Thanks to my friend B.L., he came up with the idea about six months ago and asked me to take the idea and run with it. Hopefully I’ve done his idea/vision justice.
It had been a month since Mahesh had shaken the hands and received the awkward hugs of his host family, the Berry’s. He had met them through an arranged online video conference about a month before he boarded the plane to the United States. The internet was a wonderful thing and even though his home town was, to a degree, remote, his family had access to it and he was able to have the video conferences necessary to help make the transition better. English was a required language in his country, so language barriers didn’t seem to be a problem. One would think that with the advent of the internet and the ease at which information, ideas and everything else the mind could think of was available, that Mahesh would’ve had a seemless transition; culture shock came nonetheless.
He had heard rumors about the grocery stores, restaurants and fast food chains. In his country, he had visited the American born, world renowned burger joint. It was one restaurant, one, in the whole country. But here, Mahesh passed by five of those every day to and from school. When he first walked in to the large national chain grocery store, he couldn’t believe what he saw. The produce section alone could provide a meal large enough to feed each family in his village. It was amazing.
A whole aisle dedicated to bottled water. Bottled water!
It’s not that he hadn’t seen things like this before. It was the sheer abundance of it all…and the thought of such waste.
Before he had boarded the plane, Mahesh had listened to the Berry family talk of their weekly family gatherings and the thought intrigued him. In America, you need to schedule family gatherings? Yes, family gatherings happened back home and for some special occasions they blocked certain time out, but compared to their description, it wasn’t as rigid. Regular family visits and gatherings just… happened. The entire Berry family met on the weekends, usually for about three to four hours during a set time, and that was it. They would be done for the week and usually not see the majority of the extended family until the next weekend.
With the craziness of the Berry family’s “new arrival”, they had opted not to attend some of the family gatherings until everyone had settled into their new routine. Now, the holiday season was upon them and it seemed that Mahesh was finally settling into his new routine and the culture shock wasn’t as bad. The following week, the Berry family would be attending the gathering with Mahesh as their guest of honor.
Mahesh loved the winter holiday season back home and it seemed that the Berry family threw themselves into the spirit of it all here in America. They kept telling him how special their family gatherings were, how close they felt to each other. The spoke of the music, the food, the feeling of being around family.
In his mind, from the way the Berry family spoke of it now, it sounded like more of a party, like a celebration than just a family coming together once a week.
Music, dancing, food, holiday lights. It reminded him of the winter festival coming up in his village. Back home preparations would already be underway. Mahesh could see his father and mother talking and planning with other families in town about preparations and food to contribute to the gathering. It brought a smile to his face. Back home, there would be music, dancing, food, and lights. The town square would be lit up by torches, lanterns, and strings of light bulbs that consisted of a bulb or two from everyone’s home, representing the families and community working together.
The farther down the week they went and the closer they came to their family gathering, the Berry family started to talk more and more about ‘Papa’, the grandfather. Mahesh found out that he had started this tradition some fifty years ago and, with few exceptions, the Berry family had never missed a family meeting. Mahesh found that part odd, did they not want to travel? Did they not want to spend time with friends or invite others into the gatherings that weren’t their family so they, too, could enjoy the celebration? He remembered many dinners where friend and family gathered together, it was always a good time.
Of course, there were things that they probably thought was strange of Mahesh and his culture, and he made sure to take that into consideration. He did notice that his questions about the gatherings came across rude, even though that wasn’t his intent. From everything the Berry’s said, Papa was a pretty special person. He didn’t really think that Americans were either matriarchal or patriarchal in their families anymore, it was surprising to say the least, seeing so much adoration placed on one man.
The weekend was finally here.
Todd and Dana (Mr. and Mrs. Barry) woke early and filled the house with the aroma of strong coffee and breakfast. Mahesh loved the choice of coffee that the Berry’s consumed. He woke with a smile on his face a few minutes before his alarm went off as his brain registered the rich fragrance of the coffee brewing downstairs.
An hour and a half later, dressed, fed and fueled up, the Berry family and Mahesh piled into their large sport utility vehicle and began the forty-five minute commute to “Papa’s” house. There had been a slightly awkward moment earlier when Mahesh came down stairs dressed in jeans, sneakers and a quarter-zip sweater. The men had on suits while the women were in skirts, blouses and dresses.
“Perhaps I should go change?” Mahesh suggested to clear the awkward silence in the room.
“Perhaps you should.” Said Todd. “Papa likes to see everyone in their best clothes. It makes him happy.”
Mahesh understood the value and significance about special clothing during certain times of the year, but for a regular family gathering? Was he missing something? Perhaps someone’s birthday or a significant achievement has been made and they will be celebrating that too? Maybe its just a cultural thing? He felt a bit rude always comparing, but he was trying to understand the differences and, more importantly, why they did things a certain way. Maybe he should stop using his own culture as a reference point? He wasn’t so sure about that.
It was the “family” term that started to confuse him now. At first glance, it seemed like it had the qualities and appearance of family, but as the day grew closer and finally came, it didn’t feel quite like family.
Mahesh kept an open mind and hoped for the best. He didn’t want to embarrass his host family any more. When they finally arrived, Mahesh took a quick glance at his reflection in the black tinted windows, adjusted his tie and followed the Berry family inside the large ranch-style home.
They were the first to arrive. At the door, they were greeted by Grandma Berry. Her smile was so large and wide that it seemed to Mahesh that her face would crack at any moment. She was very excited and hugged everyone, including Mahesh. The “Exclame!” perfume popular in the early nineties practically dripped off of her; blindingly obnoxious, it gave Mahesh a headache. He secretly hoped that he could stay on the opposite side of the room as her. Unfortunately, Grandma Berry wrapped her arm around his and began to take him on a grand tour of the house. The kitchen was immaculate, something you would see in a home and garden type of publication. Grandma Berry insisted that she pour Mahesh a cup of coffee. He accepted graciously, trying to mask his desperation at smelling something other than her perfume. Mahesh could barely detect the wonderful aroma of the coffee over the perfume still lingering on his clothes. He remarked on the distinct aroma and asked if it was the same brand that Todd and Dana had at home.
“I would hope so!” Said Grandma Berry as she poured the rich black coffee into a fairly large cup for Mahesh. “All of the Berry family drinks the same coffee, it’s just tradition.”
“It must be a remarkable coffee, then.” Mahesh responded.
“You don’t like it?” She said, turning around with a smile that barely hid a strain of suspicion.
“Oh, on the contrary, I think it is a wonderful brew. I love waking up in the morning to the smell of it!”
“Ah, well, I’m glad to hear that. You’ll probably notice a good deal of similarities with the Berry family. It’s one way we stick together. Now, if you’ll follow me…”
Grandma Berry led Mahesh through the rest of the house. He was shown what Grandma Berry called the hospitality room, this was the front room of the house. It had a great view, was lighter in color and tone and very…very clean. Guests were entertained here, when asked if family ever uses this room, he was met with a laugh and a “Heavens no! Family never meets in here unless we are packed to the gills!”. Passing back through the kitchen he was shown the Gathering room. It was a grand room, vaulted ceilings, couches, seats and a few easy chairs, a fireplace and at the opposite end of the room, a fairly impressive entertainment area and sound system. Moving on he saw the guest rooms, the rest rooms and a play room for all the little ones. Walking down the hallway they passed a rather impressive looking door with stained glass on it.
“If you don’t mind, Mrs. Berry…”
“Grandma.” She said in a “reminding” tone.
“Yes… Grandma… This stained glass is remarkable. Where does this door lead?”
“Oh, that is Papa’s private library and study. We don’t go in there. You’ll get to meet him soon enough. Oh! It looks like we have more family arriving, come on Mahesh!”
With that, she grabbed him by the arm and yanked him down the hallway. If Mahesh hadn’t been continually sipping at his coffee, he probably would’ve spilled it, but thankfully he was more than halfway done with the cup and was able to compensate for the violent jerk from his host.
In the time that it had taken to tour the large home, three other families had arrived. Mahesh was pushed and passed around the families as he was introduced and right when he thought it was going to end, the last two families arrived and introductions were made again.