If only I hadn’t mentioned the Festival, though it was inevitable she’d hear about it with the whole of Semmes buzzing about which High school girls would be this year’s Camellia Maids. Shona-Lee had recently moved to Alabama, so inviting her round for a chat one evening over coffee and cookies seemed like a good idea at the time. While I busied myself with the kettle, I noticed she had a good look round my old rustic bungalow, before asking about the half-finished painting of Debutante camellias on my easel.
She said she was working on designs for a minimalist white and granite kitchen in their house renovation, so I assumed she’d be too busy to show interest in local events. How wrong I was! Within a fortnight, she had joined us as a Festival committee member, a position that I had waited years to attain, even though my Ma had been one of the original Camellia Maids, charged with representing the City of Semmes throughout the year, sharing the town’s history with visitors.
When the programme was discussed, Shona-Lee ploughed straight in with her suggestion that we “mount a floral fashion show with fresh ideas that challenged the perceptions of the beholder”. Words struggled to leave my nervous lips and then tumbled out in a deluge. I put in a heartfelt plea to honour instead the historical traditions of the festival, with its simple display of specimen blooms, camellia tablescapes and artworks. My uncharacteristic boldness was greeted with gasps, and not all of disapproval.
It’s festival day now. Inside Semmes Baptist Church the contributors are casting an eye over their creations, skirting round each side, bending high and low to check their submissions. In the centre, one unusual display has my camellias and greenery set formally in a Greek vase, with a swathe of fabric that spills over into its partner, Shona-Lee’s driftwood sporting a sparse arrangement of a dead camellia, leaves and ribbon, the whole entitled ‘Ancient and modern’.
After all, there is no harm in being neighbourly, as our ‘first prize’ rosette proves.