The Church Ladies of the North Fork
The Church Ladies of the North Fork By Marie-Christine Cardalena This is a different kind of story. It is not about the lush landscape of the Hamptons or the growing affluence of the North Fork. It is not about past youth spent on wonderful beaches that can even trump Ipanema. It is not about the new toy of the wealthy, ownership of a winery. It is not about all the things you might associate with the East End. This is a story about love, simplicity and goodness, abstractions that are personified by a group of women connected to a quaint catholic church on the North Fork. What makes these women so special is the enormous amount of service they give to the community-at-large and to the church. Their giving ways are performed tirelessly, daily and without accolades or want of recognition. These are not women who need to fill a void. While I speak as if they are one, each lady is unique in her own way. One woman makes a fully cooked dinner every night for her retired husband. Together they actively participate in the lives of their five children. An active social life with lots of golf completes or enhances their successful marriage. Another lady has many people drawn to her because she sews and does alterations with expertise. She too has family obligations and a part-time job. The outreach lady is a fine artist also with a husband and family. These brief profiles are given to wipe away an image of otherworldliness and charismatic worship so often applied to the religious “do-gooder”. What indeed is their mission? For starters, some of the chores are very mundane – keeping the prayer books neat and the pews dusted. I didn’t even know the pews had to be dusted. Altar cloths have to be embroidered, washed and ironed with regularity. One tiny lady, whom I did not mention above, walks the pastor’s very large dog; they make quite the comical pair. Some of these tasks I thought were accomplished by paid help as in other parishes I have known. Without question, these ladies do everything gratis with the purest of intentions. They save the church a substantial amount of money. Working up the ladder the most important job is the monumental organizational feat of running the food pantry. The food pantry is the domain of the outreach lady. She orders food, accepts donations and schedules the frontline workers. Provisions are given to the unemployed, the underserved and persons of unfortunate circumstances with dignity and respect given high priority. Joy and laughter reign. The clients are so thankful and enjoy the silly antics of the ladies who mispronounce foreign names and concoct outrageous recipes using canned goods. Fresh farm vegetables become a source of play when no one can identify them. More food is served family style once a week at a community dinner. Here I have to give a shout-out to the men. They are a huge help with preparation, clean-up and heavy duty pick-up. I hadn’t thought about feminism when discussing my story with the outreach lady. She became very strong in stating her conviction that women are the foundation of the Church and their efforts keep her (the Church) thriving. Perhaps she is right. In that light I think of the “grunt” work provided by the ladies and how far-reaching their goodness travels. The food pantry is not the end of the road. A thrift shop and a religious article boutique are further sources for financial support. I use the word “boutique” because the woman who runs it is amazing for her design and quantity of beautiful stock. There are many other projects. The work is endless but accomplished with a generous spirit and a kind heart. I came to the North Fork in search of a Victorian Cottage where I could watch patriotic parades pass by and indulge in a mildly hedonistic lifestyle; swimming on lovely beaches, soaking up nature’s finest and stuffing myself with fine food. In finding the Church Ladies I found so much more. They’ve become a source of admiration and inspiration. Their deep concern and profound goodness toward humanity has me awestruck. Personally, following their lead, I have become less self absorbed, more giving and more tolerant of human foibles. In retrospect my story may not be so different. I like to believe there is a deep well of goodness in everyone. You may have to find your own Church Lady. “She” may even be a he!