What If? and The Art of ‘Stopping By’

This morning, Tyler and I had a discussion about ‘stopping by’. About the knock at the door, the unannounced, the smile, the hug, the we’re here when we never said we’d be.

It surprised me when Tyler, who lets nothing bother or fluster him, said he’d prefer to be prepared. It surprised me when I, who, if I could, might edit every conversation I’ve ever had, every word that’s ever come out of mouth (such is the control I wish to have over my interactions), said I’d love for almost anyone we know to stop by anytime.

When I was a girl, my mother and I used to visit her cousin Rosemary. We rarely, if ever, called ahead. We knocked on the door, were ushered in to her kitchen, with its wide open window, the walls knick-knacked with tiny shelves, a little pantry where she kept her husband’s bags of salty potato chips.

Rosemary pooled together the remnants of boxed Entenmann’s. One chocolate glazed donut, some slices of crumb cake. She knocked back the flimsy lid, poured coffee into eager mugs. She had the sweetest iced tea for me and she had stories, long runaway strands that stretched from the Astoria, Queens of her childhood, the stoops, the dress shops, the carts along Ditmars Blvd., to her home, and back again.

An hour turned into hours and throughout that time, the characters at the table would grow in like thicketed shrubs. Her son would return home from work, flip his dark hair back, swat the air with a cigarette, and make us laugh until our insides hurt. There was a German neighbor. A friend from mahjongg, Irene, who read paperbacked novels, who talked about her quiet mornings at a stool in Dunkin’ Donuts, the books she read, the friends she made.

There were other cousins and friends and, somehow, in that time, the water would boil for pasta, the oil and vinegar of a salad dressing would be shaken and emulsified, and we’d suddenly be eating dinner, dark falling from the sky, past the window, calling in a dessert of Oreo cookies and a coffee maker who readied itself for another pot.

Some stories were told over again each visit, their retelling making it feel as if I’d been there the first time around when, in fact, I hadn’t yet been born. A newly married Aunt who used paper towels instead of coffee filters, the polite realization of her guests, the laughter that found its way from their lips to mine. A story of a soured sour cream and a choice between two marriage proposals, that always ended in the somewhat strange, sudden silence of what if, what if.

Last week, the emails went around. A group of friends I love were trying to get together for a summer meal. Dates thrown and sent back like boomerangs. A collective sigh from all of us. Perhaps…the fall.

Maybe this is why I dream of a knock at the door, a wide-opened hug, a rummage through the fridge to make a meal. My own cast of characters filling my home. In this over scheduled life, I wonder about the unexpected symphony of mug to table, table to chair, story to story, told and retold, what if, what if.

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