In defense of myself, I never expected the absence of the plaid shirts would mean so much. I figured that by the time I’d gotten around to fessing up to Allan — 20 or 30 years later — how and when they disappeared in 2011 that so much time would have passed that he would have said, “What shirts?”
I understand now that Hook’s plaids were more than just a style for him. They were a statement, an irreverent statement that said: I don’t care what you think; I’m comfortable and warm. Heat was a big thing for my husband because his bald head allowed so much of it to escape that he wore a baseball cap to keep his head warm and plaid flannel to keep his body warm.
On our first date when he showed up in a plaid shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, I assumed he had come from collecting and that that was his field attire. When he showed up for the second date in similar clothes I realized … Ah, so this is how he dresses. No matter. Allan was kind, clean, and he made me laugh. Besides, someone once said to me, somethingsomething Dolce Gabbana, and I thought it was a new type of chocolate then I thought it was patio furniture. Fashion means little to me.
I supported Hook’s addiction to flannel, but I did not know (seriously, I really did not know) that I took issue with his allegiance to the plaid. I not only hid this deep secret from him but hid it from myself at least until the day the Hook House was broken into and a plaid conspiracy emerged.
The Hook House Break-In: 2011
It was a cold December Monday in the early afternoon. Allan was in exam week and I was off for the day so we were both in and out of the house except for one hour which is when the burglars struck. The Hook House is on a street in which much of the foot traffic comes not only from young, hip families walking their dogs but also from the varied types of homeless that camp out where the street dead ends to the west. We figured that we had disrupted the burglary because my black, duffel bag, normally upstairs in my closet, had been placed in the middle of the empty garage floor, unzipped, and stretched wide open.
Allan started to take inventory of his tools and said, “You should check upstairs to see what else they took.”
As I walked up those stairs, I felt nausea in my stomach at the thought of strangers rifling through our belongings. I went to my closet first and saw the shelf where they had pulled the duffel was mussed, but otherwise nothing else appeared to be missing. Then I walked over to Hook’s closet, which by the way was the larger closet, and I slid the doors open and looked inside.
Everything looked fine then I heard him yell from downstairs, “Is anything missing?”
As I stood there staring into my husband’s closet, that big, long closet full of shirts, I said to myself, “Why couldn’t they have taken those stupid, plaid shirts.” And just like that, I got an idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea.
I yelled from the master bedroom down to Allan, “Everything looks okay!”
Then I started yanking every plaid shirt off its hanger, flinging them onto the bed. When I’d gotten every plaid out of the closet, I rolled them up into two huge balls and stuffed them under the bed. Even though our king is elevated high, there was a long, chocolate-colored skirt around the entire bed so you cannot see underneath it unless you get on your hands and knees. It’ll take him weeks to notice, I thought, but it only took him 48 hours.
By Wednesday morning after I’d already forgotten my devious actions, I heard my husband say as he looked into his closet, “Some of my shirts are missing.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, careful not to make eye contact. “Everything looked okay when I checked.”
I felt him glance at me from the corner of his eye. “They’re not here.”
I walked over to stand next to him, to peer into his closet in solidarity at this outrageous situation. “Well here honey, here are your shirts,” I mumbled as I started to fondle one of his solid flannels.
“The plaids,” he said. “all the plaids are gone.”
“That can’t be possible,” I said as I walked away from the closet and into the bathroom. “That would mean that not only were the robbers ill-mannered by breaking into our home but they had bad taste to boot!”
I was talking now over the bathroom fan, “I’m sure they’re in there, you just have to look!” And as I spoke, I used my foot to close the bathroom door thinking, Oh please don’t let him look under the bed.
Hook usually left for work before me, so it was but a small inconvenience to pull the balled up shirts out from underneath the bed and dump them into a big, black garbage bag which I shoved into the storage closet in the garage.
Three days later, on a Saturday morning, I glanced up to see Hook walking down the stairs, and what does he have on but the plaid shirt of his that I abhorred the most (and which also happened to be his favorite, of course). I’m sure all color left my face. I know my lips parted.
With a hard swallow and a shaky voice I said, “Oh, well then, see, there’s your plaid shirts.”
All the while my mind was reeling, How did he find them? Why didn’t he say anything? I should have burned them!
But he replied, “This was from the other closet.”
Damn the guest closet!
Then I heard a pout in his voice and him say, oh so very quietly, “I don’t think they took them.”
“Well honey,” I replied quite matter-of-factly, “if they didn’t take them then what did you do with them?”
Hook said nothing because he wasn’t sure if his wife was truly evil or just suspected evil. There was a total of three of his plaid shirts in that guest closet, and he wore those every, single weekend – rain or shine, winter or summer – for an entire year. It was pure torture, but I never said a word or at least, I never said the word “plaid” again.
When best man, Kelly Scott, came to visit a week after the break-in, I took that garbage bag out of the garage and stuffed it into the back of Kelly’s SUV — unbeknownst to him of course.
I can no longer recall when Kelly discovered the bag — if it was before or after he had driven four hours south to Port Aransas, Texas, and his condo which Hook and I frequented on weekends and vacations. I do remember that he called asking why there was a bag of Hook’s shirts in his truck. I’m sure I threatened his life if he ever ratted me out which he did not. Instead, in true Kelly fashion, he decided to make artwork of Hook’s plaids and began to photograph the shirts in different poses on the Texas coast and in Calgary, Alberta in the spring, summer, and even the winter.
Two Weeks Before Hook Passed Away: 2013
Out of all the things a wife might confess to a husband before he dies, the whereabouts of attire probably isn’t high on the list. But Hook had loved those plaid shirts and I had loved him. With my head down and tears in my eyes, I sat next to his hospital bed in our home and told him I needed to tell him something. My tears were genuine because I wished in that moment that he had had a different plaid shirt to wear every single day.
“You don’t have to tell me anything, babe, I don’t want to hear it,” he said assuming perhaps that I was going to reveal an infidelity.
I could barely talk I was crying so hard. “I took the sssshirts,” I whispered through gulps of tears.
It took Allan a few seconds before he understood what I meant. He had been slouching in the bed when I started speaking, but now he sat straight up and said, “I knew it was you! I knew it was you!”
I kept repeating over and over again how sorry I was while I rubbed his hand, but he wasn’t having any of it. He accused me of throwing them away and I was happy to let him know that they were alive and well and living in Canada.
“Kelly knew?” he asked.
“Not right away, honey, and he didn’t know he had them until he was in Port Aransas.”
“They made it down to Port Aransas?”
“Yes,” I sniffled, “I think they were in one of Kelly’s closets for awhile before they left the country.”
In my confession to Allan, I left out how the shirts had been photographed on the beach or I did mention it but blamed it completely on Kelly. After Allan passed away, I slept in those three remaining plaids, rotating the wearing and refusing to wash them. Just before my move back into the Hook House, Kelly shipped the “stolen” plaids from Canada.
In November, almost a year and a half after Hook died, I gathered all of the shirts and handed them to a local Austin quilter, so she could create a queen-sized spread made up of all of the Hook plaid shirts.
I can hear him now, I really can: See, they’re good shirts, baby!