Friday, June 27, 2014

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. 


  1. This post gave me goosebumps, Melissa -- so beautiful. I have so many memories of making "unannounced" visits with my grandmother in the summer. She'd pile my sister and me into her van and drive around to visit various uncles and aunts, no one expecting us and everyone positively delighted to find us on their doorstep. Your mention of the present -- the over-scheduled life -- deeply resonated with me, and I want to have a door that's always open to friends and family. Those memories of talking and reminiscing and sharing are absolutely priceless, and I'm so thankful to have many with my grandparents, especially. I'm making that my goal for the rest of the year. And I would totally pop by for coffee unexpectedly . . . and bring dessert! Someday. <3

  2. "Stopping by" really IS a lost art. I remember that from my childhood, but now I'd be a little put-out if people showed up unannounced at the door. It's just not expected.

  3. Great thoughts. I have some friends from college that are planning a get-together for next summer..granted we live all over the world, but your thoughts made me think about how difficult it is to just have a get together. Even on this side of the world, I find dropping by to be hard to do. Maybe I just need to start inviting others over, or myself over - then eventually it just becomes habit or natural to "drop by"? haha

  4. One of the things I enjoy so much about our new neighborhood is the way people are out and about, walking dogs, stopping by to talk. That happened so rarely in our old neighborhood, because the houses were far apart and there were no sidewalks. In the last decade of our living there, our closest neighbors were all elderly and barely made it outside. I often wished I had “stopped in” to see them on a more regular basis.

    I grew up in the era long before cell phones, FB, or any kind of instant communication. Although I can’t recall that we did much unannounced visiting, it seemed that opportunities for social occasions were more relaxed and fell easily into peoples lives. There was my mom’s Wednesday morning coffee dates with her friends, Sunday dinner at Grandma’s. I remember my mom chatting with our next door neighbor over the back fence for what seemed like hours.

    I think we’ve substituted FB, Twitter, and text messaging for what were once up close and personal interactions. There is good and bad about that. As in all things in life, balance is the key.

    Lovely post, Melissa. As often happens, you channel things I’ve been musing over myself :)

  5. I love when someone stops in! I'm too introverted and precise to make plans easily, so I enjoy when they're made for themselves. :)
    Beautiful post, as always, Melissa. I hope your little family is enjoying the summer!

  6. I really enjoyed your blog musing (which I discovered through a link in Natalie's FB post). I am Irene's daughter. Your description of my Mom was spot on. She is still an avid reader, is still close friends with the couple she had met all those years ago on that stool in Dunkin' Donuts and she still plays mahjong. I can still hear Rosemary's distinctive laugh emanating from our kitchen, as well as the sounds of the mahjong tiles clanking together. Thank you for the lovely trip down Memory Lane. :-)