I was the kid you hated in the movie theater; the disruptive brat, and a mischievous enough one to manage to sneak away from my older cousin Bettye Sue and run down the aisle toward the screen of the Stamm Theater, sliding my 3-year-old body into a seat about a dozen rows ahead of her. I wasn’t there long before I looked up and over my right shoulder to see her walking down the aisle toward me. She wasn’t smiling. I remember screaming, and, except for an usherette’s flashlight beam across the theater like a lighthouse beacon, I don’t recall what happened after that, but it couldn’t have been good.
From there we could only go up.
This cousin, the daughter of my mother’s sister Berniece, was 8 years my senior. She was named after my mother Bettye and my other aunt, Sue, therefore I always knew her as Bettye Sue. She was basically a good-hearted teen, but I managed to push her buttons enough at times to where her catchphrase became, “Kelly, I’m going to throw you through a wall!” One night I dreamt that she did just that, except the “wall” was the screen of the Stamm Theater.
Bettye Sue had two older sisters, Kathy and Dana. For a few years our families lived across the street from one another, on Acacia Ave. in Antioch. We were the Hendrixes, and they were the Hargises. My brother Tom was two years younger than Bettye Sue, and sort of like a sibling to them, especially since my Uncle Dan Hargis had always wanted a son.
Like many teen girls, Bettye Sue was a Beatles fan. Ringo was her favorite, while I liked Paul. She even went to one of their concerts. Having seen footage of some of the craziness at these concerts, with girls fainting and some being put in cages, my first question to Bettye Sue after the concert was, “Did they have to put you in a cage?”
Once my family moved to Minaker Drive a little over a mile away, we still saw them quite often. One evening when I was about five, my mom excitedly announced that Aunt Berniece and Uncle Dan had gotten a new pool table, and we were going over to see it. I heard the word “pool,” and figuring it must be some new type of swimming pool that had a table you could eat at, I hurriedly ran and put on my bathing suit. My parents, in their anticipation, thought nothing of it — kids ran around in bathing suits all the time back then — and we hopped in the car.
To say I was disappointed upon arrival would be an understatement. I kept looking around, but as far as I could see, there was nothing “pool-ish” about this new contraption everyone was fawning over.
Anyway, getting back to Bettye Sue, I don’t think I truly realized the positive impact she would have on my life until one evening when I was about six, and hanging out with her, my brother Tom, and a couple of other neighbor kids their age. The parents were all out somewhere, at work, on the town or wherever, and Bettye Sue, the most convenient of all babysitters at the time, had me in her charge. The older kids were all playing pool, and as Bettye Sue’s friend Mary bent over the pool table to take a shot, I giggled to myself at how big her butt seemed. Not being able to contain myself, I whispered to Tom’s friend, “Mary’s got a big butt! Hee-hee!” He chuckled, and then whispered it to Tom, who sort of smiled, then whispered it to Bettye Sue. Aside from feeling a bit flattered that my humorous observation was making the big kids laugh and pass it along, I thought nothing more of it.
Later that evening I stood out on the lawn as Bettye Sue said good-bye to her friends — I’m not sure where Tom was — and as she headed back toward the house, she looked at me solemnly and said, “Get in the house.”
I knew something was wrong, but wasn’t quite certain what it might be. She sat me down and told me what I had said about Mary was not nice. I can’t remember how the whole conversation went, but I do remember her wrapping it up with, “You can’t go around saying things like that about people…it hurts.” The sad expression on her face and the conviction in her voice reduced me to apologetic tears. She spoke as if she had already had so much life experience; sort of an old soul in a fourteen-year-old girl’s body.
This was probably one of my first experiences with tough love that didn’t involve slapping, spanking or being sent to my room. No wonder it has never left me.