It is the Saturday morning following the opening night of a Whitaker Family Reunion and the family is shuffling in for breakfast at our typical disjointed pace. I am among the many who arrive well past the appointed meeting hour, but certainly not the last.
As our brood trickles in, what catches my attention is that my niece, Debby, who – while most of us are barely combed and just one step out of our pajamas – is coifed, bejeweled and dressed as if she’s headed off to assume the lead role in a television show immediately following the meal – is nose-to-nose with a young woman I don’t recognize.
Now, our family is huge (some would say ridiculously huge) and it was a long night last night, so I silently run a PowerPoint presentation in my head searching for any kind of recall as to who this lovely young person might be. One of my nephew’s girlfriends? Somebody’s college roommate? A pal of one of Debby’s daughter’s? Nothing.
While frantically searching for coffee, I glance again over at my niece and see that she is now holding both of this woman’s hands with one of hers, while the woman holds back tears. Debby’s other hand is pointing straight in this woman’s face as she whispers something “1, 2, 3…” I can’t hear what she is saying but the young woman is taking in every word and nodding her head in agreement.
“OKAY!” Debby says loud enough for us to hear. “GO! I’ll be right here!” and the woman scampers away.
“You are not going to believe that sad story,” Debby turns back to the table and begins in her mile-a-minute banter, before I, or any of the others who have now increased our table size can even say a word, “that’s Bonnie, our waitress. She is in a horrible relationship. Her boyfriend treats her like crap and she is so lonely and having such a hard time. She can’t make enough money at this restaurant to go back to college and she’s super smart……”
“Wait, Deb, when did you meet her?” one of us is able to interrupt, amidst a few whispers of “Waitress….did I hear waitress?”
“Oh, she sat me at the table when I got down her this morning and we just started talking.”
See, that’s the way it is with my niece, Debby. Five seconds in, and her smile – no, her simply overpowering magnetic essence – will pull you in. Will pull anyone in. It could be the craziest person in the most desolate backwater gas station in the middle of nowhere, but when Debby steps out of a car in beautiful – and yet totally inappropriate – high heeled sandals to pump gas, men, boys and even some critters will come running from miles to do the job for her.
I truly believe that Debby never fully realized the power and the gift of this rare intrinsic magnetism.
That magnetism combined, of course, with her infectious giggle and her stunning, soulful eyes made her the life of every party she ever attended. And, let’s face it, wherever Debby went, there was a party.
That magnetism – combined with her incredible intelligence and keen insight – also made her a highly sought-after employee at some of the largest and most successful Fortune 500 and 100 business organizations. Multinational telecommunications companies so valued the way she could connect with people and organizations, in fact, they chose my niece, Debby to represent them in countries all over the world for many years.
Five minutes later, we hear cheers and clapping coming from the restaurant kitchen and this can only mean two things. (1) Bonnie has broken up with the horrible boyfriend and (2) the Whitaker family has no chance of getting coffee anytime soon.
Bonnie rushes from the kitchen to hug Debby just as Debby’s three adult daughters join our ever-widening group. Hugs all around. Deb’s kids are not at all surprised by the addition of Bonnie to our lives. It’s what Mom does. What is surprising is that despite the numerous empty seats available all along the collection of tables we’ve strung together for this now coffee-less breakfast, Debby’s daughters would prefer to pull up chairs from OTHER tables and just huddle loosely around their mother. I never thought much about that until this week, but now I can’t get that image out of my mind. Oh, they would argue and snap at each other, don’t get me wrong. But, those chairs sitting around the periphery of their mother says so much about them….about her. About my niece, Debby.
My family will say our final goodbyes to Debby today and, for a woman who had so many words in her all too brief life, there are simply no words today. Debby fell down a flight of stairs last Saturday and suffered a herniated brain stem, from which there was no recovery. In the blink of an eye, this smart, kind, generous and beautiful wife, mother, niece, aunt, friend and so much more is gone.
Breakfast and coffee finally do arrive and decisions are made as to how we will spend the rest of the day. A trip to the local zoo is chosen because of we have lots of little ones in the group.
A voice calls after the two who are dispatched to buy the tickets, “Buy an extra one! Bonnie is off duty in ten minutes and is going to join us!”
Yup, that’s my niece, Debby.