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 Those bricks have been replaced by asphalt, but that distinctive sound change stays in my head forever—I can hear it even now.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,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