Cross the open field where I watched high school boys try out for football when I was but seven years old, and on to Sixteenth Street between Laurel and Oak Avenues, turning down Oak for the trek downtown – will I cross the open patch diagonally at Fourteenth to get to Park and beyond, or continue to Centennial Park by Sanford (Florida’s) first municipal library or saunter down familiar Magnolia Avenue, tasting its Victorian semi-mansion charms and its quaint soft bungalows interspersed like mushrooms in a field of varied and scattered tall trees? And, then, I realized I have been facing this choice some sixty years. Saturdays, especially, like today. Only, then, with my older brother Glenn and my younger brother Storm along for the walk downtown, a shiny new quarter, a dime and a nickle to jingle with whatever we had earned or saved in the past week for popcorn and such at The Ritz Theater on Second Street and Magnolia Avenue. In Summer there were six Royal Crown ‘Cola bottle caps in the other front pocket of a Saturday morning to use for admission to the movie palace’s packed house of rowdy raucous children eagerly awaiting cartoons, and western serials and maybe if we were lucky a Flash Gordon episode and more. We had admission money for the afternoon feature: my brothers always went inside after the Saturday Stuff ended – I often pocketed the money, especially if I did not fancy the celluloid fare and went to the library instead, and made sure I beat feet back to The Ritz before dad would show up all freshly showered and shaved and Old Spiced to pick us three up in his car.
It was a far cry from trekking across the gravel-topped many hundreds of yards wide parking lot affair which in Winter became a field of snow forts and ice castles in Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada, where dad was stationed in the early 1950s prior to moving to Sanford for a new duty station as a U. S. Navy enlisted crew chief bombadier/navigator. In Argentia, my older brother and I, both enrolled in first and second grades, having gone through kindergarten each, were allowed to walk in clement weather to the massive many-storied base exchange and movie palace and with fifteen cents be allowed to enter and watch wonders. Mom would pack a large paper grocery sack half-full of greedily grabbed buttered popcorn with a pair each of hamburger sandwiches wrapped in foil and still warm with onions and pickles, mustard and – in Glenn’s weird taste way ketchup – with a small thermos of milk. There we would while away the afternoon in delight and if the season was approaching Fall, dad would come by in his car to take us home in the near-dark.
But in Sanford, mom told us we might be allowed to sneak in a hamburger or two in the colder times when we wore big, bulky still-from-Newfoundland jackets that there were considered lightweight. But the rest of the time it would be impossible: thence the extra money for a usually forbidden soda and some popcorn – never as good as hers nor as welcome as cold milk. Just not polite to sneak food in – and impossible for three young boys to brazen their way in clutching one big grocery sack. I sure missed those sandwiches – which often we ate while walking downtown to the movies. We’d save the tinfoil (why aluminum was called tin was beyond my ken at the time and future conundrums claimed pride-of-place before I could get to the massive Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary that so usefully served a child booster seat at-table from each of us three in succession but for me a refuge from adults with mixed notions of definitions, etymological origins and such I could find within those bindings). Littering was not an option. Mom would wash in hot water with soap those patches of foil for reuse and we never got called out in a town of then 5,000 or so for such scofflawry.
What I wondered even more as the years passed was how my parents, in those cash-strapped days raising three towering hungers with no real regard for the durability of dungarees as evidenced by their patches – school jeans were never worn outside of classroom days – and the shirts, oh, the shirts, I’d catch hell for chewing the collar-tips until I convinced mom other kids like me wore tee shirts so I couldn’t indulge my need for extra cellulose in the time-tested way she found so odd. Finally, when I was about 35 or so, I got up three extra portions of gumption and asked the Big Question.
“Mom,” I said as I finished the second of three full four-sectioed waffles with real maple-syruped Log Cabin Syrup and both bacon and hot sausage patties after a whole grapefruit for starters, “why did Glenn and Storm and I always have to go to the movies on Saturdays when dad was home?”
She grinned, crookedly, as was her wont when slightly tipsy on one pony-glass of beer or her favorite Tom Collins the few times we were allowed to go into strange, dark rooms, often far away, like in Orlando on a trip to the then-Air Force Base commissary for shopping once monthly. She turned from her kitchen throne with the waffle iron’s ready-light dark.
“I’m a screamer, J,” she said simply. “Once a week I want to scream. The rest of the time we did it quietly.”
Screamer? What? How? Who?
“Oh! Mom, will you make me, please, a couple of burgers I can take back to Titusville? Gotta go back to work soon.”