Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Childhood Memories of Summer Nights at the Drive-In

Last night I dreamed that my family went to the Twin-City Drive-In Theater. It was more a collection of memories than a dream, I suppose. Those Saturday night adventures were the best of summer family times. 

I felt the excitement of "getting ready to go to the drive-in". Ok, just shoot us -- we were too cheap to buy from the concession stand; Dad owned Morton's Grocery Store (112 Pennsylvania Ave., across the street from Kay's Ice Cream and Oakley-Cook Funeral Home near downtown; anyone from "home" remember it?), so he always
gauged the price of food in wholesale dollars and thought it was highway robbery what they charged for snacks. Mom boiled Valleydale weenies and steamed Kern's buns (both were local businesses) in that old stove-top bread steamer with a brass lid. I'd help her top each with ketchup and wrap them in aluminum foil, then put them all in a large paper bag with lots of napkins. Dad popped the popcorn -- kernels in hot oil, on the stove, not in the microwave (nope, no microwave ovens back then, but there WAS Jiffy Pop, which I'd sometimes be treated to at Mamaw's house). He'd constantly keep that large pan rapidly moving back and forth over the hot eye and knew it was ready when the lid slowly rose above the now-white, fluffy morsels. He'd pour melted butter on top and salt it, and put it in 4 individual grocery store paper bags - one for each of us. (Sarah was just a baby and usually she would stay with one of our grandmothers on drive-in nights but I remember sometimes they brought a small portable playpen for her and Mom would sit outside the car next to it in a folding aluminum chair with colorful webbing.) Anyway, the movie food-prep sometimes included John filling up the cooler with ice and putting in individual glass bottles of soda (2-liter bottles and cans hadn't been introduced yet), and slip a small bottle opener in his pocket. (He was the official bottle-popper ... a very important job!) We usually took our own Kool-Aid or lemonade or sweet tea in a large Tupperware pitcher with Tupperware tumblers, but Dad (getting the drinks wholesale) would sometimes splurge on bottled soda.

John and I would grab our pillows and Mom would gather some blankets. Ok, ready to go! We'd travel the few miles down Volunteer Parkway to the drive-in. We'd always get there an hour early, and Dad made sure to find the BEST spot -- right in the middle, and not too close and not too far back -- and park and re-park the car so all of us had the best angle on the sloped hill, no matter which seat we were in. 

John and I would race (literally) down to the little playground at the very front of the theater, just under the huge white screen. We would laugh and play, usually with other Avoca Elementary School friends who were there with their families, and enjoyed the swings and a slide, a "go-'round" carousel, a couple of see-saws and painted animals on huge spring coils.

As dusk settled around us, the cartoons began! We'd race back to the car and crawl in the back door -- the one without the speaker. (Yes, for you youngins' who have never been to a drive-in, you would take the speaker off the stand, roll down one window half-way and hang the speaker on it.) 

We'd enjoy our hot dogs and popcorn while watching the black and white cartoons and corny commercials. There was always a double feature, and the first movie would be family-oriented, "G-rated" (did they even have ratings back then?). We'd all watch it together, laughing and enjoying our time in those close quarters.

During the break between movies, we were taken to the bathroom in the concession stand building, and if we had behaved very well, we'd sometimes be treated to a candy bar from the concession stand. Then we'd all pile back in the station wagon. John and I were expected to snuggle with our pillows and blankets and sleep in the back while Mom and Dad watched "the adult movie". Probably a "PG-13" type, but I do remember one time when we were a little older (turns out it was 1974; I just Googled it) they showed a more "risqué" movie -- "Blazing Saddles" and Mom and Dad kept us awake with their laughter and John and I peeked above the back seat and secretly watched the entire thing. I smile as I still hear their laughter during this irreverent satirical Western comedy. My brother and I couldn't hold back our own laughter during the farting scene and were busted! John and I felt so sneaky (and proud) that we got to watch that movie.

We'd get home very late and Mom and Dad would wake up two sleepy children, but sometimes I would feign slumber just so Dad would carry me in. :)

Those hot summer nights in Tennessee were among the best growing up, and they also included catching lightnin' bugs, flying June bugs on strings, cranking homemade ice cream, swimming at my Aunt Ruby's house, camping at the lake in our pop-up camper, annual vacations at the beach, eating vegetables from Dad's little garden (and from Ree-Ree's BIG garden) and picking strawberries, grapes and cherries at Mamaw's, ice-cold watermelon, church camp in Unicoi, and running through the sprinkler in the backyard. Thanks to my wonderful parents for the memories. Good times. I miss them. And Dad and John ... I miss you, too.

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