"Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence." ~ Audre Lorde

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.

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Fuji
Fuji (@fuji)
1 month ago

Hello, Susan! I’ve been eagerly awaiting your Camellia story, fairly certain you’d teach me a bit of history about someplace I hadn’t heard of before. I expected it would be in England! Imagine my surprise and delight to learn about Semmes, Alabama, USA!! As always, I looked up your references and found them all to be rooted in fact. Your talent for combining historic references with highly entertaining fiction is unsurpassed. “Opposites Attract” is delightful. By the way, how in the world did you find the absolute perfect picture?

Linda Rock
Linda Rock (@linda-rock)
1 month ago

What a great example of how compromise can achieve so much. Love the mix of fiction and fact in your story (I did google Semmes) and the introduction to a festival that’s almost as old as I am!

Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary (@carrie-oleary)
26 days ago

A very interesting story Susan. I love how they came to the compromise at the end rather than becoming bitter rivals. We can achieve so much if we work together and in this case the two heads were definitely better than one. Thank you for sharing. It’s obvious in your stories that you put a lot of effort into research.

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