Saturday, March 21, 2015

Don't Sneak Your Buddies in the Trunk

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: I burst out laughing when I read the topic of today’s post. I love when Jungle Red has a theme. You know we don’t plan it, but sometimes it just—emerges. (Exactly what happens when you write a book, right?) So this week, as it turns out, is history, and how our past creates and shapes our future. And for many of us—including me—my past was partly shaped at the movies.

Not only in the plush seats of the Esquire and the Uptown—oh, and the Vogue, I just remembered! But in the backseat of our..gosh, what kind of station wagon did we have? It was blue, and we all battled to sit in the wayback.

Anyway. Those buzzy speakers you put in the window, that you could wear your jammies and still go to the concession stand and get popcorn and DOTS, and that half the time, everyone else fell asleep. Not me!

Susan Van Kirk, you were a lucky little girl!

Growing Up at the Drive-In

After my dad returned from WWII, my great uncle decided to build a drive-in movie theatre just outside our Midwest town. Drive-ins were the rage in the early 1950s. Ours was a family-friendly venue, and those movies left me with wonderful memories and a half-cocked belief that anything could happen if I dreamed big enough. I’m sure many of my ideas about love, honor, heroism, character, dreams, and even death came from those early films. I didn’t realize it then, but I was also studying plot lines, character motives, foreshadowing, and pacing.

During those years in the 1950s and1960s, my dad was in charge. Being the manager meant he booked the shows, trained the boys who worked there, maintained the grounds, checked on the films to make sure they had been sent in or out, ordered the supplies for the concession stand, kept an eye on the ticket booth, and walked the perimeters checking for “problems,” like underage drinking and the possibility that children were being conceived.
 
I was oblivious to all of my dad’s headaches and responsibilities because I simply saw the drive-in as a marvelous playground, a place of memories. At night my mom would put my brother and me in pajamas and we’d go to the show, often falling asleep in the back seat before the movie was over. Did I dream about the way to begin a story or the clues that pointed to the ending? Not sure. Even now, sixty years later, I can hear the car tires as we turned from Losey Street onto the whirring sound of the Kellogg Street bricks, waking me up with “almost home.” Those bricks have been replaced by asphalt, but that distinctive sound change stays in my head forever—I can hear it even now.

Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall, Debbie Reynolds, Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper … These were my friends while I was growing up. I still remember the sad ending of “The Benny Goodman Story” and the heroism of Jimmy Stewart in “The Spirit of St. Louis.” I rode around the arena with Ben-Hur, was terrified in “Vertigo,” laughed with Tony, Jack, and Marilyn in “Some Like It Hot,” and was enchanted by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in “The Quiet Man.” My favorite actor by far was Jimmy Stewart, and I watched “The Greatest Show on Earth” seven nights in a row. Each morning my neighborhood friends and I would have our own circus parade, round and around the block.

My brother and I shared other memories too. Some nights after my dad closed the place at 1:30 a.m., we’d drive the night’s receipts to the bank deposit, a policeman following us. Then we would go to the Huddle Drive-in and have breakfast. I’m sure if parents did this today with a six-year-old and nine-year-old, people would think they needed to have their heads examined, or they might call the Department of Children and Family Services. “A child out in a restaurant at 2 a.m.?” I still fondly remember those summer breakfasts and the people who laughed in the security of our family circle.

The whirring sound of automobile tires, the metal speaker sitting on the car window, fireflies dancing near dusk, the shadows as people moved past our car to the concession stand, the smell of popcorn, and the triangle of projector light …these are precious memories that sparked my sense of adventure and imagination from a very early age. 

People usually ask an author what books influenced her. Instead, I’d like to know what movie stays in your memory…or what drive-in?

HANK: The Huddle! We had a Huddle! I haven’t thought about that restaurant for–fifty years. Are you from Indiana, Susan?  Okay, the drive-in. I remember seeing The Blob. And …Beach Blanket Bingo? Hardly life-changing…somehow, the classics were not shown at the—rats, I can’t remember the name of the one we went to.  But wow, we loved it. And oh—maybe Bye Bye Birdie? Could that be? How about you, Reds?Drive-in history? (And do you recognize the song in my blog title?)   (And Susan is giving her new book to a lucky commenter!)



if two of them are dead. Haunted by a terrifying event in her past, recently retired teacher, Grace Kimball, is hired to research the history of her small town of Endurance, a history that includes dark secrets people would prefer stay hidden. A former colleague dies in a suspicious fire, and Grace’s curiosity leads her into similar danger. She feels a growing attraction to her boss, but wonders if she can trust this mystery man.
Endurance is a picturesque place … as long as you don’t mind a dead body … or two.

************************







Susan Van Kirk is the writer of a creative, non-fiction memoir,
The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) Her first mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, was published December 2014.  Marry in Haste, her second Endurance mystery, will be out in 2016. A high school and college teacher for forty-four years, she has always been interested in mysteries since she read the entire Sherlock Holmes series at a very early age. It was love at first murder, and yes, her parents were worried. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Her website is www.susanvankirk.com


61 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Of course I recognized the song . . . .

Drive-in memories? Even though the first drive-in to open was in Camden, New Jersey, I don't have any memories of going to the drive-in when I was growing up, but I did see several memorable movies at the drive-in when John and I lived in California. My favorite was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" although I have a soft spot in my heart for "Kingdom of the Spiders", a absolutely perfect drive-in movie . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

Wow, wonderful memories. I grew up south of Pasadena, California, and only a couple of blocks away was the El Monte Drive In Theatre. The back of the screen pictured a desert scene with a woman doing the Mexican hat dance in a long skirt open to show a lot of leg. Saguaro cacti and a man in the distance watched. No idea what movies we watched in our jammies, and there were certainly nights later on in my life where some serious necking went on (but no baby-making!), so I don't recall those movies, either. ;^) Will add your book to my TBR pile!

Grandma Cootie said...

The book sounds great. Going right on my TBR list.

The drive-in - such memories. My mom was a waitress at our little IN town's White Swan Restaurant. The owners of the drive-in a couple doors down came in for breakfast every morning and gave her passes. So once a week my mom, sister and about (about 7 & 10 maybe) went to the drive-in. My mom would laugh so loud at the cartoon before the movie that my sister and I would try to get her to eat something, "because everyone can hear you, mom." Rotten kids. Loved all the movies, never fell asleep. Went to that same drive-in with my future husband years later ;-).

Gram said...

There were no drive-ins for me, but we took our kids to them. We had a large station wagon and put a mattress in the way back. Pete Kelly's Blues? with Peggy Lee. Is the only one I remember.

Susan said...

Joan-- "I loved "Close Encounters." I still remember that scene when you saw the lights come down in the rear windshield of Richard Dreyfuss's car. Wow.

Susan said...

Edith- I don't think my dad reported the amorous adventures to us kids, but he sure did talk about pulling guys out of trunks and sending them back to the ticket booth to pay. When I was a teenager, this was the place to go to have some privacy with that cute guy. In my case, however, my dad or one of his henchmen would show up.. You were luckier.

Susan said...

Grandma-- Isn't it amazing that so many of us have fond memories of this pop culture item throughout the country? Drive-ins were especially popular throughout the Midwest after the war.

Susan said...

Gram-- Peggy Lee--Wow! Long time since I've thought about that name. I don't remember "Pete Kelly's Blues," but Peggy Lee songs played on our stereo and on "Hit Parade" on our television. Later , of course, she was replaced on the stereo by rock and roll, much to our parent's bewilderment.

Susan said...

Hank and Jungle Reds, Thanks for having me on today. I actually live in a small town in west central Illinois, about 40 miles from the Mississippi River. But judging from basketball tournaments and drive-ins, I could have grown up in Indiana.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Susan, that is an amazing title for an essay! and loved your memories--you were lucky.

The only movie I remember seeing was THAT DARN CAT, though our family went in our station wagon many times. (Hank, we fought NOT to stay in the way back!)

Tell us more about your books!

Susan said...

Lucy, My first memoir about teaching is a collection of fifteen non-fiction stories about students who came into my life and changed it forever. Some of these stories are stranger than fiction, but all are true. Teachers, former teachers, and soon-to-be teachers love this book. My Endurance Mysteries are in their baby stage. The first, "Three May Keep a Secret," explores the age-old thought that everyone has secrets and some are deadly. The second book explores the topic of domestic violence. "Marry in Haste" will be out next year, and it continues the saga of the tiny town of Endurance. Both mysteries contain history, and the second one has a double plot, one plot in the present and one in 1893.

Hallie Ephron said...

That's a SONG?

My parents never took me to a drive-in though there were plenty around in Los Angeles. I did go on many dates at the drive-in. Movies? What movies??

Kaye Barley said...

Welcome, Susan, what a fun post!

We did have a drive-in and I do remember going with my mom and dad when I was a kid, and yes, I loved being able to wear my jammies. That just seemed like such a fun adventure. Because Cambridge was a small town I remember always running into some of my friends at the snack counter, and they were also wearing their jammies and we would laugh and laugh about how much fun we were having. Lovely fun memories.

Your book sounds terrific and I look forward to reading it.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

SO funny--I'm trying to thnk if I ever had a date to the drive in. Actually, trying to thnk if I ever had a DATE…:-)

Yes, Hallie, it's a song. :-)

Why did they all close, do you think?

Susan said...

Oh, Hallie, you definitely missed out on a great adventure. But I imagine that you had a lot of other fantastic experiences I never had since I didn't grow up in "the city."

Susan said...

Thank you, Kaye. It seems like such a long time ago, and we obviously had similar experiences.Lucky you for growing up in such a place!

Susan said...

Really, Hank? What song? Has to be country since I've not heard of it. I believe my dad said the drive-ins died out because of television. In the early 1950s, we had the first set on our block. This made for direct competition with drive-ins. You could stay home and watch quality shows with your kids.
Drive-ins were such a huge experience in my generation because you could meet other teenagers there and get away from your parents (well, except for me, of course.)

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I learned how to pop the clutch to get a car started at a drive-in theater.

The car, I and the battery were all about seventeen years old. The battery died, no one had jumper cables, but the drive-in was up a hill. So we pushed the car to the driveway, turned the key to on, stuck the three-in-the-tree into second, kept the clutch in and let her roll.

Near the bottom I yanked my foot off the clutch and just as I had read, the engine jerked us to a start.

Haven't thought of that in a whole lot of years.

BTW, I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of Three May Keep a Secret, so don't stick my name in the hat.

~ Jim

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Aw, great memory, Jim! I love it when something comes back you haven't thought about for years..wonder what else is in there?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Susan, that makes sense..TV. Of course!

And it's a Beach Boys song..but I remembered it wrong at first! It's really "Don't SNEAK your buddies in the the trunk…."

FChurch said...

We still have a local drive-in and it's still popular with families and teenagers--the second movie ends at 1 a.m. ("But, Mom, we stayed for the second show!").

Susan said...

Ah, Jim. What a great story. I keep telling my grandchildren that reading teaches you so many things...I'll have to add popping the clutch to my list. My dad taught me to drive the drive-in's jeep with a clutch and gear shift on the floor when I was 14. Another drive-in experience.

Susan said...

Oh, Hank, that explains my error in the title. I didn't remember that from the Beach Boys. Wow. One of those synapses that is probably broken or misplaced. And FChurch, you make my point about the drive-in aiding and abetting teenagers.

vicki batman said...

Hi, girls! We didn't go to the movies often because 6 x price = too much money. Sometimes, we went to the drive-in. I remember "War Wagon" with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. "Parade of Clowns" with Jimmy Stewart and a very young Kurt Russell. Mom popped popcorn and filled the scotch cooler with cold drinks. Lots of fun.

Susan said...

Vicki, That was my kind of childhood. Lucky you. Lots of popcorn and great movies. Quite a few memories. At our drive-in kids under 12 got in free.

Susan D said...

Drive-ins were rare in my past, but I remember the first one on a family camping somewhere in New England (we lived in Montreal then, where no kids were ever allowed in movie theatres, so huge treat). The Mysterians or something like that. Monsters from space. The last drive-in I went to was with some girlfriends. Prudence and the Pill (yeah, really) plus the first feature, Deadfall, with, I think, Michael Caine.

Susan, your drive-in family history sounds like it's just tailor-made for a murder setting. Perhaps the town of Endurance has a drive-in history?

(I caught your interview with Judy Penz Sheluk at her blog yesterday http://www.judypenzsheluk.com/)

Mark Baker said...

I must admit I never made it to a Drive In. I rarely went to the movies growing up period, and there weren't that many near us anyway. And I'm probably showing that I'm younger than the majority of the crowd with that statement. It also seemed like fun to me, something I'd like to do once. If I can even find one any more.

Susan said...

Hello, Susan D, Really? "Prudence and the Pill"? I need to look that one up! Thanks for checking out Judy Penz Sheluk's blog. She is an amazing source of information on technology and marketing. I'm looking forward to reading her upcoming book.

Susan said...

I'm not sure where you are, Mark. If you do a search for drive-in theaters that are still open, you might find one near you.

And SusanD, I'll have to do some thinking about whether Endurance has or did have a drive-in. Hmmmm

Kathy Reel said...

I saw most of my movies growing up in our fabulous art deco movie theater in town. Inside it was like a fantasy land, with stars twinkling on the ceiling and faux balconies where you could imagine princesses and princes looking out from the castle. I know we went to the drive-in every once in a great while, but it was complicated with our age ranges. My oldest sibling was ten years older, next was eight years older and next was three years older.

So, my real introduction to drive-ins was in my teens. I remember that my mother was dead set against me going to a drive-in movie with a boy, but she relented when the boy was someone she knew and trusted (usually the worst kind, but not in this case). I do recall some hugging and kissing, but it was a pretty tame date. It was lots of fun to go with a bunch of girls, and I did sneak in someone in my boot, which is trunk for most people. My husband and I did take our children to the drive-in in their pajamas, along with some neighborhood kids, and that was always special to me. We still have an operating drive-in across the river in Reo, Indiana (the one we took the kids to), but I haven't been in years. I guess I like my creature comforts a bit more these days. What was an adventure in my younger days is more of a "where's the bug spray" event now.

Susan, your childhood growing up with the drive-in sounds magical. I love the name of the town, Endurance, in your new novel, and the digging back into its history sounds most intriguing. Going on my TBR list now. Thanks for a great post.

Deborah Crombie said...

Susan, thanks for the fun memories! For me it was the Arapaho Drive-In, just down the street from my house. (This is just north of Dallas, by the way, and we weren't really even a suburb back then. There was a rage for giving things Indian names, hence "Arapaho.") My parents were manufacturer's reps for theater concessions, including popcorn, popcorn tubs and drink cups, AND Pic Mosquito Coils, which you had to use at the drive-in if you didn't want to be eaten alive. So even now, the scent of a burning mosquito coil takes me right back to the drive-in... Funnily enough, I don't remember ever going with my parents. My grandmother took me, and I saw much scarier movies than I probably should have watched. By the time I was a teenager the Arapaho had closed, and the kids went to a much newer, bigger drive-in in Dallas. Never was the same, though.

Susan said...

Kathy, I know what you mean about the "safe" boys. It was a real debate, once I was sixteen, about whether I could go with boys anywhere in cars. Thanks for taking a look at my mystery!

Susan said...

Deborah, I know what you mean about the times changing--not the same experience. And scents seem to stay with you forever. I always remember the smell of sugar cookies in my aunt's kitchen when we'd go to visit. On a different note, I heard you speak at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and you were an inspiration for someone who thought she might want to write mysteries. Thanks.

Christopher Lord said...

I absolutely remember seeing "Birdman of Alcatraz" and "Tall Story" at the Gearhart drive near Astoria when I was very young (long since), and "The Three Musketeers" plus the extraordinary double-feature "Legend of Hell House" and "Night of the Lepus"(giant rabbits terrorize Janet Leigh) at the North Salem drive in the early seventies, probably the last time I went to a drive in. Those terrible giant metal speakers that never attached just right, the scary concession food (we always brought our own home-made popcorn). Thanks for bringing back those strange memories!

Kait said...

Drive in movies - wow. So few left today and they were so wonderful. What was the name of that green round spiral think you lit on your dash to keep bugs away? Can't remember, but I remember the smell!
We had no drive-ins near our house. But we went to one when we vacationed down the shore. The movie was The Parent Trap - with Halley Mills! It was wonderful. I loved watching outdoors on a huge screen. Much bigger than the Rivoli theater!
Then there came a time when my uncle moved to Newburgh NY. They lived high on a hill and on the bottom of the hill, directly across the street was a drive in. Kids being kids, we would sneak in during the day and turn up the volume on the speakers in the last row that was closest to the house. Then, when dark fell, we would all traipse down to the front of my uncle's property and watch the movie. If we were lucky, no one turned down the sound so we could make out some of the dialogue. When that didn't happen, we made up our own stories to go with the pictures on the screen. Either way, it was a delightful way to spend summer nights.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Tall Story! I haven't thought about that for years and I loved that movie! Somehow it was life altering… Why would that be? Tony… Perkins? And… Who? Natalie wood?

Deb Romano said...

My parents took the five of us to the drive-in occasionally, maybe once per summer? I don't remember the titles of all the films we saw there. This would have been in the fifties and maybe up to 1961 or 62. I don't remember when the drive-in eventually closed down. Many of the films we saw were Disney films, many starred Hayley Mills. There were also adventure/war movies that mostly appealed to my dad. I remember sneaking looks at the teenagers in adjacent cars who were NOT watching the movie!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Susan, how did your dad feel about people bringing their own refreshments? And tell us the secret of the concession stand… Are there special boxes of dots that only movies can sell?
Jonathan says he remembers seeing invasion of the bodysnatchers at the drive-in… Wouldn't that have been terrifying?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Maybe not as terrifying as the giant rabbits…

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

A high school boyfriend had a job at the drive-in so we could get in free (or at least he could). I can still remember the clunky radio thing you had to put in the window of the car. I think later on you could get it to come on the radio. It's been a long time since I've thought of the drive-in! Or the high school boyfriend for that matter.

B J English said...

Don't know the song. We had a drive in called The Plantation. The front of it looked like Tara. I went with my parents when I was young. Never went there on a date. I go to one now outside Lexington, Virginia.

Bettyjo.English@gmail.com

Susan said...

Hi, Christopher,
I don't remember the giant rabbits. I do remember Janet Leigh in a lot of movies. I saw "The Forbidden Planet," and it scared the heck out of me for a few weeks. I have no idea what giant rabbits would have done to me! Glad to hear you have some memories, strange or not.

Susan said...

Kait, "The Parent Trap." Loved that movie with the duo Haleys. You would have had free admission at our theater, at least up to twelve. That didn't set very well with movie companies that made kid movies.

Susan said...

"Tall Story," Hank. That was Jane Fonda. I remember seeing an interview with her where she just shook her head when she thought about that early movie. It might have been her first. I think she played a cheerleader with big boobs and no brains.

Susan said...

Hi, Judy and BJ,

Having a connection, Judy....good idea. And, BJ, glad to hear you still go to a drive in.

Reine said...

THEM at The Pinehurst Drive-n. Pete's Diner just outside the perimeter. I found someone's wedding ring in the dirt parking lot beside Pete's. I wanted to find the owner, but my mother said, "No, darling. They don't want it back."

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Of course, Jane Fonda! I loved that movie. I wonder ifI still would...She still looks amazing. And "no brains" is exactly the opposite of what she is..so gee, it meant she was already a good actress!

Reine said...

As I got older, though, other things that happened at the drive-in became more important.

Susan said...

Oh Hank and Reine, You are both so right!

Pat D said...

I can't remember going to drive-ins with my parents. Mom ususally dropped big brother and me off at the movie theater. When I was in junior high (?) I went to a slumber party at a friend's. Her mom had promised to take us all to the drive-in. We all had noxzema on our faces (for beauty!). The only movie playing was a strange Bridgette Bardot one in French with subtitles. No one could figure out what was going on, her hair color kept changing from blonde to brown and back again, and our hostess was horrified and drove us all back to the house. That was a hoot. In Austin in college, we had a girls night out at the drive-in and saw Hang Em High. It was winter and actually cold. We kept having to turn on the car and run the heat to thaw out. And we all drooled over Clint Eastwood.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

NOXEMA! The best! Wonder if they still make it..


LOVE you all! And Susan, you are incredible..thank you so much for a terrific day.

See you all tomorrow--for PUPPIES!

xoox
Hank

Susan said...

I have pretty vivid memories of drive-ins when I was a little girl.I remember mainly John Wayne movies and Alfred Hitchcock ones. The Birds stands out because I was really too young to see it and it left me afraid of birds for a while.I also remember that we would stop at a drive through ice cream place and get milk shakes on our way to the movies.

Then I remember them again when I was a teenager. One movie I especially remember from that era was Jeremiah Johnson.

Good memories!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

The Birds, Susan! No mater where you saw it--terrifying!

Christopher Lord said...

"Tall Story" definitely starred Jane Fonda, but my eyes were only directed at Anthony Perkins. "The Night of the Lepus" is often mentioned as one of the worst horror films ever made, although I must say that "Legend of Hell House" was pretty scary. I wasn't quite old enough then to "date," so my drive-in movie experiences are viewed through the somewhat romantic eyes of a child. Which is maybe the best lens through which to see them....

Grace Topping said...

Great column. I have so many vivid memories of our drive-in theater. My father, who was a constable, worked part time at our local theater, directing traffic outside and patrolling inside. As a result, my family got to go in free, so we went often. But I was never allowed to go with a date!! I can still remember the smells from the refreshment building. I even got to sit in the projection booth and watch how the projectionist changed the reels. Terrific memories. Sadly, the theater is now a shopping center.

Grace

Susan said...

Grace, I forgot about the projectionist changing the reels! This was in the age prior to digital technology! One of our projectionists was also a family friend, and he took film of our Christmases each year from the time I was about 4. Since then I have changed the film to VHS format and now DVD. What's next?

Lida said...

After reading this delightful post, I have a hankering to go to a drive-in! The best part? There's one still open not far from my home in Santa Barbara CA. As a kid, the Olympic Drive-in in W. Los Angeles was my family's fav. (especially the strawberry sundaes in a cup). With my own kids, we visited the one in Santa Barbara. My kids are grown, so it's time for the hubby and me to screen "Cinderella" (currently playing), on the really big screen, don't you think? :)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Lida! I was just in Santa Barbara..and it was fabulous!

THE WINNER of Susan Van Kirk's book is SUSAN Email me with your address, okay? h ryan at whdh dot com

Anonymous said...

Went to lots of drive in movies in Canoga park and Van Nuys in So Cal. Six kids were free, so my parents took us there. If dad was with us: no candy, no food in the car at all, like a rolling jail. Mom: some popcorn, even concession! All Disney movies! Dated at the drive in and my parents didn't know, which is why I'm still alive. Don't know the quoted song but reminds me of my Golden Rule of Detectives: check the freezer. Laura Hernandez

Wanda said...

I miss drive ins. I guess their use as conception spots made them less popular over time.