More coffee had been prepared and Mahesh gratefully received a refill to his mug. Going with the flow, the majority of the men had moved into the Gathering room and sat down. He hadn’t noticed it before, but now, looking around, the chairs, sofas, love seats, everything was facing one focal point: the fireplace. Comparing it with other American homes he had visited so far in his short stay, it was the exact opposite. Most of them faced the entertainment area. He had sworn that when he came in the first time, on the grand tour, that it was the same.
“Excuse me, Todd…but have the chairs been moved around? I thought they faced the television when Grandma Berry gave me the tour.”
Todd looked up from the sports magazine he was reading. “Huh? Oh, yeah. While you were taking a look around, we moved the chairs. Papa likes to sit near the fire so we moved the chairs around to pay better attention to him.”
“Oh, that makes sense. What does he do, again, during your family visits?”
“He tells us stories of our family heritage, where we come from, our ancestors, that type of thing. Most of us know the stories by heart, but…” Todd looked around. “I gotta give the old man some credit, he’s always trying to re-tell the story somehow so we don’t get bored.”
“Your family heritage must be very important to everyone. I admire that.”
“Yeah, it is…” Todd looked back down at his sports magazine.
Mahesh nursed his coffee and looked around the room, enjoying his comfortable chair and hoping that Grandma Berry wouldn’t sit near him. The ladies had begun to gather into the room as well. Mahesh noticed that many of the women had an almost identical look on their faces as the one that Grandma Berry had, it seemed… strained. It was as if they were doing all they could to put on a good face and at the same time keep their faces from tearing apart, he even noticed it on Dana. Mahesh also noticed that the men, Todd included, looked extremely bored. For family, there was an imbalanced amount of small talk and “keeping up with the Jones’s” type pissing contests, but nothing that possessed any real substance or which showed genuine concern or joy for the parties involved. It seemed as if they were all walking a fine line of wanting to be there with family, but also, wanting to be somewhere else entirely and above all, keeping a good appearance.
Everyone was fine, everyone was doing well.
It didn’t seem entirely like family. It had the appearance, but lacked…something.
Mahesh felt the natural urge in his body that comes after multiple cups of coffee. He looked down at his cup, almost empty now, downed the rest of the warm brew and stood up to go relieve himself.
“Where are you going?” Todd asked. A few others looked over at the two men.
“I’m just excusing myself for a moment. I need to go the washroom.”
“Oh, well, make it quick. You don’t want to come in when Papa begins to speak, it’s not polite, we try to keep the interruptions to a minimum.”
“Oh…O.K., I’ll be quick.”
Mahesh didn’t quite understand what the deal was. As family, were they not allowed to come and go freely? Although Mahesh understood the concept of a patriarch-centered family, the more time he spent with the Berry’s, the more he felt it was a little lopsided in their focus on Papa Berry.
On his way to the bathroom, Mahesh rinsed his mug out and placed it in the sink carefully. Having done his duty in the restroom, he washed his hands, adjusted his clothes and checked his appearance to make sure he was still presentable and quietly walked down the hallway. He passed by Papa’s study, and as he did so he heard what sounded like a chair being moved over a hardwood floor. Mahesh quickened his pace, albeit quietly, and found his spot again in the Gathering Room.
Mahesh stood in the entrance of the Gathering Room for a moment, the majority of the women were finding their seats. Grandma Berry insisted that Mahesh have another refill on his coffee, reluctantly but politely, he accepted, taking his mug of coffee back to his seat. Taking a coaster, Mahesh carefully placed the mug on a small end table next to his seat and noticed that Papa had entered the room.
Everyone stood up.
It caught Mahesh off guard and he was the last the stand up as Papa navigated his way around the Gathering Room. He shook a few hands of the men and young men, gave hugs to his daughters and granddaughters.
Papa was dressed well. A little more than business casual, a little less than business formal. Nothing seemed out-of-place from head to toe. He sat down in his chair near the fire, a large leather-bound book in his lap.
Papa was an excellent story-teller. He had the ability to draw his listeners in to the stories he wove, Mahesh was amazed at how personal, even from his high-backed chair, Papa was. It felt that he was being included in this family time like he had been there all along. Papa wove principals, morals, ethics and the beliefs of the family into each of his tales, the family stories covered ancestors of the family to relatives Papa knew when he was a child. Despite his engagement, Mahesh was curious at the reactions of the family, especially given Todd’s little admission about telling and retelling stories that the family had all heard before. There were so many heads nodding, some of the older relatives giving thoughtful “Hmm” reactions to certain “points” or turns in the stories, and even a few people remarking quietly “Oh, yes!” or “That’s right!”.
Before he knew it, the story-time was over; barely an hour had passed since Mahesh had sat down with his coffee. Papa closed the family book and stood up. The family stood up too and the procession that had happened when he walked in, played itself out almost in reverse. Pats on shoulders or backs, a few handshakes and a few hugs and Papa vanished down the hallway again.
“Todd, where is Papa Berry going?” Mahesh said as he picked up his coffee.
“Hmm? Oh, he’ll be out in a little while. He always goes to his study after he tells his stories to put the family book back and do whatever else he does in there. I could never prove it, but I always imagine Papa pouring a finger or two of Scotch and enjoying it with a big cigar.”
“I don’t know what he does in there, Mahesh. All I know is that he’ll be out in a little while, we’re all leaving anyhow.”
“Oh? We’re leaving already?”
“Well, yeah. It’s lunch time. Don’t worry, Papa and Grandma Berry will meet us at the restaurant.”
“So then we come back here after?”
“No, not usually. Unless something special is going. We normally just go home and start getting ready for the week ahead. We’ll be back next week.”
“Oh…so this is the only time you see your family, then?”
“No, we see them on Wednesdays… occasionally.”