About calls in college to relatives and what it says about culture and opportunity

On the matter of my last post, the spontaneous and magical arrival of young people in your life under circumstances that may on the surface appear to be inconvenient, I’m reminded of two calls I made in college that now inform how I think about such things.

It was December 1977 and I was finishing my studies at Stanford’s overseas campus in Clivedon, England. I thought before returning to California that I would stop in Teaneck, New Jersey and Springfield, Massachusetts to visit my mother’s (German) family and my father’s (Italian) family respectively. My buddy Wendell told me he would join me in the adventure, and so I wrote letters to both sets of relatives. 

Within a relatively short time I received a reply from my mother’s family. It very politely but a bit coldly let me know that I was welcome to spend a few days but, regrettably, there would be no room for my friend (even though I knew, of course, that my Aunt and Uncle’s house was plenty big. I think it was signed sincerely (but that’s just a guess).

Sometime later, a letter came from my Aunt Mary and Uncle Angelo. It went something like this:

Dear Michael,
Can’t wait to see you and your friends! [They assumed I was bring more than one.] Hope you and they can stay for a long time. I’m sure you’re thin and need to be fed. We will pick you up at the train station and have dinner for you whenever you arrive. Love,

It screamed welcome in fashion I only then realized was not universal across families and cultures.

When Wendell and I arrived in Springfield, my Uncle Frank picked Wendell and me up and took right to Ciro’s Italian Restaurant where under the loving, watchful eyes of a half dozen of my relatives we enjoyed many courses of appetizers – no one else ate – and then, when we thought the meal was over, came for each of us a beautiful if somewhat imposing two pound lobster. It was an unforgettable meal and lesson, one that my wife reinforces in her approach to life.

Don’t say “no” to amazing opportunities. Open your arms to college guests for they will reward you with their exuberance and curiosity. Enjoy amazing meals whenever you can. If you have a choice, error on the side of being inviting and Italian.