Maman was pretty, polite, and charming in all situations. Her manners could shut off the rudest people. Even big burly men and unpleasant, jealous, gossipy women. Except this once.
The bread man in those days delivered to your door. Or you could go out to the truck and select extra goodies. Temptations were on offer: honey donuts, pies, frosted cupcakes, cake, and sliced bread. He sometimes had off-date merchandise, unsold, in his truck. Maman was always so pleasant that he would give her a small cake or an extra loaf.
The custom was, the women went to the truck, purchased their items and chatted. Maman, sensitive to the jealous glares of some women, kept back until he was about to leave. One day, however, one particularly nosy, nasty “biddy,” noticed Maman going out late and hurried down to snoop. She saw Maman receive a little box of cupcakes as she paid for her bread.
Later that week, when Maman went to the baker’s truck to get her bread, more women were down there and were not dispersing, so she had to face them all.
The nasty one said something about “certain married women flirting for extra favours” and the poor delivery man turned pink. Maman had a proud temper and this was too much for her. She mashed the cake on the front of the woman’s dress and used the language she told Dad not to use.
Unfortunately, this was not a day-old cake but a birthday cake for Dad! She had just paid the baker and now would have no cake and no money. The biddy screamed abuse, pulling at her shirt to get the icing off, accidentally undoing the buttons, exposing one of her boobs.
The only boobs I had ever seen uncovered, were on Uncle Charlie’s secret magazines Maman didn’t know about. (More on that later.) My face must have been a study. Maman said: “Christine, go upstairs and get my purse!”
The women laughed, and one, who had often been the victim of the “neighbourhood nasty biddy” said: “You got yours, at last, you blasted old mop! You got a mouth like a mop – dirty!”
As I left, I heard Maman say: “I have always been modest – I am not a flirt but I believe in kindness and manners. You are a hypocrite, spreading rumours about these women here. I heard things you said behind their backs,” looking at the women meaningfully.
Nasty threatened a lawsuit and worse but the other women began to close ranks, so she took off. I brought the purse; Maman paid for another cake. The afternoon ended with a pack of women in our kitchen, enjoying cake and coffee. Neighbours were never invited because Maman thought our furnishings too shabby to be seen. This day changed that.
Later, Dad enjoyed a home-baked birthday cake, iced with brown sugar syrup decorated with one candy rose saved from the second cake. Sadly, after that, Maman felt it would be proper to pay the bread man a little money for past-due goodies.