Listening. A love story

  • By Elizabeth Hudson
  • Photography by Sara Brennan-Harrell

kitchen table 700

Elizabeth Hudson is the editor-in-chief of Our State. See a list of all Welcome columns.

Elizabeth Hudson is the editor-in-chief of Our State. See a list of all her Welcome columns.

In the late 1960s, a woman named Susie — my mother before she was my mother — worked as a waitress at the Sheraton Hotel in Greensboro. She sparkled with personality, and before long, the management promoted her to hostess of the fine-dining restaurant. People came to eat on the nights she was working, and when her regular customers came in the door, she grabbed menus and escorted couples to their special tables.

Not long into her job as hostess, the management moved her again, this time to behind the bar of the Matador Room.

One evening, a man named Phil — my dad before he was my dad — came into the restaurant, sat at the bar, and ordered a Schlitz on draft. My mother poured the drink and thought he was the best-looking man she’d ever seen. He had wavy black hair and a brilliant smile, and she thought he looked just like Joe Namath.

The man, who was my dad before he was my dad, drank his beer, left his money under his glass and left the bar without saying anything.

The woman thought she’d never see him again.

But the next night, he came back.

He waited for the woman who wore her dark hair in a beehive and talked like Loretta Lynn to finish her shift, and he took her out for a late-night dinner. They stayed out for a long time, talking about everything — their work, their days, their life, their pasts and their futures, until the restaurant finally locked the doors and turned out the lights and told them to go home.

My parents, before they were my parents, sat in my dad’s car, talking and finding their voices deep into the night.

You wonder what keeps a couple together for 40, 50, 60 years. You wonder what’s the secret to a long and interesting marriage.

Once, I came across my parents’ wedding photo, a single color print. They keep it in a photo box on a shelf, not even in a frame. In it, my mom is wearing a long, blue satin dress and white gloves; my dad is in a sharp, black suit. They’re posed in front of a brown-paneled wall at the courthouse. They look happy. But they also look quiet. It doesn’t seem right. That’s the thing you notice when you stare at pictures long enough: They capture everything but sound.

When I think of my parents, I think first of their voices, the constants that haven’t changed despite age and illness and surgeries and time. My dad’s hair isn’t black anymore; my mother doesn’t wear a beehive. But their voices are the same, as strong and distinct as when I was young and would listen to them talk at night.

When I was a child, long after I should have been asleep, I remember lying in bed, overhearing my parents’ late-night conversations.

They worked long hours back then and got home well after suppertime. They had a business to run and daily things to take care of; every decision they made was through careful conversation with each other. Always with each other.

Every night, I listened to the scrape of their forks on plates while they ate their late-night dinner. And I heard them talking. For hours at the kitchen table, they talked — about what I don’t know, their pasts and their futures, maybe? Their work, their days, their life. Sometimes they raised their voices; sometimes they argued. But mostly, I heard my dad’s hearty laughter and my mom’s sweet accent sounding just like a country singer. And I listened as their voices drifted up the stairs in the night, finding their way toward me, filling in the darkness.

This entry was posted in Editor's Column, February 2013 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Listening. A love story

  1. Toby Sink says:

    Your is always the first article I read in Our State. You are one of the rare writers that can convey so much meaning (and love) with few words. My grandmother was my mainstay growing up and I will always remember the peaceful feeling of going to sleep hearing the comforting hum of her sewing machine. Looking forward to your next article.

  2. Janet Sherard Foster says:

    My mom is now 85 and continues to go through her pictures of her high school days in Coleridge, NC. She keeps them on her table. Her favorite is the picture of your dad. She was smitten with him…its kinda cute. She loves your magazine and your words in the front. Thank you for the articles so dear to our hearts in OUR STATE MAGAZINE…love our North Carolina!

  3. Linda Hogg says:

    Elizabeth, can’t tell you how much I enjoy your editorials each month. They send us back to a time best remembered ……..Thanks for giving us some “pokes” to bring back our own wonderful memories of times past….

  4. Linda O'Connor says:

    I love to read about your parents in Our State. I remember them well from Susie’s shop in the orange house on South Fayetteville Street and later at Randolph Mall. It was always such a joy to visit her shop and peruse the new cross stitch patterns and books. I always said that I bought enough graphs to last until I was 95. I still have those books, and I don’t stitch as much as I used to, but I will always have fond memories of your parents. Thank you for your articles each month in Our State. I enjoy them so!

  5. Doris Biddix says:

    What a beautiful story! Listening is so important – may we make special efforts to truly listen more – and speak words worth listening to! Thanks for a well-written article!

  6. Michael Hester says:

    And then there are those of us, like me, who grew up in a chaotic home environment so wishing to have great memories of my childhood just like my friends and you. My dad was an alcoholic and absent from the home for extended periods of times, at who know where.

    His addiction (I, now, know it is an addiction and he was not just a sorry drunk.) destroyed our family and made everyone miserable.

    Mom and dad have long sense passed, but I remember how loving and nurturing mother always was and how my dad became a REAL father 4 months before he died of cirrhosis of the liver.

    If you have fond memories of your childhood, I hope you never forget to express your gratitude to God, or who/whatever you believe is guiding your life, for those wonderful, lifelong memories.

  7. Dale Britt says:

    I lived in Randolph County for many years and eventually began my second career here in Morehead City as a Charter Boat Captain.
    Each month as I read Elizabeth Hudson’s editorial I find my self getting emotional. Her stories of family and community so remind me of what we all long for in our lives.
    If Elizabeth is ever in our area, I would treasure the opportunity to buy her lunch and share with her stories of our wonderful community, the folks who live here, and what all has been accomplished in recent years.

  8. Linda Hayes says:

    This really brought back a lot of memories of my childhood. I just wish I could bring some of those times back again and live them over. We have to get to “that” place in our life that those memories bring so much joy to us again. Enjoyed your story

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