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My father (actually, both my parents) have always had strange ideas of what I might do with my life.  My mother, as I mentioned before, pushed plumbing on me with a ferocity that was alarming, and when even she had to admit I was overeducated for it, she started on the postal service.

My father focused on something entirely different– being a tour guide.  Every time we would take a tour, he would launch into this grand vision of me giving organized tours to wide-eyed tourists, possible owning my own van or bus, and living somewhere like Hawaii.  He would drive the van or bus, I would get on the microphone and point out flora, fauna, and local color.  Partway into this elaborate description, he would get a faraway look in his eyes as he pictured father and daughter creating the kind of vacation experience you gush about to your friends afterward.

Of course, when this was at its peak, I was a sullen teenager and usually countered with a “Daaaaaaaaaaaad, nooooooooooooo, I don’t want to be a tour guide,”  and he was left to bask in his dreams.

There was never any discussion as to how to make these dreams reality, rather, my father maintained (still does, really) a child-like innocence and wonder that says I can be anything he wants me to be (nevermind the fact that he’s quite unlikely to leave the Midwest, and people are not clamoring for tours…)

Because of my parent’s insistence on touring historical site and making vacations a priority, I really, really love touring historic sites.  This is something we agree on, and I now drag my friends with me to places like Slater Mill, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum etc.

Jewish Friend loves touring historical sites as much as I do, and we have decided to spend part of our summer of underemployment making mini-pilgrimages to authors’ homes.  First stop, The House of the Seven Gables in Historic Salem, MA.

We packed a picnic lunch and planned for a lovely day, which it was.  The only wrinkle was the tour guide at the House of the Seven Gables, who was so odd that we spent most of the tour dissecting what was going on with her.

First off, she seemed terrified.  She kept pulling on her sleeves and crossing her arms like she was trying to hide in her own shirt.  Secondly, her manner of speaking was… odd.  It was like she had an accent, but not really. She eliminated whole words, misused others, and was very hard to understand.  What is now the historic site The House of the Seven Gables, used to be a private residence owned by the Turner family.  The Turner family were shippers, and lived in the house for three generations until John Turner III lost the family fortune and the house with it.

She mispronounced the name Turner every time she said it.

Over the years, I’ve had good tour guides, mediocre tour guides, and bad tour guides (to date, Mistress Vicky from Slater Mill may just be the best ever), but I’ve never had tour guide be bad because I couldn’t understand her, or because she didn’t seem to even know what she was saying.  I did have one, years ago, who pronounced the word tour as “ter,” I still get annoyed when I think about it.

As Jewish Friend put it, “It’s like she just memorized the script and delivers it in a singsong tourguide manner without knowing what she’s saying.”

I left the tour thinking, “I should work here, that would be totally awesome.”

Then I remembered my father, and his dreams of me being a tour guide, and I got a little squeamish.  When I was working at the Redwood Library, we had tons of tourist traffic come through either on organized tours, or just wandering in (part of the reason is that in the Newport Tourism brochure, it’s listed as free), so we would tell them a little bit about why the library is important, and answer questions about everything from “Where are the Gilbert Stuarts?”, to “Is that the USS Constitution?” (Answers: most are in the Harrison room, which is all the way on the end, one is in the vault, and one is hanging over the large print fiction, and No, it’s not the USS Constitution, it does look like it, but has too many guns).

I loved telling people this stuff, especially when they would get all wide-eyed and say things like, “Wow, you really know your stuff.  Is that the same painting that’s in the White House?”

I still think my father’s dream of him driving the bus while I give the information is unlikely to happen, but I doubt he remembers all this, so I’m certainly not going to tell him he may have been right.

During election years, a person hears a lot about parents’ dreams for their children.  It’s generally accepted that parents are supposed to want their kids to be more successful and have more than they did– leave the world better for the children etc.  Maybe it’s because my parents are Republicans, but I’ve never really felt like that was something they thought about. Sure, they want me to be successful, cause it looks good, but the ideas they had– particularly my mother– for what would make me a success, are not only odd, but they really have nothing to do with my likes, dislikes, or talents.

I’ve always been a reader, I spent most of my time growing up, sitting and reading everything I could get my hands on.  Once I figured out, in third grade, that I could write stories as well, I started doing that.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said either lawyer, or psychologist.  I’ve been planning to get a PhD since I was eleven, and except for a brief stint in high school when I decided that I would write a best-seller so I didn’t have to go to college– college has been part of my plan.

Unfortunately, it’s never been part of my mom’s plan for me.

My mother had been planning a tech school education for me since I was about fourteen.  First, her plan was for me to be a plumber.  This was an idea that she was very emphatic about, and she pushed it hard for about two years ignoring my protests that I had no interest in being a plumber, and poring over brochures that lay out how much plumbers charge per hour, and average yearly salary.

I don’t know if she had a friend who was a plumber who was making a healthy living, or if she just realized how much it costs her when we have to call on this person, but she was all about it.

“You can charge over $20 per hour, Annie, and you can write in your downtime.” she insisted.

“Yes, but I’d have to be a plumber, I’d come home tired, covered in foul-smelling stuff, and probably end up writing stories about plumbing that no one would want to read.  If I was going to pursue a trade, I’d be an electrician.”

Once she abandoned the plumber idea, she shifted her focus to paint-chemist.  My terrible grades in chemistry class killed that idea, and by the time I managed to ensconce myself firmly in a small liberal arts university with nary a hint of plumbing classes around, she seemed to get over it a little.  She kept pushing for me to get a bank job, and questioning my plans for my BA in English, but didn’t come up with anymore totally strange career ideas.

That all changed after I finished my first masters and still hadn’t gotten a real job.  Throughout that course of study, she kept asking over and over what I was working toward, and I kept telling her that I was going to work in publishing.  Once I finished, and realized that I really didn’t want to work in publishing, she panicked and started seeking out jobs that pay a decent wage but wouldn’t require any more schooling.

Naturally, she settled on the United States Postal Service.

“You just have to take a test, which you could probably pass, and then you’re set for life.  Everytime I go to the post office, they seem very happy.”

I told my brother this new idea, and asked him if she tries to map out his future in this way as well.

“First off, the people at my post office, seem incredibly angry every time I go in, and no, she doesn’t try to plan my future, she just tries to tells me how to eat.”

So despite my mother’s best intentions, I have never taken a tech school class opting instead for advanced degrees which she regards with disdain and impatience; and my brother continues to eat the same five processed foods he has been eating since he was six and getting more and more into the cholesterol danger zone.

Her tactics just don’t work, but she is determined.  It will be interesting to see what she shifts her focus to once I have a real job, or maybe she’ll just stop speaking to me and concentrate more thoroughly on my brother’s diet.