I wish you could’ve seen me twenty years ago. I was model thin, had big red hair and sooty eyes, and wore more leather than a cow herd. The lowest heel I owned was six inches, and I always packed “a little something along for the ride.”
I lived for Saturday night. I used to go to a great rock club called the Brick ’n’ Wood. It’s a strip joint now, but in the eighties all the best bands played there. The bouncer was my friend, and I always got in free and edged my way to the front row. My outfits usually earned me backstage passes. My boyfriend was in a band and had long hair. We used to have drunken sex in the back seat of my car.
My Saturday nights are different now. I’m the mother of a four-year-old and married to an ultraconservative, balding, bespectacled man with an equally conservative job. He plays golf, not guitar. I mourn the rock-and-roll life. I can’t tell you the last time I had sex with someone besides myself. I am completing my bachelor’s degree, so on Saturday nights I do homework. After all the drugs I did, it amazes me that I still have enough brain cells left to earn close to a 3.5 GPA.
The party has been over for a long time. Sometimes, when my husband and son are asleep, I crack open a bottle of wine and play my collection of eighties rock songs. In my dreams, it’s always Saturday night.
When I was twenty-nine, someone told me I should lose a few pounds. Before that, I’d never thought about what I ate or how much I weighed. Then I started counting calories, reading about diets, and devising low-calorie versions of treats.
The craziest part was my Saturday-night-date ritual. That night only, I allowed myself to put away great quantities of food. When my date brought me home, no matter how much I’d already eaten, I was still ravenous for more. I would anxiously try to get the man to leave so that I could jump in my car and head for the all-night market.
I eventually found deliverance when I began attending Catholic mass on Saturday nights. Six months ago I became a Eucharistic minister — someone who assists in administering the Eucharist. Men and women, rich and poor, of all ages and races, come forward one by one in the long Communion line. Holding up a consecrated Host, I proclaim, “The Body of Christ.” There isn’t a Saturday night when I’m not moved by the experience of offering my hungry brothers and sisters the Bread of Life.
The day before my mother died, an old high-school friend of my brother’s showed up at the hospice. He broke the silence by remembering how Mom was the only parent who’d ever let her kids have parties. “She was something else, your mom.”
I don’t know how my mother stood it. With four children, she endured a lot of loud music, motorcycle accidents, juvenile arrests, complaints from the neighbors, make-out parties, and occasional fights. Maybe she didn’t make breakfast every morning, but on Saturday nights she always waited up, leaning back in her bed, glass of sherry in one hand, paperback mystery in the other.
Other parents criticized Mom. If my brothers got in trouble, they blamed her. They whispered that a widow with four kids needed a man around the house. Mom had suitors, but how many men want to marry a woman with four kids, even if she is beautiful and bright, with perfect pitch and a killer backhand?
My brothers were wild, but I worked hard in school, joined service clubs, and tried to convince everyone to like me, especially Mom. On Saturday nights, when I poked my head into her room around midnight to say good night, she always encouraged me to sit and talk. She would put down her book, and I’d curl up at the bottom of her single bed, feeling the warmth of her body. I’d shut my eyes, and we’d talk until I fell asleep. When my brothers were finally home safe, she’d gently rouse me and walk me back to my own bed.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, Saturday night was family game night. My mother, father, aunt, and uncle would hunch over the dining-room table to play endless rounds of Michigan rummy or hearts, smoke soft-pack cigarettes, and drink highballs. My sister, my brother, and I would entertain our younger cousins with Monopoly or parcheesi on the living-room floor. As my siblings and I became teenagers, one by one we withdrew from kids’ games and started spending Saturday night outside our tiny apartment.
My sister was the oldest, and therefore the first to venture out. One Saturday night, while the rest of us were sprawled on the floor building hotels on Park Place, she was in the bathroom putting a rinse in her hair. When she emerged, her hair was jet black, and she had on thick black eyeliner. She looked like Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra.
To get to the front door, my sister had to pass the dining room. She almost made it. Then my mother called for her to stop. The card game halted, and all adult eyes fell on my sister. There was a murmur of mild disapproval, but it was my uncle’s comment that we heard the loudest.
“You look like a slut,” he said.
My parents never used language like that. I waited for my father to say something in my sister’s defense, but he didn’t. My sister rushed to her room.
Later, when things had settled down, my sister did go out to meet her friends, but not before making some cosmetic adjustments. After that, we all moved a little bit further away from family game night, and each other.
In my early twenties, I dropped out of college and worked in a restaurant and bar. It wasn’t the nicest place (C inspection rating and countless roaches), but the tips were outstanding, because the booze was always flowing.
On Saturday nights the bar was filled with college students. It had a reputation for cheap keg beer, barroom brawls, and drunken, eager college girls. During the week, however, it attracted “townies,” as we called them. Some would get so drunk, they would leave a fifty-dollar tip for a twenty-dollar check.
Although I’d grown up in town, I was nothing like the drunk, lonely townies. OK, so sometimes I squatted down behind the bar to do a few shots of peppermint schnapps, but I was young and free, with my future ahead of me. This job was just short-term.
One townie named Scarlet came to the bar almost every night. She was in her forties, attractive, well dressed, and well-mannered. After a few drinks, however, she turned into Scary Scarlet, who stumbled, slurred, cursed, and hung on men. Sometimes Scary Scarlet fell down and broke things. I thought she was pathetic.
I am in my forties now and have a good job and even own a home. All in all, my drinking has gone unnoticed. I clean up pretty well in the mornings and vomit only occasionally. Sometimes co-workers will comment about a bruise on my face or arm. I tell them I fell jogging.
Tonight is Saturday night. Rather than my usual routine of sitting home alone getting wasted, I am lying in a hospital bed in a detox center, hooked up to an IV filled with yellow fluid. (Looks like wine to me.) No one knows I’m here — not my family, not my co-workers, not my very few friends. I’ve finally realized that alcohol has me trapped.
The nurse looks over my body, performing what she calls a “skin check.” She asks how I got the bruise on my right butt cheek.
I think about this hard. “Is it a tattoo?” I ask.
She sighs. “No, honey. Do you have a tattoo down here?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I need to measure it,” she says.
I roll over and say, “I’m a drunk. I fall down a lot.” I think she has already figured this out.
In the bathroom, I take a peek at the mysterious bruise. It is a deep shade of red.
In 1969, right out of graduate school, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. After I got new clothing, a haircut, and vaccinations, I filled out a stack of forms. One asked for my religion. Feeling mischievous, I wrote, “Druid (reformed).”
Two weeks later, I received my dog tags, stamped with my name, Social Security number, blood type, and “Druid (reformed).” I wondered how the army would administer last rites for that.
Stationed stateside eighteen months later, I was looking forward to a big Saturday-night date when the commanding officer suddenly canceled all weekend passes. (A large antiwar protest was scheduled, and he feared many soldiers would attend.)
I was determined to go on that date. Discovering there was to be a full moon that particular weekend, I requested a two-day pass to celebrate a “religious holiday.”
The commanding officer was skeptical. “What the hell religion are you?”
I told him I was a Druid, and the last full moon before the winter solstice was our high holy day.
He demanded to see my dog tags, so I showed them to him. He looked at them in stunned silence for a moment, then granted me the pass. As I was on my way out, he said, “Wait a second. Don’t you guys kill goats?”
“No, sir,” I said. “That’s the orthodox. I’m reformed.”
Santa Barbara, California
I grew up in a small mill town, but my ideal Saturday night was an evening in New York City. In my fantasy I wore glittering eye shadow, luxurious furs, and a little black dress. I had places to go — dinner, dancing, the theater — limos to take me there, and handsome, gallant men to accompany me. My legs were long and shapely (the better to exit limos), my eyes large and shining (the better to captivate gentlemen), my manners cultivated.
In reality I was chubby and awkward. Eczema made my skin a mass of itchy scales, and my hair was the frizzy victim of $2.99 Lilt home perms. Saturday nights began with my own merciless comparison of my face and body to those of my idols in the glossy pages of Photoplay and Modern Screen. The evening would progress toward some foreseeable crisis, like a botched application of false eyelashes. When misery threatened to overwhelm me, my mother would suggest we make popcorn and watch an old movie on TV.
Years later, as a tall, slender young woman with clear skin and long, sleek hair, I moved to New York. Some Saturday nights bore a passing resemblance to my early fantasies, with limos (but mostly cabs), furs (a ghastly pieced rabbit), and a little black dress. Velvet ropes opened, and I danced with a few people I might have seen in Photoplay and Modern Screen, had I still read them.
But the shiny relationships of Saturday night were brittle and easily shattered. I married one of the men who took me dancing. He promised to love me forever, which turned out to be nearly twenty years. Two children and a divorce later, I am home again on Saturday nights.
Now my daughter studies her generation’s beautiful people and struggles to style her hair; her brother reaches out to other solitary boys via an Internet computer game. When misery threatens to overwhelm us all, I take down the aluminum popcorn popper, and we watch an old movie on TV.
New York, New York
Callie arrived at our back door wringing her hands. The sheriff had locked up her man, James Lee. She couldn’t do our ironing that day, or the next, or the next, she told my mother. She couldn’t even think straight till she got James Lee back. But how was she ever going to come up with fifty dollars’ bail?
My parents were both journalists. My mother worked long hours and couldn’t do without Callie’s cleaning, washing, and ironing. My father grudgingly agreed to go get James Lee out of jail and drive him home.
James Lee had been arrested after a Saturday night of what the sheriff’s report described as “carousing, drinking, and gambling.” I was only seven at the time, but Callie would hold me spellbound with stories of “colored town” and occasionally allowed me to accompany her there on her errands, so I had an inkling of what had happened. “I’m going too,” I called to my father as the screen door slapped shut behind him. I hoped that if I went along, it would blunt the lecture James Lee was certain to receive.
The police station was hot and muggy despite the large ceiling fans. With papers signed, money paid, and remarks exchanged in the manner of Southern whites discussing blacks, James Lee was released into my father’s custody. I hopped in the back seat, leaving my father no choice but to let James Lee ride in front with him.
James Lee smelled bad and still wore the Saturday-night finery that he’d slept in. From the slope of his shoulders, I could see he was dejected and demoralized. He hung his elbow out the window, and the sleeves of his white shirt flapped in the breeze like a flag of surrender.
I do not recall what my father, a Southern Baptist and an ideologue of the first order, said to James Lee, but the tone of his voice — laced with superiority and void of compassion — remains with me. For the first time I saw the misuse of righteousness and knew it for what it was. His words finally trailed off into silence. Then my father looked at James Lee, as if finding his second wind, and said, “Well? Have you nothing to say for yourself?”
“Mister S.,” James Lee said, “if you could just once be a nigga on a Saturday night, you’d never want to be white again.”
At twenty-two I married an artist and political activist ten years my senior. He had a daughter, who came to live with us on her third birthday. When my husband quit his job — it was stifling his creativity — and retreated into his artwork, I became, in effect, a single parent.
I was an avid reader and hoped to become a writer someday, but I was so busy in my first year of parenting that I did not read a book or write a single word. Meanwhile my husband painted prolifically and spent our money on “necessities” like subscriptions to the Nation and the New York Times, even though we couldn’t afford diapers or a telephone. “We don’t really need a phone,” he argued.
I was desperate for some time off, but we couldn’t afford a baby sitter. Finally my husband agreed to baby-sit on Saturday nights so that I could go out by myself. (When I told my mother about this arrangement, she said, “You’re going out without him? In thirty years of marriage I have never gone out without your father or had a ‘night off.’ Your generation is so selfish.”)
To prepare for my evening, I put on a vintage satin dress from Goodwill and my shiny black Doc Martens. After I’d put our daughter to bed, I took my old, cloth-covered journal and walked down to Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse to write about how miserable I had become.
When I returned, my husband wasn’t home. Thankfully our daughter was safe asleep in her bed. Looking around for a note, I almost tripped over the iron, which was still on and had branded its silhouette onto the floor of his studio. It’s a miracle the place hadn’t burned down.
He came home hours later and told me offhandedly that he had gone to have a few beers with the neighbors — three young women with many tattoos and piercings. I wanted to yell at him about the iron, about leaving his three-year-old daughter home alone, about drinking with women who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Instead I put away my journal, hung up my dress, and lay awake grieving my short-lived plan to recapture Saturday night.
It is Friday, and we are helping pack up our friend’s clothes, one of the last things she wants to do. She is thirty-nine, and she is dying. No longer the gregarious blonde with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, she wears pajama bottoms, a tank top, and a hooded sweat shirt. Gray stubble sprouts on her bald head, and oxygen flows into her nostrils through tubes.
She looks at each item and says, “Give away,” “Trash,” or, “Save for so-and-so.” We make jokes — “Where the hell did you wear this?” — and fill dark green garbage bags, one after another. I ask my friend if she is sad doing this. She says she is, a little, but wants to get it done so her young husband won’t have to do it after she’s gone.
We stuff the bags into my car and help our friend downstairs, where she falls asleep on her couch. Tomorrow I am supposed to take the bags of clothes to the shelter. I will never get the chance.
At 6 A.M. I get a frantic call to come back; she has had a bad night. Twelve hours later, she is dead. After her body has been picked up by the funeral home, I stumble to my car and ride around on Saturday night with a back seat full of my friend’s neatly bagged possessions. She was ready to give up all she had. I am not.
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
When we fell in love, Saturday night was ours. I worked double shifts while attending school, but for one night a week we could be wild and free. We took hiking trips, went to concerts, drank, laughed, and made love all night, falling asleep to the sound of rain drumming on the tin roof.
When my lover left me, Saturday night became torture. I fumbled through the routine of eating, sleeping, bathing. I listened to the faucet drip and watched dust motes drift through the air as midnight came and went.
Slowly I emerged from hiding and discovered that I liked going to see “our” favorite musicians without him. I could flirt backstage. I could dance by myself. Back home, I could spread out on the bed.
Yesterday my old lover stepped through my doorway again, but I felt only tired when I thought about “us.” It was Saturday. I told him I had plans.
Last night my new lover drank too much and insulted me during an argument before falling into bed and snoring. When we awoke this morning, he burst into heaving sobs. He’s bipolar, he’s going through a divorce, and he says he’s falling in love with me. Like a statue of the Virgin Mary, I held his head to my naked breast and murmured soothing words, but I thought wearily, Fuck Saturday night.
Tonight I am curled beneath a warm comforter, my dog and cat lying nose-to-tail beside me, a box of cookies and a stack of half-read books on the nightstand. Now I like Sunday night best.
When I was ten years old, my reward for behaving all week was getting to stay up late on Saturday night, have a bottle of pop with potato chips, and watch a movie on TV.
In high school, Saturday nights meant riding around town with a group of guys, sharing a forty-ounce bottle of beer among us. We could ride all night on five dollars’ worth of gas.
After I got married and my children were born, Saturday night meant having a family meal, listening to A Prairie Home Companion, and reading the children an extra bedtime story. As the children got older, I went out dancing with friends on Saturday nights. Then I became part owner of a restaurant and brewery located in a historic train station. I worked Saturday nights and longed for the days when I could just go out to clubs and dance.
Now I dream of having that restaurant back, or spending a quiet Saturday evening with a movie, or having a glass of wine with friends. I am writing from a federal prison camp, where I’m serving time for growing marijuana. Every night is the same, except on Saturday nights we stay up later because we get to sleep in the next morning. I have come almost full circle.
Bruceton Mills, West Virginia
On Thursday my midwife told me there was nothing to worry about, even though she could not hear a heartbeat. I was only nine weeks along. She blamed it on my uterus, saying it was tilted back, away from the monitor.
On Saturday the bleeding hadn’t stopped, and the cramping had become more intense. G. and I were out exploring different towns, contemplating where we would move next. By lunchtime, I could barely walk. Late that afternoon, I asked G. to take me to the hospital.
We pulled into the emergency-room parking lot and made our way slowly inside. The setting sun glinted gold off the automatic doors as they opened. In the examining room, a doctor reached inside me as I lay back, whimpering, trying not to cry out. Using forceps, he pulled something out.
“This is part of the baby. Do you want to see it?” he asked.
G. stared numbly. This is part of the baby. Had he really just said that?
A few hours later, we left the hospital and drove to a nearby hotel. We ordered room service and ate dinner in front of the television, just like any other Saturday night.
In the early eighties, my parents went through a phase when they would go out on Saturday nights with some neighbors. On Saturday afternoons my mom and dad would be in a particularly good mood. My mom would get dressed up in her dancing shoes and her going-out jewelry, then tell Heather, our baby sitter, where they were going and when they’d be home. She would instruct Heather to let me have one glass of soda: only one. Heather would nod, but I knew I could talk her into giving me more.
After my parents had left, Heather would call her friends to tell them to come over. My younger sister always went to bed early, but I got to stay up. It was fun to watch the sitter with her friends, especially the boys. By the time they left, my sugar buzz would have kicked in, and poor Heather would actually have to work for that three dollars an hour until I gave in and went to sleep.
Sometime in the night I always awoke to the sound of high heels on my wood floor, a kiss on the forehead, and Mom’s soft hand running down my face. I could smell the booze on her breath, the smell of Saturday night out. When she left, I would tiptoe to the door and listen to my parents laughing in the kitchen with their friends. One night I heard my otherwise-stern dad slur that he had “one fucking cigarette left.” I was shocked. My parents never used the F word. My quiet, shy mom was giggling with other men and acting weird. I went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep. I felt deceived. How dare she be anyone other than my mother!
The next morning was my first day of vacation Bible school. My mom joked about her headache. I was mad at her. She was not herself and didn’t help me get ready or walk me out to my friend’s car.
That was my parents’ last Saturday night out. Years later my dad told me they stopped going out after they talked about what would happen if they got pulled over or, worse, both died in a drunk-driving accident. They imagined what the police would say to us, where we would go. It scared them to death. Now I have children of my own, and those same thoughts have run through my head a few times when I’m out on a Saturday night.
Today is Sunday. Last night I baked a batch of peanut-butter cookies and thought about the young people all over the city getting dressed up to go out to clubs, bars, and parties, where they would drink, smoke, dance, and flirt. The girls were putting on glittery eye shadow and pants that made their butts look good. Their purses held cellphones, lipstick, cash, ID, and maybe a condom.
I turn thirty-two tomorrow. I don’t go to bars and parties much. I was twenty-five when I drank my first beer, twenty-six when I first smelled pot. (I thought someone was cooking a dish with a lot of pepper.) I’ve never carried condoms in my purse. I usually spend Saturday nights alone, knitting, watching movies, and talking on the phone with my family.
Last night, after I’d baked cookies, I brought some over to my friend Letty’s apartment. She and her fiancé, Jed, and I ate cookies and played Scrabble and listened to Nina Simone and Elvis Costello. We sat at their yellow kitchen table and talked about furniture and Subarus, and made exceptions for slang words and proper nouns, and then it was Sunday.
Cindy Y. Ogasawara
I was seventeen when I met my one true love. We were together almost all the time. One Saturday, while getting dressed for our date, I danced in front of the mirror, admiring my long-haired, long-legged reflection. I thought about him out there waiting for me. It took me a long time to get ready. I was late to leave, and when I got to town, my true love wasn’t around. I looked in all the bars and at our usual hangout. I drank beer with his friends, who gave each other uneasy looks.
I ended up at a party where a guy put his arm around me and kissed my neck. I knew then that nobody expected my boyfriend to show up. A sick panic rose in me. I had to find him. He needs me. He could die without me. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t come close already: the drinking, the drugs, the guns. I headed out into the frigid night and hitchhiked ten miles to his house.
His car was in the driveway. Please be alive. In his bedroom a huge candle had melted down and burned out. Two people were asleep in his bed.
For the next hour, I sat on his couch and watched the pink light of Sunday morning slowly fill the living room. I never should have made him wait.
The girl came down the stairs. I was embarrassed for him: she was so ordinary.
“Will you drive me home?” she asked.
We took his car.
“I didn’t know he had a girlfriend,” she explained.
“Hey, that’s OK,” I heard myself say. “I know how you feel. I’ve done it too.”
I still wonder why I lied like that. But it was 1979, and I didn’t want to seem uncool.
The sun was shining on the snowy apple orchards when I returned. I would wait for him to wake up, to apologize, to threaten suicide. I would enjoy his suffering. But I couldn’t get mad, because then he might really kill himself. And, after all, I was the one who’d been late.
On Saturday afternoon I pack my toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, an herbal sleep tonic, and a change of clothes in a bright red duffel bag. On my way to my destination, I make a pit stop at the health-food store and stock up on greens, bread, butter, eggs, and green tea. At the register, the cashier tells me to have a good night. She has no idea.
I climb back into my car and drive into the growing darkness. I am going where no one can find me, not my closest friends or even my family. I park under an elm tree. The motion-detector lights track my movements as I gather my travel bag and groceries and double-check the locks on the car.
I will spend three days and three nights with women and children who are hiding from abusers. They are afraid of loud noises, scared of the dark. I represent security to them, a promise that they will be safe. I tuck them into bed every evening and make breakfast with them every morning. I lock the doors and windows and survey the property. If necessary I will call the police, the ambulance, or the hospital. At the end of my shift, I will pack my little red duffel bag and drive home to my other life.
Saturday night was bath night in our house. My mother bathed everyone together in our porcelain claw-foot tub. She soaked her menstruation rags beneath that same tub. Once a month she would boil them on the stove in a pot kept solely for this purpose, then hang them on the clothesline behind the furnace in the basement, out of sight.
We children assembled, naked, while my mother ran cold water into the tub and added hot water heated on the stove in the kitchen. The result was an inch of lukewarm water in the bottom of the tub.
“When you’re all in, the water will rise up nice and high,” she’d say over our protests. “We can’t waste water. It’s sinful.”
We didn’t sin much in our house, but we sure did talk a lot about it.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” my mother would say, as she gave us a Christian scrubbing that seemed to take off a layer of skin.
The time came when we couldn’t all fit in the tub, so she divided us into groups. The first group got the hottest and cleanest water. We switched each week so that everyone got a turn being first.
Eventually I started doing chores for my grandmother, who let me bathe at her house. A bath at Gram’s was like a day at the spa: thick white towels, a chenille robe, bubbles, and bath beads. The best part was being allowed to fill the tub nearly to the brim. I would sit in that splendor and sometimes even forget to wash off all that sinful dirt.
When I had my own children, I became the scrubber. By the time they were in bed, I was often too tired even to wipe away the ring in the tub.
Now, in my senior years, I never miss an opportunity to submerge myself in steaming water. Two weeks ago I sat in my outdoor spa, the air temperature fifteen degrees and snow falling on my shower cap, but I was immersed in heat. I lifted my head in the silence and yelled, “Thank you, God, for this time alone in the water!”
Marjorie Murtha Butler
I did not go on a single date in high school. I was a serious-looking girl who roamed the crowded hallways with a large stack of books and a head full of dreams about what I would do once I escaped. My family lived in a leafy, upscale New Jersey enclave populated with sophisticated intellectuals and professionals with 2.3 children and one pet. We were viewed as exotic: a transplanted Southern Baptist family of eight with three large dogs and two very unhappily married adults who on occasion summoned the police to intervene in their ongoing war.
Our street was lined with landscaped yards, grass clipped to form lush green carpets untouched by feet. In our yard dandelions sprouted, bicycles and skateboards careened madly, and you walked barefoot at your own risk. Our driveway sported a series of boatlike station wagons, such as the wood-paneled Plymouth Fury III with its I Found It bumper sticker, a token of my parents’ evangelical Christianity. I drove that car to high school and parked it among Volkswagens and Mustang convertibles.
Skinny, flat-chested, and frizzy-haired, I did not attract boys, but I became known in my neighborhood as a responsible, competent baby sitter. My Saturday nights were booked weeks in advance. My favorite clients were the Browns, Mike and Ellen, who had two little boys.
Ellen was an ebullient blonde, bursting with enthusiasm for food, wine, and Broadway. Mike was quiet and slim, with a sly sense of humor. Most Saturday nights I’d tuck their boys into bed by 8:30, then listen to Ellen’s Broadway soundtracks on the console hi-fi: Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and my favorite, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I’d wander into the master bedroom, with its dark, Mediterranean-style furniture and red curtains. From Ellen’s vanity, I’d pick up the square, chunky bottle of Eau de Joy, remove the top, and breathe in. I realized that this exotic scent was part of being a woman, and that someday I would find a scent to communicate my unique essence. I imagined that Mike had given Ellen that perfume, selected especially for her, because he knew her in the most intimate way a man can know a woman.
Thirty years later, I spend my Saturday nights with someone who has discovered my particular essence. I look back on those nights of baby-sitting with gratitude. They brought me the music that has sustained me over the years, as well as the silence, space, and solitude (all nonexistent in my childhood home) I needed in which to dream. Most important, they brought me a vision of what a marriage might be, the promise of which made the waiting bearable.
I grew up in New Orleans in the 1950s. Raised in a strict Catholic home, I would have been a sheltered teenager had it not been for Saturday-night gigs. I played drums at sleazy bars, country-club dances, wedding receptions, neighborhood dance halls, and debutante parties. I saw the entire social spectrum, unguarded and at play.
After each gig, we’d go for a sandwich at L’Enfant’s or Martin Brothers, then meet other musicians on the steps of Our Lady of the Sea Church for the 3 A.M. “Fishermen’s mass,” a service intended for early-rising fishermen and hunters, but attended mostly by musicians, partygoers, and nightclubbers who were still up at that ungodly hour.
Our Lady of the Sea was cavernous, and the odd assemblage looked like a scattering of lonesome pilgrims among the pews. The priest’s Latin mumblings echoed eerily in the sepulchral silence of morning. Sermons were short and dull, the atmosphere bordering on comatose.
A Catholic mass involves a lot of kneeling — spine straight, forearms resting on the back of the pew in front of you, hands together in prayer. But at 3 A.M. many congregants slipped into a more relaxed posture: back hunched and butt resting on the seat. Every now and then a thundering whack! would break the silence as someone nodded off and his head hit the pew.
The Fishermen’s mass, with its pre-dawn tranquillity, appealed to me after a night of jazz, dancing, and shrimp po’ boys. By the time I left the Catholic Church years later, I knew that Saturday night and Sunday morning were both times of spiritual celebration, different faces of the same God.
On Saturday night we entered the dark movie theater and stood for a moment, letting our eyes adjust. I spotted three seats in a row with extra leg room — perfect for my six-foot-five father. I crouched down and hurried to the seats, my husband right behind me. When we got there, however, I noticed that my father hadn’t followed. He was still standing where we’d left him. Feeling conspicuous, I ducked down, went back, and touched his shoulder. He flinched in surprise. I recoiled too, realizing that he couldn’t see.
My strong, capable father was losing his sight. He’d always had poor vision, but age had brought new complications: poor night vision and a worsening cataract.
I took his hands and helped him slowly across the theater, not crouching, but standing straight and tall, knowing everyone would see our silhouettes. I wondered if they’d understand the significance of this scene: a daughter leading her father, embarrassed for him, but also stricken with love.
Saturdays always started the same way: a lazy, sexy morning with my husband, Roc; then a list of things to do: post office, car wash, cleaners, drop off or deliver children. After a long week at work, I wanted a quiet evening, but Roc would always say, “What do you think Frank and Helen are doing tonight?” Then he’d be on the phone, inviting them over.
“What should I make for dinner?” Roc would ask. He rarely made what I suggested, but I was never disappointed.
While he cooked, I set the table, ironed the linens, and lit the candles. Then I sat on the counter and watched him create a perfect meal. One of his shoulders always itched. He would back up to me and say, “Give it a scratch, a little to the left, up, over, ahhh!” Then he would turn around and hold me and whisper something about later in the evening.
Once Frank and Helen arrived and dinner was served, Roc’s job was over. He sat and ate and talked with us. We never left the kitchen. He and I were always touching: I’d rest my feet in his lap or give his shoulders a rub. He had a heat to his body that I couldn’t get enough of.
Since Roc’s death, Saturday nights are still filled with love, delicious food, and friends, but they will never be the same.
Hampton, New Hampshire
“You do what on Saturday nights?” my college friend Jenny shouted into the phone. She lived in Manhattan; I was in central Pennsylvania. I had just told her that I spent my Saturday evenings at the laundromat.
We Wash-n-Shop regulars were quite a diverse group. There was the Vietnam vet with the karate-chop folding technique; the middle-aged couple who cooed to each other over their clean underwear and sheets; the elderly husband and wife who shouted about current events (“No one would be gay if they worked hard!”); and me, a single thirty-something with a stack of composition papers to grade.
As teenagers in small-town Illinois, my friends and I would drive the country roads on Saturday nights and sometimes pull over by a silo, lie on the hood of the oversized Buick, drink seven-ounce Budweisers, and stare into the heavens. After graduation, we were all going to get out of the Midwest and have fabulous careers, glamorous social lives, and fat bank accounts. It never crossed our minds that we might not even have washing machines. No one we knew went to a laundromat.
Once, a colleague from the university spied me through the front window of the Wash-n-Shop as he and his wife were leaving the grocery store next door. They popped in to invite me to their place later that evening: hors d’oeuvres and drinks — nothing fancy. I had no plans, but I declined their offer. (Why? Was I defensive? Embarrassed?)
My colleague looked at my stack of papers and shook his head. “You can’t spend your Saturday nights this way, you know. It’s pathetic.”
He left, and my fellow Wash-n-Shoppers silently turned back to their own laundry.
Mary Beth Simmons
West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
During the Great Depression, my father worked as a day laborer at neighboring farms, painted and hung wallpaper, and paved roads for the Works Progress Administration, but most of the time he was unemployed. My mother did sewing for other people. It was not unusual for her customers to say they were unable to pay “just now,” but would do so soon. Sometimes “soon” never came.
We lived in a rented house with no well on the property and carried our drinking and cooking water in a bucket from the neighbors’. A small cistern caught rainwater that we used for washing our clothes and bathing. We had some chickens, which provided us with eggs and meat, and we raised hogs for butchering, two each year. It was sometimes difficult to afford animal feed. Years later, Dad confided that the situation had been so hopeless he had actually considered robbing a bank.
On Saturday nights, we all got in the car to drive to the neighboring town. We parked our old Model T Ford at a central location and settled in to watch the evening’s activity. The men would congregate on the sidewalk; the women would gather in cars with the children. We never went to a movie, but we saw people come and go from the theater across the street. We never swam at the YMCA, but we heard people inside shouting and playing in the water. We never bought popcorn from the vendor on the street corner, but we could smell it as others bought and eagerly ate it. Briefly, we were part of this other world.
The best Saturday nights were when my parents would invite friends to our home. Mother sometimes baked a cake or made fudge. The adults drank coffee and played cards. Then, in the middle of the Depression, a new and exciting game appeared: Monopoly. Players became utterly engrossed in the game, handling huge sums of money, buying houses and hotels, wheeling and dealing, shouting and laughing, feeling rich and powerful for one night.
My sophomore year in high school, I took Latin II. Latin I had made sense, but the verb conjugations of Latin II baffled me. I couldn’t drop the course, though, because I wanted to appease my dad, the biggest advocate for Latin since Caesar.
My family lived in a three-story colonial in the posh part of town. We rented, but we passed for posh. Since I wasn’t catching on to Latin the way he’d hoped, my dad decided I should learn to wait tables. Coincidentally, he knew a pretty, young hostess at a fine restaurant. Her name was Alice, and she became my mentor. A couple of afternoons a week she would teach me the finer points of gracious serving. Alice had hair that, when left unfettered, fell to her waist. I liked her.
One morning before school, I found my mother in tears. It seemed my dad liked Alice too, and my parents would probably be getting a divorce. Latin was especially hard that day. My waitressing lessons ended abruptly.
A few weeks later, on the night my father ended his affair with her, Alice was killed while driving home in a snowstorm. I thought my parents’ marriage would never survive the tragedy.
Latin didn’t get any easier, nor did anything else. I had nightmares and trouble sleeping. One balmy Saturday night, months later, I watched from my upstairs window as my parents returned from a drive-in movie. They had left earlier in the evening with a shakerful of martinis. Now, in the moonlight, I saw my mom jump out of the car, laughing and gay. My dad came up behind her and grabbed her. Then they were on the ground, cushioned by the lush summer grass. When I saw what was surely the lacy white of my mother’s panties being flung aside, I looked away, smiling. Sleep came easily that Saturday night.