Our first Monday in San Francisco dawned with the only promise of blue sky in four days. The weekend had been so gray and cold, I was beginning to despair of anything but gloom in the City by the Bay. With light filtering through long lace curtains, our manse seemed grander than ever--I was half expecting a lace-capped chambermaid to curtsy at the door, ready to plait my hair.
The place was still feeling a bit sunless in another respect though. Not having a proper phone or internet connection in a new city was a bit like being alone on a highly ornamented desert island, my varied thoughts a message corked in a bottle, hurled to the obscuring tide never to be found. Fortunately, I had something any castaway would give his eye teeth for—a cell phone.
I managed to reach Lissa for an update from the mainland. A Promise Kept was appearing that day on Catholic Exchange, and I was eager to know if it had been well received. “Ooo, there are already quite a few comments,” she said, rattling them off one by one. The reviews were mostly positive, but one thread of conversation fascinated me—the impression a few readers had that the author was a “rich” attorney.
How can I express to you the surreal feeling of hearing oneself called “rich” while lounging in an opulent room appointed with soaring ceiling, gilded chandelier, and tasseled draperies? The term certainly felt apropos, so much so that I could almost believe it. Can’t you just picture me, eyeballs spinning, repeating, “I am Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht.”
Sure, it’s true I hadn’t seen my name on a paycheck since 1993. Yes, my only piece of haute couture was a tablecloth (and, truth be told, I was beginning to wonder if the tea cozy might not make a jaunty beret). Granted, my personal sense of style and fashion was closer to Jane Goodall than Jane Austen, but wasn’t my job description at least somewhat comparable to hers? [“Observing, nurturing, and photographing a playful group of primates in a familial setting in hopes of eventually training and communicating with them.”] Besides, that errant chambermaid hadn’t been around to dress me yet! Good help is so hard to find.
Meanwhile, the children were entering a fantasy of their own. I hung up the phone to find my “middle littles” (Marie, Patrick and Maureen) crowding by the front window, waving madly. A tour bus, cunningly disguised to look like one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, lingered outside the house. Visitors of every description lined the open passenger seats, smiling broadly, and waving up to the kids—several even snapping pictures. A highly amused tour guide was saying something through a microphone, no doubt with a bit more material added to his repertoire that day than usual.
“Well, what do you know?” I said, chuckling and vaguely embarrassed. “Our house is a stop on the tour of the City!” By this time, nine-year-old Margaret had joined the others and was speaking in awed tones, “Wow, I can’t believe it. Do you think they think we are rich kids?”
“I think they think The Beverly Hillbillies just rolled into town, “ I quipped mercilessly, standing back from the window for cover as the impostor cable car resumed its uphill grind, adding, “If they come again tomorrow, we can send Patrick down with his baseball cap to collect change.”
“He’ll be like an organ grinder’s monkey!” Agnes called from the next room.
As if on cue, Maureen, who (unbeknownst to her generally watchful mother) had been discreetly twisting herself in a twelve-foot lace curtain, gave the thing one last toddler-ish tug, bringing reams of fabric cascading down on top of herself. No damage was done, but the tension rod could not be replaced without a ladder, leaving a gap in the panels to the front bay window as conspicuous as a missing tooth.
Musing to myself, I could picture the owner wondering what had become of it. If he knew about my adventure with the tablecloth-formerly-known-as-a-shawl, he would undoubtedly assume I had enlisted the curtain for use as an article of clothing—perhaps a billowy skirt or frothy nightgown. Then again, maybe he would imagine a certain Germanic father of seven striding through the door in the evening and roaring, “Do you mean to tell me that my children have been roaming about San Francisco dressed up in nothing but some old drapes?”
These hills are alive with us around—that’s for sure.