1st Lesson from living with the Shooks'

I still remember the first lesson I learned when I got to the Shooks'.

It wasn't that late, but it felt dark. Must've been overcast or something. The whole family was in the dining room. I heard Dan's mom jovial and high pitched, "Abe's here!" Then I heard Kenny's booming teenage voice "Abe's here!" Both of them sounded like they were making an announcement across the entire house.

It felt bizarre keeping my shoes on inside the house. Kenny was holding on to the collar of their chocolate lab mutt Barney. I was still scared of dogs, especially Barney at this time. Kenny knew this so he alternated between smiling at me and then at Barney, alternating between whispering to him to stay calm and yelling at him to stay calm.

Dan's dad came and shook my hand with a smile and then retreated into the backdrop and watched us with a smile, hands in his pockets. Mrs. Shook introduced me to the house. I was now entering their house in a different way: not just a guest, but temporarily a member of the house. She began describing things around the house. Things like which bathrooms we would be using and where to put dirty laundry. The entire time Kenny made side comments that would bring out laughter in Dan and either a team player eyeroll from his mom or a straight up dirty look.

At the end she put her hands out, palms up and said, "Well, that's it. Welcome, Abe! We're so glad to have you."

"Thank you so much, Mrs. Shook."

"Oh it's nothing. By the way, please just call me Joan."

"Are you sure? Isn't that rude?"

Mrs. Shook laughed. "Oh no!"

I decided I would call her nothing for the time being. If I had to talk to her, I'd wait until she was looking at me and say hello, hi without the name. I had called her Mrs. Shook for the longest time. But on this move-in day she was now asking to be called Joan. My head couldn't wrap itself around calling my friend's mom by first name. It seemed so rude, I was worried I was being baited somehow. I remember one time years earlier at my old school, a lunch lady had stopped into our class, and one of the students had called her by first name. "Hi, Maude." As soon as he said that our teacher had chewed him out and gave him timeout.

This was my primary reference anecdote. So I thought it'd be safer to just keep calling her nothing for now. In fact I'd never call her anything and always wait until I had her attention for my entire time here if that's what it took.

"Come on, Abe, let me show you our room." Ken said.

He literally ran up the stairs. So did Dan. I followed. All three of us running. It was a large room. Large enough to fit us three boys and not have it feel too crowded.

"Let's play NCAA!" Ken said.

"How about Madden?" I said.

"Fine. I'm gonna kick you ass though."

Halfway into our game Ken looked at me and said in a straight voice. "Call my mom Joan."


"She doesn't want you calling her Mrs. Shook. Just do it."

"But isn't it rude."

Ken closed his eyes and laughed while turning his head.

"I'm telling you. She wants to be closer to you. Mrs. Shook doesn't feel close. It's fine. Just call her Joan."


After that I was able to call her Joan. I remember the first time the name left my mouth I felt like I was in that group exercise where you fell backwards and had to trust your partner to catch you.

"Goodnight, Joan."

I felt suspended in air. It was that night. 

"Goodnight, Abe! Sleep tight!"

She said unceremoniously. Nothing bad happened. She wasn't mad at me. Everything was good. 

"Ken I called her Joan!"

"Good job." and then Ken laughed again.