“Sister Repellant”

Dearest Rachel –

You can tell from the title what this is about, can’t you?

Yep, I’d cleared a spot on the stove for ourselves, and I decided to cook last night. Black bean soup, one of our old favorites. Always welcome during the cold winter months.

Wonder why I haven’t made it earlier…

Oh, yeah… right.

In case you’re worried about our creating that many more leftovers, you needn’t worry. If nothing else, we’re using up a couple of those really annoyingly mild salsas I’d bought a month or so ago when I was actually jonesing for salsa and chips (which I rarely ever do – give me chili, cheese or both, and that’s what I generally want on my chips, not salsa. But you know, sometimes you just want something different. Go figure), so at worst, it’s swapping out one leftover for another.

And it wasn’t like were eating (or even preparing) this alone. I’d invited Ellen over. It had been so long since she was at the house…

…I think it was while you were still alive. You’d just gotten out our wedding photos, as you were planning to show them to the girl who worked on your back at the chiropractors’ office. Thanks again for finding that book just in time; I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to show her those photos, but at least Jen had them to include in the display at the visitation, and I could incorporate them into the slideshow for your service online.

Anyway, I decided I shouldn’t be ignoring your oldest and dearest friend. After all, she’s got to have been missing you as much as Daniel and I, albeit in a different way, to be sure.

Although, to be fair, it’s not like we haven’t spoken in all this time. She is part of the Sunday afternoon gaming group, after all, and it was during one of those gaming sessions I mentioned not knowing where your copy of the black bean soup recipe was, and she proceeded to email it to me.

(Oh, and since this isn’t a cooking blog, I don’t have any problem with going on and on about things before getting to said recipe – which you probably still know by heart anyway. But I’ll put it down right here, for the curious:

Sauté 1 medium onion (about 2/3 c), 4 cloves garlic, and 1 T cumin until onion is tender (3 min), remove from heat. In blender puree 2 cans of black beans and their liquid in batches with 1.5 cups chicken broth; add to pot. Stir in 1 additional can of beans whole, with salsa and lime juice. (3 cups mild thick and chunky salsa, 2T lime juice). Heat to boil, reduce to low. Simmer for 30 min.

All fairly simple, really. These days, we don’t bother with pureeing, as refried black beans are available commercially, so they’re already pureed for us in the can. And we generally add a sausage, usually turkey, but this time you’ll recall we’d actually bought some andouille to incorporate into the mix. Thankfully, it turned out not to be too much for Ellen, though she prefers to stay away from spicy foods.)

You, of course, know the story, honey, but d’you mind if I spill the tea (or the soup?) on why we call it what we do? Well, early on after we’d discovered this recipe, we were in the early stages of working on a batch one night. Basically, sautéing the garlic and onions. It’s powerful stuff, as you know. As it so happened, my sister Jenn stopped by to drop… something (I forget what, and it probably doesn’t matter)… off at the house, but could not even come in the door, the fumes were so powerful.

And so… “Sister repellant.”

Sorry, Jenn. I suppose it’s probably compounded by some of your allergies and other breathing conditions, but you’re not about to live this one down.

Besides, the stuff is soooo good.

Good enough, in fact, that when Erin texted me during the day while I was making these plans, she asked if she could join us. She even indicated that she might be willing to eat some while she was over. Granted, she intended to mask back up between bites, but still… I considered to be a victory, however small.

So, I let Ellen know that Erin was interested, and she acknowledged that she’d had the idea to invite her over herself: “Guess you beat me to the punch,” to which I let her know that it was more Erin’s idea than mine. Not that I had any objections. Still, all the better, as the recipe makes more than enough for four people – the fewer leftovers, the better.

I got home from the office and shopping (as I didn’t know much about what ingredients we had or didn’t have, and didn’t want to take any chances) to a new crisis. Daniel had noticed a dripping noise coming from our patio door, and when I went to check it out, there was water dripping from the metal frame. The wooden doorjamb, on the other hand, seemed to be perfectly dry. Apparently, thanks to all the heavy snow and subzero temperatures, the ice on the roof was melting under the pressure, and finding its way into the house, just on the inside of the door. A centimeter further out, and we would never have noticed or been bothered by it. But here, that drip-drip-drip was a concern (especially since Daniel sleeps on the couch in that room). I set some towels at the edge of the door to catch the dripping, as a bucket wouldn’t get close enough to the edge, and went outside to knock down what icicles and snow off the corner of the roof that I could – and wound up with a sweatshirt full of snow for the trouble, as it tumbled down on me. I really thought I was far enough away to not get hit. Guess I was wrong.

Meanwhile, the plap-plap-plap of water on towel was no less irritating, so I headed to the local hardware store for recommendations. They offered me numbers for several trusted handymen who might look at the problem once it was light, and sold me a caulking putty that would, in theory, solve the problem on at least a temporary basis.

And while it did stop the dripping from the point where the water had been coming from, it didn’t take long before water was dripping from the point where the putty left off. It was kind of like one of those old cartoons from the 40s or 50s where the put-upon homeowner plugs a hole, only for another hole to develop juuuuust next to his repairs. Lather, rinse, repeat. Both of us were growing frustrated, Daniel especially, as he was the one slapping the putty where he thought it needed to go. Finally, we got it to where the water was simply running down the glass, so the dripping noise wasn’t a problem, and I headed to the kitchen to begin preparations

Oh, and while this was going on, I think Chompers could sense that things were amiss in the house. And when the humans aren’t happy, he isn’t happy. Needless to say, the whining added to the feedback loop of frustration.

It was to this bit of chaos that Ellen arrived, along with an apologetic text from Erin saying that she had just woken up from a nap, and would be on her way shortly. Somehow, despite not really being able to offer any solutions regarding the door, she managed to calm things down – including (especially?) the dog – and joined me in the kitchen, where she proceeded to plunge straight into the refrigerator.

Basically, she spent the next hour or so cleaning it out, removing the many unnecessary items (yes, honey, the old leftover sauces all had to go. They were tasty when we had them, but I don’t know what they are and what they would go with – and it’s not like we’ve had anything for them to go with in at least a month, as this is literally the first time I’ve cooked since… well…

And yes, for once, I did all the cooking. Sure, it was a one-pot thing, but that was what I was doing while she worked (and when Erin joined us, she began sorting things out in front of the pantry), and we each gave each other their space to do what needed doing. It also helped for Ellen to inquire of me about this or that item, and whether it was of recent or distant vintage.

In fact, I wonder if we didn’t give each other a little too much space. Particularly Daniel, who had retreated to his rocking chair in the family room and was murmuring to himself. Or, more likely, praying.

Indeed, when I asked if he was okay, he nodded quietly and indicated the patio door. The track of water that had been running down the glass earlier was gone. Now, that may well have been due to my efforts at knocking the worst of the ice and snow off the roof, or the fairly large amount of caulking putty Daniel had affixed to where the doorjamb met the frame, but you could see from his face that he was sure that his prayers were a major factor in bringing things back to normal as well.

And who am I to gainsay him? For all I know, he has been the Mary to my Martha, the one focusing on spiritual things while I fuss about the material, and if he has “chosen what is better,” I have no right to attempt to take that away from him.

But that distance in his eyes was… disconcerting, I can’t lie. And the girls noticed it, too, but determined not to address the matter unless he wanted us to. So we didn’t.

For what it’s worth, we talked about it this morning, and it turns out that his day yesterday (even prior to my coming home) was a fascinating and frustrating and… freeing? story of its own. But it’s his story to tell, and I have no right to it. He may keep it between you, me and himself, or he may tell the world some day. I leave that to him. It’s not my place to wade into that.

Bless the girls, they filled two whole 30-gallon trash bags with garbage from the fridge, and brought out a whole lot more to the bins while I worked barefoot in the kitchen, boiling and then simmering the soup. As always, I feel like I should ask your forgiveness for what we had to do. Ellen once again reminded me of your upbringing with depression-era parents causing you to need to never throw anything out that might be usable, but wow, so many things have been rendered useless by the ravages of time and decay that well… here we were.

At least, it may make Jan’s job easier – or quicker? – for Tuesday. Although, I actually don’t know if the fridge was even going to be a target. Much as I was so despairing yesterday about what I might expect of her methods, I really don’t know what I can reasonably expect from her. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think it will. I just don’t know.

Even today, I’m trying to go through this or that bag for papers you’ve saved, before she plows through everything. I’m throwing out some stuff, and keeping sermon notes and greeting cards for the time being. There are things I’m just not ready to part with.

Your crosswords and sudoku books, on the other hand… I don’t expect to use. And they don’t carry the messages I get when I see your handwriting on a sermon note. So…

Well, as I mentioned briefly above, the soup was a success. The andouille had a little kick that offset the mildness of half of the salsa (I’d added some leftover Chili’s salsa you’d kept in the freezer – which takes care of yet another leftover item – so it wasn’t all ridiculously mild), so Ellen enjoyed it, and both Daniel and I had seconds.

Erin, on the other hand, demurred after all. Some habits are hard to shake, I guess. I am looking forward to when everything melts and we can eat outside, so that she can share a meal with us once again. She didn’t seem bothered by not eating, but I feel ungenerous, not being able to give her anything that she will accept.

Although… Ellen did find a half-empty container of tiny chocolate peanut butter cups in the fridge along the way, and while they passed the sniff test, the taste was… not bad, or even off, per se. Just unusual enough that neither Ellen nor I could describe it to Erin properly. So she, after some nervousness on her part, grabbed one, yanked her mask down, and popped one into her mouth.

From her reaction, it was not worth the effort. Or maybe she just had no desire to fall for the same trick that ensnared Persephone… who knows? She didn’t quite spit it out, but she made a mock cough after consuming it that – judging from her reaction – might have actually spit most of it back into her mask. I don’t envy her the job of cleaning it when she got home.

And that’s the story of this season’s batch of Sister Repellent. I wish you’d have been there for it. I hope you and Daniel were comfortable last night; after the girls left, he was rocking and cradling your urn it his arms, murmuring quietly to either you or God – or both, I didn’t ask (I’m all too familiar with the story of Bill Moyers, who, when praying before a meal with his boss, Lyndon Johnson, was asked by him to “Speak up, Bill,” to which he responded, “I wasn’t talking to you, Mr. President.” I’m not about to interrupt Daniel in a similar endeavor when he’s talking to either of you, even if I can’t understand what he’s saying). Just a little bit of things coming full circle, I suppose.

I admit, the scene hurt a little to watch. But again, each of us deals with losing you in our own ways; I refuse to get in the way of his.

Good night, honey. Rest well in his (and His) arms.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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