I met Karla at the North Church in 1988. No, that’s not true. I met her several times before that at play groups, beaches and hospital social functions. Not hospital social functions because unlike George and Karla who accept all invitations and extend a friendly hand to anyone and everyone, we are recluses. Not the royal “We” but rather Craig and me. In any case, all meet-ups prior to North Church in 1988 have disappeared from my memory. In other words they didn’t happen. I am guessing that it was 1988 because the introduction happened at North Church. Also my Tommy and her Thomas existed. I church-hopped for a few years after moving here from Vermont. There was the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Episcopalian Church, the South Congregational Church and finally the North Church. I am sure the church-hopping would have continued at this fast pace if I had not met Karla.
I first noticed Karla singing in the church choir. She was an inspired presence in a gang of characters right out of a PBS series. Doc Martin comes to mind. She was tall, beautiful and elegant. I was completely against singing in the choir at the time. Something about the fussy robes and the music choices that clearly challenged the range of talent. I wouldn’t subject myself to this kind of abuse. And I admired Karla for her commitment when she clearly stood out in terms of musical gifts. One other exception was Noel. Noel was born in Victory ,Vermont and he is gay. And he wears gorgeous evening dresses and sings like a bird. Karla introduced me to Noel. That was my first inkling that this woman was cool.
What truly cemented my opinion of Karla as extraordinary was when the parents and children gathered in the North Church basement to talk about the upcoming Christmas Pageant. There was lots of whispering about who would play Mary and Joseph. Of course, the most recently birthed child in the congregation nailed the part of Baby Jesus. It might have been Thomas that year. Then the storage boxes filled with pageant costumes were opened. Raggedy, soiled pieces of cloth poured out. The angel wings were particularly dismal and in fact, some might have considered them offensive considering that this was church and we revere angels.
A voice, not so much a voice as a boom rang out These costumes are disgusting. No child should have to wear them. It was Karla and she said what I was thinking but would never have let leave my lips. When I got to know Karla better through the years, I understood that she meant no child in this city, this country, or any other country on earth should have to wear these costumes. I resolved right then and there that I would join this woman’s army. I would follow her anywhere. Karla left the church and returned within a half an hour with supplies. Scissors, glue, glitter, fabric. She spread out the materials, cut fearlessly and accurately without pins. She was steaming with energy and within minutes held up glorious angel wings. At the very least the wings were presentable. We became close friends. I was certain that I was her only friend. Karla has legions of friends from every decade of her life. She has a gift for friendship which is why I think I am her only friend.
We took over the Christmas Pageants and redid every costume. They were magnificent and frequently requested for productions at local schools. The Pageants were our creative collaboration with distinct themes such as animals, foreign lands and angels. Always the angels.
I didn’t join the church choir but did convince Karla to sing with me in a duo that we named By Chance. We wrote songs together while our children played. We sang in venues throughout the Northeast Kingdom. A few months ago, Karla convinced me to sing with the North Country Chorus. They chose Carmina Barana for their Spring Concert. It’s a cantata composed by Carl Orff celebrating gluttony, gambling, drinking and lust. I had resolved years ago to never join the North Country Chorus. Karla assured me that this would be one concert and we would never have to sing with them again if we didn’t like the experience. Carmina Barana is a powerful musical piece with German and Latin text. The melodies are simple but the harmonies are perilously difficult. The costumes are downright hideous. Black polyester concoctions stored in dusty attics right out of Amish Country. Change that to funerals. I asked Karla if she thought I could get away with wearing a black lace top with pearl buttons in the front and back. The back is a little longer than the front. Very on-trend which I learned from QVC. It’s shopping porn that I watch, but never buy. Karla said No with majestic force. Then she smiled.