In our little hometown, there was a small, family-owned, single screen theater within walking distance of our house. The movies were current and the prices low. The owner’s children operated the popcorn and candy concession stand and their parents worked the ticket window.
Every Saturday in December the local merchants sponsored a 10-cent matinee, which included a cartoon and an age-approproate movie, followed by a giveaway of door prizes to the lucky few children who clutched winning ticket stubs in their sweaty hands. Almost every child in town showed up for the matinee.
As my siblings and I walked the few blocks from our home to the theater, we admired the festive Christmas decorations strung along the main thoroughfare between the town’s only two traffic lights. All the parking meters had been covered with small paper bags signifying free parking during the movie. It was hoped that parents would drop off their children at the theater and then do their Christmas shopping at the local shops instead of driving the 20 miles to the nearest mall.
Instead of shopping, Mom took advantage of her few child-free hours to rest in peace and quiet. How many chances was she likely to get to be rid of all five of us for only 50 cents? And we usually came home with at least a few door prizes.
Not all my movie memories are happy ones. One of the worst was the time I got thrown out of the theater by the owner/manager. I’d gone to the movies with two friends. We were at that giggly age (10 or 11). The movie was a long, boring Egyptian epic. The camera kept panning a huge statue of a standing female dog, whose nursing pups were dangling from her engorged teats. Every time it happened, we collapsed in gales of laughter. The manager came down the aisle with a flashlight and warned us to quiet down, but we were beyond control. He finally returned and escorted us to the office. He asked our names and lectured us severely. When he got to me, he asked, “Didn’t I throw your brother out of here last week?” I’d been hoping he wouldn’t remember that.
But the worst movie experience was the time Mom dragged my sister and me out of the theater in the middle of a movie. There was a Jerry Lewis comedy playing and she said we could go. What we didn’t tell her was it was a double feature. The other movie was the 1961 classic Splendor in the Grass, starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. There was no rating system for movies at that time, but it was considered a very risque movie. By today’s standards, it was pretty tame.
While we were watching it, Mom opened the local newspaper at home and saw what was playing. She came storming down the aisle of the theater with fire in her eyes, loudly calling our names, then grabbed both of us by the napes of our necks and dragged us up the aisle, reading us the riot act. Everyone was gawking at us. She stopped at the manager’s office on the way out and let him have it for running a kids’ movie in a double bill with a “dirty movie.” By Monday morning, the story was all over school and I was asked repeatedly, “Hey, was that your mom dragging you out of the theater Saturday? Ha Ha ha!”
Don’t think for a minute that your grade school classmates have forgotten any of your childhood humiliations. Fifty years later I ran into a former grade school classmate. When I asked, “Remember me?” he said, “Didn’t your mom drag you and your sister out of the Midway Theater when we were in fifth grade?”