“Nobody stole our plants?” Amber asked. “Was that really something you were concerned about? You sound like Bilhah. Kind of racist, don’t you think?”
“Oh. It was something Sean said. He was afraid that if we left the plants so close to the door that somebody might take them.”
“He was not!” she said with a snort.
John raised his eyebrows and his shoulders. “Uhm, that’s what he said. You’ll have to ask him yourself.”
“I’m sure he was joking. So, you’re definitely staying, right? Joni’s not going to be in that big house all alone?”
“I’m definitely staying and I thought we were selling that big house.”
“You know what I mean. She’s been through a lot.”
“She has. We have. And yes, I’m staying. In fact, I have a job interview lined up.”
Amber tilted her head to the side and nodded three times. “Nice. Where?”
“At the church. As a youth counselor.”
“At this church!? Wow. Well, good luck.”
Sean pulled to the curb in his Lexus GX and honked. Amber pushed open the outer door and said, “Well, I’m sure we’ll be seeing you around. Good luck with getting a job. Come on kids, Daddy’s waiting,” and left.
The remaining Hagans had moved into the chapel. Pastor Chris was saying, “Please, take all the flowers, vases, potted plants that you think you can use. If they don’t go home with you, they’ll probably just get tossed.”
The potted plants were the most popular of course and Joni, Payton and Jake took turns selecting their preferences. The selection process went smoothly and Joni made sure that she had collected all the cards so that she could write thank you notes to the kind souls who had left flowers for her mother. “Flores para los muertos,” John whispered.
“Flowers for the dead?” Joni asked. “I’d say flores para los vivos.”
John and Joni were last on Chris’ goodbye rounds and he approached them with arms wide open. “Joni, John, please let us know if we can be of service to you,” he said holding the couple in an embrace. “There are hundreds of people in this parish whose lives your mother touched. Hundreds.
“And John?” he continued, releasing them. “I’ve got my eye on you. I saw how you interacted with those young men back there, how you made Imani feel appreciated. Even in your time of sorrow. Coach Gable makes the hiring decisions for the outreach program but he usually welcomes my input. We’ll have to do a background check and all that of course but if you made as good of a first impression on Coach as you did on me then I’d say you’re a strong candidate. Good luck,” he added, extending his hand.
“Thanks, Pastor. For everything.”
Chris smiled, waved, turned and headed up the gentle slope to the church’s exit. “Well that certainly sounded encouraging, didn’t it?” Joni asked, slipping her arm through Johns.
“Yes. Yes, it did,” he answered, patting her hand.
“Okay,” Bilhah declared. “I think we’ve gleaned this field like locust. We ready to roll?”
“Ready,” Joni replied, nodding her head. “You guys want to stop at the house for a minute? It’s practically on the way to Amber and Sean’s. Greg, Monette? What are your plans?”
Greg looked to his wife. Monette replied, “None, really. Our flight back’s not until Friday; we figured we’d see some of the city.”
“Great,” Joni said, nodding her head. “Come over to the house?”
“Sure,” Greg replied, “love to.”
“Okay,” Jake interjected, “who’s going with who? Ashley, we got lots of room; Payton? We’ll be pretty tight with all the flowers, looks like you’ll have to walk.”
“Har, har, har,” Payton said. “You so funny. Yeah, let’s go to Mom and Dad’s. That’d be nice.”
“We’ll have to follow you,” Greg said. “Or should I put the address in my GPS?”
“No,” John assured him. “We’re really close. Home is like right here.”
As they grabbed the last of the flowers and headed out onto the streets he realized exactly what he’d said. ‘Home is like right here.’ That was close to the truth but there really wasn’t any room for that pesky modifier.
Stepping out into the daylight, surrounded by family he whispered to himself, “Home is right here. I like the sound of that.”
Amber McConnell, Ashley Hagans, Bilhah, Dan Hagans, Danann McConnell, Dave Knopick, Deb Knopick, Father Chris Cusick, Gersemi McConnell, Greg Courtney, Imani, Jacob Hagans, John Knopick, Joni Knopick, Michelle, Monette Courtney, Payton Hagans, Sean McConnell
The “troop gathering” consisted of Jake, Bilhah, Daniel, Payton and Ashley, all of whom were sitting at a table with Greg and Monette Courtney. Jake looked up, raised his eyebrows and said, “Here’s your hat, here’s your coat, what’s your hurry?”
“Well, not exactly,” Pastor Cusick replied with a smile, “but we do need to clear the all-purpose room so the volunteers can clean up. I know that Imani is skipping school to be here, though I’m sure Tanya will write her an absence excuse. We were just going to collect the flowers from the chapel.”
Rising from the table Greg said to Monette, “I think that’s our cue to leave.” Extending his hand, he added, “Father? It’s been a pleasure. You did a great job.”
Monette seconded Greg’s statement and the Hagans clan all agreed. Chris led the way toward the chapel and as they passed the kitchen alcove Joni called out, “Thank you again, ladies! It is most appreciated!”
Michelle turned and waved. “You’re welcome! Don’t be a stranger!” and the other volunteers murmured support.
As they reached the door for Shekinah Chapel Amber said, “Chris? I’ll take Danann now. The kids are pretty tired. We really should go.” Tapping the largest plant with her foot she said, “Sean? Why don’t you grab that lily? I think we can find room for it somewhere.”
“Sure,” Sean said, shrugging his left shoulder. “Okay Breas, you take Mommy’s hand. Gersemi? Hang on to Gersemi, okay?”
“No! Wait,” Amber said. “Go get the car instead, won’t you? Ashley? Payton? Are you coming with us?”
Ashley looked to Payton who said, “No. We’ll help with clean-up a bit. Jake? You can drive us over to Amber’s, right?”
“Amber?” Joni ventured, “I was going to have everybody over to Mom’s for a minute. You sure you have to go?”
“Hmmm. Yeah, we better go. Danann’s getting kind of cranky. Get the car, Sean.”
As if on cue Danann emitted a squeal of joy which Amber ignored. Sean waved and said, “Deb, Dave. Father,” and lifted the big lily.
“Here,” John said, stepping forward and opening the inner door, “Let me get that.”
“Thanks, John. See ya.”
“I’ll wait here with the kids,” Amber said, entering the vestibule behind her husband. “Hurry, okay? I need to get to work.”
“Yeah,” Sean replied and exited.
“See ya,” John said. Alone in the vestibule with his sister-in-law and her children he added, “Well, thank goodness nobody stole our plants.”
Parishioners and other mourners had comfortably filled Shekinah Chapel and directly after Lottie’s ten o’clock funeral Mass the tables in Our Savior’s all-purpose room had barely accommodated the crowd that stayed behind to nosh and visit. Now, as the clock approached noon, there were more empty seats than full ones and the squad of volunteers who had arranged and managed the after-Mass breakfast were beginning to switch from serve to clean-up mode. The food, though still plentiful, had been picked over pretty thoroughly. Joni, John and Chris each selected multiple offering which they added to their plates in small amounts.
“You should try this pulled pork,” Chris said, adding some to a small role and placing it on his plate. “MS Helen’s pulled pork is to die for.” John and Joni followed suit and the trio made their way down to the end of the line.
Cary Grant walked up to Joni and extended his hand. “Joni? I’m afraid I should get going. I’m so sorry about your mother. Truly a wonderful woman. John?” he said, shaking his hand, “I’ll call you about the outreach program. You should hear from me before the weekend. Chris, I’ll catch you later.”
“So long, Coach. Take care,” Chris said. “Outreach program? You two got something you’re working on already?”
“Oh. Sort of. I mentioned I was looking to work in an afternoon program and Charlotte introduced me to Coach Clark, that’s all.”
“That’s all? That’s a pretty big step for somebody who’s fresh off the bus. That’s great, John. We need strong youth leaders.”
Michelle, who had donned a white apron to protect her black pants-suit, stood behind the half-wall partition, her back to the all-purpose room, directing the volunteers and supervising cleanup. She turned, caught sight of the Knopicks and Pastor Chris and her mouth puckered into a small, round orifice.
John suppressed a smile as he watched the external signs of her internal struggle. Michelle’s eyes closed, her nostrils flared and then a forced smile decorated her face. “Joni! I was wondering if you was going to get a chance to eat anything. You holding up?” she asked.
“Oh, pretty well, thank you. Being around people helps. Those first few nights alone were rough. Thank you again for keeping everything running so neatly. I feel honored by the parish’s turnout.”
“Well, you know your mother. She’ll truly be missed. Pastor mentioned that I might have not given you good directions on the altar flowers? Take your time about moving ‘em, just be sure to take any that you want’s to keep; okay?”
“Yes,” Joni said nodding. “I got it. We’ll be sure to take the ones we want before we go. Thanks.”
“Oh, sure, sure. Don’t mention it. You’se wants iced tea?”
“Yes, please,” Joni said nodding her head. “John?”
“Tea would be great, thanks.”
“And how about you’se, Chris?” Michelle asked. “You’se wants tea?”
“That would be lovely, Michelle. Thank you.”
Michelle filled three, tall, hard plastic cups with ice and tea, placed them on the counter and said, “Sugars over there,” pointing to a small table a few steps away. “Glad you’re doing good, Joni.”
“Thanks, Michelle,” Joni answered as they made their way with food and drink away from the food line and out into the all-purpose room. “John, your folks are stuck with Amber, why don’t we go sit with them. Father?” she added.
“You lead, I’ll follow. After all,” he added in a conspiratorial tone, “It wouldn’t be fair to leave anybody stuck with Amber; now would it?”
After Clark Gable left Joni and John excused themselves from the church ladies and their granddaughters. John elbowed his wife and whispered, “Look who’s breaking the color barrier.”
The who was Dan, and the where was a table where Pastor Chris stood talking to half-a-dozen teenage boys. The boys had all draped themselves over their seats and were eating from heaping plates of food in front of them. Dan’s winter white color stood out among the others’ skin tone which ranged from a black so deep that it looked blue to shades of brown, ochre and taupe. “Looks like he’s enjoying himself,” Joni replied.
“He does. Join him?”
“Mingle, mingle, mingle,” Joni said with a smile. “And if you’re thinking about working with the parish youth seems like this is a pretty good opportunity to meet some of them.”
Chris’ face lit into a smile as John and Joni approached and then stood next to him. “Guys,” he said, “I think most of you know MS Lottie’s daughter Joni; and this is her husband John.” Pointing with his fingers Chris added, “And this is Cesar, Devon, Malik, Elon, Taye, DeMarco and I think you know Dan there; right?”
Joni smiled and John nodded, saying, “The one with jug ears who looks just a little bit like my wife? Yeah, we’ve met. Gentlemen, pleased to meet you. You keeping my nephew in line?”
“Danny here thinks that the Vikings are gonna win the Super Bowl,” Malik said with snort. “As if.”
“Yeah, right!” Danny replied, shaking his head. “They only got an eleven five record. Wait! Isn’t that like the exact opposite of the Bears? Don’t hate the great! Support the Vikings fore it’s too late!”
“Like those sorry-ass purple people eaters are even gonna make it to Fifty. No way, bro!” Malik retorted. “Packers. You’ll see.”
“Packers!” DeMarco hid his face in his hands and shook his head. “No way. Vikings, Cardinals.”
“Vikings, Cardinals!” Danny exclaimed. “They’re in the same division!”
“Pats, Green Bay,” Cesar chimed in.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, gentlemen,” Pastor Chris said, “but I’m afraid you’re all wrong and most of you are letting your regionalism show. Cesar is a little bit closer to reality than the rest of you dreamers but this is not going to be a Midwest slugfest. It’s going to be Broncos versus Panthers and Denver’s going to win twenty-one to fourteen.”
“So, what? You got like, insider information from God?” John asked.
Chris smiled. “No, but I do enjoy my fantasy football league so I am a treasure trove of statistical tidbits; and I’m telling you the numbers say Denver and Charlotte with Denver by seven.”
“That because they from the Mile-High City, Papa?” Taye asked with a smirk.
“Funny, Taye, real funny,” Chris responded with a smirk of his own. “You know what else is funny? Suicides instead of shooting hoops. I bet you Coach Gable would love to have you guys do some gut drills; don’t cha think?”
“Oh, come on, Papa! You know I’s just kidding!”
“Well, I sure hope so, because that stuff is definitely bad for growing men. Or women! You know even in Colorado you have to be at least 21 and the psychologists tell us it really isn’t anything somebody under the age of thirty should be using? Thirty, gentlemen. Of course, here in Illinois it doesn’t matter because the only people pot is legal for is folks with a prescription, and that certainly isn’t any of us, now is it?”
“They gonna change that, Papa,” Taye insisted. “They gonna make pot legal here.”
“No, they’re talking about decriminalizing pot, not making it legal. Fines, not jail. If the law gets changed. You got an extra two hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket? Plus, still going to have to be at least 21. Hugs, not drugs! You need a big ol hug, Taye?” Pastor Chris asked, arms spread wide, eyes bug eyed and a huge, open mouthed grin on his face.
“Shoot, Papa! You know I don’t smoke no weed.”
“Right,” Chris said nodding his head. “I know. I know you signed a pledge not to at least,” he added with a wink. “Telling you, read the research. Thirty!
“Joni, John, you get anything to eat yet? If we don’t eat it they’re just going to throw it out you know,” Chris asked.
Joni and John looked at one another. Joni said, “No, we haven’t. You want to grab a little something?”
“You took the words right out of mouth.” Chris said with a smile. “Come on,” he added jerking his head toward the line of crockpots and cold platters. As they exited toward the food Chris hollered over his shoulder, “Hope! Not dope!”
“Clark! Clark Gable!” Charlotte called out to a man that sat at the other table. “Clark!” she said once more, finally catching his attention. “Come here, won’t you please?”
Clark pointed toward his chest and raised his eyebrows. Charlotte nodded vigorously in affirmation and summoned the man over by waving her hand repeatedly in a scooping motion as though she were physically trying to draw him to her. He raised his eyebrows, smiled, held up his right index finger and excused himself before rising to leave his table.
Clark was thin and fit but had the hip rolling gate of a man whose knees protested whenever they were called to duty. His full hair was cut short and consisted of far more salt than pepper. He smoothed his deep burgundy tie and buttoned his grey suit jacket as he made his way over to the beckoning Charlotte.
“Were you looking for me?” his deep voice inquired.
“Yes! Listen, this is Joni and John, Lottie’s little girl and her husband. John tells us that he’s looking for work in an after-school program and I thought I should introduce you.”
“Is that so? Okay. Oh, Joni, I’m so sorry about your mother. Terrible loss for all of us. John?” he asked, extending his hand, “I’m Clark Gable. Pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Mr. Gable. John Knopick.”
To John, Clark Gable looked decidedly older than his father but he also looked far fitter. Where Dave Knopick looked good for a man of his age Clark looked good period. One thing that marred his form was a cauliflower left ear that he tended to keep turned away from John. This made John wonder if this affectation was vanity or if whatever trauma had caused the exterior damage had also damaged Clark’s hearing.
“Please, call me Clark. Or coach if you’d rather. I help run Our Savior’s youth outreach. So, have you been a youth counselor before?” Clark asked.
“I was a camp counselor for the boy scouts, but that was quite a while ago.”
“You were a boy scout? Me too! Here in Chicago?”
“No, Iowa. Cedar Rapids?”
“Oh, sure, sure! Just up 380 from Iowa City! I was an assistant wrestling coach there in the early eighties. Worked for Dan Gable.”
“That must have been a little confusing.”
Clark laughed. “Only on the phone! I look as much like Dan Gable as I do Clark Gable the actor. I wrestled Dan a couple times in college. Seeing how as my name’s not Larry Owings I guess I don’t need to tell you who won?” Clark added with a grin.
John’s head tilt and raised left eyebrow elicited another laugh. “Dan Gable went undefeated in high school and had a 181 and 1 record as a Cyclone. Larry Owings was his only loss.
“I saw Dan last Labor Day weekend at his Gran Fondo bike ride. Nice how the man gives back. You ride?”
John blinked rapidly. “Bikes? I have a bike that I use but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about.”
“It’s a nice sport, especially for folks who spent their youth ravishing their bodies. And for kids who are team sport averse. We need to make an appointment so that we can talk more fully. How would you feel about starting as a volunteer? It could lead to a paid position?”
“I’d be happy to talk about it with you,” John replied, glancing at the floor.
“Oh, don’t look so glum! It’s just a way for me to get to know you and you to get a feel for the program. We need talented, driven young men. Give me your number and I’ll call you later this week.”
Turning from her relatives and looking down the long table Joni grabbed John’s arm and said, “That’s our little friend Imani with Tanya Tate, isn’t it?”
John looked in the direction his wife had nodded and found Imani sitting with a large, middle-aged woman in an electric blue skirt and matching jacket. “Down there with the gal in blue?” he asked. “Yeah, that’s Imani but I haven’t met the woman she’s with.”
“That’s Tanya Tate, one of mom’s church lady friends.” Leading John toward them she said, “We need to drop by.”
Tanya sat with three other mature women and three young ladies. Joni approached Tanya from behind, laid her hand on the woman’s shoulder and stooped down to kiss her right cheek. Tanya blinked rapidly in surprise, looked at Joni and scrunched her eyes tightly together before opening them wide and declaring, “And here’s Lottie’s little Joni now! We was wondering when you’d show. Where have you been? I am so sorry about your mama.”
“Thank you. We were just attending to some details and then introducing Father Chris to some of my relatives,” Joni replied, hitching her head back in the direction from which she’d just come.
“Those white people are your relatives? I like that big one who’s talking to Father Chris; he married?” Tanya asked.
Joni smiled. “That’s my cousin Greg and that woman next to him is his wife Monette. He’s kinda young for you anyway, isn’t he?”
“I like ‘em young! Keeps me spry.” Turning to John, Tanya extended her hand and said, “And you must be John. My Imani was just gushing on you. My name’s Tanya Tate. Pleasure to meet you.”
John smiled, shook hands and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. John Knopick. Pleasure to meet you, too. Imani was a big help to us this morning.”
“That’s good to hear. She is a sweet girl. A little headstrong at times but she’s at that age. Have you met the other ladies?”
Tanya introduced Deidra, Charlotte and then tapped the hand of the youngest of the four church ladies. “This here’s Bernadette, she’s the baby around here.”
“Bernadette?” John asked. “As in Bernadette Peters?”
“Who?” Bernadette declared. “Oh! That itty-bitty girl with all that hair from those old Mel Brooks movies? No. From the song by the Four Tops.” Dropping her voice to conspiratorial levels added, “And let’s not go into why my mother named me that; okay, sugar?”
John raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Could have been worse. Georgy Girl could have been playing.”
“Well, amen to that!” Bernadette said with a laugh. “This is my daughter Arronshay, Charlotte’s granddaughter Jada and of course you know Imani already.”
“Ladies,” John replied.
“So why haven’t we seen you around here, John?” Deidra asked. “Joni came to services quite a bit with her mother.”
“Ah! Well, two things. The first is that until yesterday I wasn’t living in Chicago, so that would make coming to church here awfully difficult. The other is that we’re Catholic so when I am here we tend to go to Queen of Apostles.”
“Queen of Apostles? That’s down near a hundred and forty-fourth Street, idn’t it?”
“You don’t really want to go there, do you?” Tanya asked. “When we’re so much closer. You need to give us a try.”
“What does you do, Mr. John?” Arronshay asked.
“Please, call me John. And that’s a great question. I’m going to have to hit the bricks and find me something. Do you know anybody that’s hiring?”
“I don’t, but there’s jobs if you not too picky,” Arronshay replied, “and don’t mind working for minimum.”
“Well, I don’t know that I don’t mind, but at this point I’ll take what I can get. I was hoping to work with kids, you know, like in an after-school program or as a teacher’s aide or something.”
“Wait. For real?” Charlotte asked. “Hang on a minute. We need to introduce you to Clark Gable.”
Amber McConnell, Bilhah, Dave Knopick, Father Chris Cusick, Fordham University, Greg Courtney, Jacob Hagans, John Knopick, Joni Knopick, McGinley Center, Monette Courtney, Sean McConnell, Tom Courtney
The all-purpose room was abuzz with voices. Father Chris asked, “I’d love to introduce you all to the congregation?”
Sean smiled and replied, “I should probably get back to Amber and the kids, Father. Taking care of three children under the age of five in a new environment can be taxing. Very nice service, by the way.”
“Well thank you. MS Lottie deserves whatever we can send her way. A very open, loving and accepting woman, wasn’t she?”
Sean narrowed his eyes, smiled, nodded and said, “That she was. Thanks again,” and then returned to the table where his family and Deb sat.
“I think I’ll go check on my wife,” Dave declared, extending his hand to the priest. “I’m sure we’ll find you before we leave.”
“Please do,” Chris replied, shaking hands. “Well, ladies, John, I think that just leaves the five of us. Shall we?”
“Great,” Bilhah replied. “Should we gather up our husbands?”
“Great idea,” Chris said nodding. “Looks like they’re right over there.”
‘Right over there’ was a spot closest to the street exit that was crowded with white faces. It has oft been observed that houses of worship are still the most segregated of public areas in The United States. Just as the mourners had divided by color lines in the church they again assumed highly segregated placement in the all-purpose room. As the group converged on the table Jake caught Chris’ eye and, assuming a big grin, stood and extended his hand. “Father Chris! That was a fine service. Sorry that I wasn’t quite up to the task. I was just telling these folks about your former military experience. We’re all pretty intrigued.”
Chris shook hands, declaring, “Well, I don’t know what you told these folks but that was quite some time ago. And I fully understand about your eulogy. Emotions can be awfully powerful.”
Looking around the table he added, “Welcome, by the way. I’m Chris Cusick.”
A big, burly man stood and extended his hand. “Greg Courtney. Good to meet you father. I was Army myself. ROTC at Fordham. Class of 1989.”
Father Chris’ face lit up. “No! You are kidding me! I was Fordham eighty-four! Small world, isn’t it, Greg?”
Greg’s perfunctory handshake now progressed to his left-hand grasping Chris’ right elbow. “No shit!” Greg covered his mouth, laughed and said, “Sorry, Father. Just slipped. That’s amazing. I was with 4-82 FA Battalion; 3rd AD in Germany.”
“Germany, eh?” Chris asked, reciprocating Greg’s two handed pump. “You were at Hanau; right? I was second armored division with the 3-67th. I was in Germany for Reforger exercises in 87. Small world, indeed.”
“Desert Shield?” Greg asked.
“Not as Army. I transitioned to Navy as a chaplain candidate.”
“You’re kidding. Catholic?” Greg asked.
“Well, I was,” Chris replied, releasing the other man’s hands. “My folks are. I mean, Fordham; right? So, you from New York?”
“Connecticut. I got an uncle who was head of security at Fordham for years. Tom Courtney? Know him?”
Chris knit his brow together and said, “Doesn’t ring a bell. Connecticut, eh? I was Bronx. Subway commuter.”
“Lucky you! Yeah, first semester I’m there there was trouble in one of the commuter lots. Rear windows getting smashed. I car pooled with a buddy and his was one of the cars who got vandalized. Right around the same time that the big window at the McGinley Center got shattered during a mixer?”
Chris shrugged. “After my time. I was probably up to my neck keeping the world safe from the Soviets around then.”
“Yeah!” Greg agreed with a laugh. “Simpler times, huh?”
“In many ways.”
“You don’t talk like you’re from the Bronx.”
“You talkin’ ta me?” Chris relied in a thick Guido accent. Returning to Midwestern standard dialect he added, “My mother was from Chicago. Any time I said quarter, dollar, coffee, dog- any of the words that sound especially New Yorkish? She would correct my pronunciation so now I have more of a global accent.”
Chris smiled and nodded. “Yeah? I’d peg you for a Midwesterner. You got a minute? Why don’t you sit for a minute?”
“Certainly,” Chris answered. “That sounds great. But not too long, I have an obligation to circulate.”
“Speaking of which,” Joni interjected, “I think I’ll go make the rounds. We’ll be back in a bit.
“Uncle, Greg? Aunt Monette?” she continued. “Thank you so much for coming. It means the world to us.”
“Pssh,” Greg responded. “Don’t even mention it, it’s nice to come to Chicago and family is family; right?”
“Amen to that,” Joni said with a smile. “We’ll be back.”
John, Dave and Sean each grabbed one of the larger, heavier, potted plants and carried it out of Shekinah Chapel. “So,” Dave asked, “out to the car?”
“No,” John said. “Joni thought we should just move the heavy stuff up here to the entryway. That way everything we want to keep is out of the chapel but we can figure out who wants what before anybody starts taking any particular plants.”
“Well that seems a little silly; don’t you think?” Sean asked. “Moving them twice? Leaving them here in the hallway where somebody might take them?”
“’Might take them?’” John replied. “You’re really worried about somebody stealing funeral flowers in a church?”
“Well, no,” Sean said, shrugging and coloring lightly, “but with them just sitting up here folks might think that’s why they’re here; right? To be taken by anyone who wants them?”
“I doubt it, but I guess it could happen,” John replied, laying his large, white lily on the floor and wiggling it against the wall. “In any case, let’s get them out of the chapel as we were told.”
“It probably is best to let everyone pick and choose from the flowers,” Dave said, placing his burden next to John’s. “That way we can avoid hurt feelings. My cousin Barbara had horror stories about when her parents passed. Sisters taking things that were important to them without asking if anybody else wanted stuff. Not taking turns or communicating. Just a horrible mess. I really think everybody having a say as to who gets what is the best way to go. When my folks died that’s what we did and it was way better in the long run. Broken fences take a long time to mend.”
Sean sighed, shook his head and mumbled, “Whatever,” and then in a louder tone added, “let’s just get this done, okay?”
From behind them Father Chris’ voice queried, “Get what done? It seems like half of MS Lottie’s family is missing. What are you doing? Emptying the flowers from the chapel? Don’t you think that can wait?”
“Well, no?” John asked. “I mean, I thought Joni said that Michelle told her we needed to move them?”
“Yes, she did,” Chris said nodding slowly. “But there must have been a miscommunication. There’s no rush. And I know for certain that folks are looking for you and your family. Do you think this could wait until after?”
“Uhm, sure?” John said hesitantly. “If it’s not a problem leaving them in the chapel for a while.”
“Not a problem what-so-ever. Let’s go round up the Hagans, shall we?” Chris said, placings his hand on John’s back and gently herding him toward the chapel.
“Joni, what in the name of thunder are you doing?” Chris called down from the top of the aisle. Continuing toward the front of the church he added, “These flowers can wait, child. We need your presence; won’t you please put this on hold and come join us in the all-purpose room?”
“Father?” Joni asked.
“Yes, I know, I know. Seems that Michelle must not have communicated well; I’m terribly sorry. These flowers can absolutely wait. But we need you and your family now,” he added, holding his hand out to her. “Please?”
Joni’s head swiveled left, then right and then she shrugged. “Sure,” she said, shaking her head minutely, exhaling hard and taking the priest’s hand. “That sounds great, Chris. Let’s go honor Mom.”
Joni’s head swiveled toward her husband, toward Ashley and then back to John. “John! What is it?” she asked, stepping quickly toward him. “Are you alright?”
John smiled, sniffed and blinked back tears. “Yeah. Sorry. It’s from Buttercup’s family. You know, the folks I mentioned yesterday? When we got home from South Side? I said that I’d met a nice family on the bus and that it had been nice spending time with them and how the mom, Tamika, seemed like she wanted to adopt me even though I think she’s younger than I am?”
Joni looked at her husband, eyes narrowed, and mutely waited for him to continue.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, holding out the card. “The mums are from them. They’re down in Tennessee; how do you think they found out about Lottie’s funeral?”
Joni took the card, tilted her head diagonally and looked at her husband out of the corner of her eye and asked, “Did you mention that that was why you were coming to Chicago? Because if they had your name and Googled you you would pop up in the obituary and that would tell them where the funeral was and all. And as we both know there aren’t a lot of John Knopicks in the world.”
“Yeah. We sure know that,” he said chewing on his lower left lip. “And yes, that makes sense. We exchanged phone numbers too, so she even has my name spelled right. That was so nice of them; wasn’t it?”
Ashley stood poised at a distance, seemingly unsure if she should go to John and Joni and offer aid or if it was better to not interfere with husband and wife. Joni winked at Ashley to let her know everything was fine, quickly scanned the card and then held it out to John. “Extremely thoughtful. You must have made an impression. You sure she wanted to adopt you?” Joni asked with a quick triple eyebrow raise.
John laughed and shook his head. “Just stop! Happily married woman with three great kids and a husband who looked like he could tear me apart with his bare hands. This is really great,” he added, taking the card back from Joni.
“What’s the quote about casting your loaves upon the water?” she asked. “You’ve always been really good about that.”
“Oh, gosh! I don’t know. It’s long and it’s lovely and it’s bread upon the waters and it’s Ecclesiastes but I don’t have a quote. We could look it up?”
“No need, just thought you might know. You should text her to let her know that we got the flowers. We can write a formal thank you later.”
“Hmm. Not a bad idea except I don’t have my phone with me and I don’t know her address, though there probably aren’t a lot of Tamika Washingtons in Jackson, Tennessee.”
“No phone? John! You should carry that with you!”
“Why? Everybody I want to talk to today is right here and every time I use that phone it costs me money that I don’t have.”
“Money you didn’t have. We’re together now, we’ll be doing much better. You’ve got a lot of bad habits to break concerning communicating with people. Stop, stop, stop!” she said, cutting off his response. “We can ‘discuss’ this in greater detail later. Why don’t you and Dave and Sean get those big potted plants up to the door; okay?”
“Yes, kemo sabe, your wish is my command. Wait. That’s a mixed metaphor, isn’t it? And it makes me Tonto. Rather foolish of me, don’t you think?”
“Just go!” Joni cried, pointing toward the exit and shaking her head at him.