When my mother was just a girl of 7 or 8, she was sassy and bold. At Baldwyn’s Ritz Theatre in 1951, Dale Gardner, my mother, went on stage with Hollywood star Sunset “Kit” Carson. She held an autograph card in her small but steady hand as the B-movie cowboy took his pearl-white .22 rifle and fired a shot dead-center into the paper from across the theater. She still has the card.
On typical Sunday afternoons in those days, she and my grandparents would visit family at Uncle Johnny Copeland’s home on Gordon Road. It was usually a reserved, almost-stoic affair. But into this restful gathering of peace-and-quiet-seeking kinfolk, my sassy and bold mother would launch an extensive repertoire of attention-seeking antics, to the consternation of her great-grandmother “Maw Maw” Copeland.
“She never liked me,” my mother would offer in later years.
When Maw Maw had finally had enough and would say to my grandmother, “You need to get a switch to that girl,” my mother would take down Uncle Johnny’s razor strap that hung behind a door and walk a circle through the hallway, the kitchen and the living room, popping the strap as she went, essentially daring anyone to take it up and destroy the serenity of the Sunday afternoon. No one did, and she remained bold and sassy.
The other day at lunch my mother pulled into our local Sonic Drive-In with my niece and nephew, Lee-Anna and Rob Richey. Lee-Anna, a 6th grader, had wanted to go to McDonald’s, which is also where my mother had wanted to go. And frankly, they would eventually HAVE to make a stop at McDonald’s because my father had sent along his pick-up order for a Big Mac. But Rob, a lanky 14-year-old with a hint of a mustache, could not think of a thing at McDonald’s he could force himself to eat. He effectively reasoned with his pliable grandmother that what he had to have was an “Ocean Water,” a blue, coconut-flavored drink now on the menu at Sonics nationwide. My mother acquiesced, without sass or boldness, to a “second stop” on her trip for lunch, and the trio pulled into an open slot at America’s Drive-In.
Mother was all set to order her grandson’s drink, when Rob leaned across from the passenger seat and spotted a new Sonic offering – specialty teas. A wide variety of flavors was displayed, and Rob descended into indecision.
“What do you want, Rob?” my mother asked.
“I might want one of those teas. Ask them about those. What are they?” Rob came back.
“It shows on the menu. Just read it.”
“Just ask them!”
My mother pressed the button. “Can you tell me about these flavors of tea?”
The Sonic attendant, apparently unaware that Sonic made tea, fumbled around for a minute or two, an eternity in fast-food.
“Hold on please,” my mother finally broke in. “Rob, you need to pick one.”
“I want to know about those teas. I might want that.”
“Ma’am? Ma’am?” The attendant searched for life on my mother’s end of the intercom.
“You need to order something now!” my mother whisper-yelled at Rob.
“Just get me a large, freakin’ Ocean Water!” Rob shot back.
“Just give me a large, ‘Freaking Ocean Water,’” my mother relayed to the attendant, who was silent.
Finally … “Ma’am?”
“One Large Freaking Ocean Water,” my mother repeated. “That’s all.”
“YES, MA’AM!” The attendant clicked off, over and out.
Rob leapt into the back seat and scrunched down into the floor. Lee-Anna screamed. And an Ocean Water was delivered to my oblivious mother in record time.
Recently, my mother and I discussed her growing legacy of fast-food-ordering faux pas – the Sonic incident being merely the last in a long line of similar events – and I tried to convince her that it was her chaotic, goofy grandchildren that were the true source of her difficulties. In grandmotherly fashion, she disagreed.
“That’s not it. I used to be able to do anything,” my mother told me. “Somehow I’ve lost my self-confidence over the years. I’m just not sassy and bold anymore.”
She may be right. But there’s at least one attendant at the Baldwyn Sonic who would disagree.