When I was a kid living in Florida, nothing made my sister and me happier than coming into the house after playing all day to find Mama or Daddy (or both) studying the section of the newspaper that told which movies were playing down at the Drive-In. We knew what those pages looked like and we tried to tell from the expressions on our parents' faces whether they were just glancing through or were serious about doing the movie thing that night.
We'd start hopping around, flipping out basically, begging to know if we really were going to the Drive-In. Securing an answer indicating the affirmative or even the vaguely probable, my sister and I would begin gathering up our pillows and our stuffed animals and whatever else we wanted to cram into the backseat of the car to fight over when we got to the Drive-In. Sometimes we changed into our pajamas because it was certain we'd be dead asleep long before we got back home.
We'd beg for a stop at the local grocery store so we could secure a stash of penny candy to futher "hop us up" and rot our teeth as we watched the movie from the dark, humid, stuffy recesses of our baby blue Nash Rambler. Mama and Daddy would have their own stash -- of cigarettes -- and he would have his cooler of beer with a small brown paper sack to "hide" the bottle he was nursing, and maybe we had soda pop if the adults were in a good mood. Mama sometimes bought herself a candy bar to enjoy during the movie.
My sister and I usually achieved an uneasy detente by about five minutes into the feature.
I remember feeling such a sense of drama and adventure when we set out for the Drive-In at dusk on a sultry summer night. I don't know why because, with the exception of the mystery and excitement of the movie itself, which I rarely if ever understood but which nonetheless wholly captivated me, the whole experience tended to be rather miserable.
I guess you could get into the Drive-In for about a dollar per car in the late '60s ... I don't know for a fact what it cost but that sounds about right given the general economy at the time. Daddy would enter under the big neon-lit sign with its attached marquee, through the opening in the gate to the huge lot, where we'd hunt for an available speaker pole. The gravel of the lot always sounded crunchy and loud under our tires. Once we found our spot, Daddy would roll down the window and grab the clunky silver speaker, trying to hurry so as not to admit hordes of mosquitoes into the car. He always failed. Almost immediately you would hear that nauseating buzzy-buzz as the pests dive-bombed your ears, and right away you'd start scratching.
My eyes were invariably riveted to the five-acre movie screen from the moment it came into view. Whether it was the dancing soft drinks and hot dogs (which fascinated me because we almost never visited the concession area except to avail ourselves of the restroom facilities ... their prices were too high), or previews of upcoming movies, or the cartoon feature, I could not tear my eyes away from that screen. It seemed to me to be as big as the huge world beyond my limited horizons, and just as much out of my reach.
As we got situated on our little plot of borrowed real estate, Daddy would fiddle with the sound knob on the speaker, cursing under his breath as the announcer's voice stridently invaded the cramped space. Mama would quickly assemble and light a Pic mosquito coil, setting it right in the middle of the dashboard where the smoke rose lazily, blue in the reflection from the movie screen. Sort of like incense, it was supposed to repel mosquitoes but to this day I think the bugs found the scent alluring. At any rate there was no discernible decrease in the mosquito population feeding on us, but now there was added the disgusting smell of the burning coil.
It was all part of going to the Drive-In.
The movie would start. From the dark hole I occupied in the backseat, perspiring, fighting with my sister, attempting to locate candy I'd dropped in the dark, swatting at mosquitoes, hating the smell of the burning coil, I had to sit up on my bony scarred knees in order to see anything. If we kicked the back of Mama and Daddy's seats, or pulled on them to hoist ourselves up, we'd get in trouble. Also we'd get yelled at if we made noise. My sister and I usually achieved an uneasy detente by about five minutes into the feature. She would sit by her closed window and I would sit by mine, and we ignored one another unless a stray foot happened to issue a sly kick. Then someone was going to get hit or pinched, but quietly so we wouldn't get a whipping on top of our other injuries.
It was from the backseat of our family car that I saw movies like Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? In case you aren't familiar with those films, let me tell you right now: Bette Davis in the 1960's could scare the stuffings out of a little kid. Those two movies terrified me well into adulthood; once after I was married and had children I tried to watch Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte on TV and couldn't. John Mayhew's severed hand on the stair, the blood spatter on the white of the debutante gown, the massive urn crashing down on Joseph Cotten and Olivia DeHavilland, was still too much for me.
It gives me the creeps just thinking about Joan Crawford in a wheelchair, being served her dead bird for lunch, and Bette Davis's evil cackle on the other side of the door. How about Baby Jane Hudson's song? I'm writing a letter to Daddy, saying "I Love You ..." I now officially have the willies. Let us move on.
I was ten years old when I "witnessed" the ambush and execution of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow on a May morning in 1934 in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. I will remember until I am too old to remember anything, how heartrending and horrifying it was when Faye Dunaway glanced beseechingly, knowingly, at Warren Beatty in the split-second before the hail of bullets sprayed their Ford automobile and their poor dying bodies writhed and jumped and sagged and fell from the limply hanging shell-pocked car doors. I wanted to look away but I couldn't.
To spend a summer night at the Drive-In was to have the lush panoply of life flung out in all its hideous glory on that brightly-lit expanse that, for a few hours, seemed to fill the universe. It was all the questions and ostensibly all the answers a kid between the ages of eight and eleven could come up with or handle. It is as much a part of my life as my family and the pets I've loved and the grades I made and the stubborn paradigm I eventually formed ... for good or ill, at least in part because of all I saw and heard at the Drive-In.