The following story recounts the past two weeks of my life. I am a husband and father to two wonderful pre-teen children. I live in a modest house in the Dallas, TX area. I intend no politics, am not assigning blame, nor am I writing to convey anger over the blackouts. I am simply a man who lives a bizarre life and likes to write. With that being said, here now, part 1.
Monday February 8, 2021
Perhaps the first thing you should know, especially if you are new to these pages, is that I homeschool my children. For over 15 years I worked as a high school teacher and later, a school administrator. Last summer, not looking forward to masks and temperature checks for myself or my children, I decided to take a shot at something I had always wanted to do. The moment was never going to be better than it was to treat myself to a year (hopefully more) of being the principal of my own school. Also, I kind of dig walking through my kitchen to get to my classroom. Another thing you should know is that my family and I are cradle Catholics. Some would even label us “traditionalist” Catholics. The Catholic faith and culture are as much a part of our life together as oxygen. True enough, we attend a Latin mass parish but that is what works for us. A final point of which you should be aware is that between my wife and me, we know thousands of people. I come from an enormous family (14th of 16) and my wife is just phenomenal at everything and loved by all. She could legitimately spend her days literally stomping on the knuckles of hangers-on trying to come within her sphere for warmth. She doesn’t. In particular, she has many friends with whom she has remained close since college. All of these facts will play a part in what is to come.
Several weeks ago my wife received a text from one such college friend. We will simply call her “Sister”. That’s because she’s an ex-nun. You’ve probably heard divorcees lament that “I didn’t leave my spouse. My spouse left me.” Well, Sister’s order left her. In fact, it disbanded, or it was suppressed by the Vatican. We’re really not sure. The point is, she’s not an “ex”-nun by choice. It was more of an indifference sort of thing. “My spouse left me” takes on a whole new meaning when one is a bride of Christ. Having spent the past fifteen years in complete silence, using only rudimentary sign language and finger puppets to convey her thoughts, Sister’s family
forced advised her to take a vacation. Owing to the fact that every time we’ve seen her in the past few years we’ve invited her to come visit us in Texas, Sister’s first thought was to take said vacation in the Lone Star State. But of course, she would be our most welcome guest! Our preparation consisted of me 1) determining to “shuffle around some school work with the kids” to accommodate her visit and all the fun day trips we would make and 2) calling Alma. Who is Alma? Well, Alma is only the best kept secret in town. That may be because she is in the country undocumentedly. In truth, I do not know. What I do know is that she can clean a house like it’s nobody’s business. The process usually involves several unaswered text messages listing multiple potential days and finally a reply that says simply: “Yes.” I think she uses a burner phone. Having secured her scrubbing skills, I woke up early on this morning – it’s still the 8th if you forgot because of my verbosity – I unlocked the door and welcomed Alma. Alma politely brushed past me while looking over her shoulder. “Close door. I clean now,” she said most politely yet with a tinge of both fear and disgust in her eyes. “Also, don’t tell no one I’m here.” Looking at her earnestly I said, “But Alma, I don’t know anyone who knows you.” To this she replied, “Keep it that way,” and then she commenced vacuuming my drapes.
While Alma dusted and shined I suddenly remembered that one of my nephews – a young man in his early 20’s – had also asked to come stay with us this week. He had time off and wanted to visit one of my nieces – a young lady in her early 20’s who happens to live with us – and particularly to visit her lady friends. Ah, the mind of a young man… Always looking for, um, platonic friendship? Yeah, he wasn’t here to see us, to be sure. Nonetheless, I did have to leave Alma while I drove out to the airport to get the lad. On the drive I used my background in logistics to figure out where he would stay. I dropped him off at home, shoved him and his baggage into my daughter’s room, paid Alma her cash (unmarked bills), and watched her instantly vaporize through the chimney. “Don’t… tell… no one…” she said as she vanished. Boy she’s something else. Also, we don’t have a chimney so it was really magical.
Next up, I rolled a die to determine which of my children would be my favorite this day. Kidding. They’re both my favorite. The girl. Using reverse psychology, I took the boy and left daughter at home while I went shopping for Sister’s impending arrival. We went to a giant warehouse store. There are five of us normally under our roof and the one added guest has lived off of rice and donated donuts for two decades so this was going to be a challenge. I stocked up on cases of soda, mini quiches, and other things to make our exclostrated guest feel at home. Then I headed to my happy place, a liquor store called Total Wine, or as I call it, Wine Totale. I like to class it up sometimes. Sister had enjoyed her cocktails while we were in school. Let’s see if she can still hold her liquor. While roaming the aisles I overheard a customer and a sales associate discussing gin. And the fourth thing you needed to know about me is that I have had a love affair with Dutch Courage since college. I know my gin. And my gin knows me. The information being given the poor shopper by the young clerk was so wrong I absolutely had to interject. I told her about the wonders of gin, its history, and then helped her pick a bottle. “What are you making with it, might I ask?” I said. She told me it was for some “ancient cocktail” her husband had heard about called a bijou. The bijou dates to the 1890’s and contains equal parts gin, chartreuse, and sweet vermouth. I was intrigued enough to stock up on all of that. Looking into my cart at the already full supply of other gin, rum, and an assortment of Texas whiskeys, she asked, “And what are you making with all that?” My son, who is undeniably my son, shot back, “We’re not making anything. Just getting ready to entertain an ex-nun.” And we walked away.
I stopped at daily mass, came home, and made some finishing touches to the house. This included assembling our traditional “Texas Welcome Gift Basket” for Sister’s room. My wife and daughter had even made Texas-shaped chocolates for her. Finally the hour approached to return to the airport and collect Sister. I entered the terminal and noticed how empty it was. Air travel has really taken a hit this past year. It was in that emptiness that I was able to hear the little things that make my life more fun.
I turned around to see a middle-aged woman lying on the ground on top of a piece of rolling luggage. In her fall she had completely bent the extended handle of her suitcase. She came to rest in front of an elevator that I think she was attempting to board. I looked around, noticed two other people. We all looked at each other and then, out of a sense of human decency, approached the woman to assist her. As I got within a few feet I smelled the familiar waft of alcohol that has traveled through the bloodstream and, finding no room at the inn, decided to exit the body via the pores. This chick was sauced. My first guess was that she had enjoyed the hell out of first class and now could not find her way outside of a paper bag, let alone an airport terminal. We got her situated with some medical assistance and a bottle of water from a vending machine and I turned around just in time to see Sister walking toward the baggage carousel.
Sister is a character of epic proportions. She loves Texas, having spent some of her youth here. She is a bigger fan of pop culture, including the TV series Dallas, than even me. She loves a good meal, perhaps almost as much as I do. We got into my car. I connected my phone and the radio blasted the theme to Dallas. “So much fun!” she said. “Why don’t you go pick up Whataburger while I get my rental car and head to your house?” And that’s just what I did.
To close out day one, I offered Sister a drink. “Sister,” I said, “Let me fix you a bijou.” She looked at me like I had just announced the death of the Roman pontiff on state-run TV. “I’m game,” she replied. Here I set to work making a cocktail I had never made, nor did I know would be potable. I did this with all the swagger of a bartender who’s served up drinks for years at the same establishment. As in, “Trust me, you’ll like it. There is no other option.” I poured two bijous and we toasted Sister’s arrival and visit. Sister took a sip. Sister put her glass on the counter. Sister said the following.
“Tastes like a Yankee Candle. From the 1890’s.”
And that was day one. “Where’s the snowstorm? What happened to the blackout?!” you ask. Patience, friends. All will be revealed.