Poppa and Momma took the youngest in the car while I drove the older kids in a rented van. Our clan had outgrown any single car years ago which rarely mattered since we could get anywhere we needed on the bus or subway. But the funeral home was out in the suburbs and the cemetery even further away making driving a necessity.
Three of Mr J’s kids joined us in the van. Mary sat beside me in the front. It was awkward; neither of us could think of anything to say. I’ve known Mary most of my life but the whole trip it felt like a stranger sitting beside me.
I kept my mind on driving until we got there. Then I was busy with getting everyone inside and seated. Then with finding the bathroom and ushering my three youngest siblings there and back. Then with getting Momma some water. Heck, I even helped a young boy I’d never met get up to sign the guestbook – anything to not have to sit there and think.
Once the funeral got started, sitting there was all I could do. The more they talked about him, the more I missed the old man. Carla, his second oldest girl, got up and told a really funny story about a Halloween prank we kids tried to play on him one year and how he’d turned it around on us. I remembered it – he had us convinced that the building was haunted. I looked around at Poppa, remembering that he had helped Mr. J with that. Poppa was laughing at Carla’s impression of the ghost, but the tears running down his cheeks weren’t from laughter. I looked at the program, trying not to tear it into bits from the frustration.
Most of us stood up when the time came to tell how much he meant to us. I told how he helped me learn how to make a doghouse for shop class. Dumb story but it was the only one that came to mind – at least the only one I knew wouldn’t make me start crying while I told it.
The drive to the graveside was even quieter than the one to the funeral. The priest said a few words and we all filed by, dropping mums on the casket. They had been his wife’s favorites before she passed and he’d always had a pot or two in the window so mums meant more to the Jenkins’ than roses would have. It made sense, the only thing about his death that did.
Mary started crying on the way home and Carla and my sister Donna comforted her the best they could. We were two thirds of the way there when she finally got it under control. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame her a bit, but I wasn’t in great shape myself and wasn’t sure I could take much more. There wasn’t anything I could fix and nothing I could hit and I desperately needed to do one or the other.
We all fell silent. That was worse than the crying. Suddenly, I found myself talking, rambling really. Anything to break that awful silence.
"So, listen, Mary, I invited the new folks from across the street. They’re good people, I think your dad would have liked them. Mr and Mrs Abernathy and their daughter Crystal. She came by this morning. Momma fixed eggs and bacon. She had to leave when Tina stopped up the plumbing."
If I hadn’t been driving Donna would have elbowed my ribs but good. Even I was wondering what was wrong with me. Mary gaped at me, then leaned back and howled with laughter. The whole van soon joined in. I started snickering at myself, too.
Things were busy getting ready for guests once we got home. Mary couldn’t look at me without laughing. Momma gave her a worried look so I ended up explaining it to Momma. Then to Poppa because Momma was worried about me. Then to Tina who was incensed that I’d mentioned her name in conjunction with plumbing. I was in the process of chasing off my two youngest brothers who wanted me to explain it to them when the bell rang.
The Abernathy’s were at the door. I’d never before seen Crystal in a dress. Man, she was gorgeous. For the first time, I appreciated my Momma’s insistence on good manners – mine kicked in before I embarrassed myself more by gaping at her. Following them into the parlor, I wondered if anything had ever before been so beautiful as that girl in that summer dress.