Mackenzie, Dan & Sally’s daughter, emerges from upstairs this late Sunday morning, clad in a bright yellow t-shirt and comfy sweatpants, her long, dark blonde hair piled atop her head. Last night was a late one for her – the final performance of the big spring musical. Mackenzie, or “Kenzie,” as her family calls her, was stage manager. As a senior, it was the last production of her high school career – a bittersweet night.
“What are your plans after graduation?” I ask after she’s settled into the chair next to me at the kitchen table.
“I want to take a year off from school and just kind of work more – see what I want to do. Take some online classes. Just not sure yet.” Both Taylor and Mackenzie have been given a “gap year” by their parents – the time and space to think about what comes next. I’m envious of this gift, but doubt I would have actually taken it after I graduated from high school – too eager to jumpstart the rest of my life. I suppose I’m in the middle of my own “gap year,” a couple decades later. I’m still not sure what comes next.
“She’s an Honors student, Assistant Editor of the yearbook, stage manager, an amazing writer –” her mom smiles at Mackenzie across the table. “She’s got a lot of talent, so we know she’ll go and do whatever she wants.”
“Do you think you’ll be involved in theater in some capacity?” I ask Mackenzie.
“I want to be a film director. I like the feel of everyone being together, but I work too much with stage to know what a time crunch it is to actually enjoy it. I mean, I enjoy working with it, but I know I could never be a director in a theater.”
“You have to tell Mackenzie where you’re from,” Sally says to me.
“I live in San Francisco,” I tell Mackenzie.
“They go there like every year and never take us,” Mackenzie grumbles, narrowing her eyes at her parents as everyone chuckles. “You two are like, ‘We’ll take you next year. Oh, not this year – next year.’”
“What do you want to see when you’re in San Francisco?” I ask her.
“I just want to go,” she pouts, hiding a smile.
“Ghirardelli,” Sally says.
“Yeah, she sends me pictures of the Ghirardelli store every time,” Mackenzie laughs. “It’s not nice.”
“Kenzie’s a chocolate fan,” Dan says.
“She’s got my sweet tooth. And my dad’s sweet tooth. And his mom’s sweet tooth,” Sally smiles. “Runs in the family. The boys don’t, just the girls.”
Mackenzie’s big brother Taylor joins us at the table after pouring himself a big glass of milk.
“What about you? What are you doing?” I ask the tall, dark blond-haired young man across from me, knowing that he graduated high school last year.
“I’m working. I work two jobs – at a burrito shop and a window and door company. I canvas for one and roll burritos for the other,” Taylor says.
“What does that mean, you ‘canvas’?” I ask.
“I’m basically a botherer. I go around knocking on people’s doors, trying to get them to sign up for a free estimate on their windows.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s pretty nice. You have a lot of rejection but once you get past that, it’s pretty fun.”
“I think it prepares him — for a nineteen year-old to be able to knock on somebody’s door at eight o’clock at night and be able to take that – ‘Okay, thank you, have a nice night,’ and move on,” Sally adds.
“How do you guys feel about this place?” I ask, curious to hear their perspectives of 923 Oak, their home for the past two years. Sally told me earlier that within five minutes of touring the house, they’d made an offer on the spot. “My anniversary present,” she’d said, smiling at Dan.
“I like it a lot better than our last house,” Mackenzie offers.
“Secluded,” Taylor answers for her.
“In the old house – there’s nothing really wrong with being in a neighborhood. But they were – those fake neighborhood people, kind of?” Mackenzie looks up at the ceiling, searching for words to describe her former neighborhood. “Every week, the ladies would go to Bunco and book clubs, the men would grill, and they’d have the whole neighborhood garage sale. It was all really … involved. They kept expanding the neighborhood and adding houses around it. We started on the lane in the middle, and other houses were built right on top of us. So there wasn’t a lot of privacy.”
“Would you consider yourself a private person?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah,” Dan answers for her.
“All of you? Do you all feel like you’re private people?”
“Oh, yeah,” Sally echoes. Both kids are nodding.
“Well, especially nice for you to let me chat with you!” I laugh, suddenly surprised to be sitting here.
“That’s right!” Sally laughs.
“What made you want to participate in this? I’m so glad you did, but why?”
“We’re private here, but our jobs outside –“ Sally begins.
“Think about it,” Dan jumps in. “Everyone in our family is in sales.”
“That’s true,” Sally nods her head. “We’re all people-people, and I think that’s why we’re so private at home, because we deal with it so we just want to go home and enjoy our family. So we let you come in, because I just felt, like after reading your blog, you’re such a good writer.”
“Oh, thank you,” I say shyly, still uncomfortable with the “writer” label.
“There was discussion of whether you were a serial killer,” Dan muses. Mackenzie laughs. “So I’m tracking this and I’m checking her references, and people do survive. So she’s okay.”
“Fair. Totally fair,” I smile. “Would you say that you are happy here?”
“Slightly,” Taylor says, the first to answer. Mackenzie snickers.
“Taylor hasn’t settled yet,” Sally explains. “He’s at that age where he’s going out into the world—“
“It’s like every kid,” Dan says, chopping something green at the island. “You don’t appreciate what you have until you’ve moved away, and then you realize. I was the same way. Like, this place sucks. I want to leave. And I left home at 18.”
“What are you making now?” Sally asks her husband.
“Food,” Dan wisecracks. “Working on the asparagus.”
“What would you say you’re grateful for?” I ask.
“Family,” Sally responds without missing a beat. “Family, the closeness. Like we can go anywhere and just have a good time. We all get along.”
“Do you guys agree?” I ask the other three.
“Nooooooo,” Dan bellows, joking.
“Friends, family … same thing,” Taylor agrees.
Mackenzie pauses, a thoughtful look on her face. “I would say we get along, but we’re on a different level. I mean, you’re not going to see us as that family from the ‘70s sitcom that’s like, you know, the perfect Brady Bunch family. I think more like the shows today we kind of fit along with – like “The Middle” or “The Goldbergs,” if you’ve ever seen any of those.”
“I think ‘The Middle’ was based on my hometown of Jasper,” I share, feeling a little nostalgic for my southern Indiana roots.
“Yeah, we laugh at those, because that’s just us,” Sally smiles.
“The parents are very supportive of their children’s efforts and things that they want to do, right?” Dan goads his kids.
“The parents are sometimes crazy,” Mackenzie says under her breath, smiling. “We like to mess with each other a lot.”