“We have a surprise for you and Alan. Well, it’s two surprises, actually. When you come home, you’ll see.”
My mother’s voice was full of energy yet retained her soft, gentle nature, even over the phone. ”You and your brother are going to be so surprised, so shocked. I bet you would have never thought it. Your father and I are very excited, very excited for you to come home and see. When are you coming, Sammy, when?”
“I should be there on Tuesday night. Our flights are close. Alan and I get in within a half an hour of each other, so we’ll just grab a cab from the airport. No need for you and dad to come get us.”
“Are you sure, honey? We don’t mind. We can be there if you just call us.”
“No, no, it’s just as easy. And it will be quicker. Besides I will get Alan to pay for the cab.”
“Well, okay, if that’s what you want to do. Oh dear, you are going to be so surprised. This is going to be a very special Thanksgiving, I can tell you that.”
Alan is my younger brother. He’s three years younger. Always been a bit of a knucklehead, but he’s a good kid. He had a little trouble getting into a groove, but has a pretty good job, a new girlfriend he just proposed to, so things are going pretty good for him now.
It had just started to snow, light flurries, as the cab backed back out of the driveway. My parents’ house was lit up – it seemed like every window on both floors was bathed in yellow. “Do they have every Goddamn light on?” Alan asked, his face lit in amazement. I looked to my brother and smiled. “You ready?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Alan said and then put a hand to my chest. “Remember, patience. They are old and feeble.”
I laughed. “Feeble? Yeah, right.”
When we walked in the front door, we were greeted not by our white-haired mother and father, but rather two large white-haired dogs. Tails wagging, their noses nudged our legs, and then moved around our backs. They appeared to be poodles but bigger with elongated legs so their noses pushed into our legs, our crotches, our knees, our butts. “Sammy! Alan!” my mother called to us but there was so much commotion. Alan and I could barely get in the door. There wasn’t much room with the dogs, Alan and me and our bags, all in that little foyer. “Sammy, Alan, get over here,” my dad called out to us. We put our bags on the bench in the front hallway and went into the living room.
The dogs followed us and then walked to my father, who was sitting in his recliner by the patio door, the TV remote resting on his right thigh. It was when my mother walked in the room and stood near my father, that I realized that they matched – both in a blue sweatshirt that said “Ft. Lauderdale” in orange letters, blue jeans and white sneakers. The only difference is that my mom’s included one vibrant pink palm tree, which I guess made her outfit more feminine. With their gray hair, they looked like twins. Or that they played for the same team, which, I guess, at this point, they did.
Alan and I looked to each other and then dragged our luggage to our rooms. Alan hopped in the shower and I had a plate of leftover fish and chips. As I sat at the table, my mother brought me a napkin.
“You like the dogs, honey?”
“Yeah, they’re cute. They have a lot of energy, they’re bouncy. How long have you had them?”
“Just a few weeks. They’re still young, puppies I guess, even though they are full grown. Your father said that if our two boys don’t need us anymore, we may as well have two dogs that do. Isn’t that silly?”
I stuffed a forkful of coleslaw in my mouth.
“They’re good dogs, though. We really like having them around. I never thought that we would but we love them. Even your father does. He is softening up in his old age.”
The next morning, we went out for breakfast at the Bob Evans on Miller Road. It was their usual hangout for their weekly breakfasts with a group of friends from high school. It became clear to Alan and I that a pattern was emerging: our parents dressed alike, in matching outfits, every single day. Everything was in bright colors – varying shades of greens and reds and blues. Alan and I shook our heads in bewilderment. When did this happen? Was it a conscious choice? Did they even realize it had happened? Or did they just get lazy? After all, life is simpler for two if the daily clothing decisions are reduced to only one and you just follow the leader. But it was a little disturbing to realize that our father and mother had morphed to become two sides of one genderless parent.
After breakfast, my father made a beeline for this chair, and grunted as he sat. The two dogs were sprawled at his feet. The two dogs looked like canine versions of our parent twins. Patches of white hair, long faces. Everyone in the house looked alike. So they were actually more like quadruplets. Alan and I wondered where we fit in with this odd family. It was unsettling.
“Let me tell you something,” he said. “Sippy cups have ruined the world. Kids today are not to be taught to be held accountable for their actions anymore. It’s a free for all, I tell you. It’s true.”
“Did I miss something? I asked Alan.
“He’s on a roll, just gotta wait it out.”
My mother turned and walked into the kitchen. My father didn’t miss a beat.
“That whole saying of ‘there's no crying over spilled milk.’ Well that doesn’t mean anything anymore. No one cares anymore. You know why? Cause you can't actually spill your goddamn milk!“
“From the time you are a baby, you can drop it on the floor or throw it across the damned restaurant for that matter and it won’t spill, it doesn’t actually spill. So, when you get older and you actually spill your milk or your life for that matter, hell, you just walk away and expect someone will magically clean it up for you. Think about it. That young family sitting next to us with that baby? That baby is going to grow up to be a selfish bastard. I’m telling you that now. He is well on his way and we can thank those damned sippy cups.”
Okay, so my parents weren’t exactly twins.
That evening, I was in the living room, reading the newspaper while Alan and my dad were putting some things into the backyard shed. In the kitchen, my mother was feeding the dogs their dinner. I could hear her talking to them as if they were small children, calling them by name, assuring them their “din-din” was coming, that “Mommy” was getting it for them.
I put the newspaper down and went into the kitchen.
“Ma, what are the dog’s names?”
“What?” She looked up to me.
“What are the names of the dogs?”
“Oh, Sammy and Alan. Why, honey?”
“Are you serious? The dogs . . .have our names?”
“Oh, don’t be silly, honey, no, they don’t have your names. Not exactly, no. They have dog names.”
“Which are our names.”
“No, of course not, they just have dog versions of your names.”
“Ma, they are the same names. You called them Sammy and Alan. Those are the same names. Those are our names.”
“Well, no, not exactly, no.” She wiped her hands on the hand towel near sink. “They are for the dogs. Names for the dogs. We just liked the names.”
“Well, yeah, obviously.”
“We liked the names and we liked them together and thought it would be easier to remember.”
“You didn’t think you could remember two more names?”
“Well, no, honey, I am sure we could. They were just names, just names we thought of. Names to call the dogs. We didn’t think we would grow to love them as much as we do, though.”
“But they are human names, Ma, the same names that you gave your two sons. They are not dog names. You don’t think that’s kind of weird?”
“Oh Sammy, stop this now. You are being silly. Let’s not talk about this anymore.”
Alan and I left the next day. Alan said there was a problem with a server at work and he had to get back and I followed him out the door. We sat in silence in the backseat of the cab, on the way back to the airport.