By Adam Gerchick ’13
My parents’ visit began with a wake-up call at 11 a.m. “We just landed,” my mother told me. “We should be there in an hour. I’m sure you’re already up.”
I could hear my father laughing in the background.
By the time my parents arrived at Cohan Dormitory, I’d managed to fully prepare both my room and myself. My hair was merely damp. I’d made my bed. I’d folded most of my clothes, shoved the rest in a bin, hidden my beer and found, behind my printer, the phantom container of shrimp fried rice I thought I’d been smelling for a few weeks but hadn’t been able to locate.
My father (Mark Gerchick ’73) was taken aback as soon as he walked through my door. “It’s like a three-star hotel!” he said.
“It needs posters,” my mother countered.
My parents, who’d arrived on an early-November Saturday for Family Weekend, took their seats, Mom beside me on the bed and Dad in the wooden desk chair across the room, preparing to speak face-to-face with their son for the first time in more than a month.
“Look,” my dad began, “there’s no way anyone’s going through all those free condoms in the bathroom, so when the sign says to call the dorm counselor if they run out, I’m guessing that’s aspirational.”
It was good to see him, too.
We went to the football game. Amherst was playing Trinity, and it was the sort of football that my dad likes: cookouts, simple bleachers and the ability to sit less than 300 feet from the field without needing a loan to buy the tickets from a scalper. The Goodyear Blimp was conspicuously absent. Pre-entrance security was nonexistent. Instead, all we got was a football game, and without commercial breaks at that.
It was strange to see my classmates sitting between their mothers and fathers and taking direction from them on where to stand for family photographs. Like the children next to their naval rescuer at the end of Lord of the Flies, we were all, in a sense, diminutive again.
That night, as we dined out, I was reminded that there are certain traditions that come with a Gerchick Family Weekend Dinner. These are the Food-Quality Survey, the Academic Inquest and the Love-Life Review.
“Val’s getting better, right?”
“You’re doing well in class, right?”
“Look, I know you’re going to hate me for asking this, but that girl from Mount Holyoke…?”
The next morning, the call came early. “We’re coming,” my father said in his most ominous voice. They were in my room when I got back from the shower.
“You’re getting a gut,” Mom told me as I walked in.
“Morning,” I offered.
My dad suggested we visit the Quabbin Reservoir’s Windsor Dam. We arrived and walked its length, talking about grandparents and vacation plans and prospects for summer jobs. We stopped to watch a lone mallard dive into the water, and we waited, each unwilling to admit we were concerned for it, for several minutes, until we realized it had re-emerged several dozen yards away.
The walk led me to think about the real virtue of family visits. It’s not that they let students see their families, and it’s not that they let families see that their kids are all right. These visits show parents that the college is all right—that Amherst, not as an instructive institution but as an environment and a community, can serve its students well.
But for my father and other alumni, these weekends are also a chance to revive their relationships with Amherst—perhaps not with classes or their classmates, but with the spirit of the place. As much as he had come back to see his son, my dad had come back to visit his college memories, and the weekend was as much his as it was mine.
Illustration by Travis Foster