Many things come to mind when I think of my mother, but some of the more outstanding things are her spirit of adventure, her love of movies, and her unconditional love.
Long, hot summer trip: When I was 2 years old, Mom and her friend Gladys Duncan set off for Florida with me and Mrs. Duncan’s son, Ronnie, in tow. I cannot imagine how hot it must have been in that 1950 Ford with the 4-60 air conditioning (four windows down, 60 miles an hour) as we meandered along two-lane highways in southeast Arkansas and on through Mississippi and Alabama toward the coast.
Mom and Mrs. Duncan were in their mid-20s. When I think of traveling roughly 1,700 miles, from Pine Bluff to St. Augustine and back, with two little boys in a car with no air-conditioning, and the possible perils, like having a blowout in the middle of nowhere — well, I’ll just say I would not have been up to it. That a couple of young moms made the trip says something about their adventurousness.
As you might imagine, my memories of that trip are just fuzzy images — St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth, the Atlantic’s crashing waves at Neptune Beach, a boat ride around some island — but the trip was powerful, helping spawn a lifetime wanderlust.
So, where was Dad? He was a Greyhound bus driver, and he was gone a lot. And when he wasn’t driving, frequently all night, he was sleeping, resting for another run. That eventually changed, but in the early days it was mostly Mom and me having adventures, entertaining ourselves.
A love of movies: In high school, Mom was an avid moviegoer. As soon as the feature film finished at Pine Bluff’s Saenger Theatre, she would dash the four or five blocks to the Malco to catch the next show there. After I came along, she made fewer trips to the theaters, opting for drive-in movies. She and a friend — and at the height of the Baby Boom there was always another young mother looking to get out of the house for a spell — would load the kids in the car and head for the Zebra Drive-in. They watched serious movies, like “A Place in the Sun” or “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” but we kids were oblivious, spending most of the time at the concession stand or the playground over which towered the giant silver screen.
Nowadays, if Mom isn’t getting her movie fix on television, she’s watching one, or at least snippets of one, on her iPad. I call her daily and often catch her in the middle of a YouTube video.
Love in a bottle: The first time I bought a Mother’s Day gift I was 7. Back then I read a lot of comic books, and the previous fall I had seen an ad that basically said I could make a small fortune selling Christmas cards. The ad featured a beaming boy, a stack of cash, and smiling faces of adults, all of whom were happy customers of that young entrepreneur. Did I mention that was in the fall? By spring, my timidity had offset my hopes of being a business tycoon, and I had sold maybe half a dozen boxes of cards to aunts and uncles, the nice lady across the street and a milk deliveryman.
Wanting to get Mom something for Mother’s Day, I took my meager profits to Oak Park Drug Store. With the help of a clerk I settled on what seemed like a neat gift, at least for what I could afford after the cost of a card: hairspray. It came in an attractive light-green bottle. And it was practical in the day of bouffant ’dos.
It must have been hard for Mom to keep from laughing (crying?) when she unwrapped that hairspray, but she smiled, said “Awww,” and hugged me. And once she emptied the bottle, she kept it in a cedar chest at the foot of her bed. That bottle may still be in a box somewhere between North Little Rock, where I live, and Rison, where she now lives in a nursing home.
I don’t know what I’ll get Mom this Mother’s Day. But I do know we will take a drive, as we usually do when I visit. We’ll stop at a country store for something to drink — she always wants a Dr Pepper. And then we’ll set out for whatever adventures we can find along southeast Arkansas’ back roads.