By: Kiki Lowenstein, "star" of Joanna Campbell Slan's Kiki Lowenstein Mysteries
Pub. Date: Make, Take, Murder - Midnight Ink - May 2011
"They won't like me."
"Of course they will." My boyfriend, Detective Chad Detweiler, picked up my hand and kissed it. "Kiki, my sisters will love you. I know it."
I had my doubts. Especially about Patty, his younger sibling. Patty had been friends with Detweiler's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Brenda. And Brenda staunchly refused to give Detweiler a divorce.
So here I was: Kiki Lowenstein, homewrecker, scarlet woman, and scrapbooker. (Which of these words doesn't belong?)
"Look, Thanksgiving at my parents' farm is a tradition. They invited you. It's their house. My sisters are cool with your coming." He was talking but like Shakira says, "The hips don't lie." There was a decided hitch in his body language.
"Whatever," I mumbled to myself. It wasn't like I had a choice. Sheila, who was the mother of my deceased husband George, and her fiance Police Chief Robbie Holmes were taking a cruise for Thanksgiving. My daughter Anya and I would be on our own. Anya had already met Detweiler's niece Emily, Ginny's daughter, and the two girls had a blast together on the Detweiler family farm. My kid couldn't wait for Thanksgiving. She already called Thelma and Louis Detweiler "Mimi and Pop"--with their blessing, I might add.
Yes, the only rotten turnip in the vegetable patch was moi. I had a hunch that Patty wasn't too keen on having me crash a family holiday. But what were my choices? Denny's and frozen dinners, I guessed.
"Please thank your parents for the invitation and ask your mother what I can bring," I said.
"Atta girl." Then he kissed me.
Two weeks later, Detweiler pulled up in front of my house in his police-issue Impala. "It's such a nice day. How about we take your Beemer and put the top down?" His long legs ate up the length of my driveway in nothing flat. I smiled at his enthusiasm. Here in St. Louis, the fall is especially beautiful, with colors of maroon, gold, red, and bronze that cause your heart to leap out of your chest.
"Sure," I said. That old BMW of mine had no book value at all, which is why I didn't sell it after my husband died. But you can't beat German engineering, and the convertible was fun to drive. Today was a perfect day for it with a brilliant blue sky, cotton ball clouds and the vibrant fall colors. "Come on, Anya," I called to my daughter. "Let's get a move on."
I stepped into the kitchen and grabbed the cooler I'd filled with my special bread stuffing and a dish of corn pudding, items I'd insisted on bringing even though Thelma Detweiler assured me, "We're a farm family. There will be enough food to feed a harvest crew! You don't need to bring a thing, hon."
I couldn't show up empty handed. That would be rude.
After putting my Great Dane, Gracie, in her large crate. I grabbed the cooler, locked my kitchen door, and headed for the car.
"Let me get that," said Detweiler.
But as he started toward me, I misjudged the last step down from my backdoor. My foot buckled under me. I threw my hands out to try to catch my fall. The cooler flew up and did a somersault, go around once, twice, and coming down in two pieces on the ground. The Pyrex dish with the corn pudding rolled along on its side, spreading the golden confection along the grass. The oblong baking dish with the stuffing flipped twice, end over end, until the rectangle of stuffing fell with a plop onto the gravel driveway.
"You okay?" Detweiler rushed to my side.
"Mom?" Anya raced to help me. "Are you hurt?"
I struggled to my feet and brushed myself off. "Yeah. I skinned my knee. No big deal. Look at the food! I'll show up empty-handed! I can't do that!"
"That won't matter a bit." Detweiler picked me up and carried me to the car. "As long as you are all right. But we do have to get going. I promise Mom we'd be there at 2."
The whole drive to Riverton, Illinois, I tried not to cry. I had these images, see, of everyone loving my corn pudding and stuffing. I figured I'd win Patty over with my culinary expertise. HA! Man plans and God laughs...at me. DRAT.
We pulled up, walked in, and were immediately greeted warmly by the older Detweilers. Emily and Anya ran off to the barn. I was introduced to Ginny, Chad Detweiler's oldest younger sister, and Patty, the baby of the family, and their husbands, Jeff and Paul, respectively. I didn't get all the grandkids' names.
Both the Detweiler daughters had their mother's pretty green eyes, and their father's high cheekbones. Ginny's hair was the sort of auburn women lust for, but hairdressers can never match--and her daughter Emily had the same lovely color of tresses. Patty was a dishwater brown with gold highlights. Both seemed nice enough, even if I felt like Patty was looking me over with a critical eye.
"What can I help you do?" I asked Thelma. Chad had told them about my calamity and the loss of my dishes. "Could you cut up some carrot sticks?" Mrs. Detweiler asked. I knew she was giving me busy work to make me feel at home. She's like that.
I started peeling and chopping while the Detweiler women darted in and out. Patty opened the oven door , leaned over the aluminum pan, and basted the turkey with its own juices. The smell of sage and onion set my mouth watering.
"You've been doing that all afternoon, Patty-cake," teased Ginny. "I think it's swimming in there."
Patty shrugged. Either she was naturally quiet, or my presence was as welcome as a ham sandwich at a seder.
After what seemed like forever, we sat down to eat. The kids had their own table. Louis said a blessing--and we went around the table saying what we were thankful for. But we didn't get very far. Patty was sitting two seats from her dad. She touched her neck and moaned. "My necklace! It's gone!"
She fumbled around inside her blouse. "It was my anniversary gift from Paul," she said as big tears formed in her eyes. "He bought it from Tiffany's. I was going to show all of you! That's what I was thankful for!"
We left our dishes and started crawling around on the floor, looking for the lost necklace. Louis and Paul went out to the Kressig's Mazda SUV and searched there. The kids kept eating while Patty retraced every step she'd made since arriving at the Detweiler farm. "I put it on in the car," she sniffled. "I wanted to show you, Mom. You know how much I liked those designs by Paloma Picasso? Paul never notices things like that, but he paid attention. And now it's gone!"
After about a half an hour, the grandchildren and Anya were all done eating. "Let's finish our meal," suggested Louis. "The necklace--wherever it is--isn't going anywhere and it's a shame to let all this food go to waste."
Without a doubt, that was the most subdued Thanksgiving dinner I've ever attended. People would bring up a subject, try to get our minds off of Patty's loss, and then conversation would sputter to a stop. I know that Patty didn't mean to put such a damper on everything. I could tell she was trying to chat and be merry, but I could also tell that necklace meant a lot to her. As we were clearing the table, Detweiler whispered to me, "Paul usually forgets their anniversary, so this was really a big effort on his part."
I helped carry the plates back to the kitchen. There wasn't much room on the counter because the turkey pan still sat there. Thelma had skimmed off a bit of the juices to make gravy, but transferred the carcass to a serving platter. She lifted the aluminum pan and carried the rest of the liquid toward the sink where she planned to dump it.
"Stop!" I yelled. "Wait a minute!"
I guided Thelma's hands, and we set the aluminum pan down on the kitchen table. "Hang on," I said, as I plunged my fingers into the mixture of oil, turkey bits and juices. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Patty roll her eyes. Ginny elbowed her, and Patty huffed. I guess Patty thought I was grandstanding because she glared at me. But the look on her face changed when I pulled up a length of gold chain and a dazzling ornament.
"My necklace! You found it!" she shrieked. Patty ran over and hugged me. "Thank you so much! How did you guess?"
I shrugged. "You must have dropped it when you were basting the bird."
Patty rinsed it carefully under the sink, and rubbed a little Dawn detergent into it, to degrease the chain. "Kiki? Would you help me put it back on?" She said, turning to me and holding it in her outstretched hands.
"With pleasure," I said. And I meant it.