My mother was not one to go strollicking too often. It was way too much trouble. “I druther stay home,” she’d say even as us young’uns were piling into the car for whatever trip had been forced on her. If you ignored her complaints, sometimes she would go on, especially if the trip didn’t cost anything except the gas to and from. But on occasion she herself would take a hankering to “go somewhere.” These times seemed to coincide with the times she was provoked at Daddy or someone else who seemed to be having more than their share of fun. “I’m tired of just setting here at the house,” she would declare when one of those moods struck, “I’d like to go somewhere myself every now and then.” But no matter how long the trip, Mama never stayed more than one night if she could help it. In the late 1980s, my brother, John, must have called when she was in one of those adventuring moods.
“Mama, I want you to come visit us in Texas,” he told her in one of his weekly phone calls. By this time Daddy had died and Mama was living in a better neighborhood in a house John had bought for her. Our sister, Jean lived with her.
“I can’t drive to Texas,” Mama said, her false teeth clicking, “and I sure ain’t going to fly.”
“How about coming by train?” he suggested.
“I can’t afford tickets,” Mama said. She had $75,000 in the bank of hard-earned savings for her “old age” and she never spent a penny of it.
“I’m paying,” John said.
That was a different story. “Wait’ll I get my teeth fixed,” she replied. John knew that would be never. Her children had given her money several times for new teeth, but, instead of going to a dentist, Mama would find a fly-by-night garage operation and buy a cheap set, adding the remaining money to her savings. The first set teeth soon broke into several pieces, the second set soon had teeth falling out, and this latest set was so big that they rattled and clicked as she talked.
A few weeks after the original invitation John called Mama to tell her the travel plans. Jean had agreed to accompany Mama. They would get on the train in Dalton and stop over in New Orleans before continuing on to College Station, Texas. “I’ll put you up in a big hotel in the French Quarter during your layover,” he went on. “You might like to take a tour of New Orleans.”
Mama rejected that immediately. “I can see everything I want to see without going on no tour. I ain’t lost nothing down there.”
“Well,” John teased, “You’re going to be right in the part of town where all the partying goes on. You know, Jimmy Swaggart hangs out there a lot.”
“Jimmy Swaggart? Is he that preacher that was hiring them strippers to pull off their clothes for him, and then when he got caught claimed he was mentally ill?”
“That’s the one,” said John, “so if a big Cadilac pulls up and a man in a shiny suit and slicked back hair leans out and offers you a ride, don’t go.”
“Well, let me tell you one thing,” Mama said, “If I was to strip off my clothes for him, he’d be cured.”
Mama made it to College Station unmolested by Jimmy Swaggart or anyone else and stayed all of two nights before she declared herself ready to go home. For Mama, that was a whole lot of strollicking.