“Your son says you have time,” Benton said with a grin. “And I think it’s up to me to defend the family honor–for Uncle Clem. Would you like to pitch a few games?”
“Why I’d be mighty pleased. Course, I figure if you’re kin to Clem, you won’t pitch much better than he did.”
“Well, we’ll just see about that.”
Jack and his mother watched from lawn chairs, Mrs. Purdy peeked out from the kitchen window, and Mr. Shaw and Professor Benton rolled up their sleeves and pitched away. For the next thirty minutes, the sunlit garden resounded with the ringing, clinking sound of iron on iron, of horseshoes on stakes. Ringers and leaners, measurements taken, scores announced, all interspersed with plenty of what Mr. Shaw referred to as ribbing. And when they had finished, the opponents shook hands and Benton said that, while it was true he had failed to win, he was out of practice and he hoped Shaw would give him another chance some time.
“Let your dad and me wash up, then I’ll go with you to the bus station,” Professor Martin said.
Professor Martin shook hands with both parents as they stood next to the bus. “I really enjoyed meeting you and talking over old times. I hope you will be here for graduation next spring. We can have a rematch.”
“Jack said you teachers was real nice.” Mrs. Shaw said. “He sure knew what he was talking about. Do you suppose we could let Jack take a picture of us to show the folks back home? They’ll just be real pleased to know how Clem’s’ nephew done. Big shot professor and all.”
They took turns posing for pictures. The last was a group shot of the four of them taken by passerby Phil Yates, conscripted into service by Professor Benton. Jack relished the look on Yates’ face. The photo session ended, Benton stepped aside to let Jack say his farewells.
Jack embraced his mother, an unwaveringly unsentimental woman who somehow had a tear in her eye. Jack shook hands with his father, a long lasting shake, as if his father did not ever want to release his hand.
“Turned out we had the best time ever,” Mr. Shaw said. “Just the best time ever.”
“I’ll be sending you some more preserves,” Mrs. Shaw called out from the bus step.
Her husband clambered after her onto the bus, the door closed, and the vehicle pulled away. The Shaws waved from the window, and Mrs. Shaw grinned and blew a kiss to both her son and Professor Benton–something she had never done in Jack’s memory.
“I can’t thank you enough, Professor Benton,” Jack said.
“I did it for them, Jack. I could sense when I met them last night, things weren’t going too well. By the way, that meeting wasn’t totally a coincidence. Going over the new advisee records on Friday, I noticed where you were from. So I was on the lookout for your parents when I saw you with them at the reception . . .”
“Jack, when you came to my office the other day, I had the sense you were a little ahead of yourself, already asking about recommendations.”
Jack swallowed hard, caught off guard.
“You’re a bright young man. But, you’re on the brink of heading down that trail that leads you away from who you are. Keep in mind, my friend, your parents never had the chances you’ve had. But they did all right by you.”
“Yes, sir. Maybe I forgot for a time. I won’t forget again.”
“You’d better not, Jack. Good heartedness, that’s the real measure of a person’s worth. I wonder if you get it?”
“I understand. I do understand.”
“I hope so. Jack, your folks are real people, not like all these stuffed shirts I deal with here every day. Most of my colleagues think the world is centered on them.”
Jack looked at the sidewalk. “I guess you think I didn’t behave too well,” he said.
“You’re damn right. They didn’t say it; maybe they didn’t want to believe it. But I figured it out pretty quickly from what they told me they’d been doing on Friday and Saturday.” He gave his words a moment to settle in. “And where do you think it got you?”
“Nowhere, I guess.”
“Fortunately for you, however, you come from good stock,” Professor Benton said with an accommodating smile. “Come see me next week and we’ll talk about those applications.”
Jack delivered a thin smile of his own, fairly oozing contrition—and relief.
Professor Benton patted Jack on the shoulder. “Tell your mom not to forget those preserves. And ask her if she has any blueberry.”
He walked away, leaving Jack standing in front of the bus depot. The Parents’ Weekend banners had already been taken down.
Lawrence F. Farrar is a former US diplomat with multiple assignments in Japan as well as postings in Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. His stories have appeared 60 or so times in lit magazines, such as The Chaffin Journal, Zone 3, Streetlight, Curbside Splendor E-Zine, Evening Street Review, Big Muddy, Tampa Review Online, O-Dark-Thirty, Jelly Bucket, The MacGuffin, and Green Hills Literary Lantern. His stories often involve people coming up against the customs of a foreign culture.