“Everything comes at once.” My sister Emily bustles about the kitchen, clattering plates, banging pots, clearly angry. “Why?”
There’s no answer to this question as no one could have predicted three deaths in the same week, three funerals the following week, and all the wakes at Emily’s house.
Emily hands me a cutting board. “Dice the potatoes. We’ll make enough potato salad for the whole week.”
“Won’t some people be at all the wakes? Not want potato salad at every meal?”
“We don’t have time to prepare different menus. They can take potato salad once and something else the next.”
I dice potatoes, mince hard boiled eggs, chop green onions.
“What bowl should I use?” We’re running out.
“Go next door and ask Joy if we can borrow some bowls. While you’re there, ask if she can spare some room in her fridge.”
Glad to escape the kitchen, I knock on Joy’s door.
“Hi, hon, how’s it going over there?”
Joy raises her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Okay. It’s not okay. It’s nuts. Emily’s going to have a breakdown if this doesn’t end soon. I’m here for bowls and to ask for room in your fridge.”
Joy digs in her cupboards and offers me some bowls.
I shake my head. “They’ll need to be bigger. Emily thinks we’ll have at least twenty for the first funeral, thirty for the second, and maybe another twenty to thirty for the third.”
Joy puts away her offerings, goes to the basement, and calls up the stairs. “I think I’ve got some big bowls somewhere. Why don’t you pour yourself some coffee while I look?”
I pour a cup and sit in her dinette, listening to noises wafting up from the basement: boxes being moved, cupboards being opened. Outside the window, a robin, harbinger of spring, feeds at Joy’s bird table. He darts, pecks, darts some more. A lot like humans. Dash here, do something, dash there.
Always so much motion. Until you’re dead, like our ancient relatives. Now, they’re still, forever. We didn’t know them well because we didn’t see them often, but Emily’s house is built to hold people, so she’s often the choice for wakes. She’s over in her house, her mind going a mile a minute, thinking of hundreds of details, and writing a dozen lists.
Joy comes back upstairs with two bowls. Better than none.
“You can use the fridge in my garage. There’s room in there,” she says.
Back at Emily’s, my sister’s moving faster than ever.
“Emily, slow down.”
“No time.” She sees the bowls. “Great. Label them ‘Joy’ on the bottom so we know they’re hers and we’ll put the potato salad in one and the pasta salad in the other.”
“Why do we do this? The dead people don’t care. We should simplify.”
“Everyone expects to eat.”
“What you mean is ‘everyone’ expects the same things we serve at every wake. We should give it up. Or make it potluck. Or tell these people: You want all this, you make it. You clean your house. You have all the guests. Honestly, Emily, you let people take advantage of you.”
“They can’t do all this.”
“Some of them can’t. But most of them don’t want to. Too much work. They’re right.”
“I like to do this for our family.”
So she says, but she’s angry, stressed, and suffers from high blood pressure already. Then it hits me. Less would be better, but Emily doesn’t want less. She wants to be needed, to know that she’s done something that pleases our relatives, something no one else will do.