She leaned across her seat, tapped me on the arm, and pointed to the WWE Live ring in the center of the arena floor.
“If he can crawl over to the edge and touch the rope, he’ll be free,” my mom whispered excitedly, as a grown man in a mask tried to get his head out from between some other grown man’s pretzel-twisted legs. I didn’t know which was more fun: the professional wrestling match or my mom’s knowledge of it. Who knew beneath that sweet personality and gentle smile there was a woman who got her kicks on body slams, trash talking, and men in tight pants?
Funny thing is, she always has. It’s a family tradition: in the 1970s, my mom would travel with her mom and aunts to the big city of Charleston, West Virginia, to see professional wrestling matches when they rolled through town. It was a big to-do for them, and so for her 62nd birthday, I wanted to experience with her what she had so many years ago with her mother and aunts.
The woman was pumped. My dad half-jokingly said he’d be on standby in case she got out of control and had to be escorted out of the arena.
She was well behaved, but she wasn’t quiet. Completely unfamiliar with modern wrestlers like Randy Orton and CM Punk, we mostly booed and cheered and shook our fists according to what the crowd did. Sometimes, though, we based our cheers on which wrestler was better looking.
“Oh, come on! Get up, you wimp,” my mom growled throughout the night. She slammed her hand on the armrest in frustration. “Yeah, hit him harder!”
During intermission, she reflected on the wrestlers she saw in the 1970s and 80s: Andre the Giant, The Million Dollar Man. Then, in the 1990s, when Pay-Per-View was something fancy, my mom’s family gathered at someone’s house to watch a match, everyone chipping in some money and plenty of food to spend an evening with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts – with his real snake, Mom reminds me! – and so many more.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a resurgence in the popularity of professional wrestling. Who can forget “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and his infernal t-shirts? Every boy in my high school had one.
That night at the arena with my mom, it was easy to suspend disbelief. It was escapism at its best, and I haven’t spent such a unique Friday night since. That WWE professional wrestling match was fun. We’d both do it again in a heartbeat, only this time, my mom said she’s going to brush up on today’s wrestlers, so she’ll know at which wrestlers to really direct her screams.