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The Good Stuff by Shelley Bennett


by Shelley Bennett

All this talk about Holiday Craft Fairs, Christmas Boutiques, and Bazaars reminded me of my youth and my grandma’s involvement with WMs.

WMs stood for Women’s Ministries and was a group of female members of the Assembly of God Church. From what I remember they got together a few times a month for food, fellowship, and crafting.

They would start preparing for the Christmas Bazaar in the summer months and would spend the weeks making candles out of milk cartons and baby Jesus ornaments out of walnut husks.

My grandma often led the crafting sessions, and she could transform trash into treasures. Must have been the Okie in her. Nothing was ever wasted, and she would save random items for months to create enough product for the bazaar.

Rocks were painted. Pictures were made on leftover pieces of wood using popcorn kernels, a variety of beans, and lentils as the “paint”. Afghans and quilts were created out of scraps of yarn and material. The WMs were the original “up cyclers”.

Almost every meeting centered around a potluck of some kind and as they crafted, delicious smells would fill the church basement. There would always be some kind of casserole, made with chicken and creamed soup, salads galore (many contained Jell-O), and of course dessert. Coffee was the drink of choice, it percolated throughout the morning and afternoon, served with powdered creamer.

More important than the refreshments or crafting was the socializing. The group was anchored by two of the church’s matriarchs: Grandma Middleton and Grandma Langley. I don’t know that I ever knew their first names, they were just another grandma who offered warm hugs and kindness.

And baby blankets. Every infant born in the church from 1950-75 likely has a baby blanket made from one of these women.

The other members I remember were Bertie Langley, Opal Berry, Denny Midgley, Virginia Baker, Tressie Gann, MaryLee Elledge, Lois Towell, Mae Sherman, Francis Parker, Sue Ward, Betty Williams, and Pat Cooper. And of course, my grandma Joann Simpson and two of her best friends Virginia Middleton and Jane Voss.

They were also the Sunday School teachers, Children’s Church leaders, and made sure we were at VBS in the summer. They played the piano, led song service, and organized the Christmas pageant every year. They threw dinners for visiting missionaries, held baby showers, and even catered Wedding receptions. In short, they were what made the church go ‘round.

They were the quintessential village it takes to raise a community of kids.

Many of these women continued to look after us as we grew up as teens and into adulthood. It was one of those benefits/curses of growing up in Susanville. There was always going to be someone who knew you and it would go through the Susanville phone chain like wildfire.

When I started high school, Jane Voss was our vice principal’s secretary. Now, I wasn’t the getting in trouble type, but I knew from day 1 that I wasn’t going to start then. If Jane had to call my mom because I got caught ditching, there would be heck to pay.

Jane, her husband Larry and their family have continued to be a part of my family. Somehow my grandma convinced Jane that she wanted to take care of my newborn son during her first year of retirement and that started a new branch to their friendship.

That was over twenty years ago, and I am still grateful that Jane found room in her heart (and home) for one more baby to love. Somehow this is all connected, but I am struggling to find the words to explain how this network of like-minded church women grew to encompass a community and came back to benefit me. I guess that is what friendship does, especially in a small town.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for friendships that become like family, especially one that started more than 50 years ago in a tiny church basement.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there! Take some time to share some memories around the table.

Remember when news was ‘newsy’? When you read about weddings, family events and engagement announcements in the newspaper? If you have something that might be newsworthy, please submit it to shelleybennett24@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to include it here in “The Good Stuff.”

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