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The phone rang at exactly 7:30 on a Sunday morning. It was early spring of my junior year at the greatest university in the Land, otherwise known as North Carolina State. I heard my roommate answer the call on the second ring. We lived in a three-bedroom duplex, so you could hear pretty much every phone conversation in the house.
“Good morning.” Pause.
“No, sir. I was already up.”
That was a lie. The truth was we had just gone to bed about four hours earlier.
“Sounds good. See you in a little bit.”
And he hung up the phone. And then, the scrambling began.
“Oh, #$%@! Get up! My parents are coming by in 15 minutes. We have to clean up.”
We had hosted one of our Saturday night parties and the house was a wreck. It usually took until about Monday afternoon before we got it cleaned up.
So, I did what any good friend and roommate would do. I laughed at him and informed him it wasn’t my parents coming by and rolled back over to go back to sleep. He cussed me and took off downstairs. I heard bottles and cans getting thrown away, pizza boxes getting put out back, CDs getting stacked back up, counter tops getting cleaned, windows getting opened for fresh air and even some vacuuming getting done. I wasn’t even aware we had a vacuum at the time.
Now, you need a little background on my roommate’s parents to better understand this story. They liked to take long drives on pretty Sunday mornings. It wasn’t anything for them to drive to Virginia to visit family or South Carolina to eat lunch at a favorite spot or the other side of North Carolina to take in a mountain view. That was their thing. They liked to take one-day trips together. I always thought it was kind of cool.
The other thing you needed to know about my roommate’s parents was his dad was a Green Beret, Navy Seal, or a Special Ops trained military man. I always got it mixed up which one he was, but I did know this: He was a cool dude, but he did not play around. You had better have your ducks in a row or he would point it out.
My roommate’s dad walked in the front door at 7:50 a.m. and asked his son where was the bathroom. When he was done, I heard him deliver the greatest one-liner in the history of a father making a surprise visit to his son’s college house on an early spring morning.
“Thanks, I had to shake the dew off the lily. Later.”
He never sat down. There was no small talk. I don’t even think he broke stride on the way out of the door. He was inside our place for a total of about 90 seconds. My roommate’s mother never got out of the car that was running in the driveway. And then, they were gone.
Thirty years later and with two boys of my own, I finally understand that visit. At the time, I thought it was just about the funniest 20 minutes I had ever heard while my roommate was scrambling to clean up our place, but the purpose of that visit is pretty clear now. He wanted to lay eyes on his son and let him know he was checking up on him. That early morning visit could have just as well been at 7:50 that night on the way home from their day road trip, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as effective.
He made his point without even saying a thing. And, in my opinion, that is just about as real as it gets.