This episode is somewhat split between happy and sad, so let’s start with the unreservedly happy story.
At last, it’s time for Sister MJ to have her cataract surgery. She heads to the hospital for a stay of what seems to be several days, and finds out her roommate is a very boisterous woman named Maudie Valentine. She and her husband are loud, very jolly, a bit crude in the humour department. I think they’re amazing and kind of hope I’m like her when I’m 80. Sister MJ, clutching her book of Keats, does not seem amused.
But, close quarters can make for strange friends, and after MJ calms Maudie’s post-surgery fears late at night, the two truly embrace each other. MJ shares her very MJ-ish philosophies on life, and Maudie shares a dirty romance novel, which Winifred, rather hilariously, gets to read aloud. Hee! The two are sad to part. But MJ can see much better now, and the look of, ‘Oh, yes, THIS is what seeing is like! I’d almost forgotten!’ on her face is pure joy.
She looks happier than that.
In… a less happy storyline, let’s say, Lucille and Valerie are tasked with teaching a health class to a group of teenage girls. Why the hell they brought Lucille into this is a mystery, because while Valerie’s a natural, Lucille is so uptight she’s probably giving some of these girls complexes. She’s especially aghast at the notion of telling unmarried teenage girls that such a thing as tampons exist. Those hussies. And she’s bizarrely uncomfortable when she asks the girls to label a diagram of the female reproductive system. Heavens, Lucille, they need to know this stuff! And it’s your profession! How are you uncomfortable asking them to do that?
One of the girls in class, Elizabeth, has a mother, Mrs Walker, who is SUPER uptight. Like, she makes Cinderella’s stepmother seem like a chill parent. Turns out, Mrs W had no idea that her daughter was taking this class (Elizabeth forged her permission slip) and when she finds out, she is LIVID.
Before long, there are complaints to Sister Julienne (who, bizarrely, seems to only just now be discovering what these classes were about. What the heck did she think Valerie and Lucille were teaching these girls? Embroidery? It’s not like they were doing it on the sly.) and, of course, to the council. There’s an investigation of sorts which determines the women were not, in fact, teaching pornography or whatever everyone suggested, so they can go forward with the classes.
No sooner do classes resume than Mrs W shows up and starts basically screaming, ‘Whores!’ right in the faces of the children taking the class. Jesus, lady, what is WRONG with you?
Valerie has no patience for this brand of crazy and steers her right into a room and demands to know just what the hell her deal is. Mrs W eventually tells her that she had an older sister who, from the sound of it, became some sort of nymphomaniac (at least in this woman’s telling) and was sent to a reform school. Predictably, Mrs W’s parents ensured this would never happen again by turning their younger daughter incredibly frigid and making her fear sex the way most of us fear a prolonged and painful death. And so, as these things happen, Mrs W is repeating the same terrible cycle with her own daughter, who’s on such a tight leash she’s not even allowed to go to the library because her mother once found her reading a paperback romance. You know how tame the paperback romances you could get in a public library in 1963 were? Point is, she didn’t have much to worry about from that quarter.
Valerie’s like, ‘Wow, that’s really sad. Did you ever attempt to get in touch with your sister?’ Obviously not, since Mrs W’s parents did a thorough job of turning the older sister into a total bogeyman(woman). But after a while, Mrs W calms down, invites Valerie around to her house for a chat, and tells her she’s going to try and track her sister down after all. Wow, that’s an about face that… doesn’t seem all that credible, if I’m honest, considering this woman’s history. But that’s the story and we have to go with it. Mrs Walker mentions the name of this reform school, and Valerie recognises it as a mental hospital. Yeah, I kind of saw that coming. Sexual ‘deviance’ in women, especially, has frequently been dealt with in that manner, for much of history.
Valerie accompanies Mrs Walker to the hospital and find Mrs Walker’s sister still there. The woman in charge tells Mrs W her sister was brought in for being too sexually active, and that she was pregnant when she arrived. She was forced to give the baby up for adoption and that broke her, which is why she’s still in the place today. But Mrs W starts to mend some fences, and eases up on her daughter a bit.
Yeah, still not buying that storyline at all. Sorry.
A-plot: our Mum o’the Week is Pearl Davidson, who’s just arrived from Ireland with her husband and two young children. Her husband’s just taken the lease on a tobacconist’s shop, and as they arrive Fred wanders by and says his hellos, so they’ve already got a friend. Pearl sends her husband to a chippie for some dinner, and on the way home he gets in a car accident and dies. Damn. That’s harsh, even for this show. Oh, and this goes without saying, but Pearl’s heavily pregnant. So, now she’s in a new city with two little kids, an infant on the way, a new business, no family or friends anywhere nearby, with her husband and the family’s primary breadwinner suddenly and tragically dead.
Now, you’d think that’d be enough misfortune, but oh, no! On the way back from a concert one evening, Barbara and Crane pass by the shop and see that it’s on fire. At this point I’m wondering what the hell psycho gods this family managed to piss off, because this is a LOT of bad luck all at once for one group of quite nice seeming people. Crane dashes into the burning building to alert the family, which lives in the flat above. They all get out safely.
Barbara returns home with Pearl and the kids in tow and tells Tom they’ll be having some guests for the night. He, of course, is fine with that. And then Pearl goes into labour. Of course.
With Barbara attending, she gives birth to a baby girl. Annnnnd a baby boy. That’s right: twins! And now I start to think this woman was, like, Elizabeth Bathory in a previous life or something, because while yes, healthy babies are a blessing and all, consider this poor woman’s circumstances: now she has two young children, two infants, no husband, no family, no friends, no home, and no means of supporting any of them. Could you imagine dealing with one baby under those circumstances, let alone two?
Fred, having tragically and suddenly lost a spouse himself, feels a certain kinship with this woman (who remains remarkably cheerful and optimistic throughout all of this, I must say). He rallies the neighbourhood and they all gather to fix up the shop, good as new. Crane gets the scouts to ask their parents for baby clothes donations, which the kids turn into a competition so fierce at least one of them is stealing clothes right off the back of a younger sibling. Might want to ease up on the ask, there, Crane.
So, it turns out Pearl will be ok, presumably. And she throws a lovely party to thank everyone for helping her out. Barbara plans to go, but she’s not feeling too well, so Tom orders her to stay home and even summons Crane to look out for her. Not long after he leaves, Crane starts to get concerned and brings in Turner, who checks Barbara out. He notes the rash on her arms, and the fact she can’t put her head down, which made me think meningitis, but apparently she has septicaemia. Yikes! I’m especially freaked out about that because almost every chemist’s shop over here now has these dire posters in the window about how sepsis (a complication of septicaemia) kills 3500 people in Scotland every year, which is quite a lot.
Barbara is whisked off to the hospital, and when Tom returns home after attending the party and tending to an elderly parishioner, he’s met by Turner, who rushes him off to the hospital as well.
CtM, we’ve already lost Delia, Patsy, and Cynthia. Please don’t take Barbara from us too!