Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Bon Voyage (09/05/05)
TITLE: Of Gruel and Gumption
By Ann Grover
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She made the announcement before Grandma was even cold in the ground. At least, that’s what Mama said. Aunt Marvella’s mind must have been turned by grief.
Aunt Marvella took care of Grandma for years. As the youngest child, she was obligated to stay home and not marry. Grandma took a long time getting old and dying, but now Aunt Marvella was free. At least, that’s how I saw it. But, of course, no one was paying attention to a know-nothing fifteen year old.
My main concern was that Aunt Marvella get herself gone as soon as possible so as I didn’t have to sleep on the slippery horsehair sofa anymore. Aunt Marvella couldn’t stay up at the House all by her lonesome, not while Grandma’s passing was still fresh, so Mama gave her my room for the time being, and I got the sofa. If I wasn’t getting prickled by that sofa, I was sliding off in a tangle of blankets.
Aunt Marvella told us about the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben. She had read about such places in books from the lending library. Apparently, she had also read about something called a “Bon Voyage party”, because as soon as the trip was set, she proclaimed that such an event would be forthcoming.
Mama cast Aunt Marvella a doubtful eye at this latest declaration. She said it wouldn’t be fitting to have a party so soon after burying Grandma, God have mercy. And who was to say what a Bon Voyage party rightly was?
Marvella said she’d been sitting around the House long enough, hemming teacloths and such, and making gruel morning, noon, and night. It was high time she saw a bit of the world, and a party to bid her “Bon Voyage” was very fitting.
Hmmph, was all Mama would say.
I said nothing. I was in awe of Aunt Marvella’s gumption.
One day, a trunk appeared on the veranda, delivered by Percy’s Mercantile, a thick layer of dust clouding the top. Obviously, Percy hadn’t had much call for steamer trunks for awhile. Mama glared at the trunk, as if it were somehow responsible for Aunt Marvella’s unseemly behaviour.
Aunt Marvella gathered up recipes for things like cucumber sandwiches and raspberry torte. I’d never heard of such things. She sent out invitations, her spidery script scrawling across each card.
The church ladies clustered together after service, whispering behind gloved hands, their bent heads wagging disapprovingly towards Aunt Marvella. Old biddies. Not a bit grateful to get an invitation to a party. The men were aloof, folding their arms across their chests and shaking their heads.
The day arrived. Mama and Aunt Marvella fretted and fussed with tablecloths, cake plates, and dessert forks. I was given the task of chipping ice for the lemonade punch.
The guests were expected at two o’clock. The Reverend Hawkins and his wife came first, and I ushered them into the front room where they ceremoniously settled themselves on the horsehair sofa. I smirked inwardly.
Scarcely anyone else came. The few guests sat stiff as pokers, occasionally running fingers around starched collars or fidgeting with bonnet strings. I figured none of them understood that this was a party; no one commenced any sort of merriment whatsoever.
Aunt Marvella graciously served sandwiches while attempting to amuse the guests with details of her impending journey. Their stony stares reflected indignant shock at her nerve. Why, the flowers on Grandma’s grave were barely wilted.
I sat in a corner and watched the goings-on while stuffing myself with deviled eggs and pecan tarts. I considered myself mighty fortunate that Aunt Marvella knew about such things as Bon Voyage parties.
If Aunt Marvella was disappointed at the skimpy turnout, she didn’t let on. Not a single “Bon Voyage” or even “fare-thee-well” was heard as the guests left, leaving us with enough soggy torte and flat punch to last a week.
Aunt Marvella did have the last laugh, though. While walking through the English countryside, she met a baron, and she became Lady Marvella. She got herself a bevy of girls to hem teacloths and such. She became a fine hostess, smiling her way through countless christenings, wedding receptions, coming-out balls, and yes, Bon Voyage parties.
As for me, I’m fixing to visit Aunt Marvella in faraway England. But first, I reckon I’ll give myself a Bon Voyage party.
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