After a respectable passage of time, the Turkey crowd ribs John into dating again. They suggest a few possibilities at work, but John is not all that keen. His office mate, Dilish Adhikari, catches John tilting back in his chair to watch me walking down the hall.
“Oh, you like Sunita, do you?”
“Well, yes, but she is too young for me.”
“No, she is not!”
“How do you know? You are not supposed to know this kind of personal stuff?”
“Ben interviewed her, and he told me.”
There is a knock on my door. John Lodwig was there with a hand raised to say something.
“A quick question.”
“Okay,” I respond.
“You seem to be quite familiar with the Chicago theatre.”
A hesitant nod from me.
“My two children are rather lacking in social skills. They think overpowering their opponents in Judo is enough. I need to expose them to some culture. Any recommendations?”
“Well, A Christmas Carol is running at the Goodman Theatre. You could take them to see it.”
And he turns to leave. Halfway out the door, he halts and turns around.
“Pardon my rudeness. Would you like to join us to see the play?”
Dating at work is a no-no in my book. But with kids around, it’s not a date, is it?
I say, “Okay, thanks.”
“Great! I will get the tickets.”
The twins, Jason and Kelly, and I get introduced on the drive into Chicago. They are both in high school, although they only talk about their new kitten. Brian saw the litter being born in a barn, and the farmer would not let him it until it was a few weeks old. The kitten is still a rookie, with quite a rebellious attitude. Brian has named him Toot; his paws are white as cocaine – go figure.
Seated in the theater, I find myself next to Jason. Christmas Present is on the stage. Scrooge’s nephew and friends are merry-making. I spot Scrooge in his night-shirt, standing a little off-stage. He is clapping and dancing away to the music. I nudge Jason to watch Scrooge and he rewards me with a grin. A cute grin, with cheeks filled with nuts. The kids are hungry at intermission time, so we step out into the lobby. Kelly is all smiles and gushing over the cast and the sets. Jason is deciding what he wants to eat.
Post-play, dinner is at an Indian restaurant. John does the ordering, showing off his knowledge of Indian cuisine. And he asks the server to make it hot. I shake my head and Kelly interjects.
“How much spicy food Dad can eat will surprise you.”
“Spicy is one thing, but hot?”
Kelly’s response is a vigorous nod.
As we are waiting for dinner to arrive, the talk again turns to Toot. He had messed up the white rug in the dining room, and John had tried to rub his nose in the cleaned-up spot. The kitten wriggled out of his grasp and peed on the rug, giving John a defiant stare like, “I’ll show you.”
“Oh, so that’s what you have to say. I’ll show you too!”
With that, John grabbed the kitty by its scruff and, opening the front door, tossing him out in the deep snow. Jason and Kelly watch with wide-eyed horror as Kelly screamed. Jason rushed out through the kitchen and around the back of the house. He retrieved the poor freezing furball and snuck him down into the basement. A week passed before a scared little kitten dared to escape from the basement.
Dinner arrives. I am surprised by how much everyone relishes Indian food.
A Christmas party at their home is coming but I hesitate to go. John has a lot of friends I do not know. Not wanting to be among strangers, I fear what conclusions or office gossip it could generate. A last-minute call, and apologies take care of it.
I am invited again to catch a movie or two on rented CDs. The kids have a membership at Blockbuster. There are tons of leftovers from the overcrowded party, and the kids have not tidied up the basement yet. So, a tour is deferred.
It’s a surprise to John I have had my home built and have moved into it recently. He wants to see it and help design and finish the basement. I have learned one of his hobbies is working on basements. End-to-end projects are his favorites. From designing the layout, with a laundry area, workshop, storage, a fancy rec-area, and a wet bar, he loves to do it all. Everything is included, the insulating, waterproofing, plumbing, electrical work, flooring, paneling, and ceiling.
Jason and Kelly are eager for me to watch the videos. We lounge on the shag carpeting, bolstered by huge pillows. A few videos, including a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It entitled Eat It, are funny. It is not as funny as Eddie Murphy’s Ice-cream. We watch these a few times with lots of backtracking and laughter.
I am invited back a few more times. I meet Charlie, the ninety-pound Shepherd-Huskie mix, and Toot snuggles up to me. John and I watch two old Hollywood movies, Gunga Din and The Charge of the Light Brigade. They set both in India and John finds them fascinating, especially the Kali worshippers in Gunga Din. Me, not so much. They used Indians as a backdrop. John asks me how much of what they portrayed is real and how much is fantasy. I describe the Kali worshippers as a cult of thieves and murderers under the cover of religion. They were most active in the mid-to-late 1800s. In fact, one of Daddy’s cousins fell victim to them. Quite akin to the super-religious Mafia.
Kelly showed me her notebook, where she had poured out her anguish when Rita was rushed to the hospital. With the sick feeling in the pit of her tummy, she knew Mom was not coming back. The agony and heartbreak come through in her words and I am reduced to tears.
I invite them all to a home-cooked Indian meal at my house. Kelly loves the chicken curry, pronouncing it “To die for, Jas!” to the hesitant Jason. Kelly wants to see my Indian outfits. Trying on a couple of gold-threaded lehngas and cholis (long skirts and blouses), I help her arrange the veils Indian-style. Shimming and sashaying, Kelly dances down the stairs, side-to-side, in full modeling style. The gossamer veil billows behind her like a cloud. John and Jason stare at her transformation into a shimmering Indian princess, dumbfounded.
A couple of weeks later, John comes over again. He wants me to know all about him, the good and bad. He tells me from as far as he can remember until today. It includes the disturbing parts of Rita’s sister bringing trumped-up charges against him. I am not surprised. Sibling rivalries and settling old scores run deep in most families. Mine is no exception.
A proposal on one knee follows a few days later. I am unsure how to respond – part of me wants to say “yes,” but I need to run it past Mummy and Sudhir. They need to meet John for me to see how they feel. Daddy is in India on a WHO (World Health Organization) assignment.
Mummy, suspicious as ever, dispatches Sudhir to Naperville. His orders are to check out this guy I am fooling around with. Sudhir arrives and meets John. We all go out for pizza. The conversation is light and breezy. Smiling, almost snickering, Sudhir informs John of his assigned mission. John has a good laugh but insists Sudhir call Mummy as soon as we return home. And Sudhir does.
“Mummy, there is nothing to check out here–they have already fixed their wedding date. It’s Baisakhi day.”
Baisakhi is springtime in India. In the north, oceans of mustard flowers, wave upon wave, stretch all around to the horizon in hues of gold and yellow. It is also the beginning of the new year. Baisakhi follows the solar calendar and is always on the thirteenth of April. This year it is a Friday as well. So long as we have Mummy’s blessings, it does not bother us.
Mummy informs Daddy. John and I call Daddy as well. That conversation is etched in my psyche forever. The sparkling joy, love, and happiness ring in my ears whenever my thoughts turn that way. Daddy promises to return to Chicago at the end of his assignment, in time for the wedding. With Daddy’s blessings, the engagement is official.
We drive to Windsor for Mummy to meet with John–Jason and Kelly also come along. It thrills Mummy to meet John and the twins. Sudhir has reserved a table for a celebratory dinner at the highest structure in Detroit. A swift elevator zips us to the revolving restaurant atop GM’s Renaissance Center. Single long-stemmed roses, presented to Mummy, Kelly, and me as we entered, sets us up for a magical evening. Nice touch, Sudhir!
At the county office, we complete the paperwork for the marriage license. The clerk reviews our forms and comments on mine. “Not the twelve years you spent in school, dearie. Enter the number of years of education beyond high school.”
I look at her and nod. “Yes, it is twelve years after high school.” Surprised, she looks up at John, who is nodding in affirmation. With a few blinks and a chuckle, she quips, “Are you telling me she is smarter than you?”
Not to be outdone, John retorts. “Well, she is standing here beside me, signing these papers. Tell me again, who’s the smarter one?”
We set a budget for the wedding and shopped for a ring. John gets busy with announcements and enjoys many hand-shakes and back-slapping. At the next happy hour gathering, John grabs my finger and holds it high, flashing the diamond for all to see.
We decide on the Fishermen’s Inn for the wedding reception. The rustic elegance is what we want. Doug Sands asks about the ceremony. We are thinking of a Justice of the Peace. Being inter-religion and intercultural, Doug suggests the Unity Church, here in Naperville. Problem solved! John calls the Reverend Gibbons and sets up a meeting.
Dr. Gibbons wants to talk not only to us, but also to Jason and Kelly. We have a few sessions with her. She reviews the vows which we have written. And helps determine readings from the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and the Prophet. Kelly wants to do the readings from the Prophet. At one point, Dr. Gibbons suggests we re-review our vows. I don’t see the need for it, but we do. Oh! Oh! How did the word “obey” creep into my vows? I look up at Dr. Gibbons. Her raised eyebrows and a lurking smile make me glance at John and his wicked grin.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t catch it!”
New outfits for the kids are in order. Brian opts for a pair of expensive shoes for himself, and a new dress for his latest girlfriend, the beautiful Sharon. Kelly and John helped me select a simple but elegant St. John dress and heeled sandals. John wants me to wear my chain-mail gold necklace, ignoring Mildred’s advice to the contrary. We offer Mildred a new dress as a peace offering, which she is happy to accept.
Tuesday morning, my office phone rings. Sudhir is on the line.
“I have some very sad news for you. Daddy has died in India.”