I had to begin with this story. This is without a doubt my all-time favorite “Carolynn” story. Classic Carolynn, if you will.
During the summer of 1988 my family decided to take a weekend trip to PettiJean State Park. PettiJean is a lovely part of NW Arkansas with breathtaking views. Mom and dad were going to take us there on a daytrip to enjoy a picnic and the scenery.
It is important to note that during the summer of 1988 I was 18 years old and Jessica was 16. If some of you will recall there is usually a phase during adolescence in which you wake up one day and think your parents are the most embarrassing and completely uncool people on the planet.
I remember being in high school with my friend Wendi when she hit her phase. Before either of us were old enough to drive, Wendi’s parents would have to drive us to all of our incredibly important social events. Anytime Wendi’s parents car would turn onto Grand Avenue, one of the main drags in Fort Smith, Wendi would make her poor parents duck down in the front seats so no one could see that we were with them. Her compliant father would be attempting to steer the car while being crouched down underneath the steering wheel. Her sweet little mother would just slip down in her seat so she couldn’t be seen either. I can’t imagine how odd it must have looked to all of the other drivers and passengers on Grand Avenue that our car would appear to be mysteriously cruising down the road with no apparent driver. The only signs of life in the vehicle being two teenaged girls with ridiculously teased bangs sitting in the back seat.
Okay, back to the subject at hand, my sister Jessica had recently entered into such a phase. She was not particularly a fan of my mother during this time and I remember 1987-1988 being a time of much eye-rolling and disciplining in the Elder house.
Our weekend trip started just like any other and everyone was having a good time. Jess and I played games in the car to make the time pass until we arrived at our destination. Upon arriving a the beautiful scenic overlook, we all exited the car and walked in search of the perfect picnic location. In a place like PettiJean, however, there are no “bad” spots. Looking around in each direction you saw beautiful mountains, a perfectly blue sky, a soft blanket of green grass, and rocks and boulders strewn about just waiting for you to climb.
Our time at the park was just lovely. We ate and laughed and hiked all day. It was one of those wonderful family memories. You take a mental picture and tell yourself that you’ll never forget that day as long as you live. Well, I haven’t forgotten that day, but not for the aforementioned reasons.
Once the sun began to fade and the air began to cool we decided that it was time to leave this lovely place. We packed up our things and everyone made themselves comfortable for the ride back to Fort Smith. This is when our day of nirvana took a rather unpleasant turn. Jessica and I sat in the backseat telling stories and sharing secrets- which is not at all an uncommon thing for sisters to do. During one of our very softest, “whisper-as-quietly-as-you-can” conversations, my mother (who had obviously been trying to listen in on our talk) turned around from the front seat and said, “What, Jessica?”
In retrospect I’m sure there are a thousand and fifty other responses that my sister wishes she WOULD have given, but in that moment before she could stop herself, out of her 16-year-old smart little mouth came just one small yet very powerful word…. “NOSY!”
Oh, no she did not. Surely she didn’t just say that out loud. Buddy, let me tell you, that did it for Carolynn! You could audibly hear our afternoon of nirvana coming to a screeching halt. Jessica was scolded six ways to Sunday in that car and informed that as soon as we returned to Fort Smith she would be grounded.
I think that some sisters would have relished in seeing the other being chastised on such a tremendous level, but not me- I was mortified for her. My mother is a sweet lady from the South, but she means business when it comes to respect. Jess and I NEVER back talked our parents. It simply wasn’t acceptable behavior. Period. Well, Jessica had violated the holy order. She really did it this time. The tension level in the car was unbearable, but I dreaded making it home because I knew the grounding would begin.
As soon as our car was in the driveway at our home I darted out as quickly as I could and went up to my room, hoping to avoid any involvement in the discussion of the grounding. I waited patiently in my room until I heard Jessica’s footsteps coming up the stairs. Her head was hung. She was a broken 16 year old. “I’m grounded for two weeks,” she quietly said and then disappeared into her room.
Two weeks in teenage time is roughly the equivalent to 4 years, so this was BIG. She would not be allowed to do anything after school and on weekends. This was not good news. Most of your important “boy things” would happen after school and on weekends. This was the time you dedicated to phone calls and group dates and the all-important note writing. Teenagers manage to work homework in there whenever necessary, but it most definitely is an after thought.
I felt sad for Jess, but she had done this to herself. You do the crime you do the time, right? Well, at least MY life would go on as normal. During this year as an 18 year old I had a job at the mall. I loved that job. It was in retail (of course!) and I got wonderful discounts on all of my clothes. That wasn’t the best part, though. I got to check out all of the cute boys who hung out at the mall. Hanging out at the mall was what teens did before the age of texting and Facebook. That’s where you would go to meet your friends and then see if you could find other people you would like to get to know better. It was a very fun time.
One morning, just a few days into the grounding, I was getting ready for work. Jessica quietly snuck into my room and whispered, “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want you to leave me here with her.” I laughed and said, “You’ll be fine and I’ll just be gone for a few hours.” I did go into work. Restocked some inventory, answered some phone calls, rang up some sales, and visited with friends. When I got home Jess told me she had steered clear of mom and all was quiet in the house. That was a good thing.
I guess it was about a hour after I arrived home from work that my mother told us she had to run out to do some errands. She reminded Jessica that she was to remain at the house and that she was NOT to use the phone under any circumstances. Now, I don’t know exactly what happened in that one moment, but something changed. Maybe Carolynn had a vision. Maybe Jessica had given her a strange look. Maybe Jessica looked suspicious. Maybe my mom thought that Jessica would jump on the phone the minute she saw her pull out of the driveway, but whatever it was made my mother do something I’d never seen her do. She walked over to the phone and unplugged the handset from the base. I don’t mean she unplugged the phone from the wall, I mean she took just the handset and left the rest in tact. This was well before the days of cordless phones, young ones, so your handset had to be attached to the base so you could speak into it. She then walked directly over to the only other phone we had in the house and did exactly the same thing. Then, with a devilish grin on her face she took both of those handsets and dropped them down into her cavernous, yellow straw purse.
WHAT? WHAT?!!!! WHAT???!!!!! My mom was leaving the house and so were the phones? It was unimaginable! Is there no justice in this world? I mean, sure, Jessica needed to be punished; but I hadn’t done one single thing. So obviously, if Carolynn leaves the house then no one will be using the phone. Sure hope the house doesn’t catch on fire. Dang.
Mom left and Jess and I both were just standing in the hall with our jaws dropped. It was mere seconds later when we heard it… both phones ringing. RINGING! Just ringing away and there wasn’t one single thing we could do about it. I just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this very phone call would be the man of my dreams calling to whisk me away on a trip to Europe. Or, maybe it was a producer calling to offer me a role in a major motion picture. This can’t be happening. Surely this is all just a dream. The ringing continued for the duration of my mother’s errands and grew to become a sound that seemed as though it was mocking us each time it happened. “Haha! I’m ringing and you have no way to answer me! My handsets are in your mother’s purse at the Boston Store returning a sweater- haha!” It was torture.
Our mother did eventually return and all of the phones were replaced. This little routine, however, was repeated consistently throughout the next two weeks each time mom had to leave the house. I’m pretty sure Jess and I both learned a lesson during those two weeks. I would have to ask her to be certain, but I am confident that neither Jessica nor myself ever back talked Carolynn again.
Jess and I laugh often about the time mom hijacked our phones. This is just the first of many stories I have to tell about my mom. I hope you enjoyed it. Stayed tuned for more.