The next few days were a blur. Mr. Jenkins daughter Carla flew in from Milwaukee. His son John came in from Delaware. His daughter Michelle drove in from Philly. His youngest daughter Elaine flew all the way from Washington state. I remember mostly because my brother Tim and I were in charge of picking people up from the airport. Michelle’s car broke down in Hoboken so Tim and I had gone and gotten her there, which is why I remember her. Mr. Jenkins had six kids total but Mary and James drove themselves so I don’t remember where they came from.
That’s about all I remember from those days anyway. Kevin locked himself in his room and only came out to eat. Marty normally stayed in the same room with Kevin but bunked at my place to give Kevin some time. Marty woke me up once. The last time I’d heard Marty cry he had been eight. I wonder now if I didn’t wake Marty a few times the same way.
The next thing I really remember was the morning of the funeral. I was late getting to breakfast because neither Marty nor I could remember how to tie a Windsor and neither of us was willing to admit that to Momma right then. Marty finally figured it out and both of our ties were fairly straight when we walked into Momma’s kitchen.
Our house is always a sea of people, all the more so at mealtimes. It’s normal for our eleven member family to be joined by whatever friends, special friends, occasional relatives and even tenants that happened by. It’s also not that easy to spot a new face in the waves of heads usually bobbing around the table. Marty walked on in oblivious to our visitor but I spotted her instantly.
I grinned as I grabbed a piece of toast and elbowed my way past my youngest brother Mike to sit next to the lovely redhead that had joined our clan. It came as a welcome relief and I felt normal for the first time in days. Normal, and flirty, despite the somber day.
“So, come here often?” I asked as innocently as I could manage.
Crystal started but recovered fast, “No, it’s my first time. Any recommendations?”
“Try the toast, it’s good so far.”
“I’ll do that.” She answered coyly.
Chuckling, I loaded my plate. “So, what brings you here this morning?”
Crystal became serious, “I met your sister…”
“Tina!” my younger sister piped her name across the table.
Crystal grinned apologetically, “Sorry Tina.” She told my sibling then continued her story, ‘At the grocery store the other day and she told me about what happened. I came by to say how sorry I am for your loss and your Mom asked me to stay for breakfast.”
“Which you should eat.” Momma chimed in. My Momma weighs 98 pounds soaking wet. All of her boys could lift her by the time we each turned twelve and yet she is convinced that everyone else on the planet is in danger of starvation. Crystal was a big girl, curvy in all the right places with enough left over to fill in those places. She was in no danger of instant starvation but she dutifully put a few bites where they belonged to please Momma. I grinned, liking her more than ever.
Breakfast was rushed by our standards. An hour later Crystal was helping me and Marty put up the dishes. Momma had gotten down the good plates so Crystal and I were handing plates to Marty as he stood on the counter to reach the high shelf. Momma wouldn’t let her help with doing the dishes and Crystal’s Southern manners demanded that she do something, so passing plates to me for me to pass to Marty was it. The last plate went up and Marty hopped off the counter. He promptly made himself scarce, God bless him.
Crystal grew quiet as she pulled out a small package from her bag, “Tina said Mr. Jenkins was like family so it seemed appropriate…”
I openned the little gift, “Pink Pandas?” I said in surprise.
Crystal seemed suddenly unsure of herself. “Did I get it wrong? I thought you mentioned liking them the other day…”
I shook my head, “No, no, you got it right. But they haved insanely short runs. How’d you ever manage to find an album?”
She smiled warmly, “Oh, Daddy is in distribution. He knows the guy distributes for them. He found it for me. I hope you like it – I didn’t know if you already had that one or not.”
It was my turn to be a bit embarrassed, “Honestly, I like them but I’ve never been able to get an album before. Thank you very much.”
She shrugged and started to speak when Tina’s voice broke the moment, “Jack, the thing is stopped up and Poppa is working on the car…”