Mom's Night Out
A version of this column appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on May 8, 2016.
It’s Mother’s Day. And, as usual, I am filled with, well, embarrassment.
Looking back on it, we were clueless, self-centered kids. I was, at least. My brother was younger and simply followed my lead. And our father? He wasn’t much better. A stereotypical 1950s male who thought he was the king of our little brick rancher.
My mother wasn’t his queen. She was more like the downstairs maid.
After a full day operating the microphone and sliding drawer at the Farmer’s National Bank drive-through window, my mother walked home – about a mile – on high heels to make supper for us and clean the house.
I swear, I sometimes heard the vacuum at midnight.
It never occurred to me – except for once every year – that my mother might not find her hamster-wheel life with us completely satisfying.
She didn’t have a wide circle of friends. The stay-at-home moms who populated our small town lived in their own world. Unlike them, my mother didn’t have time for clubs, politics, volunteering or even a real hobby.
Once a year, over our collective moans, my mother would announce that she was going out with “the girls.”
Nothing we said could stop her.
“Do you have to go?” I’d implore.
“When will you be home?” my little brother would ask pathetically.
“What are we supposed to eat for dinner?” my dad would ask.
“It’s one night a year,” she’d say with exasperation. “You’ll survive.”
I wasn’t so sure.
“The girls” were a mystery. They were dangerous, exotic women who lured our mother away every 12 months.
They had worked together when they were fresh out of high school at a place called Hamilton Rubber. Apparently, Hamilton’s cadre of secretaries had bonds that stretched like the hoses and belts the company made and never broke.
Decades after they’d married and moved on, the Hamilton Rubber girls insisted on regular reunions.
I didn’t like it.
I worried about how giddy my mother seemed as she zipped her dress, fixed her hair and carefully applied cherry red lipstick before dashing out the door.
“Well, we can’t go anywhere,” my father would point out as soon as she left and the TV dinners were in the oven. “Your mother’s got the car.
"It's dinner with the Swansons for us."
We’d pout. As if we ever went out on a school night.
Since we didn’t know “the girls,” I imagined them to be a bunch of peroxide blondes who drank too much and danced with strange men. Every year, I worried that my mother would find the girls more exciting than our family and leave us to enter a childless world of smoky nightclubs and seductive music.
By the time I was a teenager, I’d stopped fantasizing about my mother’s annual ritual. Still, I was stunned when my mom and I bumped into one of “the girls” at the mall.
Turned out, she was just a 40-something lady in a pantsuit who told me I was prettier than the photos my mother had shown her.
“That was Edie?” I gasped as she walked away.
“Yes, what did you expect?” my mother asked.
“I figured she’d look like Angie Dickinson or something.”
“Why on earth?” my mother exclaimed.
I said I was also astonished that my mom had brought photos of me along on her outings.
“That’s what we do,” she said impatiently. “We go out to dinner and show pictures of our kids over dessert. What did you think we did?”
I told her about the nightclubs and the dancing and the men.
“I can’t wait to tell them that,” she laughed.
“Dinner and dessert with your old girlfriends sounds like fun,” I admitted. “Why do you only go once a year?”
She gave me a look. I knew the answer.