By 3 am the kitchen floor was scrubbed, the furniture rearranged, and the cupcakes were made for P.E.O.
All I had to do this morning was frost the cupcakes, get two pumpkin pies in the oven and go pick up my mother.
By 8:30 am the pies were baking and I was on my way to Ocean View Assisted Living.
When we drove back just after 9 am, barriers had appeared at the entrance to my block, but we talked our way onto the block.
"My mother's in a wheelchair, and I'm taking her to my house for a meeting," I told the hapless city worker. "I'll be back in a few minutes to move my car off the block, but you'd better not stop any of my guests from entering here."
"Ma'am, we're doing slurry today. No one can enter," he maintained.
For a moment I could see myself standing on the porch with a shotgun to defend my guests' right to access the street, but I knew there was no time to waste arguing.
I drove to my driveway, got Mom out and into the wheelchair, pushed her up the ramp and situated her in the circle of chairs in my living room.
After taking the pies out of the oven, I drove my car a block away to park it and rushed back to stand on 16th street and add P.E.O. signs to the yellow Caution tape strung there to guard parking spaces for the P.E.O. members.
One by one the ladies started arriving, each having parked a block or two away, not realizing the yellow tape and orange poles were guarding places intended for them. I pointed them toward the house and stayed out on 16th Street to meet the remaining P.E.O.s and direct them into the parking places I had reserved.
I was still out on the street at 10:15 am waiting for Alva Mae when I got a call on my cell telling me that she wasn't coming. As of the day before, she had looked forward to visiting my house, so I knew it was the street work that was keeping her away. She's one of the less steady-on-her-feet members.
I rushed back to my living room, greeted my guests, and tried to be a good hostess. Only five ladies had come besides my mother and me: Dorothy B., Dorothy S., Marie H., Eileen S., and Evelyn L., who reported that her son is running for City Council.
The pumpkin pies were still warm, and I started whipping some cream with the egg beater but in my haste splattered it all over the kitchen counter, including on Marie's purse. She was my cohostess, bring a plate of fruit.
Mom seemed to be enjoying the occasion, proud to have these ladies to our house. But she got involved in taking all the cards out of her wallet and stacking them on a table near her chair.
The ladies enjoyed slices of warm pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and Marie even called the next day to get the recipe. It was hardly a family secret--just the one on the can of Libby's pumpkin filling--but I was proud to be asked by a P.E.O. for this shortcut to good entertaining. It was a sign of achieving status in this group.
Just when I thought all was well, Dorothy said brightly, "For our program today, we'll watch a video. And since we aren't having a business meeting today, maybe we could tour your house!"
"Oh, okay," I said, thinking of all the stacks of papers and newspapers and boxes I had moved to the bedrooms so the three central rooms would look respectable.
The tour began. I bravely led the P.E.O.s through bedrooms stacked with boxes and newspapers, my messy office with desk and floor covered with To Do and To Be Filed piles of papers and unopened envelopes, the upstairs with John's equally messy office, the kids' rooms including Ellen's with my computer and more papers spread out on the bed.
I gave my standard excuse--that John works for the LA Times--and even admitted to writing about the Russell Weller case for the Santa Monica Daily Press. I showed a couple of the sisters my article, but since Russ lives down the block from Evelyn L. and has been a long-term member of Dorothy B.'s church, they weren't eager to read any comments unsympathetic to him.
"The verdict hasn't been announced yet," Dorothy commented. "I wonder why!"
"Yes, there must be someone who wants to convict him and others who feel he is not guilty," I reflected. We didn't know that at that moment the verdict of guilty was being announced.
I decided that my grandmother and mother had handed to these ladies the job of pressuring me to have a cleaner house. Grandma has been dead for twenty-four years, and Mom is no longer capable of critically assessing my housecleaning, but the supervision continues courtesy of P.E.O.
When it was time for the program portion of the meeting, Dorothy displayed a collection of educational and travel videos for us to choose from. We chose Hawaii, and soon we were all sitting around my television learning how the first people had found and settled Hawaii in the early centuries A.D., how their culture and religion had developed around the Goddess Pele, and how keep political events were associated with eruptions of the Maunalea volcano.
Meanwhile, big street sweepers roared up and down my street. The truck arrived spreading a layer of hot tar while on the television red hot lava was pouring out of the volcano. We looked from the volcano to the smelly street and shook our heads.
Mom fell asleep during most of the video, which was lucky for me; otherwise she might have demanded a trip to the bathroom right in the middle of everything.
By 12 noon the video ended and the ladies started leaving to walk back to their cars, staring at the freshly tarred street.
Mom and I said goodbye, and I drove her back to Ocean View Assisted Living.
"It is finished," I said.