Senior Stories

The Day Mother Became Millie

I was raised in a tiny township buried in the hills, high in the Castanea Mountains of Appalachia in rural Pennsylvania during the middle of the last century. A single narrow, stone and concrete bridge over the often flooded Bald Eagle Creek provided our only through connection to the rest of the world. My big brother, Ray, Jr., often walked along the muddy creek banks and jerry-rigged a rock or fallen tree artery to town just above the abandoned chemical plant. His efforts brought him out on the other side of the stream near the old Hammer Mill paper company. But, that was no trek for ladies!

Most of us less adventurous folks from the mountain were content to walk the regular bridge. Once across it, there was still a mile brickroad hike to complete before we arrived in the rest of the world. That “rest of the world” was Lock Haven. It was the big, over-to-town place where many of our father’s drove or walked to work in the Piper Airplane factory, if they worked at all. Over-to-town also represented the fancy A & P Market, Main Street with The Smart Shop for clothes, Wolfe’s Furniture Store, and Bottorf Shoes.

Most of all, over-to-town meant movies at the Garden Theater on Saturday afternoons. That theater was always cool, very dark, and smelled of decades of dust trapped in the thick purple velvet drapes outlining the stage. The Garden was where each Christmas the Moose Hall Santa gave children from the Castanea Mountains chocolate creams in a string-handled box and a red or green popcorn ball. We loved that theater!

And, today my mother and my favorite Aunt Martha were taking me over-to-town to see a Jerry Lewis – Dean Martin movie. My Aunt Martha was especially crazy about Jerry Lewis and had created a hubbub of excitement that even my mother could not deny. Going to a movie together with my mother had not occurred before, as I recalled.

After all, my mother was the Evangelical United Brethren Church pianist, who never missed a Sunday, or any other, service. She sat up front in the first pew until the sanctuary filled, looking quite unapproachable in her best attire, that always included matching hat, purse, shoes, and spanking-clean white gloves. The sermon could not begin until my mother, Miss Mildred, played the processional hymns that allowed the choir to enter. She was quite respected, always formal, and very proper.

My irreverent father would tell us that our mother did enough playing and singing full-out for Jesus for all of us. That was why he got to go over-to-town Sunday mornings while the rest of the family accompanied mother to church.

Our going to a movie this Saturday was quite different. It was very strange that Grammy Ida cautioned my mother to be careful “when you walk the brick road over-to-town, hold MaryAnn’s hand, and see that you get back before dark.” Gram saw no reason to walk all that way just for a movie and wondered out loud what this world was coming to.

But, walk we did. Mommy and Aunt Martha, in their twice-rolled up blue jeans and reversed-buttoned, checkered cotton shirts, topped off with spiffy red neckerchiefs tossing casually in the warm spring wind, led me on the three-mile jaunt over-to-town.

Mother held my hand tightly. The two also held each other’s hands as they skipped along, singing Elvis Pressley’s Hound Dog song, punctuated with acting out Fats Domino strolls, laughter, and chattering a mile-a-minute.

A big, blue, wooden cattle truck still smelling of past hauling slowed to a stop by us. Louie Missortti, one of the boys who worked to bring television up the mountain along with Aunt Martha’s boyfriend, Richard, were half-hanging out the windows, whistling and honking. “Hey, girls, you wanna a lift? Hop in!” They bellowed.

With much flirtatious giggling and eye-lowering, my mother crooned, “No thanks, boys, we’re walking today.” Aunt Martha and mother exaggerated the sway in their hips and lilted their heads as they flipped their hair, making sure that Louie and Richard could see it all. Later, the young men surely would tell of their good fortune at seeing these beauties walking over-to-town that afternoon when they stopped in at the fire hall to visit with the other Castanea men.

We arrived at the Garden Theater in time to get popcorn and Necco candies before the movie started. Mother said it was best to purchase Necco wafer candies because they were very delicious and could be doled out at intervals that corresponded to the entire length of the movie. I thought this was especially intelligent. But, her remarks caused a burst of laughter from Aunt Martha who half-poked at Mommy and said, “Millie, get a grip. Don’t be such an old fuddy-duddy.”

These sisters joked, playfully teased one another, and talked to Jerry Lewis on the screen, clapping and stomping their feet in delight of themselves as well as the other theatergoers for the rest of that afternoon.

It had become clearly evident to me that day in the Garden Theater that my mother was not just my mother. She was also someone else’s daughter, sister, friend, and beautiful, young girl. She was a person who was valued by others and had her own life. My mother had become Millie that day. It was all too amazing and wonderful. Happy Mother’s Day!

About the author

MaryAnn McKissick is a prolific relationship author who writes lifestyle columns in central California for John Derby’s Merced County Times and other local outlets.

Her first book, Get out of your head…and into your LIFE (Huntington House: 1996), was well received and informs people about effective decision-making techniques.

MaryAnn’s second book, The Lump & Dump Cookbook (CSS Publishing: 2001), is a playful collection of her favorite easy-to-prepare, healthy recipes designed for people who want to eat what they like in ways that keep them healthy.

McKissick finds her strongest voice when using examples drawn from her “Robo-hub’s” antics and her hill-country relatives. She crafts cheeky, sometimes irreverent, pieces that attempt to build emotional connection to her characters for the reader.

We welcome her to Suddenly Senior, and hope you enjoy her writings.



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