Sometimes when life heats up, I get stressed out, and I think I don’t have time for anything – seems to be happening a lot, lately – I go to a movie and get lost in someone else’s story. I’ve been going to movies since my grandmother and my great-grandmother took me to see Elvis Presley in “Jailhouse Rock,” in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. I was four, and Mama said we were going to the picture show to see Elvis because, in her words, “He loves his Mama and he loves the Lord.” In that order.
So my movie attending career started. The Beck family in Thayer had a theater downtown and a drive-in on the way from our house to Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, a mere two or so miles away. Almost every Sunday afternoon that I can remember, my grandmother – who made me popcorn in bacon grease – took Libby and me to the movies. She didn’t drive a car, and so Daddy or Mother would put us in the back seat of whatever used Pontiac we owned at the time, go pick up Grandma, and drop us at the Beck theater, where I often paid my 50-cent admission in dimes and nickels. I always saved one dime so that I could buy a bag of popcorn, one of my favorite treats even when it is not cooked in bacon grease.
We saw every Elvis Presley movie, all Jimmy Stewart’s and Cary Grant’s as they were ending their careers, John Wayne westerns, those starring Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin, movies I can’t remember until I see them on television and think, “I saw that!” I loved sitting in the dark, cool theater and being transported to a time and place different from my own, drinking in the stories – good and bad – that were being told on screen.
That enjoyment almost came to an end when my dad, in some misguided decision-making, took us to see “Bonnie and Clyde.” The movie was quite popular in Thayer because Bonnie and Clyde had actually spent time in the area. It was released right before my 14th birthday, but the Becks didn’t pick it up until almost a year later. I remember walking in the door to the theater and Helen Beck’s saying to my father, “Lose money on good family movies, bring in one about criminals, and I’m full every night. Who brings kids to this?” Daddy thought she was kidding, but he was pretty horrified two hours later. He swore we wouldn’t go to any more movies because they were all obviously just trash. He didn’t stick with that for very long, though.
We went to the drive-in as often as possible during the summer months, laughing at Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis movies and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I remember one particular night, I think we went to see “Snow White and The Three Stooges,” when Libby dumped an entire Coca-Cola AND ICE down my dad’s back. That did it for him and the drive-in.
The Beck Theater started opening only on weekends during the last couple of years we lived in Thayer. I don’t know if Helen just got tired, or the movies got too expensive, but eventually, movies during the week became a thing of the past. And it wasn’t too long after we moved away that the drive-in closed for good, and the downtown theater soon followed. Now, when I drive down Chestnut Street in Thayer, I look at the empty building that brought me so much joy those many years ago. And as I drive to Mammoth Spring on the bypass, I see a weed-filled field where the drive-in once stood.
Though the places are no longer there, the movies that captivated me remain with me, as do the memories of walking down an aisle in a movie theater, bag of popcorn in hand, looking for just the right seat, waiting to see what Elvis would do next.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.