Drive-In Movies Were Magical When I Was A Kid

Deborah Welky


My parents were just 22 years old when I was born, and 24 when my brother Jim came along.

Because of this, my father frequently apologizes for all the things he didn’t know about raising children when I was little. But I always counter with, “But dad, Jim and I had something our younger brother and sister didn’t — your youth.”

I think I have already written how I remember my dad racing feverishly up a steep hill pulling a sled with both Jim and I on it, just so we could ride down — over and over again. I don’t remember him doing that once for Pam or David. After all, he was well into his 30s by then.

Also, because mom and dad were so young, their romance was still fresh. Despite having two rugrats continually demanding their attention, they actively sought ways to find time for each other. One of these ways was to pack us into the car (in our pajamas!) and take us to a drive-in movie.

Back in the day, drive-in movies were everywhere. You’d pull in, get your popcorn, hang your speaker over the rolled-down window and settle in. We were simply out of our minds with joy on drive-in movie night.

At the drive-in closest to our house, there was the added bonus of a little playground up front, right under the screen, where the kids could play until the movie started. The first time we saw it, we balked (being in our pajamas), but mom allayed our fears by assuring us, “Oh, you don’t know any of those other kids anyway.” A brand-new playground with the sun going down and us on the swings in our pajamas! The world was a crazy, wonderful place.

When the sun finally set and management shooed us out of the playground and back to our parents’ car, it was time for popcorn. Jim and I didn’t get to go to the concession stand, of course. My parents weren’t about to waste good money on popcorn when they could make a huge amount of popcorn in a pot on our kitchen stove and just bring it along in a brown paper bag. We didn’t mind — we could have as much as we wanted!

Still, it’s not like we didn’t know what was back there — hot popcorn drenched in butter, big fizzy sodas and rows and rows of candy bars. If we whined long enough, dad would take us to the concession stand to use the bathroom, and we’d steal a quick glance at how the other half lived — then it was back to the car for the movie.

The movies my dad was willing to pay money to see were completely inappropriate for children, of course. They were terrifying. I remember seeing Mutiny on the Bounty, for instance. What six-year-old needs to know about keelhauling?

So Jim and I loudly pestered each other in the back seat until dad banished us to the roof of the car so he and mom could be alone. The roof! Was he kidding? Could movie night get any more magical?

Nonetheless, neither Jim nor I saw the end of any movie. When it got quiet on the roof, dad knew we were asleep, and he would fish us down before we rolled off onto the gravel parking lot.

He’d tuck us into the back seat under a blanket, and that’s when mom and dad’s evening finally got started.

Everybody happy.