with a semi-smile on his dial, or at least a lessening of the usual disapproving-lip location and, with the alacrity guaranteed in a small community, within a couple of weeks the gossip had the two of them living in carnal sin together, contemplating matrimony together, she was carrying his child, he was carrying her baking trays,...in short, just about every bit of misinformation that could be dreamed up in a short time.
And of course, what was REALLY happening was....
Mary-Jo Pears from Georgia was a canny woman, with a sharp instinct as to not only on which side her bread was buttered, but what cow the butter had come from. She was well and truly aware that her physical assets had caught the attention of the holy man and was equally knowledgable about which way his leanings leant. She saw that for all of his holier-than-thou bluster he was mortally afraid of the female of the species, not withstanding that in an earlier life and under a different name he had had intimate knowledge of a couple of them who were under the mistaken impression that he was legally their husband. (At different times, of course...he wasn't neccessarily a Bad man, just an opportunistic one...)
So she led him for a few weeks like he had a ring through his nose. The odd smile here, the light finger touch after Sunday service, the little compliment about his sermonly oration, in short, Mary-Jo had a target and a plan for the future and the Reverend Jeremiah Little, D.D. was the prize at the end. She took to bringing him some of her culinary specialities before they went on the Bake-sale table, appealing to that God-given maxim, "The second best way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
Now naturally every one of Little's Women could instantly see what was going on. One of the sharpest instincts a woman possesses is the ability to detect exactly what every man has no idea of at all, that is, what the intention of another female of the species is. Some of them approved, "...time the preacher had a woman to look after him and see to him, him being so busy with his Good Work and all...."
And some didn't. "That snip of a woman coming in here to our valley and casting eyes at Reverend Jeremiah, land'o'goshen, what's the world comin' to next?"
'Course, nothing will polarize a community like a basic difference of opinion, and if that opinion concerns politics or religion it's guaranteed to cause some long lasting differences between folks. Especially folks of like mind. Never mind the differences between the Christians and the Jews, you want a REAL argument look to the differences between the Christians and the Christians. So it was with some alacrity that the Valley of The Toenail Ridge became two camps, them'n's for that woman from down South and them'n agin.
Of course, all this time Mary-Jo is running her lunch diner and all of the men who enjoy her vittles regularly reckon she's the greatest thing since......since....... ( What was the greatest thing before sliced bread was invented anyway?) so when they got home at night some of them had the awkward situation of having one of their favourite people lambasted thouroughly by the person who shared their lives. And most of them had learnt through the school of marital experience to keep their mouths shut, knowing from long contact that one of the great paradoxes of the world invariably held true in relation to wives, that is, the more you poured coals on the fire, the colder the cold shoulder got. So it was that many lips were bitten over supper while the distaff member tiraded against that hussy trying to take our reverend from us and destroy the morals of the whole community! Next thing you know we'll be having (insert favourite ethnic slur here) moving in here and the whole durn place will go to pot!
And all the time the one person who was most fitted by vocation to pour oil on the troubled waters, that is the Reverend Jeremiah himself, remained totally ignorant of the whole mess, being more and more enticed by that lovely Mary-Jo and mellowing in his stern attitude proportionally.
Well, it so happened that one of the leading lights of Little's little congregation was one Ken Blunt, ex-smoker, engine fireman and recent convert to the Light. (Ken had seen a lot of his life pass in front of his eyes in a hell of a rush when the crematorium exploded a while back and it had made him realise that if he was gonna meet his Maker with no notice at some time in the future maybe he shouldn't have quite so much baggage on his debit side. And like so many folks who come late to this type of conversion Ken had fallen into that ready trap of thinking that if a bit of holiness was good for the soul then a total, overboard reaction had to guarantee him a place in the Rapture. With the result that Mr Blunt, Esq. had changed from being a good-ol'-boy to a right, royal pain in the nether regions to his workmates and compatriots. Combine the dedication of a Jehovah's Witness knocking on doors on a rainy Saturday morning, the expressive passion of a cableTV preacher asking for money and the sheer bloody-minded attack of a used-car salesman and lo! Ken after his conversion!) So Ken took it upon himself to right the wrongs that were being perpetrated on that lovely young woman who prepared the best lunches it had ever been Ken's privilege and pleasure to digest, since the preacher didn't seem to be in the position to jump to her defence himself.
Now Ken's wife had been a long suffering spouse over the years, first having had to adapt to a chain-smoking, beer-swilling carouser, and now to a holier-than-thou pain in the soul. So when Ken started on at her about how evil some of them women in the church were 'cos they reckoned that that Mary-Jo Pears was a gold-digger, well, she finally had to open her mouth and appraise him of just what her opinion was, of Mary-Jo Pears, of Ken's conversion, of Ken's snoring, of Ken's eating habits, of Ken's levels of cleanliness, of Ken's habit of getting his nostrils REALLY clean, of Ken's passage of gastric side-effects while in bed, ...in short, poor Mrs. Blunt let Mr. Blunt have the rounds of the kitchen with both barrels. Years of pent-up frustration came leaping out of her lips and left her spouse flabbergasted, his mouth hanging open, his coffee cup forgotten halfway raised, his face slowly blanching as some of the distaff utterances hit him hard between the eyes. Now Ken hadn't had a drink since his conversion, in fact he had become one of the most outspoken critics of that licentious liquor and all who saled in it, but, by the time his missus got through with her list of grievances, comments and character summations, he staggered to his feet, wordlessly put his hat upon his head and stumbled down the street to Chuck Parker's place of prandial purveyance where he sat down at the bar and ordered himself a double red-eye and "leave the bottle."
Now it so happened that right about then the Reverend himself had worked up the courage to knock on Mary-Jo Pear's door and invite her to take a stroll, with the excuse of wishing to discuss the plans for the upcoming summer fair and the bake stall supplies needed. Mary-Jo had pulled on her shawl with alacrity and joined the sky-pilot on his perambulations, more than willing to assist him in his subtle subterfuge of himself since his intentions matched hers so exactly. And as they ambled and the shadows grew long, they chatted of this and that and he grew relaxed in her company and she grew more confident in his. And of course window curtains fluttered all the way up and down the street as their perambulations were perused privately, and many the husband had his supper with gossip on the side that evening! And as the night grew late the couple, now arm in arm, approached Mary-Jo's house again. And ran into Ken who had finally been chucked out of Chuck Parker's Saloon. A Ken who was so unstable on his feet that he would have been hurt repeatedly if the ground hadn't broken his fall each time. A Ken who had made up for lost time, drowning his shock at his wife's tirade and in the process shucking off the thin veneer of the born-again as the redeye re-opened healing holes in his recovering liver. A Ken who peered at the couple in front of him and, with a plastered grin that comes to the face of those who know they have fought the good fight and attained the goal, in a dignified and stately and slow manner measured his length in the street, out cold in the stupor of the very, very inebriated. Well, once upon a time, Reverend Jeremiah would have had to remonstrate loudly with this fallen member of his flock but tonight....Ah! tonight! The stars were bright, the hormones were heated, the world was a brighter and less severe place and his stern countenance smiled a little and he said "I think Mr. Blunt will not be a happy person tomorrow, my dear. Come! Let us depart this place!"
Well, within a couple of days it was pretty common knowledge that Reverend Little and Mary-Jo Pears had Plans, and since the parson had a strangle hold on the hearts and minds of Little's Women the criticism of his intended came to an abrupt stop. "If she's good enough for the Reverend she's good enough for us!"
So life in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge returned to pretty much normal, folks getting along just as usual, bickering, sniping, arguing, in other words, just like the rest of the world in general. In the fullness of time a preacher came into the valley on the Toenail Ridge Shortline and officiated at the wedding of the Reverend Jeremiah Little to Mary-Jo Pears and the town of Selbyville had a slap-up party to celebrate the event, attended by all and sundry, even the Blunts. Yup, Ken and his missus had come to an understanding and had pretty much resumed their normal marital lives after he had staggered home and sobered up three days later. His black eye had healed as had her fist and in fact it wouldn't be too long before the parson was gonna have to hold another christening cermony in his little church up on the hill. Maybe even two, for it seems that a Little seed had fallen on fertile ground in the Pear orchard and before too long the patter of Little feet would be heard in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge.
24 continues the Saga!