New Year’s Eve was only a few days away, and my parents were going to be killed. I was sure it. To compound my worry, they were dressing up for the occasion. Daddy’s best suit was at Snow White Cleaners. Mama had unzipped a dress bag in the back of her closet, pulled out a floor length evening gown, and spread it over a dining room chair, so that it would air, and a slight tinge of moth balls would vanish. They’d been invited to a fancy New Year’s Eve party on the roof of the Heidelberg Hotel in downtown Jackson. Mama was wildly excited. Leftover musicians from a 1940’s dance band were making their way to Mississippi for the event, and she was planning to dance the night away. But the party on the roof of a fourteen-story building. I knew for certain Mama would fall off. Maybe Daddy would too.
For over a week, Mama had been planning her wardrobe. After she inspected her dressy shoes, she decided on an emergency visit to Kennington’s. I was lucky; she took me along. I was excited too. She drove the Chevy to Capital Street, found a parking spot on South Congress Street and plunked a nickel in the parking meter. Together we swept through the magical glass doors at the store’s entrance and walked into the city’s finest shopping venue. Mama headed to the shoe department like a head seeking missile. An obsequious salesman spotted her immediately. His eyes widened when she said, “Dress shoes…..um, maybe a purse too.” We left an hour later carrying a pair of strappy sandals with extremely high heels and a small blimp-like purse covered with gold beads. “Hollywood,” I thought. “My mother will look like a movie star.” Daddy’s party prep was simple, a haircut, a trip to the cleaners, a freshly ironed shirt, and a shoe-shine kit.
When my babysitter Ella arrived on New Year’s Eve, I was in full-blown panic. They were really going, and I might never see them again. Mama swept out of her room in a flowing gold dress with a gentle organdy skirt and figure clinging bodice (I love the word bodice. It’s obsolete but implies serious glamour.) Daddy was a Prince Charming knockoff. I kissed them good by and wondered if I’d ever see them again. My six-year-old brain began to churn. Maybe this would end well. There were several possibilities.
Santa had landed safely on our roof only a few nights ago, Dasher and Dancer also. He’d walked safely to our chimney and slid down without difficulty. But he was well practiced in the art of rooftop negotiation. The reindeer too. My mother had never climbed onto a roof or slid down a chimney. Her high heels were like spikes. What if she tripped? Ella wondered why I was so uneasy. She offered me a leftover Primos brownie. I took a bite, it didn’t help.
As an alternative, the central fire station was right downtown. I’d seen it myself when my class visited the firemen and we slide down their long brass pole. They had ladders too. I pictured a fireman climbing the tallest one to catch my mother, hoist her over his shoulder and carry her back to earth. Perhaps they’d wrap the entire hotel in ropes and netting in case someone fell off. Safety nets worked for circus acrobats; it could work at the hotel. There was hope! I ate the entire brownie and asked for another.
Lastly, Superman. After years of watching him on TV, I knew his capabilities. Never fear, Clark Kent was keeping watch somewhere in the universe. If Mama’s foot slipped, he’d duck into a phone booth, shed his bland reporter’s suit and emerge as a caped hero. Things were looking up. I consumed a second brownie and licked my fingers.
“What’s bothering you, sweetie?” Ella asked, finally. She’d settled into the sofa, snapped on the TV, and was deciding between Perry Mason and The Guy Lombardo New Years Special.
“How much does a parachute cost?” I said.
“A parachute? Watchu you talkin’about girl?” Ella wondered.
“Mama and Daddy are going to a roof,” I wailed. “They might fall off.”
“Fall off?” she laughed. “No way!”
“But it’s steep and high. Mama might trip. What if she doesn’t come back.”
“Honey, the roof is just fancy name for the top floor of the hotel. They’re not going outside, and they sure not gonna climb up on a rooftop.“
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Besides, your Mama always comes back. Wild animals couldn’t keep your Mama and Daddy from comin’ back to you.”
That’s what Mamas do. Daddies too. You got nothin’ to worry about.”
“Alright” I whispered. “If you’re sure.”
“Sure, as certain,” she answered.
Relief crashed over me like a thundering waterfall. Ella pulled me into her lap, and we settled in to watch Perry and Della outsmart the unfortunate Hamilton Burger. She ate a brownie too.
I was asleep long before my parents returned home. I’m sure they laughed when Ella told them the rooftop story; but when I opened my eyes in the morning, Mama was sitting on the end of my bed. I rubbed my eyes and smiled. She’d come back. I was sure of it now, because that’s what Mamas always do. They come back in memories too.