It was a hot summer day in the 1970s. My brother, Tray, and I were riding along with our mother to the drive-through teller or orthodontist appointments or grocery shopping at A&P — I can’t quite recall. Commensurate with his seniority as the older child, he rode in the front passenger’s seat. I was in the back of our large, buttermilk yellow Buick with two massive doors and searing brown vinyl interior.
I tried to move, but my thighs stuck to the naugahyde. For fear I might lose the first layer of skin, I peeled my legs slowly off the sticky vinyl and scooted to the window. I stuck my head out to feel the air stream in my hair. The pale backside of my upper arm touched down on the hot chrome window frame — Ouch!
Bored, Tray grabbed the knob of our Buick’s radio and cranked it up, hoping Mom wouldn’t complain. From my wind tunnel in the back seat, I could hear the grinding voice of Ted Nugent and see Tray’s elbow jerk to the rhythm of his air guitar.
“I just don’t get it,” Mom piped up over the screeching sounds, “Why on Earth would a cat scratch a beaver? That just doesn’t make sense, ecologically speaking.”
Tray and I were mortal enemies, but he grinned at me to share our mutual opinion that Mom was a square. Everyone else in the world knew the song was “Cat Scratch Fever,” not “Cat Scratch a Beaver.” Everyone but our mother.
She was notorious for botching lyrics and doing cheesy, old-fashioned dances to our favorite songs. We shriveled in humiliation when Mom pointed her thumbs into the air to the beat, or did the Mashed Potato to Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” or KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty.”
She was born uncool, we thought, and were thankful that we would never suffer the same fate.
But then, life played its cruel joke, and we became parents.
Although fully entrenched in denial, I sometimes get the feeling that, much like my mother before me, I have no idea what’s cool anymore. I reluctantly allow our teenage daughter to control the radio on our way to school, and am forced to listen to the repertoire of new rock alternative and pop tunes that only serve to keep me from hearing the news and weather. As cool as I think I am, I’m just realizing who Radiohead and the Chainsmokers are. It’ll take me another year before I can wrap my mind around The Killers and Paramore.
When we were stationed at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., our three kids wanted to go to an outdoor MWR concert on base, featuring some nationally recognized bands. All our friends were going with their children, so despite the fact that we couldn’t identify the bands’ tunes off the top of our heads, we jumped on the bandwagon like groupies.
The morning of the concert, my husband, Francis, and I figured we’d better do our research. With our daughters’ assistance, we played snippets on iTunes to bone up. “Hey, I’ve heard this one before!” I said, and Francis and I got up in front of our desktop computer to gyrate to the beat. The daughters just rolled their eyes.
Later at the concert, Francis and I were ready to prove that we hadn’t lost our cool. Pairing ’80s dance moves with inaccurate lyrics, we appeared to be having a blast.
An hour later, Francis asked me to search my purse for ibuprofen for a pain in his lower back.
After another 30 minutes, we began to yawn and complain about the noise.
Finally, in the last set of the concert, we just wanted to go home, take our fiber tablets and go to bed.
Without us realizing it, Francis and I had become just like our own parents, obliviously embarrassing the children by being so uncool. We realized that we are powerless to stop this ebb and flow.
It’s simply the natural circle of life. Which, unlike the cat who scratched that beaver, makes perfect sense, ecologically.