Ever green, those Pollyannas

'Silly traditions' stitched more than tablecloth for county's original Girl Scouts

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

It's OK to tell members of the Evergreen Pollyannas that they have one of the ugliest tablecloths you've ever seen.

They know.

But there's more to the green monstrosity — which is also their Christmas party centerpiece — than meets the eye. Including, perhaps, a gentle beauty.

The group of about 20 women, mostly in their late 70s and early 80s, started their bond of friendship back in 1948, when they formed Clark County's first Girl Scout troop.

Rose Funk, 91, has been their troop leader since then, when members Eileen Abernathy and Dolores McKell, both 79, approached her at a PTA meeting in Vancouver and asked for her help.

"We just wanted something that would get us together as a group," McKell said. "We lived out in the country and were scattered. And we thought forming a Girl Scout troop would be the perfect thing."

The girls, who in the late 1940s lived scattered around the Orchards area, got what they wanted and more.

Besides finding a troop leader, they also found themselves with a surrogate family that would support them through graduation, weddings, children, divorces, deaths and tragedies.

And they also found themselves with a shared sense of humor and tradition that would span decades.

Funk originally bought the infamous tablecloth at a garage sale several decades ago.

"I wanted to use it on my deck, but it was too big," Funk said with a laugh. "So I put it out for another garage sale -- and one of these awful people bought it and gave it back to me as a present."

The unfortunate re-gifting started a tradition that spanned many years. After she got it, Funk carefully wrapped it in Christmas paper and gave it to another troop member.

From there, others passed it to each other every Christmas, once wrapped up in a planter, once spiraled inside of a candle holder.

"I paid 25 cents for the thing originally, and then at a White Elephant one year I paid $10 to get it back," Funk said. "I didn't know what I was buying."

Eventually, Abernathy got her turn with the tablecloth, and she decided to spiff it up a bit. So she sewed a blue center onto it, emblazoned with Funk's name. And she sewed a small mitten at each of the place settings with each member's name.

"This one's an expert seamstress," Funk said, laughing with Abernathy.

"Oh stop," Abernathy said, looking on at her handiwork.

Then there are the slippers. Funk and other members have passed around a pair of slippers, embellishing them with each re-gifting, so that they are now a sparkling Christmas green adorned with red bows and small ornamental bulbs. They are so overdone that they could, quite possibly, even horrify Santa Claus.

That tradition started with Marlene Schnell, a member who died a few years ago, Funk said with a reminiscent frown.

"They're a good bunch," Funk said softly. "There's a lot of happiness, and a lot of sadness, in this group."

Other members have also passed on, but the core group is always there to support one another when things happen, bad or good.

And they all love Funk like the adoptive mother she is.

"Every group should have a Rose in their lives," Mary Ann Cantrell, 80, said holding back a few emotional tears. "She's wonderful. She's never let us down."

As they talked, the women frequently patted each other's backs, rubbed each other's shoulders and hugged.

Looking at the table, Funk told them they didn't have to sit where their names were on the tablecloth, because "some of those names aren't with us anymore."

But the mood lightened when they all held hands and prayed before sitting down to their potluck dinner of ham, potatoes, salad, pies and other dishes.

"We thank you for this wonderful food and this beautiful, beautiful sunshine," Dolores Dearborn, 79, said on the bright Saturday afternoon, adding prayers for the health of sick friends, for servicemen and women overseas, and for the overall well being her fellow group members.

Along with holding true to one another, the women have worked on countless public service projects.

They've collected and sent things like soap, socks, toothpaste and other items to soldiers overseas since the Korean war.

"A lot of our husbands were in the Korean War," McKell said.

They've also collected food for the Clark County Food Bank, made quilts for the needy, visited hospitals, put on fashion shows, provided college scholarships, held a variety of fundraisers and done pretty much every other charitable activity you could think of.

But it's the lifelong bond that the women cherish the most, especially at Christmas time.

"It's such a wonderful time of year to get together," said Carol Myers, 75. "We've gone from giving each other extravagant gifts to things that are more silly."

In a way, the women have a lot in common with the unfortunate tablecloth that they join hands around each year.

They may be a bit battered by time and tragedy, but they're also strongly stitched together with permanent friendships and memories of one another that will never fade -- and are tied together with love and laughter at the absurdity of life.

"Don't make this sound like we're a bunch of rejects from a funny farm," Funk said, smiling at her fellow troop members. "If you look and reach back, this is the way that people develop kinship -- these silly traditions. It's fun, it requires a bit of ingenuity, and it keeps us all going."