I think there are two schools of thought when it comes to visiting extended family. Some people have the attitude that “I couldn’t possibly impose on them, and I’m more comfortable in a hotel anyway,” while others are more of the “Why stay in a hotel when there’s a perfectly good free house nearby?” variety.
My extended family is among the latter. To their credit, though, most of them will at least call ahead and ask if it’s a good time for us, and most of them live either right in town or very far away, so drop-ins are rare.
That’s a good thing, because I really hate drop-ins.
Of course I live with my family now, but when I live on my own, the basic rule is “call before you stop by, no matter who you are.” And I do the same. I’d call my own parents before just randomly showing up at their house one day. Besides, we’re kind of untidy, and visits almost always require major cleaning at most, stuff-n-fluff at best. And sometimes on the weekends we lounge around in ratty boxers and tee shirts all day (parents included). And this week, Mom and Dad and I have been lazy and the only food we had was a box of Suddenly Salad, some frozen chicken patties, English muffins, yogurt, and Diet Coke.
(If you’ve never experienced the joy of a stuff-n-fluff, by the way, I’ll give you a tip: ovens are really good places to stash dirty dishes. Just don’t forget they’re in there.)
Unfortunately, not everyone in my extended family lives by the “call in advance” rule.
The most classic example of the drop-in from hell occured in 1986. My parents had just purchased their first house in the next town over from where we had been living. Ginny was three and I was six at the time.
It was moving day, and we were taking boxes into the new house when a Winnebago pulled into our driveway. And out came Phyllis and Rod.
I don’t even know how they found our new house. They wanted to know if we’d mind if they hooked up the RV for a few days, and of course my family can’t say no.
Phyllis and Rod were cousins on my mom’s side. They’d been traveling the country in their RV. They wanted a home-cooked meal and some downtime to visit family.
We, on the other hand, were sorting boxes into the proper rooms and eating ten for a dollar hot dogs from King Soopers.
I think we at least upgraded to fried chicken and mashed potatoes from Big Burger (yeah, I don’t know either), but you know, there was moving to be done.
And Phyllis and Rod wanted to be entertained. They wanted to talk about stuff. They wanted to go see the sights. Rod wanted my dad to look at his arrowhead collection. While Dad was behind the TV. Helping the cable guy hook up the cable. But he had the arrowheads right there in a box!
I don’t know how long they stayed, but it seemed like a really long time. I do know, however, that Ginny inadvertently saved the day by walking into the living room one morning and asking, “Who are these people and when are they leaving?”
I’m pretty sure Phyllis and Rod drove the Winnebago away the next day.
And then there was Nick. Nick is a distant cousin of mine whom I’d seen over Thanksgiving during my sophomore year of college. Being the only people under 60 at my grandparents’ we ended up hanging out, and exchanged emails and phone numbers before I went back to school.
That June, I was simultaneously studying for finals and packing up my shit when the phone rang at 11:00 on a Friday night.
It was Nick. Who was at the airport. In Chicago. With no place to stay. Because, see, he’d gotten on a plane and come to Chicago to visit a friend of his from boot camp, whom he hadn’t seen in about four years. But he was pretty sure the guy still lived in Chicago. Not that he’d know for sure or anything, since he didn’t actually talk to the guy before getting on a plane to go see him. And shockingly, when he got into the city, he couldn’t get in touch with the friend. Because he didn’t have the right number. Because young people don’t tend to stay in the same place for four years.
I’m my mother’s daughter, though, so I couldn’t say no. I gave him directions on how to take the El to my dorm, wondering all the while how I was going to make enough room on the floor of my tiny single dorm room for a guy to sleep and whether I even had an extra pillow or blanket to give him.
Nick wanted booze and a good meal. He found a cheesesteak place, but liquor stores in Evanston closed at 10. I was 19 with no fake ID, so bars were out. He wanted entertainment. So I called Kate, who had an apartment and a fridge full of leftover Jello shots, and off we went.
Nick took all the Jello shots and proceeded to mack on my friend, going so far as to compliment her breasts at one point. Soon after, I was like “Okay, let’s go.”
He wanted to find a party. He complained about how the floor in my dorm room was really hard. When I told him at 8:30 on Saturday morning that I had stuff to do that day and he should call his friend, he made some excuses about how he didn’t know the number. Lucky for Nick, I had a phone book and was more than happy to help him track the guy down. Finally he found the friend, did the same “no place to stay” thing, and the friend came and picked him up. And I hugged him and tore into the dorm to call my mom.
Well. This morning as I was on my way out the door at 8:00, the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number on the caller ID and the caller didn’t leave a message, so off I went.
The caller called back an hour or two later, and this time, it was my mom calling me.
I asked her where she was and she said she was in the Kroger parking lot waiting for her cousin Nancy.
“Your cousin Nancy?” I asked. “Who’s that again?”
“NICK’s mom,” she said. “She called a while ago wanting directions to our house.” And then I knew.
It was Phyllis and Rod all over again! Were they going to stay? They couldn’t have my room – it was a hole. Thank goodness we cleaned the cat boxes and mopped the kitchen last night. Don’t they know we have a SITUATION right now? Will I still be able to visit Ginny after work? Do we need to cook a big dinner? Can’t we possibly have ONE FREAKIN’ WEEKEND where my mom and dad and I don’t have to take care of someone?!?!?!?!
Mom didn’t know. I called back a while later and she was really perky, which means they were sitting right there.
Luckily for us, they were just on their way through town and wanted to stop for a quick visit.
But man, that quick (and as it turns out, painless) visit really brought back a few of the longer, more painful drop-ins we’ve had over the years.
People. Do everyone a favor and call before you stop by. And when I say “call before,” I mean like a day before, not ten minutes before. You’ll save everyone a lot of stress in the end.