Our Family Nights Out. Day 383.

Photo by Mikechie Esparagoza on Pexels.com

I was probably around eleven. My brothers were nine and seven.

“Let’s go to dinner Thursday night,” my mom would say.


After school we freshened up and piled into whatever car we had at the time. None of our feet touched the floor as we drove up Route 202, windows down, elbows touching. We were headed to Holyoke.

Our first stop was always Friendly’s, a colorful diner-type chain in the North East that serves burgers and ice cream sundaes. We usually had to wait a little longer to get a table because there were five of us, which of course offered us time to be silly and giggle. When it was our turn to sit down, the drooling began.

I was old enough to tell the server my order all by myself, but I didn’t love doing it.

“Speak up, Teri.”

“I will have the All American cheeseburger with French fries and a Coke, please,” I said, eyes never leaving the menu.

When my turn was over, I picked up a blue or yellow crayon, turned over my coloring page, and started with the maze game first, wanting to take a peek at our server, but I was too shy.

We would pass the glass Heinz bottle around and gobble down our food then become impatient for the check, each of us alternating turns to visit the restroom. When it was time to leave, we would walk a few doors down to the arcade.

The Holyoke Mall used to be the place to go, like the mall in Stranger Things. It had a few stores, mostly discount ones like Filene’s Basement, and the more boujee shops were on the top two floors. There was a movie theater and food counters, the mingling scents of Burger King, cheap pizza, Chinese food, and fried chicken created a craving for a non-existent food. There was natural light that came from massive windows three stories above illuminating fluorescent Nikes and 1980’s Aquanet hair.

My parents would hand us each five dollars to trade in for coins. We would separate as soon as we went through the threshold, cold air hitting our faces, and our eyes having to adjust to the darkness. My brothers looked for fighting games, and I would find Pole Position with the real steering wheel and heavy pedal.

If someone was using it, I would never stand and stare at them until it was my turn. I would play Pac Man or Pitfall, or go find my family. I knew where to find my mom, at the claw machine.

I would watch in awe as she put fifty cents into the slot, squinted her eyes and focused on a stuffed animal, a small blue bear, a green frog with crossed, jet-black eyes, or a brown and white puppy with oversized floppy ears. Her fingers would dance on the buttons, UP, LEFT, RIGHT, and then she would press DOWN, aim the stainless steel claw right for a victim’s gut, grab it, and plunk, it would fall down the chute.

There’s a picture in my mind of my mother. She’s wearing a dark-colored down coat buttoned up to her neck, a wide grin, and her hair is short and brown. Her arms are full of brightly colored fluff safely nestled within her hug, waiting to take the trip back to Southampton. She smiled proudly, and we all stared at her in awe, envious of her skill.

We passed around high-fives and woo-hoos, put on our own coats, and made our way to the parking lot. Those were my favorite days, times out with my family, just the five of us, and although I wish there were photos of those nights, I’m so glad there were no cell phones.

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