The World of Wrestling — and My Role in It

(Minimal Role that It Was)

My introduction to wrestling was back when I was a kid — no, not a goat, but that was my nickname which is another story in itself. The nearest venue was a place down on the south side of Monroe, the nearest town of any size to us. This place could be a roller-skating rink, a dance-hall, or a wrestling arena, depending on the schedule.

My mother loved wrestling matches, loved everything about it, from the action in the ring to that around it, the crowd, the excitement — everything. My father liked making her happy. He didn’t really care about the wrestling itself but could occupy himself watching the crowd. I guess that’s where I get my penchant for people-watching. There were neighbors who went with us on these occasional outings, bringing along their two children as well. Virginia was my brother Johnny’s age, I was two years younger, and Donald was younger than I was.

I have a fairly vivid memory of the last time we all went to the matches together. I couldn’t have been any older than seven or eight. We arrived late and the seats were already packed. The only place to even stand was behind the several rows of bleachers. The adults could see over the heads of those seated on the top row, Virginia and Johnny, could stand on the back of the rigging, and Donald and I were seated on our dads’ knees while they each stuck a foot in the rigging. This was okay for awhile, but when the action got really good in the ring, the people would stand up.

As the intensity of the excitement built up, the people would take longer sitting back down. Once the screaming started, I thought I’d never get to see anything again and got so worked up I slapped a man on the back and said “Sit down!” I wasn’t old enough at the time to appreciate what my father might be going through, wondering if he was going to be slugged by an irate fan, other than just being yelled at. (My mother said later that he almost fainted.) After the crowd quieted and sat down again, the man turned around and apologized, then picked me up and put me up beside him to watch the rest of the match.

I’ve forgotten what brought about the end of those excursions. It could have been the split-up of Virginia’s and Donald’s parents — actually, she ran off with some younger guy. Or, it could have been my mother’s health. A few years later, the community acquired access to television — but it was still a number of years before wrestling matches were available for home viewing.

When I was in college, the wrestling matches were on about the time I got home from classes. It was not a time to expect any attention from my mother. She would be up on the sofa, her feet tucked up under her — at times bouncing, as she swung her arms in the air, yelling at the villain, urging on her favorite with “Hit ‘em! Hit the SOB!” I realized that if she hadn’t already expired from such behavior it probably had no effect on her at all. Besides she had almost every health problem under the sun other than a bad heart.

About the time of her birthday one year, she was a bit down in the dumps and my friend Virginia and I wanted to cheer her up. We considered going out for a “mystery drive,” maybe even into Monroe to a movie — or, how about the wrestling matches! We were so smug, so pleased with our selves for thinking up such a thing and my mother was really happy, couldn’t believe we’d actually condescend to take her to that place. That part of Monroe had become even more run-down and seedy than in the years before.

My mother insisted we go early enough that we could have front-row seats. I get that sort of thing from her, I guess. I always like to be first in line and to pick my seat early, wherever I go. We sat right in the middle of the row on the best side of the ring. I wore one of my favorite dresses, tiny blue checks, scalloped bateau neckline, very full skirt with all the fluffy petticoats underneath. I probably thought I looked pretty good — too good for the type of crowd that would be there. Virginia and I sat with my mother between us. I don’t know if we thought we were being protective of her or what, possibly going to whisk her out in a minute if she got too excited.

The evening progressed with the usual happenings. It was the women in the audience who got the most worked up over it all. Those in the crowd who don’t get really involved with the action in the ring usually laugh at those who do — so, a good time was had by all. There were the usual matches — women, midgets, and finally the men. I was pretty bored by it all, wasn’t really paying much attention to what was going on — even when things heated up. A few purses would be thrown, maybe even a chair — and these were all by women in front-row seats. I had relaxed into tilting back in my chair, swinging my feet back and forth, trying to think of something else, something on a much higher plane.

Eventually, the excitement and tension in the arena had heated up to the point that my mother was yelling at the participants — even though she had promised me she wouldn’t. And, as I should have known — she started bouncing up and down in her seat. Then, as she screamed “Hit ‘em!!!” she flung out her arms to both sides, whacking me across the chest — flipping me over in my chair — feet up in the air, skirt all upside-down!!! The physical shock was great! Then, the shock of embarrassment was even greater! She was actually stunned, herself. All around me got quiet — while everyone waited to see if I was alright before going back to the action. She started to apologize but was distracted by something new going on in the ring. Virginia and I jumped up and ran all the way to the ladies room at the other end of the arena.

Out of breath from the run, I suffered the combined embarrassment and wonder of whether anyone had really paid any attention to my predicament — or, heaven forbid, had anyone recognized me. The two of us stood there and laughed and laughed, thinking, we should just go get my mother by the arm and get out of there. Before we could do this, we became aware that things had changed outside, the crowd was louder, we could hear running feet, and the noise got closer.

It became apparent that the wrestlers — both of them — had left the ring and taken refuge in the men’s room right next to us. These were two rather flimsy closet-like affairs, constructed against the wall, and not in anyway sufficient to withstand much abuse. They had run away after some woman — some woman come to town for the wrestling, wearing her town dress and stockings, maybe even a hat, who had already thrown her purse at the villain, and started climbing up into the ring. I wondered in years afterward if my mother was jealous about that.

The surge of the crowd, the banging on the men’s room door, the pushing and shoving going on was beginning to scare us and we inspected the small window to see if it might be possible to make an escape. No way — no need. The police had arrived. It was all over.

Now, that was my first — but not my last — time to consider escape through the window of a public toilet.

But, that’s another story…