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March 30, 2012

A Barbara Pym kind of morning

It’s all been very Pymmian, my experience of membership in the Barbara Pym Society. That I’d join a society whose membership includes attendance at events that I never, ever go to, for one. But the Pymmishness really began with a handwritten letter I received in the post about two years ago from a fellow Pymmite who was rallying Ontario members of the society to get together. The very best thing was that the letter writer’s name seemed familiar, and I realized that she was a writer whose essay I’d noted on this very blog about 3 years previously and we’d even had a brief email correspondence. Anyway, we were back in touch and arranged a Barbara Pym tea at my house later that summer. It was a delightful get-together and we all fell in love immediately, and everything was perfect except that I’d put out a ton of food and everybody had already had lunch before their arrival. Further social awkwardness ensued when afterwards a gift was put in the post for Harriet which never arrived. I didn’t want to say anything because perhaps there hadn’t been a gift after all, but then months later, there was an enquiry as to whether I’d received it, and I felt terrible, because all that time they’d been thinking that I was a type of person who didn’t send thank-you notes! Not to mention that the present had disappeared off the face of the earth. Oh, the perils of the postal system…

Anyway, last weekend, my friend Gloria called me (and it’s true that Barbara Pymmites and my mom are the only people who call me ever) to say that she and Judy were getting together this week, and she wondered if I could come along. At the time, I was facing a week of municipal labour unrest which meant no organized activities for my toddler, so I was very happy to accept. We drove out to the suburbs this morning with a blueberry cake in tow, and arrived only a few minutes late. It turned out that that the long-lost present had been found in the post office a few months ago, and so Harriet finally got to unwrap it– a gingham dress bought much too big so that 18 mos later, it fits perfectly. They also gave her a cowboy hat, which I can’t quite believe she didn’t own already.

The table was spread with just as many lovely things as I’d prepared back in 2010, except that we hadn’t had lunch before. We set to wait for the other guests to arrive… but they never did! Oh, we enjoyed ourselves, cups of tea and delicious cake and Harriet gorging on blue cheese. We enjoyed catching up again after many months, but at the back of our minds, we were concerned about where Judy and her husband had got to. The phone rang once and there was nobody there, which only served to up the urgency. We were all very polite and hid the panic, and poured more cups of tea, for what else can you do?

Finally, it was time for Harriet and I to get back to the city, and just as we were leaving, Judy rang. She and her husband had been caught in traffic all morning and finally decided to pack it in and turn around and go back home. Which was too bad, her waste of a morning and that we’d missed her, but we were all really thinking that our gathering had just narrowly escaped a calamity, worst-case scenarios passing before our eyes. We were all a little giddy as we bid our final good-byes.

So we will do it again soon, with Judy this time, and maybe we’ll all finally get it right but it’s funny how much these social situations are precisely the stuff of Pym, the excellentness of the women in particular, of course– Judy is even a vicar’s wife. That there is a timelessness to Pym’s grasp of human dynamics, their intricacies and awkwardnesses. And it’s unfortunate for those of us who have to live it but so fortunate for those of us who get to read it: these kinds of stories will never go out of style.

One thought on “A Barbara Pym kind of morning”

  1. judy says:

    You are so right when you say it is pure Pym!
    But we missed your blueberry cake and the blue cheese!

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