The Middle Ages: There’s another gift bag on the porch. Thanks, secret Santa

The gift bags showed up on the porch each day, the work of a mysterious secret Santa.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

We put a new roof on the house last week, so I expect it never to rain again. It’s one of those rules of inverse preparation. You wash the car; it rains. You put a new lid on the house; it doesn’t.

Call it “Erskine’s Law”: the ultimate triumph of irony over logic.

For two years, I tried to locate the leak. The old roof was only 15, and like most 15-year-olds, it would roll its eyes at me. I’d slather it with tar, trying to seal the skylight that leaked onto the Viking range below.

When the repairs didn’t hold, I’d drag a camping tarp up to the roof ridge. When that quit working, I finally hired a roofer. These days, roofers make more than neurosurgeons. So be it. A good roof protects my most-cherished possession: an incontinent, 300-pound beagle.


Talk about leaks.

Before she died, Posh was thrilled with the roofer I’d picked, a laconic cowboy type who came highly recommended. Steve knew more about the geometry of roofs — the Picasso angles, the insidious slip of rainwater — than I do about most anything.

As if building a layer cake, he and his crew applied the substrata, the flashing, the shingles, the roll roofing. The work is hurtful, and you do it under the full scorch of the California sun.

In hindsight, I might’ve underpaid.


It’s a beautiful thing, this new roof. I wish Posh could see it. I wish she could see the way I spared no expense to keep her dry and safe.

The work was supposed to start two months ago, but when she got sick, we postponed it.

So when the in-laws came to town for the service, the roof leaked so badly that we used giant Tupperware containers to catch the soup.

It was as if the house were crying.


The crying is over now, at least the big gaping sobs, and what poet Ellen Bass called the silt in our throats. We’ve removed my wife’s meds from the counter and started to clear the shoes and slippers she stuffed under the couch.

Meanwhile, your supportive and thoughtful emails pile up, falling like snow in the dark. And a secret Santa has been watching over us, leaving bags of goodies on the porch. I want to think that the secret Santa is her, somehow jumping the wall that separates the real from the divine.

But our secret Santa is more likely a big-hearted friend. So, yeah, it’s Posh. After all, we are our friends.

You can’t help but wonder about the weird calculus of all this. Why the double loss? And why did my wife have to be around for the death of our oldest son this spring? Couldn’t that tragedy have waited?


Perhaps she outlived her initial prognosis just so she could help us through that turbulent time.

Maybe life is more than happenstance. There seems to be unfathomable patterns. Life zigs; life zags, then starts to click together like little toy bricks.

In many ways, the world is still so beautiful.

Take “Baby Oops,” which is what we initially called the little guy when he was born. Why did Posh have that bonus baby at age 45, despite already having three kids? Was he born to comfort us, and make us giggle, when she no longer could?


Hey, it’s working.

And those daughters — so unlike her, yet made of the same iron ore.

Reminders are everywhere, in their smiles, in the way they flip their hair or fry an egg.

Her presence is even in the clocks, which Posh set 15 minutes fast, in hopes of getting places on time.


Same with the car clock, 15 minutes early. The other day, I reached into the glove box of Posh’s SUV for the owner’s manual to reset the clock.

As you know, you can’t just reset a car clock without company literature. To make such routine tasks simple seems beyond the scope of today’s engineers. They are the sort of folks who put black buttons on black devices, a lousy prank.

I found in her glove box, cotton puffs of Kleenex, a lint roller, dry cleaning receipts, little lists with her handwriting.

It shouldn’t get to me, but it does.


Then the other day, I couldn’t find her phone, which we’ve kept charged so that we can pay the power bill, reach the math tutor, all the typical tasks a mother uses a phone for these days.

When I couldn’t find the phone, I called it, knowing it would reveal itself when it rang.

And then it went to voice mail.

“Hi, you’ve reached Cathy…”


Yeah, I guess we have.

Twitter: @erskinetimes