Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Survivor's Story

I remember my parents pulling up to the drive-through window of this state line bar, it was the last day of our vacation and we were on that endless drive home, forty miles left to go.  They bought a six pack and then sat in the parking lot drinking beer and smoking cigarettes while we whined in the backseat about the heat, the drive, the smoke, our siblings' encroachment on our space.  They drank two beers each and then they started the car and drove the remaining bone weary miles home.  It was the 70's and our parents remained doggedly uninterested about the effects of  drinking and driving and second-hand smoke. 

I always wondered about the why of those beers in that hot dusty parking lot. Why didn't they just keep driving and wait until they were in the swamp cooler comfort of our own home?  My best guess is that my parents were bidding a last sad farewell to the carefree, careless days of vacation, or maybe they were drowning their sorrows of leaving the cool, verdant mountains for the vast stretch of nothingness in which we lived.  They needed that one last taste of sky blue waters.

I rarely remember my parents going to a bar or beer joint in our hometown, there were the random and sparse evenings out with friends and maybe an occasional Friday night at the VFW, but, by no means, would Mom and Dad be considered regulars at any of the local watering holes.

But vacations were different.  Every day when the heat descended and the fish quit biting the Hickey clan loaded into "Old Blue", our station wagon, and headed to town where Mom and Dad would settle into a duct tape scarred vinyl booth at a local beer joint and us kids would hit the nearest general stores with our sweaty, stink bait scented dollar bills burning holes in our jean shorts.

Eventually, money spent, we slunk back into the beer joint and threw ourselves, one by one, into the booth and commenced pouting the appropriate amount of time required to drive our parents to the desperation of throwing coins at us for the pool table or pinball machine.  They gladly paid the ransom for just a few more minutes of dark, smoky respite from the endless tangle of kids and fishing lines that defined our family vacations.

Scarred floors.  Barmaids with terrifying hairdos and sassy mouths.  Sitting at the bar with my ice cold bottle of Dr. Pepper.  Spinning bar stools. A painted lady on the floor at Joe's Place in Cimmaron, New Mexico.  A creepy  two-headed calf with beady wall-eye stares in some nameless bar in Red River.

My parents kicked back in a booth, laughing over cold beers and a smoldering ashtray.  My mom with a bandanna in her hair and rolled up jeans.  So young.

I treasure those memories, they are as much a part of me as blonde hair, green eyes and my inbred, deservingly under appreciated, Hickey sardonic drollness.

I miss those places.  I can't but help miss them.

 But miss them is all I can do.

When I rolled by that bar on my own last stretch of vacation a few days ago, I felt a rueful melancholy smile lift the corner of my mouth.  I had a kid stretched out in my backseat asleep, my grandchild, and I would no more think of pulling into that parking lot and drinking beers than driving on home...not lately, any way.

I drove those remaining empty miles to my hometown to drop the grandkid off and to spend the night with my oldest son.  Later that afternoon I headed to Walmart to restock my supply of Diet Pepsi.  As I was pulling two liters off the shelf by the gross, an older woman turned her cart into the aisle.  We glanced at each other and then took longer looks.

"Mary Kay, isn't it?" she asked.

For my whole life I have been running into this woman and she always calls me by my "baby" name and she always says the same thing.

"I remember when we lived across the street from your parents.  Your mom and I were both pregnant with you girls.  Such good times."

I nodded.  I've heard it so many times before but I never tire of hearing it.  We exchanged the usual.
"Where is ?"
"How is ?"
"Can you believe how this town has changed? And not for the better."

Skirting, skirting, skirting.


"We lost Jolene, you know?" she asks.

I nod.  I did know.

"She drank a lot."

I nod again.

"I did too.  For a long time," I say.  It is the only meager comfort I can offer, my clumsy attempt to tell her she wasn't the only mother who lost a daughter. It wasn't her fault.

She patted me on the shoulder.

"It happens."


  1. ugh...that last line. Like a dagger in the heart.

    What a bitter sweet piece my friend. You have a gift for the words, you know that? You consistently take me to that place, a place where I have never been, and yet feel right at home with. That longing, and yet knowing we can never go back there. That happens with so many of us - trying to find that buzz, that "right" place, that place where we feel comfortable in our own skin, and it just never shows up again. And some of us die trying to find that impossible place again.

    it happens.

    Thank you for this, Kary May.

    1. Paul of the Heartfelt Words, I love you. Did you know that?

  2. Thank you. I can see it, know it. Start to finish. Great writing.

    1. Thank you, Whistler. From you, that means more than you know.

  3. Oh my how I've missed you!!!!!! I love your writing and I love this post. What a vivid picture you paint...and my heart breaks for those Jolene left.

    Welcome home my friend.

    1. Thank you, as always, for saying all the things I want to hear. lol My heart breaks for Jolene too. It was actually her sister, Tammy, that her mom was pregnant with at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. Jolene was a year older. Tammy was pretty, Jolene, not as pretty and a little overweight, then the 80's hit and she found cocaine and found her way to thin and acquired that kind of edgy attractiveness. I guess it was all downhill from there.

  4. So glad to see a post from you, so sad to read the words of your mom's old friend. Beautifully written, with all the right details. I could read your stories all day.

    1. Thank you, dear. The other sad thing was, I couldn't remember this woman's name and she knew mine right off. She's gotta be in her upper 70's or 80's. Of course, I remembered it the minute she walked off.

  5. This is really thoughtful and poignant. Thank you for it. I wish you all the best in your journey.

  6. Whew. Wow. Write that book, Mary. Post a few snippets here now and then for us to appreciate and comment on.

    As you know, I have a very renewed sense of life. Kudos to you.

  7. Heart wrenching but a powerful write. Thank you for sharing your heart Mary. :-)

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  9. Hi Kary,
    How come you stopped blogging?

  10. Hey k,
    It's one of those things I stepped away from for awhile and keep meaning to step back into. I'm trying to finish a fiction novel that I've been working on for two years...anyway, that's my excuse. Thanks for checking in. Maybe your note will be the impetus I need to get back to it.

  11. I guess that's the kick in the pants I need. Maybe time to sharpen up the ol' blog quill again.. Thanks for reading.