Sunday, May 8, 2011

Movies, Memories and My Dad

My father passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Naturally I've been thinking about him a lot since he died. I've always regretted that we didn't spend more time together and that we weren't as close as we could have been, but at the same time I feel very lucky to have had him in my life for my first forty-one years.

Movies are (and have always been) an important thing in my life. While I have many, many great memories of watching all kinds of movies throughout my life, my parents haven't been a part of very many of those memories. I wrote about some of the films my sister took me to as a kid in Movies My Sister Made Me Watch, but in general I didn't really see a lot of movies with my parents. I'd like to share the movie-related memories that I DO have which involved my Dad. I'll split these recollections up into three parts: stories Dad told me, moviegoing experiences with my parents, and making up for lost time later in life.

Dad's Movie Stories

I'll only tell two of these stories here: one that I remember hearing many times since I was a Monster Kid, and one that I only heard a couple weeks before Dad died.

When I was a teenager (I believe) Dad must have realized how much I enjoyed going out to the movies with my friends and that movies had a certain importance for me. I remember him telling me this story on a number of occasions, and I always enjoyed it. Basically he just told me about how he would go to the movies as a kid during the Great Depression--when getting a little entertainment on the big screen could be a nice diversion from the realities of life. He always told me about the fact that it only cost a five cents to get in. Of course, a nickel went a lot further back then, but it was still a lot cheaper than the ten dollar-plus price of movie tickets today. It turns out that that nickel provided my Dad with a whole afternoon of entertainment--not just the movie he went to see. Before the feature at these kiddie-matinees there would be a number of cartoons. The cartoons were followed by some newsreels about current events in the world. Then there would be the latest installment of whatever serial was being run at the time. Finally, the movie would run. I always thought it sounded like a great way to spend a day in a darkened theater with a bunch of other kids all around you.

While I heard this story many times over the years, Dad told me another one for the first time just a couple weeks before he died. My Mother knows how much I love the movie "Psycho" (1960) and told me a few times about how scary it was to see it when it was new. Dad just recently told me the story of how they went to see "Psycho" at the drive-in. I guess they couldn't get a babysitter and had to bring my sister along with them. They thought she was soundly asleep in the back of the car. At least they thought so right up until the famous shower scene--when my sister poked her head between them to see what was going on and scared the crap out of them both!

Going To The Movies With Mom And Dad

I mentioned that I didn't actually go out to the movies a lot with my parents. This isn't to say that we NEVER went out to see movies together. Maybe it is because of the fact that it didn't happen all that often, but I have very fond memories of the times that they did take me to the movies.

I remember them taking me to see Disney's "The Gnome-Mobile". This somewhat obscure movie was released in 1967 (two years before I was born). After doing a little research I found out that it was apparently re-released in 1976. That would make sense, as I would have been either six or seven when we saw it--a perfect age for that movie. I remember having a great time watching it with Mom and Dad. Last year I was finally able to see the movie again (for the first time since seeing it with my parents as a kid) when I got it from Netflix and watched it with my Little Monster. It was a pretty emotional experience for me--remembering watching it with my parents, now introducing it to my own daughter, and thinking about the fact that my father was currently in the midst of his battle with cancer.

Another "kid's" movie I recall watching with my parents was "The Muppet Movie" (1979). I'm pretty sure we saw this on a Sunday afternoon, as I'm almost positive that we went to see it after visiting a flea market--where I bought a cool plastic toy version of an M-16 rifle! This is a movie I remember enjoying when we saw it, but one which I haven't seen in a long time. I suppose that I should take it out and introduce the Little Monster to this one too.

I also remember that we went on a couple of important (to me) shopping trips when I was young (to buy my first bike and to buy my first tape recorder). These shopping trips generally also included dinner and a movie. I remember going to IHOP (International House of Pancakes) the night we went to Child World to buy my first bike. I don't recall exactly what the movie was that we saw that night, but it might have been one of the Clint Eastwood orangutan movies "Every Which Way But Loose" (1978) or "Any which Way You Can" (1980). I can't recall which it was, but now that I look at the release dates, it was most likely the first one as 1978 was more likely when I would have gotten my first bike than 1980.

I have clearer memories of the night I got my first tape recorder. That tape recorder was a very important thing to me in the days before we got our first VCR in 1985. My parents took me out to K-Mart to get the tape recorder in March of 1981, and we also saw the Lily Tomlin movie "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" (1981). this is one that's hard to find these days. I think I saw it on TV way back in the 1980s, but otherwise haven't seen it in many years. It'll always be a part of a special night for me though.

I also went to the drive-in quite a bit as a kid. Back in the 1970s the drive-ins were on the wane, but there were still a lot of them around. Even my little home town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts had a drive-in of its own--The Quaker Drive-In. In addition, there were a number of other drive-ins within a half-hour drive of home. While I tend to remember going to the drive-ins with my older sisters (and later with my friends when we start driving ourselves), I do remember an important drive-in experience with my parents. Though I don't recall what movie it was paired with, in the summer of 1978 my parents took me to see "Star Wars" at the Quaker Drive-In. Of course "Star Wars" was released in 1977. for years I always assumed that my memory of seeing it at the drive-in was from the summer of 1977. For my 40th birthday we had a backyard drive-in party where we showed "Star Wars". I went to the library to try to find the drive-in ad from when saw it at the drive-in. I searched through every week the drive-in was open in 1977 and couldn't find "Star Wars" anywhere. I KNEW that I had seen it at the drive-in though. Then I tried 1978 and found ads for it playing the drive-ins that year. Dad had a big, yellow U.S. Postal Service van (not one of those little ones you see driving around these days, but a huge one that was more like the size of a UPS truck. He had turned the cargo area of the van into a camper--complete with a fold-down bed, a table, a sink and a toilet. I remember lying down in the back of the van, watching the movie up on the screen and playing with some of my "Star Wars" action figures.

My last memory of seeing a movie with my parents as a "kid" was when they took me and one of my best friends to see "Star Wars" again in 1987, when it was re-released for its tenth anniversary (and while I was a senior in high school). At the time, my friends and I were already going to the movies on our own, but it was a nice day spent with my parents that didn't feel as awkward as one might expect for a couple teenagers.

The Final Chapter

In the past couple of years I was lucky enough to have had an opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the idea of going to the movies with my parents. National Amusements movie theaters have a series of bargain-priced shows called "Silver Screen Classics".

They show an old movie (usually a Public Domain title, so they don't have to pay for it) on the big screen. It's only a DVD projection, but it's still a great program. For only two dollars you get to see the movie and you also get a small bag of popcorn, a small drink and a cookie! This series is mainly geared towards retirees, seniors and elderly people--as evidenced by the Monday at 1:00PM time slot of the movies, as well as the fact that most of the movies are from the 1930s to the 1950s. My parents started attending these shows a few years ago, and because of some luck in my schedule, I was able to join them a number of times. After my Dad was diagnosed with cancer they weren't able to get to the Silver Screen movies as often, but I made a point of trying to get to as many of the ones they did go to as I could. It all made for a great time and a good chance for me to spend more quality time with my parents than I had in a long time. It was also fun to see a bunch of classic (or not-so-classic) old movies of all types (war, musicals, comedies, film noir...) on the big screen for the first time (at least the first time for me--my parents remembered seeing many of them when they were first released). I was even able to hear my Dad's story about going to the movies for a nickel when he was a kid again! The last time we all went to the series was at the end of last October (a Halloween show that featured "Bride of the Gorilla" (1951)). Dad was hospitalized soon after, and while he managed to live for another six quality months, he was never quite up to going back to the movies. Last Monday I finally got back to the Silver Screen Classics show to see "Father's Little Dividend" (1951) with my mother. It was tough going without my father, but it was nice to go back there to remember him. I'm hoping we'll get to a lot more in the future.

Mom and Dad at the Blackstone Valley 14 cinema for the "Silver Screen Classics" show


  1. This is great stuff, Glennie. Love from, your sisterlindamay at your Mom & Dad's house on Mother's Day!! <3

  2. Great. Love, Mo <3