Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Popcorn

When I was very young my family enjoyed the simple things: cool breezes on the porch in the evening, feeling the mud ooze up between our toes down at the creek, that first watermelon cooled way down inside the curbing of the well, those rare instances when we turned the magical crank and feasted till our heads hurt on fresh peach ice cream, fried fish freshly caught in the pond, the first tomatoes almost always by July 4, bedtime stories from the Bible or some other fascinating source and many other simple things.

I think often about the simplicity of our lives before we had television, shopping malls, interstate highways and jet airliners. The first building I ever entered with air conditioning was the First National Bank of El Dorado, Arkansas. I couldn’t believe the polar blast that hit me in the face when I walked in. It felt good for a brief moment and then it seemed uncomfortably cold. I noticed that all the employees in the bank were dressed as if it were winter.

We moved from the country to El Dorado when I was a kid. There were three movie theaters in that town: The Ritz, the Majestic and the Rialto. The Ritz was not air conditioned, but it had the best popcorn in town at a nickel a bag. The aroma of Ritz popcorn permeated the downtown area, luring passersby into the stuffy, hot and rundown establishment. For some time one could not go in and purchase popcorn without a ticket to the show, but that changed when I was about 12 and anyone could go into the lobby to buy the aromatic treat. I think the owner, made more money from popcorn than he made from Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Gene Autry and Lash LaRue combined.

The Majestic was a cut above the Ritz in that they had air conditioning plus there were no rats. I think there were no rats. People used to say you got a free shoe shine at the Ritz from the rats whizzing by. The Majestic showed “B” pictures with actors like Rory Calhoun and Johnny Saxon produced by companies such as RKO studios and Columbia and they had serials like “Flash Gordon” and “Superman.”

The Rialto was the mecca of movies in that town, and that theater was plush, carpeted, well-decorated and as cold as the bank. I saw “Gone with the Wind” there and such wonderful stars as Jimmy Stewart, Dorothy Malone, Bogart, Hepburn, Tracy and, as I grew older, Elvis. The same person owned the Ritz and the Rialto and he made kids behave themselves at the Rialto. I mean, you could hoot and holler at the Ritz but you better shut up at the Rialto, or you’d be back out in the hot sun.

Now, life is much more complex. Store-bought ice cream and microwave popcorn just don’t measure up. I’m thankful for DVDs, but I miss the Ritz, the Majestic and the Rialto.

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