We were going to meet Ann’s parents, and the drive from Lansing to Flint, Michigan, where they lived, was only about an hour. I had met several members of her family already and gotten the seal of approval from them. But now I was meeting Mom and Dad, and felt as nervous as if I were going to a job interview. A job interview for a position I really wanted. Ann assured me that her parents were kind people who cared about her and would like me because I made her happy.

Ann had a great relationship with her parents, and as the baby of the family, she had a special bond with them. She briefed me in great detail about them. Her dad was a retired floor manager of an assembly line at GM. He was a gifted machinist who could build or repair anything. He also was living with and managing bladder cancer, having been in remission for several years.

Mom was a dedicated wife and mother who loved and protected her family. She was born and raised locally and was a fountain of knowledge on local history. She loved to tell stories of all the factories nearby that had been used to make war supplies for the military during World War II. Michigan’s car factories made tanks, trucks and jeeps to support the war effort and everyone in the area supported the war effort.

The family had suffered a tragedy a few years ago with the death of their youngest son (he was two years older than Ann) in a motorcycle accident. His name was Clay and like his father he was an accomplished and avid pilot. He was also a thoroughly competent motorcycle driver, but he was a passenger on the day he died.

Mom and Dad were both happy that Ann was learning to fly and Dad would let her take the controls of his own plane anytime she wanted. Between her lessons at home and chances to fly with her dad, Ann had lots of opportunity to get in flying hours.

When we reached Flint we pulled into the driveway of a well-kept house on the edge of a cornfield. It was a baby blue, single-story building with a large wooden front porch as well as dog runs encircling the house. The front door opened directly into the kitchen. Mom was in the kitchen and the whole house had a wonderful scent of home cooking. Mom’s face lit up at the sight of Ann and Ann squealed with delight as she ran to her mom. Mom was dressed in a simple floral dress and a well-worn apron. They embraced and I shuffled nervously behind Ann. Mom’s eyes were closed first as they hugged, but then they opened up and sized me up.

“And this must be Joe,” she said cordially.

I felt incredibly self-conscious as Ann introduced me, and without saying a word I stuck out my right hand to shake hands. Mom ignored my hand and gave me a warm hug saying,

“Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Ma’am.”

Looking at Ann, she said. “Go and see Dad, I have stuff to finish here.”

“It smells wonderful.” Ann said as I nodded vigorously.

Now it was time to meet Dad.

Dad was in the living room, also known as the TV room, with two dogs at his feet. He was dressed comfortably in a long-sleeve T-shirt and blue work pants that showed signs of having been involved in many workshop projects.

Dad and the two dogs stood up when we entered, and Ann and Dad hugged. Dad’s eyes were then glued on me while the dogs sniffed at my feet. The dogs alternated between greeting Ann and checking out my scent. Dad gave me a very firm handshake, with his eyes still locked on mine. Dad looked and felt like a strong and vital man who had weathered years of hard work providing for and raising a family.

Ann introduced us and he, still gripping my hand, said “Nice to meet you, Joe.”

“Pleasure to meet you too, Sir,” I said.

“Have a seat,” he said as he clicked off the TV and Ann said something about helping Mom in the kitchen as she walked away.

He introduced me to the dogs, Sam and Sally, as all four of us sat down. The dogs were siblings from the same litter. Sam was about 80 pounds, white, black and brown. Sally was much smaller, and grey and black. She had grey around her muzzle that made her look like an old man with a grey beard. They were mixed-breed mutts, very loyal and friendly. Sam seemed to like me and was a floppy-eared gentle giant. He tried to crawl into my lap, which was apparently not allowed and was immediately stopped with a strong “noooo” from Dad using a deep voice that made him sound like a tuba.

“So, you’re the one dating my daughter,” he said.

“Yes, Sir,” I said and he nodded.

We talked, and he asked me about my work at the university and about my family. I told him about my parents and he was interested in my father’s carpentry work and that he had taught me some of his trade.

“So you know your way around a workshop?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir.” I replied.

“Wanna see my shop?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“All these ‘Yes, Sirs” I’m hearing make me wonder if you were in the military. Were you?”

“No, Sir, I was not, but my father was and he impressed upon us kids respect and the use of sir and ma’am.”

Dad nodded understandingly. He opened a fireproof door to a huge workshop at the back of the house. It was more like a high-end machine shop with tools, metals, wood, pipes and an impressive array of heavy-duty professional looking machines and equipment. This included welders, cutters, benders, saws, pneumatic equipment and stuff I did not recognize. Dad beamed with pride in his “cave,” as he called it. It reminded me a lot of the workshop that my father had in our garage, again reached through a fireproof door. My father’s tools were more woodworking than metal working, but the feeling I got in the workshop was surprisingly similar and somehow comforting. I felt a sense of familiarity and security like I did in my parents’ house in New York.

My tour of the cave was suddenly interrupted by Ann calling us in for brunch. In the dining room Mom had prepared a huge spread, a wide range of fantastic-looking food appropriate for breakfast and lunch, enough for at least 10 people, though it was just the 4 of us.

When we sat down to this splendid repast, the conversation ranged from my research, to Ann’s flying, her dad’s and my dad’s workshops and the great food. Mom had made two types of hash browns and two types of eggs, plus there were cold cuts, two kinds of fresh bread for sandwiches (wheat and white), a large collection of condiments, salad with several dressings, and breakfast sausage and bacon. No one was going hungry and the assortment of foods was comparable to what a good caterer would prepare for an upscale event. I complimented Mom on the great meal and proved it to her by trying everything and taking seconds of many dishes.

Afterward, I was almost too full to move. I had convinced Mom of my enjoyment of her cooking by the volume and enthusiasm of what I ate, but I really overdid it. After brunch Ann gave me a tour of the house, excluding Dad’s cave. Ann’s bedroom was still exactly the same as it had been when she was a kid living at home. She took on an almost childlike demeanor as she recounted the significance of some of the things in it. On the shelves were cheerleading awards, clippings from the school paper, prom photos and stuffed animals. For her it was as if she were back in high school again. For me it was a unique view into her life, which I felt privileged to share with her. I thought about my former bedroom in my own home. My own parents, too, had left it largely untouched since I left for college. Ann’s family was highly reminiscent of my own.