Coast to Coast

Saturday Night


Colleen was sitting on the steps in front of her brick house when my dad parked our green Dodge, and I rushed to see her. Her house was the biggest and nicest one in Lincoln, Iowa, very grand when compared to our wooden farmhouse.

We exchanged stories about our schools. She went to the town school while I attended a one-room rural school. We kept on chatting while we combed and brushed each other’s hair, trying out hairstyles that would make us look older and more glamorous than our 13-year-old selves.

Saturday night was movie night, so we went to the center of town, passing in front of her dad’s Allis-Chalmer’s farm equipment lot. My dad had bought a tractor from him. The big DX sign at my Uncle Harry’s gas station lighted the middle of the one-block street. We looked through the big glass window and saw Aunt Lilly and Aunt Selma sitting on the cracked black sofa in the office. My mom was still buying groceries at Skare’s Grocery next door, but soon she would be joining her sisters.

Farther down the street was the dance hall where weddings and anniversaries and other events were celebrated. Colleen’s Uncle Sylvan was in a band there that played bouncy German music. Her grandma owned the building and she lived in an apartment on the second floor. Colleen and I often visited her but decided we didn’t have time that night because the movie would start soon.

Across the street was the general merchandise store where almost everything was for sale: groceries, clothes, magazines, cold pop, dishes, appliances, overshoes, fabric and patterns. Colleen and I sat on the short sofa just inside the door where we could quietly reach the movie magazines in the magazine rack. Almost immediately the store owner, Jake, asked us to leave because “some adults might want to use the bench to try on shoes.”

When we left, we watched the Movie Man as he finished hanging the second huge canvas curtain on the wire suspended between the general merchandise store and Annie’s restaurant-bar next door. With canvas curtains at the front and back of the lot, and the sides of the next-door buildings forming the other walls, the empty lot became the movie theater.

Usually, an old man came with the Movie Man to help with the curtains and run the projector, but tonight a young man was helping. He wore black high-top tennis shoes, and a pack of cigarettes was rolled up in the sleeve of his white T-shirt. A curl from his black pompadour dangled over his eyes. Did he look like Errol Flynn or Clark Gable or Cary Grant? We giggled and sneaked looks at him, wondering how we would ever be able to watch the movie if we had to get close to someone so cool.

Colleen dared me to speak to this matinee idol and I did. I bravely asked, “How old are you?” He answered with a wink, “Sweet 16 and never been kissed. Wanna kiss me?”

Shocked by our own daring, we rushed back to the general merchandise store and waited until the Movie Man was ready to take our dimes for admission. The gorgeous boy was running the projector, so we giggled and peeked at him but tried not to let him know we were looking.

Inside the “theater” rows of two-by-eight planks rested on cement blocks, creating backless benches for the movie. Roy Rogers fought the bad guys that night, and when one of the bad guys was about to shoot Roy, his dog, Bullet, leaped onto the back of the bad guy so Roy could ride away on Trigger.

Colleen’s mom wanted her home immediately after the movie, so she left. I crossed the street to join my mom and her sisters in the garage waiting room, and in a few minutes my dad had finished his game of cards at the restaurant-bar. Annie rented a deck of cards to the farmers for 25 cents so they could play cards in one of the booths. The winner bought everyone a cigar or a beer or a candy bar. I asked my dad how he had done, and as usual he replied, “Came out about even.”

On the ride home I imagined being Roy Rogers’ wife, Dale Evans, wearing cream leather pants and jacket, galloping on my horse, Buttermilk, with the long fringes on my clothes flapping in the wind and my white cowboy hat framing my lovely smile. Saturday night was over but I’d had so much fun.

Award-winning columnist Phyllis Henry lives in Gig Harbor.