International Writers Magazine: Surprise Visit:
wife Sally and I were pleasantly surprised when our youngest son
Steve dropped in on us. It was a pleasant spring weekend.
Hed driven up from Sunnyvale, south of San Francisco, where
he had an apartment, to the retirement community just outside of
Sacramento where wed moved a few years before.
In fact, wed moved shortly after Steve had graduated from
UC Berkeley and gotten his job as a computer engineer in Silicon
We had two other
sons, Jack and Ken. Jack, the oldest, was in Los Angeles, trying to
be a screen writer. As far as we knew, he was working as
kind of a gofer for one of the studios. Ken, the middle son, was still,
as hed told us, trying to find himself. At the moment,
he had a temp job in Sacramento, which was at least better than being
unemployed. Steve had become interested in computers
when he was ten years old. By the time he was in high school, he could
put together a computer from scratch and write his own programs. After
getting his degree in computer science he was immediately offered a
job, with a $2,000 signing bonus. In the three years since then, hed
been promoted and had received nice raises. We were happy that we had
one son whod always known what he wanted and was doing very well
Steve had arrived in the late afternoon. Sally told him
that if shed known he was coming shed have prepared one
of the meals he liked, but she really didnt have much in the house.
Thats all right, he assured her, he wanted to take us out to dinner.
Wasnt there that French restaurant we liked nearby?
Before we left, I asked Steve if hed talked to his grandparents,
my mother and father, lately. He hadnt, no surprise
there. My parents lived in New York. My father
was approaching 90 and my mother 80. They couldnt
travel to California any more; I called them every weekend.
I went to the phone and my mother answered. I told her to put my father
on the other phone and that her grandson Steve wanted to say hello to
them. Steve talked to them for about 15 minutes. I could
imagine them telling all of their friends theyd had a nice conversation
with their grandson in California, the computer genius.
We were lucky in that the restaurant wasnt too crowded that night.
We were seated at a nice table with a view of an open area with trees
and a little creek. Before we ordered, Steve said, Dont
forget, this is my treat. Go wild.
All right, I said. I ordered the steak.
After the waiter left, I said, Okay, whats going on?
What do you mean? asked Steve.
You pop up here, then take us out to dinner. Did you
get a big promotion? Are you planning to be married?
Steve laughed. No, nothing like that.
But I do have something to tell you.
I glanced at Sally. What? I asked.
Im planning to take a year off and go backpacking through
The word flabbergasted best describes how I felt at this
Well, you asked if I was planning to be married.
I do have a girl friend, Alice, the one I told you about.
Were pretty serious.
Then why are you going to Europe?
Well, its my last chance for a getaway. If
we do get married, then well buy a house, start a family, all
of that, you know.
Yes, I knew. A house, a family, your life will be over.
Have you discussed this with Alice? asked Sally.
Oh, sure. Shes all for it.
How about your boss?
I asked if I could have a leave of absence. He said
he couldnt hold my job open but Id have a pretty good chance
of getting re-hired when I came back.
A pretty good chance but no guarantee. I grew up in the
1930s. Giving up a perfectly good job to go gallivanting
around for a year was inconceivable to me. Can
you afford to take a year off?
I saved up some money. And Ill be backpacking,
staying at hostels, not at fancy hotels. Dont worry,
Ill be okay.
You say youll be backpacking. Do you
know exactly how youll get around and where youll be going?
Since my retirement, Sally and I had been to Europe several times.
I tried to imagine Steve arriving in Paris at night, then wondering
where to stay.
Not really. I havent done any research yet,
but Ill manage.
I could see I was getting nowhere. Dont
you think youll be hurting your career?
He shrugged. Im pretty burnt out, Dad,
he said. I need a break, a long break.
The waiter brought our dinners. My steak was very good,
but Id have enjoyed it a lot more under different circumstances..
We talked some more about Steves plan through dinner, of course,
and I thought of a few other good reasons for him not to throw up everything
and go to Europe, but he was determined to go through with his plan.
When we returned to our house, he called one of his old Sacramento friends
and told us he was going out to a club; we shouldnt wait up for
Sally and I sat down in our living room chairs. Well?
I can understand why he feels burnt out, said Sally.
He worked awfully hard getting through Berkeley, then he went
to work right after and he hasnt really had a break since then.
I shook my head. I dont understand it,
I said. What if he doesnt get his job back?
Things are slowing down in Silicon Valley.
Hes always been resourceful. Besides, Ive
been thinking, is what he wants to do any different than when you up
and left New York when you were about his age and came out to California?
That was different. I didnt have a great job.
I couldnt even afford to get my own place to live.
But your parents didnt think going to California was such
a great idea.
No, they hadnt. I remembered my mother crying when
Id left for the airport. I suppose thats what
parents were for, to be left behind by their kids. At least
Steve would be coming back to California. He wouldnt
want to stay in Europe, would he? No, not with his girl
friend Alice waiting for him.
Im going to dig out all that stuff we have on Europe,
I said. If hes going over there, he should know
something about it.
© Martin Green July 2008
Didnt I say I wanted that report today,
asked Blair, his deep voice soft but menacing.
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