TOWARD THE DEPOT
by Susan Pierce
“Sissy, I must say your brownies are extraordinary. When I have one with afternoon tea I always end up having a little nap and awaking with an appetite. In England, I often missed the evening meal. I simply wasn’t hongry. But here, my appetite is often tremendous. I find I don’t eat loads of food, but lots of little tasty things are so delightful. Were those cranberries in the green salad?”
Lewis whispered to Sissy, “Munchies.”
It was a relaxing Thursday evening. Sissy always did his trips to the market on Tuesdays, his sales orders and prep-work on Wednesdays, and at 4:00 a.m. every Thursday, his crew arrived to begin the cooking. He joined them in the commercial kitchen he’d built next to the deck by 7:00 a.m.. The crew punched out at noon, and he began deliveries by 3:00 p.m.
Sissy’s Sweets and Savories was a big hit in Auburn. His accounts included most of the locally-owned restaurants and cafes, a couple of the chain restaurants, a couple of churches, and most of the wedding-funeral-company cocktail parties and receptions in the Auburn area.
By 4:00 p.m. Thursday afternoons he was ready for a shower and a nap. Sissy’s week-end began with cooking family dinner every Thursday evening. No guests. No phone calls. No going out. Thursday evening was, without exception, family night at home.
When Lewis whispered, “Munchies,” Sissy ignored him.
“Yes, Auntie Ag, those were cranberries in the salad.”
“Well, they were splendid. I hadn’t thought about mixing sweets and savories but that was very tasty.”
Lewis went into his television announcer’s voice. “Sissy’s Sweets and Savories.” Without missing a beat he sang a little jingle in falsetto: “For weddings, fun’rals, or a simple soirée, call Sissy’s Sweets and Savories for your refreshments tray.”
Back to his announcers voice he added in a speed-whisper, “Some customers have experienced a sticky sensation around mouth and fingers. All savory sauces contain garlic and repel vampires. Real beef, hogs, fowl, and sea creatures were killed in the production of this food.”
Auntie Ag giggled and Sissy rolled his eyes. “Anybody want a refill?”
No one needed a refill. Auntie Ag was settled in her recliner, sipping her after-dinner grasshopper. Sissy and Lewis were taking occasional sips from their white Russians on-the-rocks. Sissy knew no one wanted another drink. He just wanted to divert Lewis, in his enthusiasm, from letting slip the fact that Auntie’s improvement in appetite came because he’d been throwing ground and strained cannabis-soaked cooking oil into the mixing bowl.
“Hon,” Lewis said after a sip, “Auntie tells me your mother was a poet. Do you have any of her poems around here?”
“Have you read any of them?”
“Well? Come on, tell me about them.”
“Junk. Fawns napping, nestled among the forest ferns.”
“They can’t all be that bad.”
Sissy took a deep breath. “If a guy walks up to you some day and gives you a choice between reading one of my mom’s poems or having a crab fork stuck in your eye, think about it. Eye surgery has come a long way but you’ll never be able to get my mom’s poetry out of your head.”
“Believe him, Lewis. He’s not joking.” Auntie took another sip of grasshopper. “She had no grasp of the language, no artistry, and no depth of soul.
Sissy began stomping his feet on the floor, waving clenched fists in the air and repeating the word Yes under his breath.
Auntie took a breath. “All very unfortunate for a poet.”
“You go, girl.” Lewis was thrilled. “What do you really think?”
“What I really think, dear, is that I’d rather not spend the evening on this particular subject. I’ve something much more important to discuss with you.”
Sissy snapped to attention, “What is it, Auntie? Are you alright?”
“Oh yes, I’m fine.”
“Good.” He relaxed back into his chair. “So what’s on your mind?”
“While I’ve been with you, I’ve noticed you have acquired a very bad habit. You both work too hard. It’s not healthy, you know. You’re young and you think that you can keep pushing yourselves. But that’s not at all healthy. You really must take a day here and there for yourselves. Twenty-four hours with no work. That’s what you need.”
“Well darling, you do know that we have to pay the mortgage.” Lewis and Sissy were both tickled by the earnestness of her concern.
“You are paying your mortgage. You are living comfortably. But you’ve got the unfortunate habit of taking no time off. That’s not good.” Auntie Ag tried very hard to be stern with them.
“So,” she said, flicking a crumb from her lap, “I have made reservations for you. Non-refundable reservations. I’m sorry, but once the reservation is paid, which I have done, it cannot be changed.”
Sissy squirmed just a little in his chair. “What reservations have you made, Auntie?”
“On Sunday, October sixteenth, the two of you shall go to Napa. You shall check in at the Hilton. On Monday, the seventeenth, at 10:30 a.m. you shall check in for your tour. Wine tasting begins at 10:35 and at 11:00 you shall board the Wine Train for lunch. The train shall return you to the Napa depot at 3:30 the same afternoon. I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped.”
“My Gawd.” Lewis leapt to his feet, nearly knocking over his drink. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely.” Auntie Ag closed her eyes.
“Now wait a minute. You never said anything about wanting to ride the Wine Train.” Lewis was wary.
“I don’t. I’m not going. You two are going and you’re going without me.”
“But Auntie, what will you do? It’s not like you can wait in the car.” Sissy was having a logistical melt down.
“I shall stay at home,” she said with the tone of a velvet hammer.
“No. You shall not stay home alone.”
“I’ve got an idea.” Lewis was all about compromises. “This girl I work with could come over and stay with Auntie Ag. She’s a little shy but she’s always pleasant and she does her job with perfection. I’ve told her about Auntie Ag and she loves the stories. Plus, she has a great bedside manner.”
Auntie Ag nodded. “That sounds just fine.”
“Not so fast. We’ll look into it and see what the possibilities are. If Auntie stays here, it’ll cost some money.”
“Yes, Sissy, but if I go with you, it will also cost money. I’m perfectly willing to pay the cost of my babysitter.”
“Now wait a minute. You’re paying the cost of me and Sissy eating on the wine train, which is a dream come true. You’re paying the cost of Lewis and me staying at the Hilton. You’re paying for the tasting and tours. And now, you’re going to pay for someone to come in and take care of you. Our twenty-four-hour day off is starting to look like it could run you around $1,000.”
Lewis chimed in, “You don’t have a thousand dollars to buy us lunch. The Bliss Trust is busted.”
“Yes, thanks to British Petroleum. And how did you know I lost money in BP?”
“When me and Sissy first started talking about bringing you out here to live with us, I looked you up on Wikipedia.”
“I see.” Auntie Ag narrowed her eyebrows. “And you think everything you read on Wikipedia is factually correct?”
“Well, pretty much, yeah.”
“And over the months I’ve been here with you, did either of you ever ask me about my financial assets?”
“No, Auntie,” Sissy was careful. “We thought it would be rude to invite you into our home and right away start asking about money.”
“Quite right, Sissy. It would have been rather off-putting. But this is a good time for me to clear the fog a bit for you.”
“Good.” Lewis was eager to finally get the scoop.
But at that same moment Sissy said, “No. Your private life is none of our business.”
“Both your curiosity and good manners will pay off this time. When the government began to privatize industry with Margaret Thatcher, I bought a large block of shares in BP. I held it for a few years. At that time, BP was drilling in the North Sea and the value of the stock and annual dividends nearly doubled my investment.
“So, I sold off everything above my initial investment. What I left in BP was christened The Bliss Family Trust. At the time, it seemed like the safest place to leave money. I met a very bright young man and engaged him to diversify my investments. He started with real estate in Ireland. We bought small farms, a handful of commercial properties, and a few historic country homes. By the late 1980’s Americans had invaded Ireland and they bought our properties at two and three times what we paid.
“We took profit out of the real estate side and invested one-third in English country estates. Middle Eastern Sheiks gobbled them up like pudding. One-third in American home computer companies like Apple, Micro Soft, something called Gurgle . . . ”
Lewis offered a correction. “You mean Google?”
“That’s it. Google. And, with the final third we played on the currency exchange. Of course, all this was back in the days when world currencies were actually regulated by standing governments and guaranteed by a tangible gross national product and government-owned assets.
“When Belgium came out with the bright idea of all of Europe adopting the Euro as a common currency it seemed the silliest idea I’d ever heard. At about that time, people with all those mini-computers realized they could buy and sell stock at home in their pajamas. They bought stocks that ‘sounded cute’. They sold stocks that had gone up five or ten percent by dinner time. It was appalling—millions of young people living the fantasy that they were financiers when all the while they were actually children addicted to on-line gambling.
“By the time Day Trading was popular, I was out of the investment market. I set aside one third of the total profit I’d gained over the years and hired a solicitor to make cash grants to particular organizations I’d grown fond of. No one could apply for these grants. I knew to whom they would be given and the grants were anonymous.
“Then, I took ten percent of the total profit I had gained and divided it among all my living family members. You may not have known about that, Sissy. You were off somewhere with the Navy and I know your family doesn’t communicate with you. But that’s what I did.”
“My obligation to give something back to the communities that had made me rich was paid. My obligation to share wealth with my family was met. I did it all before British Petroleum lost its corporate moral code. I still had sixty percent of the profit gained over three decades.
Sissy and Lewis were dumbfounded. They stared at Auntie Ag.
“It is true that I did lose 96% of my initial investment in BP. But it doesn’t really matter. In the past five years I’ve given away more than that in grants and beneficent gifts. My long-time solicitor in Oxford manages the sixty percent of profit which accumulates during my life.
“He has instructions that, at my death, all my remaining assets will go to you, Sissy. At some point over the next several years I am going to die. Before that day, I’m going to teach you how to handle money. Step One: Work. You’ve got that one. Step Two: Never speak about your money. You do that well. Step Three: Every so often, take a day off. That’s the one we must work on.
Sissy and Lewis hadn’t so much as blinked in over two minutes.
“And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll thank you for the lovely evening and go to bed. You had better begin laying your plans toward the Napa depot.
“Umm,” Lewis hesitated. “What was that?”
“That, my man, was my brilliant aunt, The Honorable Agatha Bliss.” Sissy carried the dirty glasses into the kitchen.
Lewis followed. “But was all that true, or is she just a crazy old head case making up stories?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t want her to die real soon, ya know?” He wiped down the countertop.
“But how will we know whether she was serious?” Lewis’ eyes followed Sissy to the sink.
“On the credible side, she never gave any specific dollar amounts. Maybe she invested $2.35 in BP forty years ago and it shot up to six dollars.”
While Sissy swept the floor, Lewis went into their bedroom. Sissy straightened the living room, locked the doors, and turned off lights. As he entered the bedroom, he saw Lewis shutting down the lap top computer.
“Well, I found our confirmed reservations for the Wine Train, the Hilton, the tasting, and the tours.”
“Alright, Hon. Those reservations are actual facts. I heard the food on the train is fabulous.”
Lewis bounced off the bed and did his happy dance, complete with the “stir” all around the room to a cha-cha rhythm: “We’ve goin’ to the de-pot. We’re goin’ to the de-pot.”
Sissy slipped into logistics mode, “So we’ll be gone from Sunday afternoon until Monday night. We’re both gonna have to clear our calendars. You’ll have to do that right away. We don’t want to run into a ton of flack with your hospital schedule. Oh, hey, and the faster you get that girl from work to commit, the better.”
Lewis saluted, “Aye aye, Colonel, Sir. I don’t care what your mom thinks, I think your Navy training has given you magnificent deployment skills.”
“I was thinking about my folks when Auntie was talking about those Day Traders living in a fantasy. That’s what my mom and dad did. They were completely wrapped up in this fantasy world of theory and intellect and fairness. But when I went into the Navy, their fantasy cracked.”
“Guess they had to choose between the world they wished existed and the world as it really was.”
“Whatever. I don’t want to go back there. We live forward, we live toward tomorrow in the real world. So, we’d better start making plans toward the depot. We’ve got six weeks to make it happen.”
Lewis gasped. “I don’t have anything to wear.”
“It’s not the Beaux Arts Ball, Hon. It’s just lunch on a train in Napa.”