Story by Hardy Jackson | Illustration by Dennis Auth
Today some folks wax nostalgic about the joys of childhood in the semi-rural South of the 1950s, but let’s not overdo it. “We made up own games” was not easy in towns that were short on inspiration. However, saving many of us from death-by-boredom was our weekly escape into the cool, dark confines of the local movie theater where for the price of admission (10 cents) we could take our bag of popcorn (5 cents) and a Coke (5 cents) and be transported into a western world so exciting that what else could we do but spend the rest of the week recreating it as best we could with broomstick horses, cap pistols (double holster) and what other cowboy accoutrements we could cobble together.
It was on those Saturday afternoons that pre-teen boys (mostly) found their first heroes, men like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gene Autry, straight shooters who did not clutter our minds with moral ambiguities and anti-authority attitudes that were common in the decade that followed.
We knew they were the good guys because they sought justice, did what was proper and always were victorious. It might be overstating things, but I think members of the B-Western, Saturday matinee generation learned as much about right and wrong from those afternoons as they did from the teachers who schooled them during the week.
Saturday was market day in communities like mine, the day when country folks came in to “trade.” They brought their children, my classmates, who had spent after-school hours doing farm chores. Their reward was the dime for admission and the dime for popcorn and Coke.
Come Monday, at school on the playground we reenacted what we had seen on the screen two days before.
Then I turned 12, a landmark year. I was on the cusp of manhood, or so I thought.
But when I got to the theater, the Saturday after my birthday, I faced a dilemma.
A child of 11 was admitted for ten cents.
For a young adult of 12, it cost a nickel more.
Would I confess my age, give up my Coke or my popcorn, and pay the 15 cents the theater was due?
Or would I “forget” to tell them?
How would they know? I still looked like the 11-year-old I was the week before. I could get by with it.
But I didn’t.
I ‘fessed up, paid the honest price, and as I sat in the dark, Cokeless, I swear I heard my heroes say, “Well done, partner.”
Yes, stories from the silver screen,
Now most of them forgotten
Double feature Saturdays
With Hoppy, Gene, and me.
Well, not forgotten.