Free Show

Can I have some money, Mom?  A nickel.  Take some time to think of what a nickelcanbuytime’sup.  Sometimes I was given a dime and I don’t recall being given a quarter.  She gave us each 50 cents for the county fair and that was supposed to last a whole afternoon.  Mom wasn’t stingy.  On our budget, that was generous.

How do I make a nickel last the night?  “Doing without” was negative thinking.  Yankee ingenuity demanded a solution.

The Free Show happened every Thursday night all summer vacation long.  It was the high point of the week, second only to “going to town” on Saturdays.  Even if the latter was just the grocery store, it gave us the opportunity to drive Mom insane begging for stuff when we weren’t scrapping over the window seats.

Cameron, Illinois.  A little over 300 people.  I know because we counted them out loud while waiting for a freight train to go by.  There was at the time of this story the post office, a gas station-pool hall-small goods (hey, the first convenience store), a barber shop, a grocery store, the lodge hall, one church, the grade school, and when I was very little, a smithy.  I think.  Or did Dad just tell me about it?  And we can’t forget the train station, now idle.

Between the barber shop and the grocery store was a vacant lot.  A man came from the neighboring town with film reels and a projector in the back of his station wagon.  A big sheet, or several sheets sown together, was hung on the side of the brick grocery.  Our own outdoor theater!  Only it was a walk-in not a drive-in.  And free.

We saw the same movies every year.  Some of the classics were The Five Little Peppers, Francis the Talking Mule, all the Ma and Pa Kettles, The Little Rascals, Abbott and Costello, and other 1940s BW flicks.  A war film now and then, at least one Doris Day.  Anytime the movie wasn’t captivating to whomever, those whomevers ran around “downtown Cameron” causing trouble and making noise.  But, oh, well.  Of course, I wasn’t one of them!  Really.  At least not every week.  The best was The Glenn Miller Story.  I even have a copy in my collection.  The costuming was all wrong in that.  It took me until I was an adult to figure out it was set in WWII, not the 50’s.  But it was still the best.

So every Thursday about dusk, we rolled up our blankets, collected our nickels and walked down the road to the outdoor theater.

From all the candy in the case at Sam’s pool hall, no one told me what to pick.  It was mmmyyyyyyyy choice.  There it was.  Caramel heaven.  The kind that slid out the corners of the mouth, swiped with a sticky tongue.  A SloPoke.  It seemed like a whole foot of thick sweetness when in reality it might be–hey, let’s not ruin a good memory!  I’d hand Sam the nickel and have that thing unwrapped before I hit the creaky screen door.  Liiiiick sloowwly again and again until the soggy little white stick was freed of all caramel.  It probably didn’t get me to the end of the movie, but regardless of the movie or the SloPoke, there was a pretty strong chance I was asleep by then anyway.  After all, that had to be 10:00!  That was past my bedtime.

Come to think of it, 10:00 is past my bedtime now.  Sure would like a SloPoke.

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