They used to have these things called drive-in movies theaters.
They still have them here and there, I’m told, but it’s mostly for nostalgia’s sake … like LP records and cassettes, they’re for a specific group looking for a throwback experience (well, regarding cassettes, maybe not) rather than a cinematic one.
But back when I was very young, they were plentiful and very much the thing to do on the weekend, especially in the summer. You’d drive to the theater, pay to drive in and park next to a speaker post, hang the speaker on your car window and watch the movie from the comfort of your own vehicle. The sound was tinny and thin from the speaker, nothing no one would want to put up with today (especially after Star Wars) but damn it, it was fun.
They often had double and triple bills, so for a family it was ideal. Three movies for the price of one.
Our parents took us to the drive-in a lot when I was very young, and I remember my brother and I were always very excited. We’d pop our own popcorn and put it in a large brown paper bag and we’d pick some green apples from the neighbor’s tree and that’d be our snack, along with a lot of sugary soda (which is called pop in the Midwest, by the way). We often fell asleep before the second movie started, but that was part of the fun.
We saw a lot of “bad” movies, as that my father’s tastes skewed toward Roger Corman type of films. A double bill of Ron Howard movies, EAT MY DUST and GRAND THEFT AUTO come to mind, for example. A lot of flawed movies that had more than a bit of fun in them.
Some of the drive-ins had swing sets and stuff for the kids to play on until it got dark enough for the movie. There was always a cartoon before the show, and sometimes we took the truck and sat in the back on lawnchairs, the movie before us and the stars up above. It was a pretty awesome time.
We also loved Chuck Norris movies and for a few days afterwards would have “play” karate fights with my dad throughout the house. He usually won those, at least until we got bigger, then we stopped doing those.
We stopped doing a lot of things once we all got older.
Many things change as time marches on.
But for the first ten to thirteen years of your life, your father is the one who picks you up when you fall down, who you run to when you’re scared because the thunder was really loud or that bad dream you had was really, really frightening (likely inspired by a Corman movie).
He seems large, impregnable. When you’re a child, that’s your father.
Everyone’s memory of their father probably starts the same, a large man with a deep voice holding you. Because that’s how it starts out, you remember a big man with big arms picking you up. Even after you’ve grown, that image of your dad is implanted in your memory forever.
In my father’s case, he was always bigger than me even after I grew up. Had me by a couple of inches and, up until I was thirty, by at least forty pounds. Even after I put on weight, he still tipped me by about ten or fifteen. And he was pretty rowdy, wasn’t afraid of wading into a bar fight or three when we were kids, he even named one of his country bands ROWDY, in fact.
No one is impregnable, naturally, and the natural course of things is that as you grow older, you begin to notice your father’s flaws. We all have them, but you notice his first, especially if you’re a son and competitive … males do that. You notice those and they become an issue. Then there are other issues. Young males can be very unforgiving.
It’s part of the growing and separation process, part of finding your identity is rejecting that which you already know and moving on toward the unknown to discover what you can be. You rebel, you fight and you deliberately walk away.
For some sons, the separation is short, lasts about as long as puberty. For others, it is longer, through college perhaps. For a few, as was my case, it was far too long, years and years.
Right up until I had sons of my own, in fact.
My father lived in the small town he grew up in and never wanted to leave. I couldn’t wait to get out and move to the most populated city in the country. My father loved and played country music and called himself a “proud redneck”. I am a former theatre geek and proud progressive. We were opposites in many ways, even though we looked alike.
But when I had my own boys, I began to understand him, if only a little bit.
A good buddy of mine around my age who is also a father told me that once you embark on being a parent, it’s not a question of if you’ll make mistakes, but when. You can only hope and pray that it will be something small and ordinary when you do. It keeps you up at night.
One night, decades ago when I was around six or so, we were at the drive-in and my father was walking my little brother and I to the concession stand in between features, so it was really dark.
As we walked along, a car rocketed out of the night, headlights off and driving far too fast. The rule for drivers at the drive-in was that one supposed to creep along in your vehicle because everyone walked. This dude wasn’t abiding by that rule, he zipped along fast and without his lights on, we didn’t see him until it was too late.
My father grabbed my brother and I with each hand and shoved us away hard out of the way in opposite directions just as the driver slammed on his brakes and hit him. My father went up and over the hood of the car, stopping at the windshield. He rolled off the hood, hopping mad, and gave the driver, a scared and pimply teenager on a date, a spectacularly profane ass-chewing.
I forgot about that incident for decades as I got caught up in my own shit and my own issues as a young male.
But I remembered it when my own sons were born, and never forgot it. It allowed me the space to reconnect with my father, too. My father was always his own man, a stubborn and proud redneck who loved drinking Budweiser out of a bottle, and while he wasn’t without flaw, there is no one who is.
He was still my father and he threw himself in front of a moving car for his sons.
He was there, then. All the other issues I may have had with him were small and insignificant compared to that.
My dad passed away on September 8th, 2013 after a long battle with multiple illnesses. He was a rough, tough man, he still had the big hands and arms and he was my father. I was fortunate enough to be there with him when he moved on, just like he was with me when I transitioned into this world. It’s not just my loss, but a loss for many, his wife, his sons, his grand kids and his great-grand kids and his devoted dog Jack. The many who knew him as a neighbor and friend, and many more who were fans of his bands and music.
It took me too long to understand what it means to throw yourself in front of a car for your boys, but I’m glad that I did finally get it in time.
He was my father. That’s what they do.
Rest it peace, Beau.