Carding is careening toward town meeting and local elections, and so far, no one is running against the local eminence grise, G.G. Dieppe.
It seems as though she will be a shoo-in for the open seat on the selectboard because of the support she’s getting from the country-club set who live on Mount Merino.
But not everyone who lives on the golf course is enchanted by G.G. And sometimes, all it takes is one plain-spoken woman—someone like Brenda Underwood—to shatter the illusion of a fait accompli.
The church hall was buzzing when Brenda opened the door. Some women were setting chairs around a quartet of tables, and some were busy with food while others chatted near the coat rack. No one looked up when Brenda walked in. No one greeted her even though they’d seemed eager enough to invite her to the meeting.
She stood off to one side, watching the human ebb and flow to see where she might fit in.
Finally, one of her yoga classmates spotted her and waved, indicating an empty chair. Taking a breath, Brenda made the plunge.
But a voice shattered the peace of the chattering mass before she reached the chair.
“What is that under your arm?” G.G. Dieppe asked, pointing to Brenda’s sewing box.
Brenda smiled, holding up her prized sewing box for all to view. And they were all viewing. In fact, Brenda had the distinct impression that the other women in the room were viewing and holding their breath at the same time, waiting for G.G.’s next words.
In the few seconds it took Brenda to size up the Carding Quilt Guild’s president, the words “troll tower” came immediately to mind. It was the name her son had given to the carefully balanced stacks of rocks they found when they took family hikes in the White and Green Mountains.
Everything about G.G. was gray or black, like granite—charcoal turtleneck, black skirt and shoes, black-framed glasses, and a head of gray hair that was so stiffly starched with mousse, Brenda wondered if it was a wig gone bad.
On top of that, G.G. carried herself like a tall person who’d been squashed down to fit in a suitcase. In other words, troll-like
To Brenda, the scene was ludicrous—a room full of women who shared a passion for color and design standing like porcelain figurines in a formal garden.
“This is my hand-sewing box,” Brenda finally said. “I was told to bring it for tonight’s meeting.”
“Yes.” G.G. sniffed. “I’m going to teach a lesson on the best techniques to use when hand sewing the binding on a prize-winning quilt.”
Brenda must have looked unimpressed because G.G. continued: “We have a number of items here tonight that require binding.” She pointed to a pile of folded quilts in a rocking chair. “You need to know that we strive for prize-winning quilts in this guild, and the process of excellence begins with our selection of tools and the way we organize them. And what you have in your hands is not an excellent sewing box.”
Brenda glanced around the room looking for a friendly face. It was then that she noticed that every sewing box in the room was exactly the same size and type, varying only in color from red to white or pink.
“Well,” she said, “this sewing box is mine and it will have to do.”
Someone at the back of the room gasped, and all of the features on G.G.’s face—from eyebrows to chin—compressed in disapproval.
“Yes,” she said, drawing out the single syllable. “I suppose it will.”
No one at her table would look at Brenda as she sat down. But as soon as G.G. turned her back, the women on Brenda’s left and right reached over to give her reassuring pats under the table.
G.G. raised her chin as she began her lesson, giving pointers about starch, and the proper use of pins and thimbles. But Brenda heard little of it, her ears blocked by an anger that she knew would get her into trouble if expressed.
“It’s not worth it,” she told herself. “I just need to get through this and go home.”
By the time everyone broke for snacks and trips to the bathroom, all Brenda had managed to do was give herself a giant headache. She waited until the room filled with chatter and eating then slid the top back onto her sewing box—now more prized than ever—and headed for the coat rack.
In her rush to get out, Brenda turned the wrong way and found herself in the church sanctuary. Irritated to be so shaken, she decided that sanctuary was just what she needed. So she picked her way to the front pew where a low light illuminated the altar, and waited for her pique to pass.
“Are you all right?” a soft male voice asked.
Brenda jumped and turned to see Reverend Lloyd sitting in the choir loft.
“Sorry,” he said, “but I didn’t know how to speak up without startling you.”
“It’s all right.” Brenda sighed. “It’s just been an unexpectedly irritating evening.”
“At the guild meeting?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so.” She shook her head.
The priest chuckled softly but the sound didn’t have much humor. “You’re irritated because G.G. Dieppe set out to irritate you.” Gordon’s eyebrows rose as he heard his own words. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be saying that to a stranger.”
Brenda stood up and extended her hand. “I’m Brenda Underwood. My husband and I recently moved to Carding.”
“And you’re a quilter,” Gordon said, indicating the seat next to him.
“Well, I thought I wanted to be a quilter. Now I’m not so sure.”
“Ah, I see. G.G.’s been trying to rob you of your joy. She’s good at that,” Gordon said with a very long sigh. “Too good, I’m afraid.”
“Is everybody in this town afraid of her like the women in there?”
“No, not at all. But she does seem to have undue influence over the country club set.” He cinched up his mouth. “I’m sorry, I’ve probably spoken out of turn again. You probably live on Mount Merino.”
“It’s close to our son and grandchildren, and it seemed like a good idea at the time,” Brenda said. “But I don’t play golf. I think it’s a bore, and I’m convinced that golf courses are a bad deal for the environment.”
The priest took a moment to peer closely at Brenda’s face, carefully weighing his next words. “Well, I’m no expert on quilting but I do know something about people and the sin of hubris. I think the ancient Greeks were right to peg that as the original sin, and Mrs. Dieppe has it in spades,” he said, this time with a genuine chuckle. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?’
Brenda laughed. “Our secret, I promise.”
“Before you make a decision about quilting, may I recommend that you have a conversation with a woman named Edie Wolfe,” Gordon said. “She’s the executive director of the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts, and a very dear friend.”
He nodded toward the door to the community hall where G.G. was now holding forth on the correct way to hold a needle. “The guild that’s meeting in there used to be the only such organization in Carding. Then Mrs. Dieppe split it in two. As I said, she’s very good at sowing ill will and irritation. The women who left formed another guild, and they may be more your style. What do you say?”
Brenda pulled her sewing box closer as she considered the priest’s advice. “How does this Edie feel about people who live on Mount Merino?”
Gordon tapped the top of her scallop-shaped box with his finger. “I think she will love this, and that will count for far more than your mailing address. What do you say?”
Brenda nodded. “So where do I find this Edie Wolfe?”
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