The November issue of Southern Living magazine arrived in the mail yesterday and I took a few minutes to flip through it. I skimmed articles I'll read later and dog-eared the pages of recipes I'll never make. Enjoyed the "Southernism of the Month" which is "dressing". I felt very southern indeed knowing there is a difference between dressing and stuffing. Admired a beautiful photo of Caddo Lake and thought of the times I fished there with my dad.
The article that really brought back some memories featured great diners in the south including Strawn's Eat Shop in Shreveport, Louisiana. I recalled the last time I dined at Strawn's, spring 1986. I was sixteen years old and dreaming about Mr. Right.
I was there with my boyfriend's mother and his sister. "Boyfriend" isn't completely accurate. The boy and I had spoken on the phone a few times and talked about going on a date. But it was baseball season and the boy played for a high school team and didn't have much free time. But the boyfriend's (let's just call him that anyway) mother invited me to go with her to watch his game. I offered all the details to my parents (as required) and asked if I could go. The answer was yes because the boyfriend came from a "good family" and this is important in the south. We knew of his parents and where they worked, we knew the family's church affiliation, we knew their exact address and more. All of this is easy to know in a town of five thousand people. If you needed a background check on anyone, just ask your neighbor about him.
His mother picked me up and I slid into the front seat of her car, a place of honor that day for the new girlfriend. The boyfriend's little sister had been relegated to the back seat and I was certain I felt her staring at the back of my head during the drive. I was very uneasy that day, imagining what his mother might be thinking about me. I wasn't completely sure how I felt about her son but I wanted to make a good impression just in case. The drive into Shreveport was long enough for more than small talk. His mother asked me questions about school and my family, cheerleading, summer camp plans, etc. She was probably sizing me up, seeing if I were worthy of her son's attention. But I was sizing her up too.
We had time before the game to grab a bite to eat. Strawn's Eat Shop was not far from the baseball field and an easy choice. His mother, his sister and I ate cheeseburgers with slender fries and drank Cokes and iced tea. Conversation continued between his mother and me and the sister just watched. We got strawberry pie slices to go. I would've eaten mine there but thought I should wait, show some restraint.
At the game, his mother introduced me to all the other players' parents, making me feel very special. As we watched the game she pointed out each player and told me all about him and what his family was like and where he might go to college. His mother had something nice to say about everyone and she cheered for those boys like they were her own. Of course when her own was up to bat or made a play she cheered even more loudly.
We passed the time driving home with more conversation. That lady could talk! The boyfriend's sister was quiet in the backseat most of the drive. I wondered what she'd tell her brother about me later. I got out of the car and thanked his mother for a nice time. And it was a nice time. I didn't know how she sized me up that day but she had fared very well with me.
The boyfriend and I did go on one official date and by the end of the night, I knew he wasn't the one. He took me home early and it was just as well, he cared more about baseball than anything else and didn't have time for a girlfriend. I wasn't too sad. He wasn't the greatest guy ever but that mother sure was nice. I would miss her.
Over a year passed and old boyfriend called. We talked and I liked him. We got together for a movie and I loved him. Turns out he is the greatest guy ever. Seems the boyfriend still liked baseball but he liked me more. His mother was happy to see me again and I felt the same way. Five years later the boyfriend became my husband, his little sister became my fabulous sister-in-law and his mother became my mother-in-law. My wonderful, caring, energetic, supportive mother-in-law.
Over two decades have passed since that lunch at Strawn's and the baseball game that followed. My mother-in-law is coming to visit on Friday. She is coming to watch her boy coach and my boys play baseball. We'll probably get some burgers and fries before the game, iced tea for her and a Coke for me. Then we will sit together in the stands, cheering loudly for all the players but especially for our boys.
One day I imagine I will sit at lunch with a young lady who has my son's attention. Maybe it will be a cozy diner like Strawn's. Maybe we'll be on our way to his game. I'll treat her kindly and make her feel welcome but size her up as well. And if I don't like what I see I'll drive her to the middle of nowhere and let her out of....no, no, no I won't really do that. Maybe she will be the one for my boy and I will love her as much as my mother-in-law loves me.
Check back for next week's installment of True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Daycation at the Dump.