by Andrew Whalen, Shopsitter
It was approaching closing time. Jack and I had spent much of the afternoon doing what many Americans do in the afternoon: staring at computer screens and not exchanging a single word. We were liberated from our digital overlords when a friend stopped by and forced us to have actual human conversation.
Then the door chimed, signaling customers.
A woman walked in and stared right at me. I wound up to deliver a casual “let me know if there’s anything I can help you find.” But something made me pause. Why is this woman staring at me? Stop that! And then I panicked… I knew what was happening. Crud, I thought, this must be a local that I’ve met sixteen times and I totally can’t remember her name.
All of these thoughts took about four seconds, but it seemed like much longer. The wheels in my head felt as if they were manned by the world’s laziest hamsters. And she was so familiar…..
It was my mother. My dad stepped in behind her. It all clicked into place. “What. The. Hell.” I said.
Their arrival seemed impossible, so it took a moment for my mind to believe it. Modern travel has conditioned us to ignore the actual space between our spaces. I fell asleep on a bus leaving New York and woke up in Big Stone Gap. The in-between didn’t really exist.
I think we all do this, segregating different zones, holding them separate in our memory and in the ways we think about them. So when my relations from the Ohio-Zone showed up in Big Stone Gap-Zone it took a full furniture rearrangement in my head before I could process it.
Or, at least, that’s my best excuse for swearing at my parents instead of leaping up to greet them with open arms.
They had taken the weekend to drive down from Columbus, Ohio, the back axle of their SUV sagging under the sheer tonnage of snacks and carefully Tupperwared dinners my mom assembled. When it comes to food my mom plans even day-trips like expeditions into the uncharted Congo.
She runs a cookie business (CookieGlass.com!) and is always mindful of food. So when she learned that the evening was to be a dinner with local friends and a visiting writer (Mary Hamilton, telling stories from her excellent book Kentucky Folktales), food was her first concern. We bolted over to the grocery store, my mother determined to supplement the spread. “Now, try not to eat everything,” she warned my Dad several times. It didn’t end up being a problem.
After my parents returned to their hotel in the evening, Jack gleefully relayed my initial shock to the remaining guests. But while the intro may have been a bit bumpy, I hope they had a good time. I showed them around the town and they picked up books for my younger brother and sister. Plus, they managed to get in a bit of every parent’s favorite recreational activity: embarrassing their children. I’m still not sure how it came up, but my Mom managed to share my recurring haunted mirror nightmare with a fair portion of the county. Thanks Mom!
Editor’s note: Andrew’s parents were delightful, and their food delicious; we sent Andrew on useless errands and ate most of it while he was out. And yes, we did egg them on for embarrassing stories to use against our favorite shopsitter. But as we told Andrew, his mother’s forgetting to pack childhood pictures for posting in the bookstore was a serious disappointment. Still, the cookies are so good that we forgive her.