The Shaws had saved and saved to finance the trip back East–eggs peddled door-to-door in town, the milk cow sold to a neighbor, some weed cutting done for the county–and now they had arrived. Nothing their son could have said or done would have deterred them.
They checked in at the Old Western Motor Lodge a mile or so out of town. The management didn’t promise to leave a light on for you, but it was the same sort of place.
“This will be just fine,” Mrs. Shaw said as she glanced about their room. “Nice big bed.” But the expression on her face signaled it didn’t measure up to what she’d imagined when they left home.
“Pop, why don’t you change out of your suit?” Jack said. “Then we can go have some dinner. It’s already past six. There’s a little restaurant just down the road.”
“Is it fancy?” his mother asked, her voice rife with hopeful anticipation. “Maybe I ought to change, too. I expect a lot of other parents will be there.”
“You’ll be fine the way you are,” Jack said reassuringly. “Good food. It’s a place where the locals go.”
“The locals?” his father said. He appeared to sense a tinge of dismissiveness in his son’s tone and choice of words. Where the Shaws came from, they, too, were the locals.
“You know, Pop, I mean the folks who live around here. A lot of them work at the college.” Locals was, in fact, the least pejorative term Jack and his fraternity brothers pegged to the inhabitants thereabouts. His own favorite was pin heads.
And so they went to dinner at Miller’s Roadside Restaurant. Not many white shoes to be seen; in fact, other than Jack’s, none. According to Mrs. Shaw, the place reminded her a lot of Connie’s Cafe back home. Not much different. Jack realized her comment implied that after the long bus ride she’d hoped for something more. But she did allow as how the waitress named Jenny was real sweet.
“I just thought it would be easier if we came over here. It’s close and it’s casual,” Jack said, casual being something of an understatement.
“I’ve got to say that apple pie was real good,” Mr. Shaw said as they rolled out of the parking lot. “Expect that’s why Jack brought us here, Ma. Knows how much I like apple pie.”
Jack delivered them back to the motel.
“Tell you what. I have to hit the books for a little while. So I’d better get going. You can get a continental breakfast in the lobby in the morning. I’ll pick you up about ten. Show you around the campus, have some lunch. Then we can head for the game. Hope that sounds okay.”
“Continental? That’s not a real breakfast, I expect,” Mrs. Shaw said.
“Take the edge off, Ma. You can have a big lunch.” Jack gave her a hug, waved at his father, and left the motel. He slid behind the wheel of his roommate’s car and headed for the fraternity house where he lived and where he knew the cocktail party had already started. He anticipated that Marcie and her parents would be there. Her dad had been the house president 25 years earlier.
A three-piece combo in a corner softened the mood in the main room with quiet jazz. The house brothers, drinks in hand and on their best behavior, chatted amiably with their guests, parents and returning alumni. Marcie and her parents, in from their place in Palm Springs, were indeed there. Jack’s feelings danced.
“Jack. Oh, Jack. Come meet my parents,” Marcie called.
They were tanned, elegant, and good looking; it was no wonder the Tibbetts had produced such a beautiful daughter. Jack basked in their reflected glory.
“Are your parents here?” Mrs. Tibbetts said.
“No, they couldn’t make it. Tired from the trip. Decided to turn in early,” Jack said.
His parents were hovering in the motel lobby when he arrived to pick them up the next morning. His father, wearing his suit pants and a white shirt with sleeves rolled up, greeted him with a jocular, “Morning, Jacko. How’s it going?”
“Pop, I sort of thought you might wear that polo shirt I gave you,” Jack said.
“Homer, I told you he’d say that,” Jack’s mother said. Then, after a little laugh, she explained, “Your Pa thinks that shirt makes it look like his stomach sticks out.”
Jack laughed too, although his father did not. Instead Mr. Shaw launched a few visual darts in his wife’s direction. “Anyway,” Jack said, “I’ve got a pullover in the car you can wear for the game.”
Turning to his mother Jack asked, “Where did you find that sweater, Ma?” She had put on a sweater, bright red, bordering on international orange.
“Oh, I just come by it somewhere. Your school color, don’t you see?”
“Looks fine, Ma. Glad to see you caught the spirit.”
After leaving the motel, they drove slowly along streets lined with old trees, with Jack pointing out the homes of some of his professors and other faculty members. Here and there residents moved about in their yards raking up the first surge of fallen leaves.
“Nice looking,” Mrs. Shaw said from time to time. “Real nice looking.”
“These teachers must have plenty of money is all I can say,” Mr. Shaw said. “Yards aren’t so big as ours, though. ‘Course they don’t have any outbuildings.”
Jack also showed them the President’s House, a large and fine old colonial set back from the road at the end of a curving drive.
“That’s where the party’s going to be,” Mrs. Shaw said.
“Do you mean the President’s Reception after the game?” Jack said.
“I expect that’s the one. I read about it in that pamphlet they sent us. Fellow that lives there must have his hands full with all those shrubs and flowers.”