One evening at dinner, Isaac made an announcement. “Cousin Reginald invited us to a jam tasting party.”
Marianne put down her spoon and made a face. “I think I’m busy that day. We all are.”
“But I haven’t told you what day it is.” Isaac looked confused.
Marianne rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter what day it is. Whenever it is, we’ll be too busy to go.”
“But I like jam.” Charlie smooshed a carrot into the side of his soup bowl with his spoon. “Strawberry, raspberry, grape, apple. I like all kinds of jam. Why don’t you want to go eat jam?”
“It’s all going to be terrible.” Marianne frowned. “You know it is. Cousin Reginald makes his own cologne that smells like raw onions, and he wanted actual shark teeth as dental implants. Everything he does is strange, so he’s probably making pickled pigs feet jam and moldy cheese jam and I don’t know what else. I’m not going to go.”
Charlie looked at Isaac. “Do you think Cousin Reginald is going to make gross jam?”
Isaac felt a little trapped. He knew that Cousin Reginald was still going through a bit of a rebellious phase. It started when he retired and was still going strong. But Cousin Reginald was kind and funny when he wasn’t insulting aliens and trying to start interstellar wars. Besides, he was family.
“Well, sometimes when you’re invited to a party, you go because you want to be polite,” Isaac said at last. “I don’t mean you have to go to every party of course, or that you have to go to parties where you won’t feel safe, or that parties aren’t ever fun, or that…”
Charlie rolled his eyes. “So you’re saying the jam will be awful. I get it.”
Marianne laughed. “It’ll probably taste worse than dirt.”
“Worse than worms and beetles smooshed together,” Charlie added.
“Worse than…” Marianne began.
“I’m eating dinner here,” Isaac reminded them. He sighed. “You don’t have to go. But, maybe you can help me make some jars of jam to take with me to the party as a show of support.”
“We can do that,” Marianne said. “So, what kinds of jam would you like? It can’t be too normal or he’ll be offended. I guess we could do onion jam and jalapeno jelly. Maybe that would be weird enough. Probably not, but I think it will look like we tried.”
“That would be great,” Isaac said gratefully. “I’d be glad to help out.”
“We should do pineapple jelly, too,” Charlie said. He started smooshing a potato.
“That sounds nice,” Isaac said.
“Too nice,” Marianne added.
Charlie looked up. “Oh, lots of people hate pineapple. It’s kind of weird.”
Marianne shrugged. “We’ll add it to the list.”
And so, on the day of Cousin Reginald’s jam tasting, Isaac left for the party with three jars of jam. Marianne and Charlie went to the bug museum with sketchbooks and colored pencils. “Don’t bring anything home,” Marianne said before they left. “Especially not any jam.”
The party was held in a graveyard. Cousin Reginald was setting jars out on paper plates when Isaac arrived. “Are we allowed to do this here?” Isaac looked around, and was relieved that no one was nearby.
“Someone in our family paid for this space. We may as well use it,” Cousin Reginald said. “Besides, I bet they miss parties. I’ve heard that Great-great grandma Rose loved jam too.”
“It could be true,” Cousin Reginald said. “After all, who doesn’t love jam? What did you bring?”
Isaac held out the first jar. “Onion jam…”
“And pineapple jelly.”
Cousin Reginald looked horrified and delighted at the same time. “Pineapple? Ghastly! Put it over there on Grandpa Edgar’s grave. I hear he liked terrible things like puns and crossword puzzles. It seems fitting.”
“So what kinds of jam did you bring?” Isaac asked.
“Why spoil the surprise?” Cousin Reginald smiled. “Isn’t the surprise half the fun?”
It was the strangest party Isaac had been to since that time he was lost in the woods after midnight and somehow ended up stuck in a hollow tree with a family of giant squirrels hosting a riddle tournament. Cousin Reginald’s friends either looked strange and acted normal, or looked normal and acted strange. The odd gray lumps of bread made Isaac nervous, and the jams…
Isaac was afraid to try the jams. He watched the party guests smear the jam on their gray bread with plastic spoons. Once they took a bite, they shrieked or gagged or cried or yelled loudly in strange languages or hissed…
Instead, Isaac wandered around, plate in one hand, spoon in the other, and tried to make conversation in a graveyard with people that were yelling or crying or hissing. He finally gave up and found Cousin Reginald. “So…” he began. He wasn’t sure what to say next.
“Isn’t this going great?” Reginald looked pleased. “I was worried that a jam tasting would be boring. I still can’t believe you brought pineapple jelly, though. I was a little worried that Clarence might have nightmares, so I warned him. He must have said something, because I notice that everyone else is steering clear of it.”
Isaac looked around. The jar of pineapple jelly was still completely full. He wondered what happened to the onion jam and jalapeno jelly. “What happens next?”
“In a half an hour we’ll clean up, and then we’ll take turns reading from the dictionary while the rest of the group sings nursery rhymes in minor keys. After that, it’s freestyle opera…” Cousin Reginald listed the program as he counted things off on his fingers.
“Um, that sounds great, but I don’t think I can stay that long.” How long was this party going to go? And what was freestyle opera, anyway?
“I understand. Jam just isn’t for everyone. It was brave of you to try. Did you want to take anything home for Marianne or Charlie?” Cousin Reginald looked around. “There was the jam with liver and grape koolaid and…”
Isaac shook his head. “I’d probably better not. Keep the pineapple jam. And the others too, if you still have them.” Cousin Reginald laughed.
When Isaac got home, Marianne and Charlie were waiting for him. “How was the jam tasting? Was it horrible?” Marianne asked.
“Did he like our jam?” Charlie asked at the same time.
Isaac told them all about it as he helped them fix dinner. He finished the story just as they finished cooking. He answered all their questions as they set the table.
“I’m glad you didn’t bring anything home,” Charlie said at last. “Especially not any jam.”