In life, what you really want will never come easy. It is full of chaos and a series of moments. Some days it seems nothing happens. Other days it seems to be filled with more than I can bear. Some days I feel I can conquer the world and nothing is impossible. But on those “other” days, I fight just to breathe from the weight of the pressure. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. Within those days is where memories are made, nightmares are hidden, hopes are born, love blooms, and dreams are dreamed.
One of those moments that stand out in my mind is an everyday moment. It’s nothing big or tragic, only a simple amber moment in the middle of black period. It’s a sense-memory moment, one where you smell something, taste something, or see something that makes you think of something else, or takes back to a time and place in your amber-colored past. Have you ever wondered why memories are sometimes colored in amber? I wonder sometimes if that’s a product of our cinematic age, or vice versa. Anyway, one of those sense-memories has captured a simple day in my chaos-ridden past. It seems to be a good day, a simple day in the life of the early 80’s. This memory is often triggered by Chick-O-Sticks, Sunkist and gas lines. Come along for the ride.
Silver squiggly lines snaked across the pavement on Highway 1485, just past the bridge that crossed over the San Jacinto River, in New Caney, Texas. It was hot outside and extremely humid. I wore a flowered sundress, which wasn’t normal for me being as I was the biggest tomboy around. I usually sported shorts, tank tops, flip-flops (if I wore shoes at all) and had my long, brown hair in a ponytail. But this day I had on a sundress and sat in the back of a Chevy Malibu in a long line at the neighborhood gas station. The windows were rolled down and I sat with the door opened, staring at the mirage on the pavement. It seemed sitting in a long gas lines was one of the weekend neighborhood get-togethers. Everybody was there, friends, neighbors and strangers. New Caney was about a half-hour north of Houston and Trinity Bay at Galveston Beach just along Interstate 59. It wasn’t a strange site to see cars loaded down with surfboards waiting in the gas lines with everybody else.
On this particular day, sometime in the summer of 1980, I was nine years old, the Beach Boys’ Good Vibration played on the radio, and I was eating Chick-O-Sticks and drinking an orange Sunkist soda. It was a full time job saving up and scrounging for change for my weekly indulgence as we waited in the long gas line. I dug in couches, checked ashtrays and floorboards in cars, phone booths, and under the washing machines at the laundry mat just to have the $0.75 cents I needed. My drink cost $.50 and the Chick-O-Sticks were $.05 each and I always had to have five of them.
This was a time right before my mom starting getting sick and losing her ability to walk to Multiple Sclerosis. She was so young and vibrant and very sociable. I can still see her standing in front of the Malibu, talking to some people standing outside their Volkswagen, smoking a joint. She wore cut-off blue jeans, had a bikini tank top, and wore a big sun hat. I wonder if that’s why I like big hats. I never thought about that. I remember her smile, she had s distinct smile. I see that smile sometimes in the mirror or in my selfies, complete with the gap between my two front teeth. My mother had that same gap, the same high apple-round cheeks, and the same thin lips. I look a lot like my mother, at least how she looked then in my memory. Our differences are her long, thick, dark hair. I always envied her hair, full of body, wavy, and beautiful. I have baby-fine, straight, limp hair. This day she wore it in braids that hung down the side of her face beneath her straw beach hat. She was dancing. She was laughing. She was so full of life and energy. My mother was beautiful when she smiled.
My mother didn’t smile often in my memories and maybe that’s why this one is so special to me. Life was hard at this time, the economy was bad, and my dad wasn’t around for a while. I think this was a time he was away in jail. It didn’t matter we were poor. It didn’t matter what struggles we faced. It was the weekend and I was happy to be sitting in that gas line, listening to the Beach Boys on the radio, eating my Chick-O-Sticks, and drinking my cold, orange, Sunkist, in my summer dress. Every time I hear that song, see Chick-O-Sticks in a store, or Sunkist I am instantly teleported to that time and place in history. Life is hard, and while some days are battle days, other days are Sunkist days. No matter how nasty, mean, and sick my mother became, that’s not how I want to remember her. I’m hoping wherever she is now in whatever afterlife exists, she’s dancing around in cut-off shorts, a bikini tank top, with braids and a sunhat, and has a big, beautiful, gap-toothed smile on her face.
This is the story. This is my story. This is my life.
Till next time,
~T.L. Gray ©2017