Poor Lillian

Everyone knows what that look means and Lillian Crandenburg was an expert at detecting it.  You see, Lillian was a plain thin woman (bless her heart) with dish-water brown air and dull grey eyes.  She never struck anyone as anything more than your stereotypical recluse librarian.  And that, in fact, was what she was.

Every Tuesday morning, on her way to the Piggly Wiggly, she walked past “Trish’s Hair Salon.”  As if by some blessed miracle, this was when Trish’s place just so happened to be fully booked.  Filled with makeup wearing women sporting large unmoving hair and french manicures, the place was buzzing with life–not good life necessarily, but life nonetheless.  Now, if you’ve never experienced the talk that goes on in a hair salon, you’ve never gossiped.  It’s the kind of gossip that your Sunday school warned you about as a child and the kind that the preacher admonished yearly from the pulpit after some small scandal erupted from such talk.

“Oh, here she comes,” said Bertha-May in a half yell, half whisper so as not to be heard by Lillian but of course by everyone in the salon.  These women loved three things: games, gossip, and tradition.  And when the three could be combined, something close to perfection was at hand.  So, as always, a scrap of paper was drawn from a fish bowl to determine the name of the lucky woman in the shop who would then bestow upon poor oblivious Lillian, the newest, most creative and wild hairdo she could imagine.  Many times, this included complimentary accessories and clothing that would accentuate her new do.  From teal mohawk to purple spikes, everything was tried.  This fine tradition was now on its sixth month and still going strong.  Normally, this assessment would usually last for at least fifteen minutes, if not more.

This particular morning, providence smiled on Rita Fischer.  “I think,” she said thoughtfully, “that a nice mahogany hair color would bring out her eyes–you know, make them sparkle. And maybe some makeup would help too.”  Everyone turned towards her in disbelief and Trish gave a small gasp.  Never before had anyone put forth a good idea.  After a quick moment of awkward silence, Trish spoke up.

“You know, Rita, you’re raght.  She needs a makeover–a real one. What da ya say she becomes our liddle project?”  Most of the women excitedly nodded in agreement and a few clapped in jubilation; some skeptics held out for a couple of moments, hoping that Trish was being sarcastic.  One after another, women shouted out ideas and tizzied around the shop devising immaculate plans for the new and improved Lillian Crandenburg.  That’s when Mrs. Mauricia L. Myers graced the shop with her presence.  Everyone froze in silence as if Saint Mary herself had just walked into the room and stopped time.  She raised her right eyebrow (well plucked, penciled, and arched I might add), opened her mouth to say something as if about to inquire what was happening, and closed it again, realizing that she did not care to know.

“Can I help you?” Trish managed from across the room.

“I’m here on behalf of the women’s auxiliary. I’m wondering if I might give you a brochure to let your–” she paused for a moment glancing around the chaotic room, seeming lost for words. “–patrons know about the fundraiser and charity auction in two weeks.  It will be held at MacIntire field at two ‘o clock in the afternoon and will go into the evening.”

For the first time in her life, Mrs. M.L. Myers felt out of place.  No one around her was talking, and they made it obvious that she was the current focus of their attentions.  This was precisely why she made it a point to only give her business to the salon down the street–they practiced social etiquette.  She hurriedly stuffed a few flyers into Trish’s hand, raised her lovely eyebrows, turned and walked out the door before anyone had time to explain the silliness.  As the door shut, the noise once again rose as the women got back to planning.  Poor Lillian; she was really in for it this time.


A few days later, the well-meaning women with too much time on their hands and too little to think about, put their devious plan into action on Lillian’s behalf.  By some kindness of fate, Bertha-May (as oblivious as always)–while spying on Lillian from behind the grapefruits in the grocery store–noticed that Lillian was thoroughly engrossed in a romance novel.  After reporting this to the ladies, the vote to send Lillian  mysterious love notes was unanimous.  Thus, Bertha-May took it upon herself (with the occasional grammatical and spelling help of Rita) to write these love notes.  She always liked to sign them Your Secret LoveI know this is cheesy, and if other women had known, they would agree, but Bertha-May thought that a little extra effort was needed in Lillian’s desperate case.

After a week and a half of love note sending, Bertha-May grew frustrated that every time she had “accidentally” run into Lillian, Lillian said nothing about the “Secret Love” nor did she mention any odd mail. This exasperated Berth-May to no end.  And being the tactless woman she was, decided to straight up ask her.  Thankfully, right before she was able to blow her cover, she was interrupted by Mr. Lawson asking her about something.  To this day, she still doesn’t remember what he was babbling about.

Now it was two days until this charity auction was about to take place and the girls’ plan was in full swing. Bertha-May had sent the last note from the secret love which was the most imperative of the letters.  I never read it myself, but I heard Bertha-May and Rita brag about their collective genius many times afterward.  It read something like this:


My Dearest Darling Lillian,

  Although it has not been a long time that I have written you, I feel as if I must meet you and reveal myself to you face to face.  Since I have been so open with you, I must meet with you in person and know if you feel the same way towards me.  If you are willing, meet me at 3 o’ clock at the charity auction this Saturday.  Wear a red dress with a yellow flower pinned to your left lapel.  I too will be wearing a yellow flower.

I hope to meet you there.


  Your Secret Love


Now this is as cliched as the dickens, but the ladies thought it to be a fine piece of work.  A few days prior to the note, Rita had contacted her sister’s college roommate whose husband had a cousin who was a former Abercrombie and Fitch model who was older now and desperate for work.  Plans were set and ready to go, and now all the girls had to do was dress and groom Lillian.  Rita took it upon herself to invite Lillian to a free makeover session at Trish’s on Saturday afternoon before the auction.  She made sure to drop a few names of other homely women in town that would serve as props to make the scene look a bit more authentic.  She thought Lillian seemed excited–she raised her eyebrows slightly and made a slight grimace, which Rita took to be her smile.

To the surprise of the women, Lillian arrived at exactly 1:30 at Trish’s on Saturday.  All of the women tried to act non-chalant as they brimmed over with pure elation at the site of Lillian being dolled up.  And to think that they had done such a good deed for such an outwardly unexcited person.  She did get “all prettied up,” as the women like to say.

Trish gave her that mahogany color that really did make her eyes sparkle and the makeup that made her prettier.  Some of the women later admitted they were glad that Lillian didn’t look this good on a regular basis, because if she did, they would have to be more careful about the watching of their husbands.

The last and most crucial part was the dress.  Lillian had come not only homely because of her face and hair, but because of the ugly sack she called a dress.  It was red but only in theory.  Ten years ago, it might have been a nice shade of red, but as it was, the dress was tired and worn and really, very ugly.  The only glimmer of hope came from a small yellow flower clumsily pinned on her left shoulder.  Rita thought it best to get Lillian to spill the beans about the love letters and she would happen to solve Lillian’s problem of the ugly dress for her.  Yet, as Lillian would have it, she never once mentioned the letters nor of her reason for getting beautified.  Finally, Rita just said that all the women could go and pick out a dress from the consignment shop next door.  She helpfully steered Lillian right to the dress that had already been picked out for her.  Lillian kindly tried on the dress (didn’t like it), but pretended to like it for Rita’s sake–she just seemed to like it so much. Rita was envious.  She wondered why this woman didn’t normally wear something to show off her nice thin figure.  People like Lillian were just plain wasteful and ungrateful.

The women walked with heads held high as they slowly followed Lillian.  The couldn’t imagine what she was thinking.  Was she excited?  If so, she surely didn’t show a bit of that excitement to them. Was she nervous?  She couldn’t be with the way that she carried herself with such calm, defiant dignity.

Once at the auction, Lillian stood alone as the women purposefully dispersed themselves amongst the crowd.  At exactly 3 o’clock, a voice came over the loud speaker announcing that the auction of good-looking men would begin soon.  Everyone made their way to the stage, excited to see these fine specimens.  When Mr. former model stepped on stage, all the women were silent–knowing that only Lillian was allowed to bid.  Lillian stood motionless for a moment, and noticing that no one else was bidding for this man with the yellow flower, bid a dollar.  After winning, she nodded at the women and escorted her budget-friendly prize away.  Where they went was anyone’s guess.  The women were indignant at her ungratefulness.  They assumed that she didn’t even realize how hard they had worked just to make her feel socially accepted.

An hour later, the Secret Love (named Ralph, for those curious) resurfaced without Lillian.  The women figured that Lillian was bored by him, paid him a little sum and had left him to spend it at the charity auction.

The funniest part to this whole story is Lillian’s secret that only I knew.  The silly plotting of the small town women played perfectly into her own plan.  She had waited a long time for this, and now she had gotten what she wanted–and no one even knew–except for me, of course.  I could never tell them though, I would become just like Lillian: the center of a small town’s world.