Parents’ Weekend

“They hire people to do that work,” Jack said. Did she really want to go to the reception? “Ma, the reception will probably be pretty boring,” he said.

“Might be. But I want to see that house and the grounds. Besides, Pa says he wants to try some of those little sandwiches and free drinks.”

“You do? He does?”

The bells in the campus clock tower had just chimed eleven when Jack eased into a parking space at the end of The Common.

“We can walk from here,” Jack said.

They stepped onto the greensward, its rectangular surface crisscrossed with graveled paths, its boundaries defined by rows of alternating oaks and elms, some still green, others having initiated their autumnal transformation. The college library and its tower dominated the far end of the Common. Campus buildings of one sort or another, some nearly smothered in ivy, flanked the other three sides. A handful of students sprawled on blankets, ostensibly studying, but mainly catching a few rays. Others shouted and charged back and forth in a flag football match. Two people tossed a Frisbee, while three or four romping campus hounds loped about trying to join their game.

“I walk back and forth here a lot–to and from class,” Jack said.

Mr. Shaw nodded. “So this is what it looks like,” he said half to himself. His voice sounded almost reverential. “So this is what it looks like.”

They walked the length of The Common. Other families were doing the same. Approaching the library, Mrs. Shaw said, “We have to get some pictures to show Grandma. Pa, do you have that camera?”

“Yep. Here it is.” He drew an inexpensive Kodak Instamatic from his pocket. “Was thinking ahead, Jack. Got it at the drugstore just before we left. She’s loaded with film and set to go.”

Jack, about to pose with his mother, spotted Philip Yates coming toward them. Not good. Yates was a notorious gossip and a snob. Even other jerks thought he was a jerk. Jack could almost hear the ridicule slithering off Phil’s tongue as he recreated the Shaw’s photo session: Rustics on Campus; our own American Gothic.

“I think we can get a better shot over on the corner,” Jack said.

“I expect this’ll do just fine right here,” his mother said.

“No, it’s better somewhere else. Come on.” And so he hustled them away, and they had no encounter, close or otherwise, with the Yates family. They took some pictures, and then went into the library.

In the deserted stacks, where Jack pointed out his favorite study carrel, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw wandered along like people lost on an alien planet.

“Does anybody read all these books?” Mrs. Shaw said. “Waste of space if they don’t.”

“Really something. I bet you can even find some Reader’s Digests in here somewhere,” Mr. Shaw said.

Having returned to the main entrance, Jack said, “It’s getting kind of late. Kickoff is at one o’clock. We really don’t have time for lunch. We’d better walk to the field. We can get some burgers or hot dogs before the game starts.”

“Will some of your friends be there? We’d sure like to say hello,” Mrs. Shaw said.

“Maybe later, Ma. Maybe later. Let’s go to the game. It’s the biggest one of the year.”


As they emerged from the stadium, Mr. Shaw said, “I surely enjoyed that game. Specially since our side won. Some real hard playing. Yes, sir. Some real hard playing,” he said.

“But oughtn’t we to have been sitting over on the other side–with all them red shirts?” Mrs. Shaw said. “I had the suspicion we were with people from the other school. I don’t think they liked my sweater.

“It was a sellout. I’m sorry, Ma. Those seats were the best I could do.”

Mr. Shaw chuckled. “Your ma just kept looking at them fellas drinking out of those little silver bottles they had in their pockets.”

“Just not so. I looked at the game. Anyhow, I expect we ought to go back and wash up. That shindig at the big house starts at 5 o’clock,” Mrs. Shaw said.

“Are you sure you really want to go?” Jack said. The inflection in his voice indicated a negative response might be best.

“You bet she does, Jacko. We’re going,” Mr. Shaw said.

“No two ways about it,” Mrs. Shaw added. When she set her jaw that way, Jack knew his mother had made up her mind.

“Something bothering you, Jack? You’re acting kind of stiff.”

“No. Nothing at all.” Nothing at all? he asked himself. Professor Benton would be there. The Tibbetts would be there. His fraternity brothers would be there. And his parents would be there.


The reception was taking place in the garden that surrounded the residence on three sides. President Stockworth, a cherubic gray haired man, along with his raptor-faced wife stood in a receiving line as guests came through the gate. A secretary made introductions. Red and white tents and awnings stretched over tables laden with appetizers, and young men and women in white jackets passed among the chattering guests serving wine or beer. Still others carried silver trays offering hors d’oeuvres.

“That receiving line is pretty long,” Jack said. “Why don’t we just go around and go into the yard?”

His mother gave him a spicy look. “I didn’t come all this way, not to shake this fellow’s hand. He’s the head of your whole school, Jack.”