Now What? by Rich Paschall
What do you do when friends come to visit? Do you plan a nice dinner? Do you stay in and cook or do you go out? Do you plan some activities or do you go for spontaneity? Do you bring out old photo albums or run pictures on a computer or even on your television? There are a lot of things you can do if it is just for a day.
What if friends and family are coming for more than a day? A few days of guests may take a little more planning. Maybe you want to both eat at home and go out. Maybe you want to take your visitors around to meet other family and friends. Maybe this is the opportunity for a lot of conversation that has been missing in your friendship in recent years. But what if they come for a few weeks? Yes, weeks!
When I was small, perhaps 6 years old, I recall visiting Tennessee with my grandparents or other family members. My grandparents were from Tennessee but they spent the late 1940’s to mid-1960s in Chicago. There were plenty of relatives in the small town and rural areas for us to visit, so we made the rounds whenever we arrived, staying here and there. Since I was a little kid from the north, these friends and relatives of my grandparents enjoyed entertaining me when I first arrived. That probably wore off quickly.
We stayed with people I do not recall and, since I was little, the details are a bit sketchy. I had no idea that decades later I would be interested in these vague memories. I do recall that sitting around the living room, or front porch if the weather was nice, and telling old stories was a popular pastime.
“Well, how ya’ll doin? I guess it’s downright cold from where you come from.”
“No, it is hot there too. It’s July!”
“I swear you are the spittin’ image of Robert Lee at that age.”
My father’s middle name was Lee. I guess I heard plenty of stories of my father when he was my age, although “my age” seemed to take in his entire childhood.
Most of these visits included my grandfather or some other relative telling how my father got that scar on his chin. It seems that he was not much more than a toddler when he ran into a barbed-wire fence chasing after my grandfather.
“He was told to stay put there at the house but he wanted to help out in the field like everyone else.” I could not see my father as a farmer, at any age.
Sitting around telling stories is a trait of a lot of families. It is a happy thing to do when family and friends get together. In a rural area, it might just pass as the most exciting thing you could do anyway.
I do recall that I must have been the entertainment sometimes as the southern folks took the city boy around the house or farm. One time some adults had finally convinced me that I should walk across a field to pet a cow. Never mind the fact that I was just a tot and the cow was, well…, a cow.
I headed out across the field, a bit scared I am sure but determined to pet the cow. When I got near the cow, he took off in another direction. I guess he was just as afraid of the little city boy as I was of him. Anyway, he wanted nothing to do with me. There are some more amusing farm animal stories but, fortunately, I can not think of anyone still alive to tell them.
After my grandparents retired I was old enough to get put on the train in Chicago and collected from the train in Fulton, Kentucky. It was the nearest stop to my grandparents in Tennessee. Yes, we went around and visited relatives and friends. I could now participate in some storytelling. I was still told I looked like Robert Lee, which I was always to take as a compliment. In my grandparents’ retirement years, there was not much more to do.
“You can walk right down there to the Dairy Queen and get yourself an ice cream cone. If you go down there after dark, you can hear that bug zapper getting something every minute or two.” Now that’s entertainment!
When my grandmother passed away at some point in her 90s, we returned to Tennessee for another round of family visits. My father and I attended some family reunions in other years. One time it was at a Baptist church, the next time it was at the John Deere dealer. It seems the John Deere dealer had the largest room in the area, bigger than the church. We didn’t need any farm equipment, but it was interesting to see.
Even decades later, our visiting routine was to travel around and see relatives, mostly without advance warning. We were always welcome, however. Once my father and his brother, my uncle, tried to remember how to get to someone’s house using landmarks from when they were kids. The amazing thing is there was little movement of families and we always found our way around.
On one trip my father wondered if old Aunt Ella was still alive. She would have to be in her 90s and we were not confident we would find the small town well off any highway, much less Aunt Ella. When we spotted a mailbox with our last name, we went up to the house where an old woman sat on the porch. My aging father had not seen her in decades.
“Well, I guess you don’t know who I am,” my father started out.
“Why, you’re Yancy’s boy, Robert Lee,” she declared without missing a beat. “And you must be Robert Lee’s boy,” she said to me. I must have been in my 40s by then. We sat around and talked, as was the custom.
What do you do when relatives come calling? Do you ever go to visit old family and friends? Go to restaurants? Visit museums, famous landmarks, local hot spots? Have actual conversations?