Writing about this summer’s movies, for better or worse, has caused me to think about why I enjoy going to the movies so much. It all harks back to summer evenings when I was growing up in Somerset, Massachusetts. Some nights my father would come out after dinner and call to us playing in the yard, “Come in and clean up, kids. We’re going to the movies.”
Magic Words – Magic Portal
My heart would leap. Those were magic words because they opened a portal to other places, other times and other worlds. My two brothers, my sister and I would all scramble to wash our faces and put on clean clothes before heading out.
We weren’t going to the Cineplex because those multi-screen movie temples didn’t exist yet. We weren’t even going to the theater across the bridge in Fall River. No, we were headed someplace much, much better. A theater that exists now in only a few towns across America—and in the memories of those who loved them. We were going to the drive-in!
Swings and Seesaws
My parents and us four kids would tumble into my father’s Buick Roadmaster (the one with the chrome-lined oval vents on the side) and head up to the Somerset Drive-In. Once there, our car would wait in line on the long straight road to the ticket booth, which only heightened the anticipation. After Dad paid for the carload of us, he would find a good place to park with a clear view of the enormous screen that reared up in front of the parking lot.
Then we kids would pile out and head to the playground to ride the swings, seesaws, merry-go-round, monkey bars and other equipment that were embedded in concrete and would undoubtedly be considered too dangerous for today’s kids to use. Our parents didn’t watch us; nobody’s parents watched their kids. We would play there until it got dark enough for the movie to start and then head back to the car.
French Fries in the Bunker
Sometimes we would go with our parents into the little concrete bunker, painted in bright colors, that was the concession stand. There we bought popcorn and soggy French fries on which we put malt vinegar and salt, in the British fashion. (I never saw anyone put ketchup on fries until I went to college.) Those were the best fries ever!
Mom would take the speaker off the stanchion, put it inside the window and roll up the window to hold it in place. Turning it on usually brought the Looney Tunes theme into the car as a few cartoons played first, probably as a signal to make sure folks got back to their cars in time for the B movie that started the double-feature.
When the Magic Started
Then the movie started and the magic began. The family films we saw depicted action and adventure, sometimes with a little romance. Our parents didn’t have to worry about exposing us to graphic violence, bad language, or sex because there wasn’t any in those days. And what movies they were:
- She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
- Land of the Pharaohs
- Beyond the Twelve-Mile Reef
- The African Queen
- David and Bathsheba
- Reap the Wild Wind
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
That Buick Roadmaster took us to the Old West, flew to outer space, sailed the storm-tossed ocean, explored ancient Egypt, and traveled to big cities. We saw robots and Biblical prophets, cowboys and Indians, ship captains and wagon masters. pharaohs and sharpshooters.
Everything was big, from the image on the screen to the sets and locations, from the costumes to the acting and the emotions. I was engrossed and my biggest problem was staying awake until the end of the main feature.
The Somerset Drive-In is Gone
Somerset was a great place to grow up but, like any small town in the 1950s and 1960s, it was quiet and placid. Nothing great or exciting had happened there since King Philip’s War and it didn’t feel like anything ever would. But we saw different kinds of life at the movies. At the Somerset Drive-In anything was possible.
The Somerset Drive-in is gone. I couldn’t even find a picture of it on the web. (The one above is from Kentucky.) Like most of its kind, it was a creature of the time. Land was cheap, taxes were low, and there was plenty of room for an enterprise that was probably a gold mine for three months out of the year and a barren field for the rest. New England weather does not give outdoor businesses enough time to make money. It’s gone now and houses probably stand where we gazed, open-mouthed, at worlds outside of our small-town experience.
Why I Love the Movies
Since then, I have gone to places around the globe I never expected to visit. I have seen and done things I never thought I would have the opportunity to experience. But none of them has been as magical as a summer night at the Somerset Drive-In.
And that’s why I love the movies.