My parents are retired and they're now grandparents (although their version of retired involves working at least once a week, running a soup kitchen and grand-parenting--which is to say it's still pretty lively.) As our conversations over the past few years have been more about what my niece and nephews are up to and less about Hamlet, I've begun to wonder--is my impression that my parents are intellectual badasses an illusion? Is this just something I tell myself to keep them on a pedestal?
As it turns out, no. I called home tonight to talk to the Ageds. We talked Christmas shopping, I told them what day I was arriving and we discussed Angry Birds.
Towards the end of the conversation I remembered that I wanted to get a book on the Avignon Papacy (AP)--a conversation I'd had with some friends last Friday about medieval Christianity* had made me think that the AP was something I might want to know a thing or two about. When I looked up the Wikipedia article on the AP, all the sources were in French or German and when I tried to search the subject on my favorite indie bookstore's website the results were..less than promising. So I thought I'd tell mom I wanted a book on this subject matter and turn her loose on the booksellers of New York City.
When I told her what I wanted and why (information on the origin of Purgatory and other things which led to the reformation) she replied "Oh! that's not where all of that comes from! It's all due to the black plague. What you want is some of the books I read in college."
She then went on to explain (or rather remind me) a great deal about the social reactions to the black plague (flagellants, witch burning, Jews accused of well poisoning, etc.) And then we went back to discussing the reformation.
It's nice to have common interests with my mom. I can't keep up with her in a shopping marathon, but at least we can talk about medieval history together.
*What do corporate drones like me do for fun? We go to the Old Spot in Salem to talk about the history of Christian schismatism over beers with Latin teachers.