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The Thrill Hill
Who was she before she was your mom?
Note: Here’s a free essay to check out while I’m working on a new one. I’m going to sprinkle in some of my favorite stuff from my old blog, The Girl Who. This post was originally written in 2013 on The Girl Who and was later published on HuffPo. Thank you for supporting my writing, it means everything.
It was one of the few times I saw my mom the way she must've been before the four of us slipped from her body, robbing her youth like thieves in the night. How she must have looked to those who knew her before she knew us.
Moms have a way of settling their features into ‘Mom Face’ when their children are around. But, have you ever glimpsed your mom when she didn't know you were watching? The mask of motherhood slips away revealing eyes like oceans, the raw expression of the woman she was before you came along forcing her to rearrange her features into your expectations.
But my mom was Elaine long before I came around. A girl and then a woman with hopes, dreams, fears, and a constellation of thoughts and feelings I'll probably never know about because that's just how it goes with moms; they're Mom first and themselves second. Except maybe now I know those hopes, dreams, and fears intimately because I’m a mom of four now too, rearranging my own facial expressions to comfort kids even when my insides are screaming.
At seven I wasn't capable of seeing the person behind the mom. Not only that but the person behind the mom was being body-slammed by a life that, at 28, had brought single motherhood of four kids under the age of eight. From her parents’ home to a shotgun wedding as a teen to her husband's home then BAM! Single mom with four young kids including a newborn, full-time work, full-time school, full-time anxiety.
The Thrill Hill. That's what she called it, anyway. I was a teenager before it dawned on me that Thrill Hill wasn't its official name. The Thrill Hill was a great swoop of roadway stretching down into a deep gully in a neighborhood a few miles from our house. An upside-down asphalt rainbow.
If you picked up enough speed on the straightaway before the road dropped your stomach danced a little jig of delight. If mom went whole hog (she always did) and managed to keep her foot off the brake as our little car climbed the other side, butterflies knocked around your innards again as we crested the top. I swear we even caught air a few times, the five of us crammed into that rusty old Volkswagen Rabbit.
He was sky blue and we called him Roger. Roger the rabbit. When he was feeling cranky or sick, choking on his exhaust like an old man battling emphysema, one of us kids would gently stroke his dashboard and give him a pep talk. "You can do it, Roger. I know you can do it. Come onnnn, Roger!"
It was usually a Sunday. We always took drives on Sundays when all the god-fearing folk were in church learning about Joseph Smith. Inevitably, our route would meander toward The Thrill Hill, us kids shifting around excitedly because we knew what was coming. Or hoped for what was coming, anyway.
Elaine in the 80’s
Sometimes she wouldn't be in the mood. She'd steer Roger near the road leading to The Thrill Hill, and we'd hold our breath in hopeful anticipation but she'd motor past the turn-off as if it didn't even exist and our spirits would plummet.
Other times, the very best times, just when we'd think she was going to pass it by, she'd crank the steering wheel onto the road and stop the car, motor coughing quietly while she turned to look at each of us, stormy eyes flashing lightning bolts of excitement.
That's when I saw her.
Her features would transform from sagging, heavy-lidded exhaustion after long shifts at the State Mental Hospital into an expression not unlike the one that would cross my features years later while cruising State Street in Orem, Utah with my girlfriend after stealing her dad's car: mischievous delight.
"Should we do it?" Elaine would tease with wide eyes, already knowing our unanimous answer, knowing there was no question we'd do it. Free entertainment for the food stamp family, after all. The only question was how fast would we go. How fast would she take us?
My big brother, occupying the front passenger seat as was his right as the oldest and able to pound any who dared trespass on his territory, would brace himself against the dashboard in excitement. My two younger brothers and I, sardined into the backseat, would quit our neverending game of "Got Ya Last!" which involved smacking each other repeatedly and fall into a deliciously terrified silence.
Sometimes she'd rev Roger's engine for exciting effect, like a Nascar driver acknowledging the fans. Other times she'd just slam the pedal to the metal and off we'd go in the yellow afternoon light. A sky-blue streak of delight.
Thanks for all the thrills, Elaine.
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