Mother’s Day Special: There Goes Your Boyfriend

Recently I participated in Listen To Your Mother Little Rock, an amazing series of shows performed across the nation to celebrate all aspects of motherhood. It was a great experience and I’ll devote a blog post to it soon. In the meantime, I wanted to post the essay I read for the show in celebration of my mom. Enjoy and Happy Mother’s Day!

There Goes Your Boyfriend

by Kimberly Mitchell

“There goes your boyfriend.”

My mother’s big sister had a way of teasing her when they were girls growing up in Mena.

Mom would survey that tow headed paper boy riding by on his bicycle and giggle.

“I don’t think so.”

My mother, Gayle Lay Mourton, in 1957.

My mother, Gayle Lay, in 1957.

It’s 1957. Cokes are 5 cents a bottle, Elvis is all shook up and let me be your teddy bear while Ricky’s crooning about a teenage romance. Their posters are plastered to the walls of the bedroom my mother shares with her sister. At 10, she’s carrying her black and white saddle shoes and roller skating to Debbie’s house, even though her mother told her not to cross Janssen Avenue. She’s buying penny candy down at Reynold’s Variety. Sometimes that paper boy walks in to hand deliver the Mena Star. Sometimes he says hello.

“There’s your boyfriend.”

“I don’t think so.”

Growing up I knew as much about Mena in the 1960s as I did my own hometown in Oklahoma. School breaks were measured by how much time could be spent down in Arkansas. We’d load up the Dodge Caravan and head four hours south and east down Highway 71. As the road twisted through those old oaks and loblolly pines, breaking into breathtaking views of the Ouachitas, my mother’s eyes began to sparkle.

“Tell us a story about growing up in Mena,” we’d beg, which always made my mother laugh, but she was never short on stories.

“When I was in fifth grade, the girls chased the boys and the next recess, the boys chased the girls.  If the boys caught the girls, they got to kiss them. Jane and I could always outrun those boys, but sometimes we decided to slow down and get caught so we could get kissed.”

“Ewww,” my sisters and I groaned. “Tell us another.”

Mena seemed a different place to her. I saw my grandparents’ old white house with the huge mulberry tree out front. My mother saw the tree her cousin and brother drove the go-cart halfway up.

I saw a dusty croquet set. My mother pointed to the red mallet, where Grandpa taped it together after Cousin Sammy split it open on her head during a heated disagreement. If my mother ever offers to play croquet with you, be warned, you’re in for a game.

“There goes your boyfriend.”

“I don’t think so.”

Mom 13 - There Goes Your Boyfriend - kimberlymitchell.usIt’s 1961 and my mother’s playing cars down in the dirt with her brother when, thunderstruck, she realizes a boy could walk by. “I’m through,” she tells my uncle. “Okay,” he says, thinking she’s done playing for the day. But my mother’s thirteen now and she’s through playing trucks. She’s walking to the library in her white canvas shoes, meeting Debbie and Jane at Pete’s for malts. Cokes are 10 cents now. Sock hops are in the junior high gym with Chubby Checker and Fats Domino. They’re doing the twist in homemade spaghetti strap sundresses just long enough to keep the principal happy.

I didn’t understand why my mother always had one foot in the past, or why she loved to tell those stories. But life was changing for me. Trips to Mena became more cumbersome. “Can we get back home in time for the game? But there’s a party Saturday. I don’t want to go this time.”

“There goes your boyfriend.”

“I don’t think so.”

It’s 1964. “You better not skip choir tonight,” the pastor warns the youth group. But the Beatles are on Ed Sullivan and nearly everyone skips. As the Beatles sing, girls scream and faint in the audience and my mom watches, rapt, while Grandpa grumbles, “That hair is too long.”

Mom at 17!

Gayle Lay at seventeen.

“You better not do that again,” the pastor scolds the choir. But the Beatles are back on Ed Sullivan and the pastor gives up. My mother’s cruising down Mena street, eating ice cream at Dairy Queen, wearing black flats and an updo and dreaming of college.

When I graduated high school, visits to Mena decreased. Life was here and now. My sisters and I went to college. Married. Children were born, and not born. My niece and nephews are growing up in a tumult of noise and laughter and tears.

Slow down, I want to tell them. But they’re not listening.

And now I see it. My mother, raising her own children, living life in those moments, but living them out of her past. And that past, part of mine, too. Blue hydrangeas wrapping around a little white house, summer nights listening to June bugs sing, the glow of Grandpa’s cigarette joining in with the fireflies. A garden full of plump, sun-warmed blackberries that burst in your mouth. Bike rides all over town but don’t you dare cross Janssen Avenue. Those same streets my mother roller-skated. Those same streets my dad biked delivering all those newspapers.

“There goes your boyfriend.”

There goes college. There go four daughters, each with dreams of her own. There go grandchildren who won’t stop growing. There goes fifty years. There….there it goes.

But in my mother’s stories, it’s 1964 again. It’s Ricky and Elvis, nights at the drive-in, sock hops and Monopoly, roller skates and hand sewn skirts, 5 cent Cokes served cold in a bottle, chocolate malts with best friends, and that tow-headed paper boy giving my mother a shy smile.

“There goes your boyfriend,” my aunt says.

And my mother says, “Hmm.”

Mom and me celebrating Halloween and generally having a good time.

Mom and me celebrating Halloween and generally having a good time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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