Christmas Story of 2020

Oh my God, did that just really happen? 

I turned in my seat, facing them. One was poised behind the wheel, adjusting her seat, the whirr of buttons starting and stopping, the chair moving forward, then back, the seat-back like an ocean’s wave, finally landing upright like a throne. My mother is small after all, and car seats tend to swallow her whole. Her friend had slid comfortably behind her, already buckled-in. She was ready for our adventure. 

I stared at them, lips pursed, waiting for their answer. My face held together by the smirk, I tapped my fingers on the console impatiently.

Ok, I said. Three women…walk into a car dealership…and they just hand them the keys??

My voice went higher.

….and wave good-bye??

No one spoke. Then, like a pack of hyenas, we threw our heads back, cackling in unison, as Mom shifted into  reverse.

Her friend leaned in conspiratorially.

This sounds like the start of an exciting new novel!

We howled even louder. 

The novel goes like this:

Three women walk into a car dealership. 

Like a couple of magpies, the two matriarchs’ eyes glaze over at all the shiny objects in the showroom. They disperse out of sight, like ants on a mission. 

Looking around,  attempting some semblance of authority and organisation in the situation, I see a young gentleman headed my way.

Can I help you, he asked?

Umm, yes. We need to test drive some cars. 

Umm, we?

He looked around. 

I spotted Louise. She was adjusting the driver’s seat in an SUV, while Thelma, my mother, was circling a different model across the room, peeping through every window like a petty thief. 

I held my arms up like an air traffic controller would, pointing at them at opposite ends.  

Those two ladies would like to test drive some cars today.

Ok, then. I’ll start lining them up, and let you know when I’m ready. 

I saw him bring the first car around. I gathered up Louise first, then Thelma. We walked outside and the two ladies buzzed around the car. We opened all the doors, tested out the hatchback, and tried out every seat, deciding who would drive first. The salesman knelt down behind the car during all of this, and hung the dealer’s plate, brandishing an electric screwdriver. Standing back up, he brushed the dust from his pants.

The keys are in it.

We stopped what we were doing and looked at this baby-faced giant of a man-boy.

Ahh, okkkk. Great. 

He put his hand up to wave and headed back indoors. 

Without a word, we loaded up in the car.

Mom, Thelma, was trying to locate the key on the fob, and where it would insert in relation to the wheel, when either might be located. Louise was buckling up in the back, and I sat in the front, still in disbelief. 

Finally, I asked, “Sooooo. Did anyone ask you for identification?”

They looked up, looked at each other, and shook their heads.

We covered our mouths, giggling.

And just like that, the truth of Thelma and Louise is revealed in due time to the rest of the world. It started with a tiny mishap, at a glossy car dealership, in the middle of Houston, Texas, when baby-faced Hunter Rogers, born long after the legend of Thelma and Louise graced the papers, handed the two outlaws keys with no questions asked (or paperwork signed).

It was a test drive gone amuck. 

The truth is, Louise didn’t actually drive off the cliff all those years ago. Instead, Thelma and Louise have been in-hiding since those fortuitous (they think) events of their past. It was easy for them to disappear in all of the dark, hot corners Texas is known for. Quietly, together they’ve raised Thelma’s illegitimate daughter, Branjelina, from that one-night stand in the hotel, with the super-hot cowboy hitchhiker-man. Now, three decades later, they’ve decided to re-emerge, with a new plan in their hand, for the last great road-trip adventure of their lives. 

First stop, buy a car.  But this time Branjelina, the young voice of reason, is adamant Thelma and Louise have a car with every safety feature. She insists on a car with airbags on every side, lane departure notification, and automatic brakes, for the times they might get too close to an object in front of them, moving, alive, or not, or perhaps, for those times when the road runs out before them. Branjelina has given the two wild birds mostly a free rein, with the exception of buying a convertible.

The three ladies wave to Hunter Rogers, who is watching them through the glass of the showroom, eating his homemade ham sandwich with pickles and mustard on cheap white bread, his favorite, as they head west on I-45.

The baby-faced car salesman would go on to be interviewed by all the major networks, resulting in a national bestseller, his first and only one.

Joking and juicy novel aside, Mom and her friend did let slip their plan to drive to the west coast together, as soon as it was feasible. My ears perked a little at this revelation. I said them:

It’s a fine line between art imitating life, and life imitating art, isn’t it?

Car shopping with Thelma and Louise felt the way it must when a parent straps a helmet and pads on their kid, and sends them on their way atop a bike or pony. They must pat them on the back, telling them to have fun, before turning and clutching their rosary beads (or flask) to their chests, pleading to the powers above.

The tables were definitely turned.

When we got home that evening, I couldn’t wait to tell Dad about our ridiculous day.

They didn’t ask us for shit, Dad! Nothing!!

He was nonplussed.  

“Well, it’s not like they didn’t have your car there.”

I wracked my brain.

Umm, you mean the one that is worth about $1500??

I rolled my eyes.

They’d just look in your car and know who you were.

 I furrowed by brow. 

I suppose if the information is correct, which is a pretty big assumption from someone driving a beater, that could be stolen, and who just drove off with your brand-new SUV. 

Whether my dad and I agreed on the severity of the lack of protocol, needless to say, I’m pretty sure that’s not how dealerships do things. At least, the next one that afternoon didn’t. The salesman immediately made a copy of their licenses, and before we had even opened the doors of our test drive, the guy had jumped into the backseat and buckled up. 

He was not about to cut Thelma and Louise, and Branjelina, loose.

Before we even arrived home to relive our adventures car shopping with Dad, I fished Mom’s phone out of her purse sitting between us in her car.

Who are you calling?

Hello? Ahh, yes…I’d like to order a pitcher of premium margaritas, to go please…Umm, sure. Could we get an order of queso to go as well?…Yes, thank you. That’s it. Ok great, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes.

Mom rolled her eyes and groaned. This was the second night of salty tortilla chips, hot cheese, and margaritas from Chachi’s. The night I arrived to Houston, we picked up fajitas to go. Chachis always has it ready  when you arrive. It sits in a big white shopping bag on the bar with your name on it. Always at the top of your order is a brown paper bag, like the kind I used to carry my lunch in to school, but much bigger. They fill it with the hot tortilla chips that are complimentary when dining in. It’s now part of their take-out service. 

This is my favourite part. That brown paper bag, warm in my hands, the paper mottled with freckles of grease, signals comfort, home, and deliciousness, especially when tied together by the swish of tequila and sweet and sour syrup.  Their premium margaritas punch well above their weight-class, and are served in tall white styrofoam cups with a straw, looking not unlike a Sonic milkshake to-go.

Washing the hot chips down with my margarita, I thought how ironic it was I loved food served from paper, whether it was greasy chips out of a brownbag in Texas, or fried cod and chips soaked in vinegar, cradled in an Irish newspaper, or a big salty pretzel with a line of mustard across the top in New York City, held at the bottom by the small white napkin covering your thumb and forefinger. All of it is a banquet in my opinion, or maybe I’m just easily swept up by the idiosyncratic traditions of every town, like a true tourist. No matter the decades passed, the grease-soaked paper brings as much bliss as if it’s the first time I’ve tried it.

When we weren’t eating chips and drinking margaritas this week, we’ve been getting ready for Christmas. My number one job when I arrive back at my parent’s house is cleaning. Ove the years, the house has settled, spreading wider, just like the rest of us, and requires more upkeep, just like the rest of us. Taking care of it is a lot of work for my parents and the load seems to quadruple every year, much like inflation. Everything becomes harder, more expensive, and takes longer to complete (human or house).

With COVID, adding a cleaning service has been out of the question. I attack as much of it as I can while here, from vacuuming, washing sheets and slip covers, scrubbing the inside of the fridge, taking the recycling down to the mailbox, putting air in the tires, washing dishes, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, the list goes on. Just about all of this falls to my mom, so it’s important she gets as much a break as I can convince her to enjoy while I’m here.

We have completed the big errands. The groceries are retrieved, and the trip to Spec’s is complete. Mom’s friend dropped off her homemade pound cake for Christmas Eve dessert, and the two brown-butter coconut-chess pies from Livin’ The Pie Lifeare resting in the freezer after their continental flight.

We are setting up two tables in adjoining rooms, plus there is plenty of seating in corners and along the walls for everyone to stay spread out. This Christmas will feel like a bohemian potluck compared to its usual formal sit-down dinner, but it doesn’t matter, because in the end, it’s only the people who really do. 

I am more grateful than ever these days. The clarity bestowed by a serial, silent killer, as its parting gift. I’m more hopeful than ever about our future on this planet. Some of my friends shake their heads and remind me ‘The Age of Aquarius’ is not coming. But I tell everyone the same thing:

In order to bake a cake, you first have to make a mess. 

We might still be in the wreaking havoc, destroying-the-kitchen stage, but a beautiful cake is in the works.

From the fire, a phoenix rises, and takes flight.

This pandemic is a crisis ripe with opportunity. We shouldn’t waste any of it. It’s a great time to reevaluate our own humanity and its relationship with others. In short, it’s a great time to think of someone besides yourself. It’s a great time to do something for someone you may not know, someone who may not look like you, have the same history or upbringing as you, or have identical values and believe the same things you do. Right now is a great time to say to someone else:

I see you. I acknowledge you. I might not understand you, or agree with you, but you matter, regardless. It’s okay. We are all in this together.

____________________________________________________

These are some of my favourite organisations. Consider these, and others in your area, for end of the year contributions. They all need our help, especially this year.

Happy holidays and peace and love to everyone.

  1. www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org

2. www.thrivedc.org

3. www.capitalareafoodbank.org

4. https://www.grayfaceacres.org

5. https://halliehill.com

6. https://www.nokidhungry.org

7. https://www.missiondc.org

8. www.casaruby.org

9. https://www.salvationarmy.org

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