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Thursday, July 5, 2012

First-Year University: Guys and Surprises

“My family wants to meet you. Can we meet up with them after church Sunday?” That’s right; John Mark’s family was in town for the weekend. I had totally forgotten because I had to make up some work on Saturday so hadn’t seen him by the time of this evening phone call.

“Sure, want to go to early Mass then or would our usual time be okay? I mean, is it a brunch kind of thing or regular lunch?”

“I told them we always go to church on Sunday so I’m pretty sure they’re figuring it would be more of a regular lunch time meal. The usual time should be fine.” That worked out great for me; I’d already be dressed for church so, hopefully, that would be good enough to meet his family. One is just never sure if the usual university uniform of jeans and a tee shirt is okay on such occasions. A dress is pretty much appropriate for most restaurant settings when meeting friend’s parents… something I always hated, even if the parents were nice folks. Ah, that pesky adolescent insecurity rears its ugly head.

Butterflies were multiplying in my empty stomach at an alarming rate as we entered the restaurant. I could already feel my face warming the moment John Mark pointed out the large rectangular table, full of people, with only two empty seats. Well, at least, I didn’t have to try to figure out where I should be sitting amongst a table of well-dressed strangers. Find the positive points, I told myself. I mean, the food should be great in a place as nice as this, right?

"Mom, Dad… this is Sojourner.” Their smiles were broad and I felt like they were also genuinely glad to meet me. One-by-one his sisters and others at the table introduced themselves before I had a chance to return the traditional polite response to the introduction. What do I do now? Focus on the parents because John Mark formally introduced me to them? I’ll never remember the names of all the other people so maybe some kind of generic response?

“I’m pleased to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Bradford* and well… that goes for the rest of you assorted Bradford’s, too.” Oh boy, what a dumb thing to say, I told myself, while the folks at the table broke out with laughter. The restaurant could have turned off the overhead lights; I was pretty sure my burning face would’ve provided enough light for the whole room.

“Let’s sit down.” John Mark was pulling out my chair. O-o-kay, sooo this is a pretty formal deal here; he’s never done that before. Not sure there’ll be room for my lunch now that the butterflies had been joined by a cannonball of stress.

“Don’t let this bunch scare you off, Sojourner. Most of us are harmless.” Mrs. Bradford gave a playful slap on her husband’s arm and, finally, spoke to me.

“It’s wonderful to meet you, Sojourner. We’ve been so happy to see that John has found a friend who can get him to go to church again. He’d thought he’d outgrown it, I’m sure.”

“Not to mention actually dragging him through the mine field of physics; we all thought he was a goner when he told us he’d have to take physics.” What was that sister’s name again? I didn’t have time to run through my shaky memory before another one spoke up.

“Yeah, you’re like a miracle worker of some kind to get him to church and to pass physics.” No need to try to find her name either; John Mark had his own retorts going and I just listened quietly.

Somewhere in the friendly family bantering, our meal orders had been taken and were now sitting before us. After a prayer of thanksgiving and grace had been offered over the meal, we all pretty much just focused on eating. The back-and-forth ribbing of family members relaxed me. I found I was, actually, hungry. What a relief. Once the dessert phase of the scrumptious meal had begun, however, all that changed.

“So, Sojourner,” John Mark’s mother began, her fork poised over the dessert plate, “we were all very surprised when John called us, asking that we come for the weekend.” Somehow, I just thought his family had let him know they would be passing through on their way somewhere else or something. Had he really asked them to come? “It’s not hard to see that he is quite taken with you, dear.” I stole a quick glance at Mr. Bradford before looking right at John Mark. He was grinning but also had that look my own dad gets when he wishes my mom had not begun this line of conversation.

“Uh-huh? Well, we are good buds and it, um, helped me with my own study to have an opportunity to work on the physics problems with him, too.” Good grief! What was I saying here? She wasn’t talking tutoring. I was about to choke. The red-hot skin, from my neck to hairline, beamed out my embarrassment, punctuated with giggles and chortling from his female siblings.

“Well, I don’t think that studying was what Mother had in mind, exactly.” Volume on the giggles ratcheted up as John Mark’s father spoke. “We’re delighted he’s met such a lovely, well-grounded young lady. There’s no doubt you’ll be good for him.”

“She’s already been, Honey.” Oh my goodness, as little Shirley Temple said in all of her black and white movies. “We’re all happy to welcome you to our family!” I didn’t really hear the welcomes that made their way around the table; I was too stunned. When an adult lady of some relative attachment to the clan added her acceptance, her closing question was the final straw for this distraught camel’s back.

“We’re all wondering on the date, dear. We need to be sure our calendar is clear. Were you thinking of a summer affair; I just love an outdoor wedding, don’t you?” Wedding! Whose wedding? I mean, the closest we’ve come to anything physical was a quick goodnight kiss and a little hand-holding. Very fraternal and we’d never ever spoken of any kind of future together, let alone in the very near future. Apparently Mrs. Bradford noticed my dismay, offering words of comfort.

“Oh, we’re sorry. I can see we’ve embarrassed you, dear. We didn’t mean any harm, really we didn’t. It’s just that when John told us you two were engaged, well…” Okay, embarrassed had taken a turn for the worse; now, I was furious with John Mark, who … by the way… appeared to have been struck with an inability to speak. My own voice had, once again, found itself.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bradford, thank you very much for a nice meal. It’s been a pleasure to meet each of you.” My voice was trembling slightly but I continued. “I’m not at all sure what John Mark has told you but, I can assure you this is the first time I’ve heard anything about an engagement, not to mention the selection of a wedding date.” There followed some appropriate soft gasps, which gave me courage somehow. Turning to face the seated statue they called John, I addressed my former study-buddy.

“Perhaps, we could have a word in the hallway?” Quickly, I stood and turned toward the restaurant’s side door. I heard John Mark struggling to get out of his own chair, attempting to catch up with me.

Once outside the restaurant proper, the stunned first-year Forestry student found he was, quite simply, unable to vocalize his shock. Tears had not yet worked their way through my rage but were, definitely, not far off. I held out my hand, right palm open.

“Give me your car keys.” He didn’t move but began to furrow his brow as his eyes narrowed. “Right now! John Mark, give… me… your… car… keys. I’m driving myself home. Your parents can take you to the dorm. I’ll leave your car keys at the front desk with the receptionist. Don’t call me when you pick them up.” Car keys in hand, I turned to push on the bar that would open the outside door. “Please, tell your family good-bye for me,” I said over my shoulder, walking through into the much cooler air of the parking lot. Tears began before I found is car.

In Romans, chapter 7, we read the dilemma many of us are faced with on a daily basis: the things I do not want to do, I find myself doing; whereas, the very things I do want to do, I don’t do. I have no doubt that John Mark didn’t want to tell everyone, except his fiancée, about the engagement, but he did. Equally, we can expect that he did want to ask her to marry him so that there even was an engagement to announce and celebrate but he didn’t ask. No wonder he was paralyzed when it all came to light in the public restaurant! In the next post, I’d like to offer some reflections on why that might be and just how we can get ourselves out of such a fix before “the girl drives away without us,” so to speak!

*Family name has been changed.

If you’ve missed the beginning of the John Mark saga, here’s the link:

and check out the story of Sojourner’s introduction to her date’s mother before the Peppermint Prince Ball:

The above are posts later in the series on University friends so, should you really want to begin at the beginning, check out this link:

****First-Year University: Friends, Reflections… Coming Tomorrow

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