The Habiliments of Home
by Charles C. Cole
Twentysomethings Corky and Naya drove from their apartment in Colorado Springs to rural Vermont to celebrate Thanksgiving and to introduce Naya to his family.
When they finally pulled off the two-lane state highway onto the narrow gravel road in the pine woods, Naya said, “I feel like we’re going into the Batcave; it’s so isolated.”
Corky stopped the car to correct her, the house not yet in sight. “It’s a church, actually.”
“You should know that my parents renovated an old Friends meeting house.”
“As in the Quakers?”
“Not that they’re Quakers. They’re Catholic. Not too strict about it. Their godson, Noble, is gay and he’s always been welcome. But they pray before every meal and have a large photo of the pope in the living room and they attend church every day. I think it’s a social thing. Anyway, I haven’t told them we want to sleep in the same room.”
“Take a breath,” said Naya. “They know we live together, though, right?”
“My loving father has told me more than once that I’m probably going to hell, but he keeps putting in a good word with the Big Man.”
“Praying for you?”
There was a knock on the driver’s window. Pops Grover, Corky’s father, in coveralls and cowboy hat, stood at the ready, yanking off his orange work gloves.
“I was cutting firewood in the woods when you pulled in. Car trouble?”
Corky fibbed. “Naya asked why we don’t pave the driveway.”
“Hi, Mr. Grover. I’m Naya.”
Pops tipped his hat to her. “Nice to meet you. My wife likes the look of living at camp. Insists on it. Rustic and simple. I grade it with the tractor if the potholes get swampy. Drag a metal bedframe behind the ol’ John Deere.”
“Sounds like work,” said Naya.
“Maybe it is,” said Pops, nodding. “Maybe I’m not as retired as I thought. Anyway, Ma should have fresh coffee ready. I’ll wrap up and join you.”
Lena, petite in all denim with a tan cowboy hat that matched Pops’, was sweeping the stoop when they pulled in. Her bearded collie, Jennie, tied to a nearby oak, gave enthusiastic greeting. Corky waved.
“She must have left her holster atop the clothes dryer,” mumbled Corky. “Kidding.”
“The prodigal son returns,” said Ma, squeezing his cheek.
“Pops found us. He must have been lying in wait.”
Ma glanced over at Naya, standing a defensive step behind Corky. “His father was a sniper in the war. Old habits, don’t you know?” She reached out and took Naya’s hand. Corky stepped aside.
“Ma’s joking,” said Corky.
“You must be Naya,” said Ma. “Somehow I thought you’d be Japanese.”
Naya shook her head.
“Long drive,” said Ma. “Suppose you’d like to use the privy.” She gestured to a small structure with a crescent moon carved into the door.
“I can wait,” said Naya.
“She’s teasing. Again. That’s a garden shed full of tools.”
“If you prefer indoor plumbing,” said Ma, “it’s the first door on your right after the kitchen.”
“Thanks,” said Naya, turning to Corky. “I’ll be right back.”
“Ain’t she cunning,” said Ma.
“That’s exactly what her military father, the retired general, said to me when we first met.”
“Did he? Sounds like she’s from good stock. I approve. One thing out of the way,” said Ma. “I suppose you want to talk about sleeping arrangements before your father joins us.”
“We’re in love,” said Corky. “I don’t think I could close my eyes without her beside me.”
His mother looked deeply into his eyes, sussing the stakes. “We talked about it. With Father John. Privately.”
“You did not!”
“He’s a friend of the family. In fact, he’ll be joining us for dinner tomorrow.”
“He’s known you since you were an altar boy. He’s a nice man and he gives us spiritual comfort.”
Naya stepped outside. She grabbed Corky’s hand. “Sounds like someone dove headlong into controversy.”
“It wasn’t me,” said Corky. “I would have waited until after coffee. Or bedtime.”
“Some things,” said Ma, “are best dealt with head-on. Then we can get them out of the way and have a nice visit.”
“Ma’s been discussing with the parish priest her son’s extramarital sleeping arrangements. The priest is coming to dinner tomorrow.”
“We just got here,” said Naya, trying to predict Corky’s reaction. “Are we leaving already?”
“There’s a hotel about an hour away,” said Corky.
“Don’t be silly,” said Ma. “Pops has been counting down, so looking forward to playing cribbage and chess with you. I’m lousy at games.”
“I was raised Catholic,” said Naya, sensing an opening.
“You were?” asked Corky.
“If you ignore the sex abuse and the arbitrary rules, they have a great sense of community and some pretty whip-smart clergy. What did the priest -
“Father John,” said Ma and Corky.
“What did Father John say?”
Pops approached from the distance, his tractor towing a trailer of four-foot lengths of hardwood.
“You ‘member that glider swing Pops built for Mother’s Day one year?”
“Sure. He found an old rotten one, measured it, and built a new one from scratch. It was awesome! What about it?”
“It rotted away, dear.”
“But remember how he leveled the ground? He really put his heart and soul into it.”
“Where’s this going?”
“Come with me, dear. You too, Naya.”
They walked around to the back of the house, Ma humming something indistinct but vaguely similar to a Beatles’ hit.
A bright blue nylon tent sat in the middle of the yard, looking like a fluorescent tiny Mini-Cooper.
“It’s brand new,” said Ma. “A Eureka Midori 3-person Tent. Our house, our rules. But nature belongs to all of us, dear.”
Pops pulled around the corner and turned off the tractor. “So, we good?”
Naya stepped over to Pops and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said.
“Purely selfish. Ma’s lousy at game-playing. We know you stubborn kids and your principles. Anybody up for coffee?”
Copyright © 2021 by Charles C. Cole