“Mom? Why is it so hard to talk to girls?”
“Oh, I don’t know, honey,” she replied. “Let me think about it for a minute.”
It was after dinner and we stood at the sink together doing the dishes, just us two. The kitchen was dark except over the sink, where a single light allowed us to see what we were doing. Dad and my brother and sister were in the living room, watching TV.
I’d offered to help with the dishes so that we might have a word alone, me and Mom, not because I particularly like doing the dishes.
“Do you find it hard to talk to girls?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I don’t know what to say.
“Be yourself, that’s best. You’re funny and smart. I’m sure you’ll think of something to say.”
“I really liked Ethne, Mom. She was different, you know?”
(I’d met Ethne earlier that day, and had talked about her all through dinner. I might add that at the time of my story, I was fifteen years old, and we had been living in New Zealand about a year.)
“Oh? I’m glad,” said my mother. “She sounded nice.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “she was nice.”
We were silent for a bit as we worked together at the sink. Mom was washing. I was drying. I was wondering how to broach my next question, when my mother asked;
“Did you plan on going to the movies this Friday, honey?”
“Yeah. How did you know?” I replied. “Would that be okay?”
“A mother always knows, son,” she said with a smile.
I had heard her say this many times before. It was kind of a joke between us. A mother always knows. Joking or not, Mom liked to believe it.
You might have noticed that I’ve tended to believe it, too.
“About the movies,” I reminded her. “Is it okay if I go?”
“I think so. You know we don’t mind you going to the movies if you stay out of trouble and keep up with your school work.”
“Ah, Mom? I wanted to take Ethne to the movies. Do you think that would be okay?”
“Oh? You didn’t mention that at dinner.”
“Uh, no, I didn’t, did I? Well, I couldn’t with Pammy and Andy listening. They’re just kids.”
(Pammy and Andy are my sister and brother.)
“Oh. I understand,” said Mom, suppressing a smile.
“What would they know about love?” I insisted.
“You’ll have to ask them, I guess,” said my mother in her smooth southern drawl.
Until then, I had always gone to the movies alone.
“You know we’re trying to help you do better in school, don’t you, honey?” Mom asked gently. “This may not be exactly what your father has in mind, though.”
She thought for a minute. “Is your homework all caught up?”
“Just about. I’ll finish tonight.”
“Rusty,” she looked me square in the eye. “Are you sure you’ll finish tonight?”
“Yeah, Mom. Promise.” I spoke the truth.
“Okay, ask your father,” she smiled. “It’s okay with me if it’s okay with your Dad.”
Mom turned away from the sink and sighed. She still absentmindedly held a soapy platter in her hands. After a minute she spoke with a new, husky quality to her voice.
“Your Dad took me to the movies on our first date, too. It was in downtown Wichita Falls, at the old Alamo Theater. He bought me some chocolates that I spilled and it melted on my dress in the dark. Oh! Land Sakes!” (My mother’s worst swear words). “That chocolate stain! My mother just about tanned my hide when she saw my dress!”
“It was a hot summer’s night,” Mom continued dreamily. “The theatre was air-conditioned, that’s why we went there. The movie was fun. I remember we saw a black and white Cary Grant comedy with lots of kissing in it.”
Mom stopped and stared off into space, the platter in her hand dripping soapy drops. She was remembering her first date with Dad probably, or imagining Cary Grant with lots of kissing. “Your Dad looked so handsome in his Navy Uniform,” she continued (looks like it was Dad over Cary, in my mother’s heart of hearts). “He had a mustache then. It was red and crinkly. He was very respectful and kind, too, with a funny sense of humor that made me laugh. Don’t tell him I told you so, but your Dad used to smoke cigarettes back then.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “Dad? Smoking? With a mustache?”
“Well, he didn’t use his mustache to smoke,” she laughed. “He stopped when I told him he tasted like an ashtray. That was later.”
“Did you guys kiss?” I asked. Mom’s story was a gold mine. I was riveted.
“What a question!” laughed my mother. “I’m not telling.”
“Not telling what?” said my father.
He had come into the kitchen to see if there was any more coffee. He stood expectantly in the middle of the half-lit room, with his empty coffee cup dangling on his forefinger.
“Any more coffee?” he asked, then repeated, “Not telling what?”
“Oh, we were just talking about the movies,” answered Mom. “Do you remember the old Alamo theater downtown?”
“Back home in Texas? Wichita Falls? Sure I do! I used to sneak in there when I was a kid. Me and a little walleyed boy named Danny Sequoia, to see Hoot Gibson pictures! Shucks!” (My dad’s worst swear word.) “Why he snuck in I’ll never know, because his dad owned the place.”
Mom and I laughed at Dad’s joke.
“We had our first date there, didn’t we?” he asked Mom.
“Yes, we did, honey.” I could see that my mother was pleased that Dad had remembered their first date. It would have been bad if the only thing he had remembered about the Alamo in downtown Wichita Falls had been sneaking in with Danny Sequoia. Mom smiled and her eyes glittered behind her glasses.
“I’d better get the children off to bed,” she added. “Excuse me.” Saying this, she went over and gave Dad a kiss on the cheek as she undid and removed her apron. She was wearing a summer dress and sandals. “I’ll make us a fresh pot of coffee when I’ve finished with the children,” she promised.
“Fine,” said Dad.
“Good luck,” she whispered to me conspiratorially, and ducked out.
To be continued…