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AprilThe Persian Pickle Club

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The Ladies Book Club met online from our homes again on Thursday, April ist. We were there to discuss The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. I believe 18 members participated, clicking on the ZOOM session link that Peg Tabor sent beforehand. As people joined the session, Peg Tabor greeted them. First thing, Peg asked Eileen Roberta to give us an update on Joyce Tisovec. Joyce has been through so much. She was in the hospital, then rehab, then back to the hospital, then back in rehab, now she's back in the hospital again, not doing well. As of Sunday, they didn't have a prognosis and Rich doesn't feel it's good. She is waiting for him to call her if he learns anything more, but she hasn't heard from him since Sunday. Joyce hasn't been home since January.

We were getting feedback, making it hard to understand. Sue Laluk thinks it's happening because someone isn't on mute, and Peg asked that we all mute our speakers. Moving on, Peg welcomed Jennifer Ward, a new member who lives in Tall Trees and is a friend of Denise Corrigan's. Welcome! Peg asked how many of us were fully vaccinated? Some. How many expect to be fully vaccinated within the next few weeks? What do we think about starting meeting in person again? We were concerned about the restrictions inside the meeting room. Peg checked into that and was told we can have up to 38 people in the room, we'd still have to wear a mask,  social distance. Peg acknowledged that it would be a little difficult to have a good conversation with masks. It's sometimes hard understanding people wearing masks. Eileen suggested that just the person speaking remove their mask when speaking, then put it back on. Kathy Morey said she's a member of some other clubs that started meeting in the card room again, and that 38 people allows for four people at a table, so we wouldn't be able to do that. Something to think about. Peg's not ready to do it tomorrow, but maybe we can start meeting again by June or July. An advantage is that we have fewer people attending during the summer months, so that might be a good time to start it, and hopefully by the time the snow birds return in the fall that the pandemic will be in our rearview mirrors by then. Sue Laluk brought up that if we do it by Zoom, the snowbirds can participate. Charlotte Davis wondered if we could meet in person, but also zoom? Churchill Street does not have WiFi (only regional centers have it), but Charlotte said she can use hotspot on her phone. She teaches online that way. Peg thinks we're getting to a point where everyone wants to meet in person... if it's the right thing to do. Keep it in the back of your mind and we'll revisit it again in a few more months. There are advantages to using zoom, but there are also disadvantages.

On May 6th, we'll be discussing The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and Sunny Wilt will be our discussion leader. With that, Peg turned the meeting over to Charlotte, our discussion leader for The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. The author lives in Denver with her husband. Her two daughters are grown and fully employed. She has a Journalism degree from the University of Denver and began her writing career as a reporter for Business Week and stayed in that job for 25 years and became the first female bureau chief there. Many of the stories she covered were the basis for the stories in her books. She's a New York Times Best Selling Author and a multi-award winner for 14 of her 16 novels, which is quite a fete. They've been translated into dozens of languages and options for films, as well. The themes of her books are loyalty, friendship, and human dignity. This story is about a group of friends in depression era Kansas who are tied together by shared interests in quilting, conversation, "good food" (sometimes), and keeping secrets. It begins with the welcome to a new member, Rita Ritter. What kind of welcome was afforded Rita considering their secrets of knowing one another and did we think Rita would acclimate to the group at the beginning? Peg didn't think she would. She didn't seem to fit in with their behavior pattern. Eileen added that she had no sewing ability and it was pretty evident that they forced her to join. She did try it, but before she even got to the town, her goal was to get out of Harveyville and return to the life she and her husband had come from. Charlotte thought the Ritter household was also a dry one, so they probably didn't care for that. Kathy said that coming from a city background, she had very little in common with any of these women. She didn't have a family yet, had no idea what farming was about, just a total misfit from the beginning.

Did we have a favorite member of the Persian Pickle Club? Sue thought that because the story was told from Queenie's perspective, she tended to empathize with her. She also thought Queenie was pretty easy to like considering some of the others. Charlotte agreed and thought that deep down, she was kind. Queenie was also Mary Ann Hume's favorite. She was warm, wanted to make friends with Rita, who needed a friend. She was in a bad place, having lost a child and the ability to have one. Mary Ann read the book twice. The first time she read it, she thought it was just okay, but the second time she realized that it's about women supporting each other and she liked it a lot more. These women took care of each other and it was much more meaningful the second time around. Because the story was told from Queenie's point of view, Kathy didn't think she really got to know the others. It took a long time to learn that Ella was so quiet and a long time before we learned why Agnes was so bitter, and because the story was told by Queenie, we only knew what Queenie knew about them. It makes sense because nobody ever knows everything about another. Eileen also liked Queenie the best, probably because she was the character we heard from the most. She was the most caring but also the most needy in that she'd lost her best friend Ruby, who'd moved to California, and wanted Rita to take her place. She was an optimistic person and she and her husband had a real good relationship and he did a lot for her.

Did we find it amazing that so many women of different ages could be such close friends? Not at all. When Kathy was in her 30s or 40s, she worked with a gal who was 18 years younger than her and the became good friends, and her best friend was 19 years older than her, so she really doesn't think age has much to do with it; it's about what you have in common. Barb thought that she didn't see anything unusual about it. In that rural area, they didn't have a lot of people around them to choose from. What about the minister's wife, Lizzy Olive, that they eliminated and wouldn't invite her? Kathy thought she and her husband were a tad on the overbearing and judgmental side, she could see that they wouldn't want to be preached at constantly. Charlotte added that she wanted in so bad and yet, they allowed Rita in just because she married into the group. Rita didn't come across as overbearing, just different and she was having a problem adjusting to the life there. Eileen thought they didn't want her in because they had that big secret and being such a religious person, she wouldn't be able to keep the secret.

Charlotte asked what part the drifter's family played in the story? She thought Blue and Zepha were really interesting. Kathy loved that although they were drifters and people looked down on them, they showed that they were just people, good people, just doing the best they could, were proud and didn't want charity. They were a wonderful addition to the book. Charlotte added that the quilt tied them together since they were both quilters. Peg was confused or missed something, wondering why they left so quickly in the middle of the night? Because Grover insisted that Blue had to go to the sheriff, but Blue hinted that whatever happened to them before wasn't their fault, that they'd had trouble with the law before. Kristie Carter agreed, thinking they'd be blamed. Charlotte brought up that Zepha had forewarnings of things to come. Could that have something to do with it? Yes, because people who are gifted like that are often blamed for the things they warn of. Jennifer mentioned the bird tapping on the window three times. Charlotte was actually thinking of when the two women were attacked. Blue saved them because Zepha had a premonition that something bad was going to happen to them.

Sue thought it was interesting that it was Grover who offered the shed for them to live in, although Queenie came around. He was the driving force and it made her realize why they were attracted to each other. They were both basically good people and were open to considering outsiders as being real people they should be nice to. Why was Queenie reluctant to allow drifters to stay? They were strangers, she didn't know what they might do, but when she met them, saw the children, she wanted to help them, too. Kathy pointed out that at that time, there were a lot of people on the road and some of them were not nice people. Sometimes they had to steal to feed their families and others did what they thought they could get away with, having a bad reputation like gypsies had in Europe, so there were safety concerns. Barb thought it was interesting that they purposely sought Grover out because he had a reputation among other drifters for being kind and would lend a helping hand to people down on their luck and traveling through. When she was younger, Charlotte remembered how people would come to their back door and her mother always gave them something to eat. They called them hobos back then. Karen Peters really liked Grover. He was kind, really loved Queenie, didn't complain about his situation in life, and even though Queenie didn't know it, he was helping drifters all along. He was just a nice man. Kathy remembered reading long ago that those who were on the road would leave little rock cans and stick signs to let others know who will help them and who they should stay away from. Mary Ann also remembered people coming to her back door during the 40s. Her mother gave them food, but would sometimes give them clothing that her father didn't wear anymore, as well. For Charlotte, this was still occurring during the early 50s, at her grandparent's house.

Thelma was a member of the club. She wasn't active, didn't attend very often, and became a member because her mother, Nettie, was a member. As the story developed, we came to realize and probably predicted that she ended up getting pregnant by the married man. Did we have any idea as to what the outcome of that pregnancy would be, or were we surprised by what they did? Peg wasn't surprised because it is a sweet, predictable kind of book, so it fit right in with that genre. Sharon Burr agreed with Peg. For her, it was a sisterhood book. She started reading it without high expectations. She thought it would be about a quilting bee and wasn't sure she could stick it out, but then she started to get into the sisterhood aspects of the book. She really started to enjoy the camaraderie, and it had a few twists and turns. It wasn't great literature but it did eventually pull her in. Charlotte was surprised that it was Mrs. Judd who came up with the idea of Queenie adopting Thelma's baby. She thought Thelma would give the baby up for adoption and that Queenie would know about it, but was surprised that Mrs. Judd had a part in it.

Mary Ann wondered whether Queenie actually murdered the abusive husband? That was one of Charlotte's questions. Who killed Ben Crook? Kathy thought she said it in the same vein as when they all said they did it, but if she had to pick someone, she'd pick Mrs. Judd. Charlotte thought so, too. Was the moral dilemma justified? A lot of heads shook yes. Kathy considered how domestic abuse was treated at that time and thought it was the only way they could save Ella. Was it an accident? Most didn't think so. He was beating Ella and had a knife in his hand; he would have killed her. It reminded Sharon of our book from last month, Big Little Lies, when the abuser dies and she thought he deserved to die. (As an aside, after that discussion Charlotte rented the movie. She had never seen a movie before where the movie was better than the book. It added more to the story and she recommended it.)

Kathy didn't think it was an accident because of the way the women confessed. I did it, I did it, I grabbed an axe, I grabbed the fry pan, etc. It was all very deliberate. It wasn't an accident; it was an act of desperation to save their friend. Peg and others agreed and Peg said they had rehearsed the story before; none of them faltered in how they did it. And the sheriff wasn't eager to find out who did it either. No one liked him and everyone was glad he wasn't around anymore. Kathy also liked the way the story ended, with Rita sending a letter saying she did it as a way... her way of saying she was part of the group and that their secret is safe with her. Sue thought it was the best part of the book. From a legal perspective, all of them claiming to have done it makes it less likely any of them could be convicted because of reasonable doubt, so its an effective legal strategy as well as a sign of sisterhood. Eileen added that they were going to stand by each other no matter what.

Peg wondered if anyone had heard of paisley being called Persian pickle? None of us had, but we could see how the design resembled a pickle. Sunny Wilt thought their joint confessions was an answer to Rita's doubt about anyone in town being able to keep a secret, that they could all keep a secret. It was the strength of that sisterhood to stand up for each other. In the beginning, Charlotte recalled that the theme of the author's books was loyalty, friendship, and human dignity. We saw a lot of that woven throughout the book, as well as it being a feminist novel. To her it was a story about women. What about the quilt and what did they represent? Kathy thought it was interesting how they all knew the patterns and how to make them. Charlotte thought it was interesting when Queenie talked to Zepha about her quilt, pointing to a certain stitch saying it was a wandering __ and Zepha called it a turkey trot because she wouldn't have her husband sleep under a wandering stitch.

Remember, they shared pieces of the quilt with each other? What did that represent? They were honored to have their piece in someone else's quilt and thrilled to have their piece be part of someone else's quilt. It tied them together. To Charlotte, they shared their lives and all of them had a piece of the Persian pickle. She read an excerpt that explains that, and how sharing a part of everyone's quilt was just like they were part of each other's lives. Sunny shared some research she'd found about quilting and how it is a way of forming communities, relating and connecting to one another, and in Amish communities, quilting is a part of the social fabric of the community. Peg pointed out there was another purpose to the club, it was to improve their minds. As they quilted, one of the women read out loud. Some of us had forgotten about that.

Charlotte asked if we had any comments or questions about the book? Sue thought the road to California quilt was interesting, and that the drifters left it behind as a way of repaying Queenie and Grover for all they'd done. That quilt was Zepher's most precious possession and she refused to sell it no matter how hard up they were. Charlotte reminded us that some of the material in that quilt was from granny's daughter who died, making that quilt so special and Queenie understood that.

Like Peg, Sue didn't care for the book that much and found it predictable, but she particularly liked how Queenie and the drifters found a way to connect. She really liked the ending, that despite all the differences that Rita had with the group, she came out saying, "It was me," making her part of the group. The idea that someone who is different can connect with others and that despite differences they can transcend those differences. That started an avalanche of favorite parts and characters. Sue recalled how Queenie was embarrassed over being accosted and didn't want anyone to know. It was probably accurate for the time, thinking that it was somehow her fault, but hopefully it's different today. Barb thought Grover was her favorite character. He was the sweetest man, and he kept doing kind things for others; he was very special. Charlotte named some of the other characters and how they were all interwoven like a quilt. Kathy thought that Mrs. Judd might have been one of her favorite characters. We didn't know much about her personal life except that she had more money than the rest of them, but she really came through for every one of those ladies, and she really liked her take-charge attitude. Barb liked how everyone in the town, the doctor, the sheriff, and others protected Ella. Rita thought the doctor was having an affair with Ella and the sheriff was hanging around, too. But they were just checking on her and they were all protecting Ella.

Peg thanked Charlotte for doing a super job for a book that wasn't great literature, but she peeled back the layers of the onion and we got to see a lot more than what we initially thought. Charlotte quipped, "We peeled into the pickle, didn't we?" Peg wished everyone a happy Easter or Passover, then reminded us of next month's book.  Next month, we will be discussing  The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré and Sunny will be leading the discussion. See you all next month, and please keep Joyce in your prayers.  

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

Kansas, 1930s, and the times are hard. The highlight of the week for the farm wives is the gathering of the Persian Pickle Club, where the ladies are dedicated to improving their minds, exchanging gossip, and using their quilting skills. When a new member stirs up a dark secret, the ladies band together to support and protect one another.

See you next month (even if it's just through Zoom), and keep on reading....

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