Parents’ Weekend

Lawrence F. Farrar

It was a mid-September day in 1956, a college town in New England. Arms folded nonchalantly, Jack Shaw, twenty-one years old, leaned against the brick face of the flat roofed, little bus depot and surveyed the First State Bank clock directly opposite. Four o’clock. The bus was already fifteen minutes late.

Outfitted in a navy-blue blazer and rep tie, Jack might have stepped out of the pages of a Brooks Brothers catalogue—a notion that would have pleased him. Good looking in a boy next door sort of way, he had chestnut hair, parted and combed over. He viewed the world through hazel eyes that seemed serious, despite his effort to affect an air of insouciance. Jack could manufacture a winning smile, which he employed to good advantage when he sought to impress girls and people older than himself. Right now, however, he was not smiling.

Although the leaf viewing hordes would not descend on the town for another three or four weeks, hints of autumn’s imminent arrival already teased the air. It was not cool enough for a coat; still Jack hunched his shoulders to fend off a chill. From time to time he also shifted his weight from one foot to the other, but this was more a symptom of impatience than of an uncomfortable air temperature. Would the damn bus ever get there?

He pushed through the double doors into the terminal and asked the pinch faced ticket seller if the bus regularly showed up so late. The old fellow peered through the grillwork of his little cage and said, “Mostly on time, I suppose, but not always,” as if that answered the question. He then added, “Couldn’t have asked for a nicer day, could we?”

“I suppose not.” Jack was not in the mood for meaningless palaver. True, it was a nice day, ribboned clouds in a domed blue sky, clean and fresh. But meteorological commentary did little to calm his mounting agitation.

“No, sir. Not always like this for parents’ weekend,” the man went on, his remarks unsolicited. “I remember one year when it rained so hard you could’ve rowed a boat right down the street. But today, well, like I said, it’s mighty nice, and there’s no two ways about it.”

Jack tuned out the ticket seller, maneuvered around a man pounding on a money-grabbing cigarette machine, and pushed back through the glass doors. Returned to the street, Jack resumed his vigil, this time from an awning-covered bench in front of the depot’s large window. His eyes traveled to the other side of the street and then back to his own. He studied the passersby. What first seized his attention were their shoes, two kinds especially. Although summer had faded, several of the parents still wore white shoes, polished or buffed–bright white. The students, however, almost unanimously marched along in the de rigueur college footwear of the day–dirty white bucks.

He glanced at his own suitably grubby bucks. He remembered the time he’d gone home after freshman year and, finding his shoes parked on the floor, his mother had washed and polished them. Tried to do him a favor, she said. She couldn’t understand his irritation. What was he learning at that college anyway? Jack’s new life since he’d left the place and gone off to New England all seemed mysterious, alien, to her. But it also intrigued her, her son—a college boy.

Cars rolled by delivering parents and alums to the campus under fluttering white banners stretching above the street and proclaiming in block red letters, Welcome Parents and Alums. The cars were mostly new, large, expensive, and American made. Marcie Tibbetts waved to him from the window of her parents’ Lincoln, no doubt headed for the Windsor Hotel, the place to stay. Jack tossed her a quick smile and waved back.

The street bristled with people; they paraded back and forth on both sides, faces illuminated by the flattening rays of the late afternoon sun. Most male visitors had opted for gray or beige trousers, polo or madras shirts, and blue blazers, save for the old grads who embraced the Wilherst College colors by sporting dark red blazers. The ladies, too, for ladies they aspired to be in those days, dressed in a manner complementing the spouses, some substituting cardigans for blazers. A few women already had donned camel hair coats; Jack thought they were jumping the season.

Acquaintances renewed their ties, long ago fraternity brothers playfully jostled each other, students introduced parents, and souvenir seekers flocked into the co-op and bookstore and came away clutching bags loaded with hats and shirts and banners and more. Vendors patrolled the sidewalks hawking pennants, buttons, seat cushions and other paraphernalia; they called out, Big game tomorrow. People laughed, burbled, and, in the case of two grads who had started early on the imbibing, offered a less than tuneful rendering of the Wilherst alma mater. Cameras changed hands as groups of friends and relatives draped arms over shoulders and posed for pictures. Say cheese. They all seemed so happy, so much at ease, Jack thought, so damned happy.

Where was the bus? People he knew saw him sitting on that bench. A couple of his fraternity brothers cruised by in a dark gray Porsche. Hey, Jack. What’s up? He pretended not to see or hear them. They probably wondered why he was there in front of the bus station. Jack wished it was on a side street. He wanted to disappear. Other people’s parents arrived by plane or train or by car–not on the bus.

At last the Coast to Coast Lines bus pulled in, emitting a great whooshing sound, as if relieved to have come to rest after sustained labor. Two or three students came off, followed by an assortment of town folk, back from who knew where. The townies seemed eager to get clear of what Jack overheard one of them refer to as this college bunch. Finally, Jack’s father, Homer Shaw, stepped off the bus, put down his suitcase, and then climbed back up to lead Jack’s mother, Estelle, down by the arm.

Damn, Jack thought, I asked him to get rid of that suitcase. To Jack’s discomfiture, he knew on sight the battered, cheap-looking case that had gathered dust in the attic ever since he could remember. Jack made a quick survey to see if anyone else might have noticed the luggage. Relieved, he guessed not.