"A Visit to Grandmother" is a 1964 short story written by William Melvin Kelley. The story is narrated by seventeen-year-old Chig Dunford.
Chig and his father, Doctor Charles Dunford, have just attended Doctor Dunford’s twenty-year college reunion in Nashville, Tennessee. It was only ten days earlier when Doctor Dunford had suddenly announced his intention to attend the event.
After the reunion, and before they set off back home to New York, Doctor Dunford casually, and seemingly spontaneously, suggests they visit his mother and his brothers while they are in the area.
The reunion had lasted a week. As they packed for home, his father, in a too offhand way, had suggested they visit Chig’s grandmother. “We might as well drop in on her and my brothers.”
Chig is suspicious of this surprise visit and believes that the college reunion was used by his father as an excuse to return home. On their arrival, he is further suspicious of the reason his father had given for the visit.
Chig knew something was wrong the instant his father kissed her. He had always known his father to be the warmest of men, a man so kind that when people ventured timidly into his office, it took only a few words from him to make them relax, and even laugh. Doctor Charles Dunford cared about people. But when he had bent to kiss the old lady’s face, something new and almost ugly had come into his eyes: fear, uncertainty, sadness, and perhaps even hatred.
Although making the visit to Chig’s grandmother appear a casual event, by using the college reunion as an excuse, Doctor Dunford’s real reason was to confront his mother about the resentments he has held on to from the past.
Chig’s father, Dr. Charles Dunford, is a well-known and successful doctor. He’s done well enough for himself that he can send his two younger children to camp, and his oldest son is considering going to law school. His urban success in New York is in sharp contrast to the laid-back, simpler life of his family in Tennessee. His brothers are still living in the South, not having received the education that Charles was sent from home at fifteen years old to receive.
That being said, Charles harbors a good amount of resentment for being sent away, though arguably it gave him the opportunity to have the life he currently enjoys. While he tells his son he wants to travel South to visit his college reunion, it seems the real reason is to drop in on family. Not only does Charles have the opportunity to address the grievances he has with his mother and brother, but he is also able to present his oldest son, his mother’s grandson, to her as a grown man for the first time.
Charles simply says to Chig that they might as well drop in on his mother as well as his brother. He says it so casually, it all seems so sudden. And the fact that the proposed visit wasn't in their original itinerary merely adds to the surprise. Given the incredibly fraught relationship between Charles and his mother, it's not immediately apparent why Charles would want to stop by. Certainly, when Charles shows up at the house and gives his mother a kiss, it is perfectly obvious to Chig that there is something not quite right about this mother-son relationship. Chig can see all kinds of emotion in his father's eyes—fear, uncertainty, sadness, even perhaps hatred.
Perhaps Charles wants to visit his mother because he has so much he wants to get off his chest. During dinner, years of pent-up anger, rage, and resentment come rising to the surface. We sense that he has waited a long time for this moment, when he can now say all the things to his mother that he has wanted to say for so many years.