|Mrs Pinkle's entrance|
As guests arrived at Mary's sister's home (a converted church hall with original 50s kitchen, a stage masquerading as a lounging area and an open timber dance floor) we were offered fried polenta and home made tomato dipping sauce, aranchini balls with fresh mayonnaise and mediterranean eggplant and capsicum served warm, tapas style, on toasted sourdough. Then followed a smorgasbord of marinated swordfish, slow roasted leg of Tasmanian lamb, rocket and shaved pameson salad, a tri-coloured cherry tomato salad and side dishes - hand made pesto and salsa verde.
We were in for a night of gastronomy, stories and songs.
We ate and were just beginning to get post meal proceedings under way when we were interrupted by a knock at the side door. We all paused and an old woman dressed immaculately in a smoky green chiffon frock poked her head into the room and asked if this was the party for Mary. The MC , a little taken aback, informed her that this was a private function and that we'd just finished eating and were about to begin the entertainment. She replied that she didn't mind, though she said she hadn't eaten and proffered her invitation which she read to us -only then realising that she had misread the start time. She had indeed followed the invitation to a "T" (apart from missing the meal and pre-dinner drinks and nibbles and games of boule on the former tennis court) choosing to dress herself in reds and greens as requested.
The MC, being a warm and inclusive gent, engaged her in gentle banter while looking to Mary for guidance. Was this person in fact invited? Should we invite her to sit down?
At that point she introduced herself as Mrs Pinkle and Mary's response was immediate.
'Mrs Pinkle. Oh my God. I haven't seen Mrs Pinkle for forty years'
Ruth, Mary's older sister by two years, who she had stabbed with a 2B pencil in their Toowoomba garage as an act of revenge for her teasing that same many years ago, also jumped to her feet. Older sister Jenny sadly missed the reunion having left to pick up a friend from the airport fifteen minutes earlier. What unfortunate timing! Particularly so, since it turns out Jenny had never met Mrs Pinkle, only hearing of her from her sisters. Jenny always seemed to develop one of her migraines on Mrs Pinkle's rare visits.
Mrs Pinkle was rather shy amongst the large gathering but when invited, did not hesitate to choose a chair in the very centre of the gathering.
As the evening proceeded Mary's 88 year old father brought us to tears with his unaccompanied version of her childhood favourite "My Bonnie lies over the Ocean". There was a blues version of "Wild Thing" performed by a round bodied male friend of the family with the backing of a six piece group of classical choristers, none of whom knew the words - ' Just sing what ever you like, whenever' were Dave's detailed instructions. Two nephews sang a beautiful song titled "Mary" they'd sourced from their contemporary iTunes files. And there was a quiz.
Mrs Pinkle's hand shot up with every question. She was very well informed about the family and even knew that Mary's middle name was spelt Catherine and not Kathryn. She was less aware of Mary's ongoing compulsion to count up to her age before turning off the shower (which is having quite a significant effect on Mary's water bills now that she must count to fifty - luckily the need to shower numerous times each day is not, as yet, among her compulsions). Since this shower routine begun at the age of nine on a beach holiday at Caloundra it's understandable that Mrs Pinkle was unaware of this debilitating aspect of Mary's personality, especially given that she doesn't drive. She was, however, strangely alert to the pencil incident. All that aside, she was having a rollicking time, clapping and muttering excitedly at each thing which took her fancy.
Now came the time to sing Happy Birthday and move on to the mountains of home made cakes which a range of cooks (all women) had provided. The MC invited some of the choristers to lead us in singing the song but this idea was interrupted when Mrs Pinkle's pinkies fluttered above the heads of the assembled and quietly, almost inaudibly, mentioned that she too was musical and that she played the organ. Well, that's very interesting joked the MC but unfortunately not every birthday party is supplied with such an instrument so... ......In a twinkle Mrs Pinkle was up on her feet and headed to the western side of the room and there, to our amazement, she stood beside a grand piece of antique furniture masquerading as an organ.
Again it was Mary's birthday and Mary seemed quite keen on this turn of events. The crowd settled. There was a long moment of held breath - both Mrs Pinkle and the birthday goers - as she adjusted the chair, poked at the keys and looked dismayed when there was no sound.
'You've got to pump the pedals Mrs Pinkle' Mary reminded her.
'Oh yes. I'd forgotten.' came the muffled reply.
With a further settling, a straight back and a final adjustment of her hat, Mrs Pinkle approached the key board. The multitude again held their breath, and then, moments before we collectively burst our lungs, small pumping legs and gentle fingers coaxed sound from the instrument. The notes came. The tempo was slow. The room joined in. I tell you it was magnificent. The singing hung sweetly in the air and Mrs Pinkle led us all in the most moving rendition of that hackneyed old birthday song.
'H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y D E A R M A A R Y. H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y T O Y O U.'
And then Mrs Pinkle was gone.
'Ooh, is it that late? It's well beyond my bedtime.'
Poor Jenny. After forty years Mrs Pinkle had returned to knock on the door and join the family as she had many times in those long ago years. And again Jenny missed meeting her.
Bloody airport scheduling. Unbelievable.