My brother-in-law, Dwight, proved to be the most interesting relative that I acquired by marriage. I met Dwight when he came to visit his sister, Beth – my fiancée. She had warned me that he was rather unconventional. Well, that was true.
He really didn't have any plans for his trip. I came to learn that such lack of prior planning was a hallmark of his “lifestyle.” After a few days of knocking about in our little row house on Sudeten Strasse 15 in the small village of Ober‑Wöllstadt, he got kind of bored; and since we were working, we really couldn't take much time off to show him around.
“I wish we had known that he was coming,” I complained. “We could have taken some time to go somewhere interesting.” Beth agreed, but we had committed to several housesitting projects that summer while some of our American friends went back to the States to visit family and friends. We were dog-and-cat-watching and plant-watering, so a trip to Munich or Paris seemed too much of a stretch. I did have to preach in Berlin, so Dwight and I managed a three-day trip and really got well-acquainted on the way there and back.
One thing about certain persons is that they really are, by nature, self-entertaining. I have always aspired to be that way as much as possible when visiting friends. Of course, I always announce my travel plans and intentions in advance if I can. But then, there are times when I note the travel plans of others – then promptly forget. I highly recommend avoiding that embarrassing circumstance.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon, when Dwight and I were playing a slow game of gin, the doorbell rang. I opened it and stood in a sort of daze. There were four people standing in front of me, all smiling broadly. Now, I knew that I should recognize them ... somehow. But I just stood there with my mouth agape, mind racing. “Who are they?” I thought frantically. No idea.
“Hello, Tom,” they all intoned in unison. “Sorry we are a wee bit late, but we ran into extra traffic near Dover and had to catch a later ferry.” Then I caught the heavy Scottish brogue that I recalled from my delightful week staying with them in Edinburgh. They were en route to Vienna, trading homes for the summer with an Austrian family. We did manage to get everyone sleeping accommodations, but I did make a mental note to keep better track of the comings and goings of visitors in our home.
Another time, when we were living in Hong Kong, we got a call at the office in the middle of the day from A‑Gahm, our helper, cook, and child-watcher. She said that Beth's brother Dai Wai Te was there! What? We didn't even know that he was thinking of a visit. We dashed home to find Dwight enjoying the view from our deck, with a cold iced tea in hand. It was indeed the unexpected pleasure.
While there, he sort of shocked us with his tale of walking from San Francisco to Bisbee, Arizona. Their father had been born there and, like lots of dads, he had bored his kids to death in their early years, talking about Bisbee. Beth had always loved Dwight, but their relationship was a bit strange. The more we heard of his trek across the Mojave Desert and his interaction with various desert creatures like rattle snakes and tarantulas, the more freaked out Beth became. I was particularly interested to learn that he had had to carry his water with him in a small wooden cart that he dragged behind him along the way.
Beth was not happy with the emerging image of her brother – skinny, lanky, disheveled, and sunburned; trudging across the wasteland with his cart of water and some fruit pies for sustenance. The real “you've got to be kidding” story was about when he found an old straw hat hanging on a tumbleweed. He had been feeling faint from the heat, and was not worried about making a fashion statement ... so he put on the hat and that was really a lot better. Shortly thereafter, his eyes began to burn in the intense sun. Then a miracle happened. Right there, in the loose gravel by the side of the road, was a pair of sunglasses that someone had tossed out of a passing car. Well, of course they were cracked – but so what? The Lord provides.
Dwight decided that living in his small bungalow-style house in San Francisco was entirely too bourgeois, so he rented it out for two years. Beth wondered aloud where he had been living in the meantime.
“Well,” he replied, “I went up into the San Bruno Mountains, south of the city, and found a cave where I lived peacefully with my diary, some candles, and a really keen wooden flute from South America!” Beth was appalled. I was impressed.
Speaking of South America – we visited Dwight a few years later, after he had moved back into his little house on Petrero Street in South San Francisco. All his furniture and other belongings had been restored to their places as if the years in the cave had never happened. He simply closed that chapter of his life and picked up where he had left off.
We stayed a few days with him while I was fulfilling some preaching obligations in the Bay Area. Dwight offered us ice cream – oops, out of ice cream. So, he and Beth hopped into his antique VW Beetle and headed off for the nearby 7-11. Meanwhile, I sat in his quaint living room and mini library. One can learn a lot about a person by checking out their book collection. As I glanced about over the predictable fare, nothing unusual or unexpected caught my eye until I came upon a rather dated-looking textbook entitled, The History of South America. Thinking that it might be interesting, I took it from the shelf and opened it. A cascade of twenty-dollar bills slid out and fluttered to the floor. Obviously, that was where he kept his cash stash.
Later, over ice cream I mentioned that I had especially enjoyed one particular book in his collection – The History of South America. Beth looked puzzled as Dwight laughed out loud.
“You know,” he said whimsically, “there's a story to that.”
“I knew that any burglar would look in the bookcase first. So, I tried to think of the book most unlikely to be opened by anybody that I could possibly think of. Finally, I settled on it, thinking that no one – absolutely no one – would ever chose that one."
“Well,” he commenced his reminiscence with a real cute chuckle, “...maybe one person. That would be Tom!”