We did not stay awake for Sister. No, my own sister, my wife, and I all went to sleep around 1 AM after the following text exchange with Sister.
Sunday February 14, 2021
I rose extra early this morning. Part of me just wanted to be prepared for the snow and to assess whether or not I would actually be able to drive my sister to the airport or would have to call her an Uber. The other part of me, for there are only two parts and neither is very impressive, wanted to arrange the few Valentine’s surprises I had purchased for the family on our kitchen counter. I’ve been trying to be more attentive to little details. By this I mean I’ve been trying to shop for gifts and generally be better in the thoughtfulness department lately. Let’s face it. If anything ever happens to my wife, I’m screwed. Better get on board now with trying to copy her moves so it doesn’t resemble a complete disaster. So there was a large box of chocolates for her and smaller boxes for the kids, one for my niece who lives with us, one for my sister, one for Sister, and some Valentine’s cards I had picked up.
I had just finished placing the last of the heart-shaped cardboard containers on the counter when my sister emerged from her bedroom. “What’s the situation?” she asked. I explained that I had been listening to the weather reports and had been outside already. It was definitely going to be bad. Already the temperature was in the teens and there was a strange feeling in the air that one knows by heart if one grew up in a northern latitude. Snow was at the doorstep. I scheduled an Uber and told my sister of my regret that I couldn’t drive her personally to the airport. She understood but still it didn’t feel right. I always make it a point, ever since I could drive, to personally pick up and drop off my guests at the airport. For starters, we’ve always lived relatively close to a major airport. I joke that I like to be able to make a quick exit if the need arises. Even as a kid, though, I was always fascinated with airports. It’s the five year-old boy in me. Not to mention, this is my sister. She deserved to be seen off with a personal touch.
Just as I informed her that I had scheduled the Uber – two hours out – the familiar sound of giant, clanking, wooden beads came down the hall. “Why Sister,” I exclaimed. “Nice to see you among the land of the living.” “Coffee,” came her reply. “How was the conference?” I asked. “Stand out of my way please,” were the six words I was not expecting; yet they were said in an almost helpless way. “Long night?” I asked, forgetting for a moment that I had awoken at 2:15 AM to the sounds of a sub-woofer dropping the beat to “The Sign” by Ace of Base in my driveway. Life really is demanding without understanding. “Listen,” she said, “I just need a hit of the wakey juice and I’ll be good.” Then, turning toward my sister, “Oh hey! Glad you’re still here! We have so much to catch up on.” I explained to Sister that the other sister would be taking leave of us soon. Sister agreed that they must arrange a get-together in the near-future. “It will be so much fun,” she said as she slipped back into the sign language that had been absent from my life for the weekend. And to be honest, I’m not sure how both hands raised as if holding steins is the proper sign for any of that. “I just love the way you tell a story and I’m dying to hear more about the hoes.” In case anyone has forgotten, that’s a reference to the Irish dance moms from the previous installment. “Definitely have to meet up again and,” turning to me, “also I’ve arranged a priest to come and say mass in your house if that’s OK. He’ll be here in a couple of hours. Figured it was the least I could do since I think all the local masses are canceled due to the storm rolling in.”
Well that was a surprise indeed! I wondered who this collared man of mystery would be. Someone I know? A priest from a religious order? Maybe a Carthusian! Maybe a bishop in disguise!! My morning had just gotten very interesting. I took a shower and got changed and then stood on the front porch. In those 30 minutes I was grooming, mostly trimming my beard, the flakes had materialized. And now there was a solid half-inch of packed snow on the road. The untreated road. The road that would not reveal its pavement for another week. Good bye, road. It was nice to see you. I stood there waiting for that Uber. In fact I had the app open and watched as the clock counted down for me.
It gave me similar messages for the next four minutes. And then… Nothing. The app went blank as though I had never scheduled a thing. Well that’s not good, I thought to myself. Let’s try just ordering one and see what happens. And… Nope. There’s the problem. There were absolutely zero Ubers on the road. It’s odd because so many of my fellow Texans own four wheel drive pick up trucks. Someone ought to be making a killing in this weather. But here we were. Looks like I would have to drive my sister after all. We checked one more time that her flight hadn’t been canceled, she said goodbye to my wife and kids, did some weird “up high, down low” high five with Sister, and we took off.
The airport terminals are fifteen minutes from my front door.
The drive took us an hour. It was bad out there. Slow going doesn’t begin to describe it. White knuckle driving is a bit more accurate. “I’m gonna’ need a Xanax” driving is probably best. I walked my sister into the terminal and discovered that she would be on the last flight out of this place today (and indeed for several days). We said our good bye’s and she slipped past security. As a parting gift, when we rebooked her flight, my wife put her in first class. As I walked away from the terminal I texted her.
Another hour later and I was slowly skidding my way back into the driveway. Sister was on my front porch smoking a Camel. I know, right? She stamped it out as I approached. “I didn’t know you smoke,” I said with an impish grin. “I don’t,” said Sister as serious as a heart attack. “Fr. will be here soon. I hope you don’t mind but he only says the Traditional Latin Mass.” “Don’t mind at all, Sister. That’s what we go to,” I said. “Also there are some quirks,” replied Sister. As she said this she raised both hands in front of her face and flung out all ten fingers like they were glitter or confetti or something. As she did this, she literally said, albeit in a whisper, “Poof.”
I noticed my daughter had made biscuits and gravy and they were warming on the stove. I can’t turn down good Southern cooking so I fixed myself a plate. Sister slapped the fork out of my hand just as it was about to enter my mouth. “Fr. will be here SOON,” she said excitedly. In my hunger I had almost forgotten about the pre-Communion fast. Then again, “soon” doesn’t specify a time and since he was coming to my house to say mass I figured he might be able to delay the start of the mass until we were all good and ready. “Also, wouldn’t we need to have time to set up an altar, chairs, an entire chapel,” I wondered? Reading my thoughts, Sister said calmly, “Fr. does all that. Do not worry.” Nevertheless I felt it incumbent to get changed into my suit. It matters not whether it’s at home (which is very rare) or in a gothic cathedral. Sunday mass is a cause for dressing up for the Lord. I walked into my bedroom and toward my closet. Opening the closet door I just about had a heart attack. A slightly-built man in a long black cassock and a biretta to match was just emerging from the other side. I’ve learned not to ask anymore. About anything. Ever. And it’s also good I had already disarmed myself when I walked in the door from the airport.
“You must be Father?” I said half stating the obvious and half out of genuine curiosity. The answer, the words that came back at me… I have a beautiful voice. I’ve long been told I should do voiceover acting. I’ve done some radio spots. I love to read to people. I sang in a choir. This voice? If Barry White and Perry Como had somehow spliced their genes, they couldn’t have made a more perfect voice. Deep, relaxing to the point of inducing torpor, spellbinding. And that voice said simple, “Yes.” So the obvious next question was “Why the closet when we have a front door, Father?” To this my closet cleric said simply, “These are dangerous times. Sister gave me a coded map. I followed it. It led to that opening over there.” He said this as he pointed to the daylight pouring in from behind my linen suits (for Summer). I walked over to inspect. Sliding the suits over on the bar I could see clearly what was taking place. “Father,” I asked somewhat hesitating, “Did Sister create a medieval ‘priest hole’ on the back wall of my house?” I completely ignored the questions of how she got in there and cut through plaster and brick as quickly as she had. By the way, kudos to her. The small 3’X3′ square was cut with such precision as to be easily placed back without any notice. And this is what Father and I did promptly. You know, because it was snowing and it was also a load bearing wall.
On our way out of the bedroom (I never did get changed into my suit) Father and I talked briefly. “What are these ‘dangerous times’ of which you speak?” Father, who appeared in the light to be somewhere between 40 and 85 years-old, leaned in close. “Masks,” he whispered. “I don’t wear one and the people who seek me out don’t either.” “So let me get this straight, Father,” I asked. “You’ve made a cottage industry catering to Traditional Catholics who wish to remain maskless?” “Oh my son, it’s more than that.” He had better be closer to 85 if he’s calling me “my son”. Father paused briefly before adding, “But mostly that, yeah.”
And that seems like a good place to leave off for now. Come back for part 7 where the Hill of Calvary and Elizabethan England somehow merge in my dining room in Texas.