Life with Sister: Tales from the Great Texas Blizzard & Blackout of ’21 – Part 5

When last we met, Sister (the ex-nun) and sister (my actual sibling) had finally crossed paths. Sibling sister had arrived for her first visit in Texas with her favorite brother while International woman of mystery Sister was rounding out her fourth day in the Lone Star State. The initial meeting seemed to go well. And now it was time for the nun to take a temporary leave. You know, kind of like she’s doing with convent.

Friday February 12, 2011

I let my sister sleep in today, figuring that she had a long, late-night flight and that she’s a grown-ass woman and she can set her own sleep schedule. Sister and I made our way to the oratory for mass. As soon as mass was over, Sister said goodbye. In addition to her trip to Texas, Sister had arranged to attend a conference in nearby Kansas. True, Kansas is not exactly the most proximate state to Texas. Still, finding herself only 450 miles from a conference like this one, Sister could not turn up the opportunity. She had rented a car and would drive north for the weekend, returning to us on Sunday to round out her vacation. Her plan was to spend one final overnight with us and fly home on Monday the 15th. Oh, I almost forgot. The conference which she could not miss? It was a two day seminar entitled: “Cold Wind A-blowin’: Energy Reliability and Variable Rates in the Age of Monolithic Windmills”. Sister has long been known among her closest friends as an amateur energy industry buff and a huge fan of medieval Dutch power supplies. As she sat down in the driver seat of her car, I waved goodbye. “Fare well, Sister,” I said. “God be with you!” Sister froze. She had barely put her finger on the push-button starter. She looked up at me with a mix of indignation and fear. Pointing toward the sky with her right index ringer and to herself with her left thumb, she said, “He. Always. Is.” Sister also has the most disarming smile. It seems to say at one and the same time, “I’ve been told I should pray for your soul and yet you bore me.” This smile was on full display as she slammed her door, backed out of the driveway, and sped off. From her car as it rolled quickly out of sight one could hear the faint sounds of Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life.

I returned to the house to find my sister had woken up. She was in the kitchen, sipping her coffee. Assuming she might want more than coffee, I asked her what she’d like. “I’d like my husband back,” she said. We’re cut from the same cloth, she and I. I knew this statement of hers, though completely true, was also meant to invoke laughter. And so we laughed. “Seriously lady, tell me where you want to go and we’ll go there.” My sister is one of those guests who says that she’ll be truly happy doing whatever and literally means it. So off to the JFK 6th Floor School Book Depository Museum and Commemorative Gun Range we went. As we drove downtown I wondered if any of the displays would have changed since I last visited two days ago. Then I remembered that the entire museum has remained exactly the same the entire time I’ve lived here.

This tour of the museum, as you might have imagined, was a fairly “normal” one. Again, though, the sky looked very ominous. From the sixth floor of the Book Depository Building, the south side of the building, one has the privilege of gazing through very large windows with an almost unobstructed view of the plaza below and, since Texas is flat, of everything clear to the Gulf. Something just wasn’t right about this sky. We left the museum after about an hour. I asked my sister if she wanted to explore downtown Dallas. It was now about 35 degrees. She preferred the warmth of a car ride home where we could watch a movie or have a drink. Just prior to leaving the museum I received a text from my wife. It said (essentially):

“OMG OMG OMG. Son just threw up all over bathroom. I literally cannot deal with this. Leaving for you. Please stop for Chlorox wipes on your way. And get yourself something pretty.”

This was followed with:

“No, I mean it’s everywhere. I tried to clean it and then I got sick. Sorry, you’ll have to clean it all.”

God has blessed me with an iron stomach in these situations. After stopping for bleach wipes (and bridge mix), I entered my casa. I told my sister and my children to avoid the area around the bathroom door. I, for once, donned a face mask (for the smell was wretched), I opened a door that may as well have had yellow caution tape on it… and I stepped in to a horror show. I closed the door behind me and set to work. Within 20 minutes I had accomplished my job. As a reward, I was allowed to eat dinner this night. And that’s what we did. We ordered take-out, watched a movie, and rested.

Saturday February 13, 2021

This morning the weather outside was neither frightful nor delightful but a basic understanding of bipolar disorder and Texas climate can help to understand what I mean. I am in the habit of going to daily mass. I learned this from my dad who went literally almost every single day of his life. In the four years since his death I have been blessed to grasp more and more just what he was trying to teach me. Fortunately I live in a place where I can go to mass every day without much difficulty. Being locked out of the sacraments for a time this past year (thank you, pandemic), I definitely took note of the need to go whenever I can. And I determined that I can go whenever God gives me the grace AND I will to go. That being said, Saturdays are the worst. Every other day of the week my parish offers a mass in the noon hour or later. On Saturday, the only mass is at 9AM. I struggle since this is the one day of the week I feel that it’s OK to sleep in a little, and that says a lot since I’m a homeschooling dad. But struggle I do. Last night I asked my guardian angel to push me out of bed in time to get to mass. In fact, I asked him to do it a bit earlier since a friend had invited me to a men’s prayer/study group at 7:30. Guardian Angel tapped me on the shoulder at 5:45. I love him, truly I do.

At 7 I stepped out of my house to discover the black ice from a few days earlier had returned. It was now in the 20’s and the air was bitter. I started out for the prayer group, made it a mile, turned around, and gave up on both that meeting and mass. A note on that prayer group. I have lived in the same house and neighborhood for close to a decade. For most of that time, unbeknownst to me, many of the men I have considered to be friends have all been meeting at this prayer group monthly. The man who hosts is someone I have only recently met. About a year and a half ago, another friend moved to town. He quickly became friends with all the same people. He started going to these group meetings and eventually asked me why I was never there. It’s hard to go to something you didn’t even know was taking place. Pity party aside, I do not now feel the obligation to attend something I’ve been left out of for years. So there, I win (said with burning interior self-loathing). Look, no one ever said that comedy doesn’t come from a dark, dark place. My mind? Let’s say I haven’t paid the electric bill for years.

Having opted out of my spiritual exercises for the morning, I prepared breakfast for my sister and my wife and our kids. Then my wife, sister, and I went out to do a little grocery shopping. By now, the forecast – usually completely unreliable – was as tight as my daughter’s wallet. The girl knows how to save a dime. In fact, every forecaster was predicting the same thing to where the 9 inches of snow the following day really seemed believable, despite this being Dallas. Don’t get me wrong. Texas, being enormous beyond belief – shut up, Alaska – has plenty of places that get significant snowfall each year. I’m thinking of the Panhandle and just about anywhere within a few miles of the Red River. But Dallas? No. That’s a usual NO. This? This was different. Snow was coming. My wife still insisted that it would come but not be as much as they were saying. I wasn’t sure but I know this much. Texas with even a trace of snow is bad. Roads would become impassable almost immediately. And although no one wanted to think about it, there was a possibility that power lines might freeze and come down. My sister made the decision, much to our dismay, that she should cut her trip short and fly out Sunday morning. The snow was predicted to start around 3PM on Sunday. This could only mean one thing. We should maximize our last day together.

So we hit the liquor store after stocking up on groceries. Texans are funny in that they don’t know to clean out the supermarkets of bread, milk, and eggs when snow is coming like us Yankees do. That being said, I could not find a single tortilla at the Kroger. After afternoon cocktails and a movie at home we made a decision that would change our lives forever. We decided to hit the bingo hall.

The first thing to know is that my sister has an affinity for pari-mutual games of chance. Chinese auctions, scratch-off lottery tickets, you name it. There is a bingo hall not far from our house. We’re talking an honest-to-goodness, step-back-in-time, smoke-filled bingo hall. Who doesn’t like to trash things up once in a while? And besides, it could be fun and we might even win some cash! We were under several misguided opinions as we entered the doors. First, we thought they sold beer and wine in this place. They don’t. Second, we thought it would be relaxing. It wasn’t. We immediately walked past six tables where every seat was taken by women and men who had died many years prior and were now simply zombies with dabbers in their hands. On the tables spread out before the undead were many multi-colored sheets with jumbled numbers from 1-75 printed on them. Surrounding these sheets were ashtrays with burning Misty lights, Marlboro Menthols, and unfiltered Camels. Protecting each ashtray and each sheet were multiple good luck talismans ranging from troll dolls to more troll dolls. Necks did not move. They simple stayed craned over the sheets while arms mechanically raced at a speed that did not belong with the bodies attached to those limbs, the hands rapidly dotting out numbers almost before they were called.

What can I say?

To say I was frightened, despite all the death I’ve seen in my life, is an understatement.

“Come on, sis’,” I said. “Let’s figure out how to join this freak show and then get the hell out of here.”

My wife, my sister, and I tiptoed to the back of the hall like a trio of Bob Fosse dancers, lithe and easy. When we reached the counter, my wife noticed a sign that said:

If your birthday falls in the month of Feb. your boards only cost 1¢

Buying bingo cards is hard, yo. I am convinced they use some kind of black magic in order to confuse the hell out of everyone standing at that counter. Either that or I just can’t do maths. Regardless, we asked the following questions .

“What’s the deal with the birthday special?” and,

“What’s the deal with the electronic boards?”

To these questions we got the following responses.

“Is any of y’alls birthday this month? The month of February? Then your board costs a penny. And I’ll spot y’all the penny,” and,

“The electronic boards are $20 per unit and y’all can pick one up over on that table yonder.”

OK, maybe she didn’t say “yonder” but you get the point. I was intrigued by the electronic boards so I purchased one. Also, it happens that my dear sister who is eternally not 60 years-old was about to turn 60 years-old just five days hence. It also turns out that when you buy the birthday special it comes with a piece of cake! There’s nothing I love more than a supermarket sheetcake cut into millionths and served on a paper plate by a toothless drug addict.

Could it get any easier?

We gathered our sheets and my electronic board, a device resembling a heavy-duty iPad, and took a seat near the door. I immediately discovered that one could “BYOB” but that they did not serve alcohol at this joint. My sister and I each lit cigarettes as I texted my niece who was home watching the kids. “Go to my bar cart and bring me the gin, three glasses, a few bottles of tonic, and a bucket filled with ice. Oh and limes.” Then I texted, “Scratch that. Bring me some beers and some White Claws for the ladies.” The world of a bingo hall is a confusing mess of bizarre bullshit. In other words, this was the one place on earth most resembling my daily life. I turned to the man at the end of our table. He seemed to know what he was doing. “Sir,” I asked even though he hardly looked like he deserved the title. “What’s the deal with this electronic board? Do I have to do anything special?” Came his reply, “Look man, you put your code in. That’s on y’alls receipt from the lady at the window. Then you just watch that bitch go to town.” Keep in mind he had four of these boards resting behind his eight paper boards and 22 trolls. What’s with the trolls? “Oh and y’all don’t do nothin’ with that board. Keep an eye on it like a woman you expect to cheat on y’all. You know, watch it real sultry, see? Then prepare to slap her when she steps outta’ line.” He said “line” like this: “laaaaaaaahhhhnn”. “One last thing, brother,” he said. I fought the urge to explain genetics to him. “When that bitch says ‘YELL BINGO’, y’all yell BINGO.”

Got it.

My niece showed up with the hooch and texted me from just outside the door. I retrieved the booze like it was a back alley drug deal. We played 8 games of bingo – straight bingo, four corner bingo, postage stamp bingo, blackout bingo, and something called ball buster bingo. We didn’t win any of them. And yet I think I discovered my new preferred method of playing this crazy game. Next time, I’m going with six electronic boards. I literally sat there drinking and smoking with an eye on a screen hoping to see “YELL BINGO”.

We left the bingo hall never having received our birthday cake. My sister even forgot to wear her “60 never looked so good” glitter sash and ball cap so it truly would have been wasted. Truth is, she could be turning 160. She’s my sister. I love her to death. She saved my life. The least I can do is show her a glimpse into the strange world of Texas bingo.

We made it home just in time to get a text from Sister.

Lving conference now. Don’t want to get stuck snow. Lv dr unlocked. If you are up, will watch the first two seasons of Dallas when I arrive. ETA 2AM. Confrnce was unmitigated success.

She abbreviated “leaving” yet found room for “unmitigated”.

Tomorrow promises to be a blast.

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