When I was growing up, going into downtown Tucson was a treat. We would go to the yearly Rodeo parade in February, we would walk the small 4 block square looking at the holiday decorations, we would go to buy our “start of school” clothes, and occasionally my Dad and I would make a detour from running errands to go to Woolworth’s to get something at the lunch counter.
My dad was a very tall, slightly muscular man and I may be biased, but I thought he was the handsomest man in the world. I think a few of the lady’s did too. When we would enter the store, the counter was towards the middle of it. The waitress’ would see us coming and I would hear them say “Hi Doug” with what I now realize was excitement. We would sit down to a fresh cup of black coffee already poured for him and a warm glass of Pepsi (the only way I have ever liked it) for me. My dad would then spend some time talking with the waitresses, and then we would order our usual, a sandwich for him and pancakes for me. We would eat and before we left he would always let me drink the tiny pitcher of cream that they gave him for his coffee.
We managed to make it a bi-monthly outing, at least until I was about 11 years old. It was time for our yearly trip for school clothes. My mother made most of my clothes so I was allowed to pick out 2 dresses. I was standing, looking through a bargain bin of sleeveless dresses when I heard a familiar voice call out “Hi Valerie, where’s your Dad?” I whipped around and there stood one of the lunch counter ladies in her uniform, with a huge smile on her face. I slowly looked around and saw that my mother was standing there gripping her purse so tight that all of the color had drained out of her hands.
She grabbed me by the back of my neck and practically dragged me back to the car, leaving before I was able to get my dresses. As soon as we got in the car my mother started interrogating me. The questions came faster than I could answer and I could see the anger building in her face. I knew it wasn’t going to be a good evening. She wouldn’t believe that all my Dad did was talk with the waitresses, she was convinced of other things which she proceded to tell me about. I got an unwanted education!
I was so scared to see what would happen when Dad got home from work. My mother had locked herself and my sister in her room and I could hear them whispering. I heard the truck pull into the driveway and I ran and hid under the kitchen table. I was prepared for the worse. When my Dad walked through the front door my mother and sister marched quietly out of the bedroom and my mother exclaimed “We are going to Woolworth’s for dinner!” They marched past me and out the door and got into my mothers car. My Dad and I followed and the silence in the car was so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. It was funny, when we got lunch counter and sat down. I didn’t recognize a single waitress there. My Dad didn’t look nervous at all and I saw the look on my mother’s face change slowly the longer we sat there. We had dinner and went home.
About 7 years later when my Dad had lung cancer, and he knew he didn’t have long to live, he apologized to me for what had happened all those years ago. He felt the need to set the record straight that he never, ever cheated on my mother, he just enjoyed the conversation. I knew that was true because even as a young child I saw what went on in the house and I knew my mother was different than other kids moms. I was 13 years old when she was diagnosed with a mental illness which she had apparently had since she was young.
I still have those fond memories of spending time alone with my Dad and until they closed all of the stores, I would occasionally go and sit at the lunch counter and order a Pepsi and pancakes and remember my Dad and our time together.
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have written two books “Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time” and “Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip”, both available on Amazon. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter @VHughesAuthor.