I grew up in a small college town in Arkansas where people knew and helped each other. My parents were no exception to this, and had a wide circle of acquaintances who were either associated with the college or simply lived in the area. My mother took a particular interest in individuals whom she could help out in some way.
One of these persons was an old woman affectionately known as Mom Ragon. She’d been married for years to Pop Ragon, and they were a sweet couple who lived out in the country. I remember Pop Ragon as a deeply-tanned, soft-spoken man who wore overalls and a train engineer-style cap. After he died, his wife came to town on a regular basis, wandering around and visiting the funeral homes to pay her respects to the deceased--whether she knew them or not.
Apparently my kind-hearted mother thought Mom Ragon needed to expand her horizons. Every few months, my twin sister and I would have orthodontic or optometrist appointments in Fort Smith, a city about 80 miles away. A highlight of the trip—aside from getting out of school for the day—was visiting the mall. There were no malls in our town, so this was a big deal. The mall! We looked forward to it and dreamed of visiting the clothing stores that catered to young teens.
Imagine our horror when, the morning of our Big Trip, my mother would say, “I invited Mom Ragon to go with us. We’ll pick her up on the way.” Of course we’d moan and complain about it—my mom’s charitable leanings were admirable, but she had a way of springing them on us when our whining wouldn’t change a thing. (Don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of compassion for others, but this was the mall.)
The ride over was pleasant enough. Mom Ragon was chatty, and my sister and I were comfortable around older people. It was later that things got dicey. After our appointments, we’d drive to the mall and have lunch. Then my sister and I would ditch my mother and Mrs. Ragon and go our separate ways.
Alone at last, things would be fine until I’d walk out of a shop and be spotted by Mom Ragon, who’d been wandering around the mall sans my mother. She would insist on holding my hand, and away we’d go—a plump, eccentric-looking old woman in a house dress, and a mortified teen girl—making their way down the long corridors.
To make matters worse, she’d swing my hand as we walked along; swing my hand as we passed by the stores where the city girls shopped on a regular basis. While the stylish city girls bought their fashionable clothes, I was saddled with an old lady and an inferiority complex. (I wonder if my sister felt the same way when she was the “lucky” one?) This happened on several occasions until we were old enough to drive to Ft. Smith on our own.
Looking back from a mature standpoint, I suspect Mom Ragon was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at that time. I have no doubt that going to the mall was as huge an excursion for her as it was for us. Being around the lively energy of shoppers; interesting people to look at; and time with friends would have been a highlight of her month. My mother surely knew this, and realized that a lonely old woman could feel a measure of happiness—even while holding the hand of a reluctant young girl.