The Wigwam & Gordon Twin…

Until a few years ago, my fascination with movies (and celebrities) ran rampant. I just slowly lost interest for a variety of reasons. My hearing loss was a biggie. Many theaters offer headphones, which I’ve used for years. But even with the headphones, I struggle with dialogue. Anyone speaking with an accent, a soft or intimate conversation, or the most annoying, LOUD background music just drowns out and muddles all the voices for me.

Snuck out to a movie (horror flick) by myself. I’m still traumatized, 1962…

I’ve loved movies since I was a kid, but going to them was strongly discouraged. Ah, there’s part of the pull. Never been a fan of horror movies though. Got cured of that when I snuck into our local theater, The Orpheum when Dad was working overtime and I was 11. Didn’t realize what the movie was about (but strangely couldn’t make myself walk out either) and it haunts me to this day. When I got a little older and Mom and Dad couldn’t control my every move, much of my free time (and money) was spent going to movies.

There were some fabulous, fancy theaters in Sioux Falls and Sioux City in my heyday. Winding staircases about 12 feet wide (Hubs always preferred the balcony when we were on a date-no need for further explanation). But there was one more funky option for us when we wanted to go to the movies back in the day. The Drive In movie. What a concept! Probably not the best deterrent for an unwanted pregnancy however. Basically it just a cleared, fenced field of several acres, usually a few miles out of town. A gigantic white screen was the main focal point. Long rows of graveled, slightly elevated surface, evenly spaced with metal fence posts and a heavy alien like box hanging on each side of the post. You cozied your ginormous 1950’s-1970’s vehicle so this metal box was fairly close to the driver’s window. This was your modern day surround sound. Actually the sound was brutally shitty, but we loved it. Out in the middle of a field, pitch black, steamed up windows, what’s not to love if you’re a teen in lust, I mean love?

Might have been heading to The Wigwam after supper. John & I, 1965…

There was a small building in the middle of all these rows, with an office and space for running the film, restrooms, plus a good sized area selling concessions. Start times depended on the month. June and July it was still pretty light out until after 9 pm. The closest Drive In for kids living around Rock Valley was in Hawarden, about 30 miles away. It was called The Wigwam. I believe there was a midweek special (maybe Tuesday’s) where a carload of kids (or a whole family-but none of us were thinking about families just yet-at least not intentionally) could get in for a dollar. No, not a dollar a piece. A dollar a carload. I kid you not. What a cheap night of fun! We were young, carefree (and sometimes careless). This entertainment was a big part of my youth.

Hubs just told me about a night at The Wigwam (minus-me-his-long-standing-suffering-better-half). He had borrowed his brother Arlyn’s 1959 Thunderbird and had a couple of guys with him on the way to Hawarden. Another Rock Valley rabble rouser zipped past him doing about 100 mph. Gulp. And gave John and his buddies the finger. Instead of realizing they were telling him he was indeed number 1, Hubs took offense. Floored the T-bird and passed the dudes who had issued the errant finger. This was done on 2 lane hi-ways. There was some pushing and shoving when they all got parked, but it went no further. How did any of these yahoos survive their stupid youth decisions? Grace of God. Life wasn’t idyllic, but we had it pretty good.

A vivid memory from The Wigwam. John and I were on a double date. This was after he had worked for a farmer for about 10 hours that day, baling hay. Brutal work in Iowa’s 90 degree hot, humid summer days. His hands always fascinated me (and made me rather sick) after he was done working. From the tips of his fingers to almost his elbows were covered with slivers of hay. Some infected from his hard work. In the middle of the movie, John starts snoring. Instead of trying to get to second base, he was out like a light. I was mortified.

After Hubs got his whopper of a 90 cc Bridgestone motorcycle in 1965 (aww) we often rode it to the Wigwam. John would snap a blanket in back where I sat, and we’d park all the way in the back and lay on the blanket. As long as you were in the general vicinity of a noisy receptor, you could make out the dialogue. (I don’t remember complaining about the hard gravel surface either. Hmmm). By this time we were no longer really, truly interested in what was happening on the screen. One night another couple from Rock Valley begged us to change places with them. Their car for our blanket sprawled in the back 40. Nope.

So many changes were in store for us. Just a couple years later we were married. Yet the lowly Drive In movie would still play a part in our lives. The rules of entertainment would change however. Radically. No more spur of the moment, hop in the car, let’s eat out, and see a flick. We had no money. And now we were a family of 3. We made our own entertainment. If there was any discretionary money, we could buy a six pack (for the guys), make a dessert (for all of us), put on a pot of coffee and have another couple over for a rousing night of Pinochle. The kids were always included because none of us could afford a babysitter except for very special occasions.

Yup, Shannon was busy reviewing The Godfather with her friends, 1972…

We were living in Sioux City, the year was either fall of ‘72, or spring of ‘73. Our precocious daughter Shannon was about 2. Hubs and I were itching to see the latest movie catching all the Oscar buzz. We discussed it for days. Explaining in detail what was expected of our very bright little girl. We were going to a movie-together at the Gordon Twin Drive In. In our 1972 Chevy Vega, which was a hatchback. So we could lay down the back seat, spread blankets and pillows, bringing along enough stuffed animals we barely had room to squeeze in. But it was all for Shannon. So she could sleep comfortably while we watched a grownup movie. Shannon promised she would eat her snack and go right to sleep. She lied.

All was going pretty well, considering it was kind of loud in the car with the speaker hanging on the window. But it was very late, Shannon was quiet and we thought she was asleep. The movie we were watching? The Godfather. At one crucial point during the movie, the studio mogul had refused to give a small movie part to one of the mobster’s relatives. Movie boss’ decision was about to be swayed the other way as he woke up in bed screaming. When to our delight we hear this tiny voice from the backseat, “why is there a horsey in bed with that man?” Ok, we’re done here. Let’s go home.

When we moved to Michigan in 1987, Jackson still had a Drive In movie. It only stayed open a couple of years after that, but we took the kids several times. Still an inexpensive form of entertainment. I’d pop a couple of huge brown grocery bags full of popcorn at home. By the time we were ready to leave, there would be melted butter stains all over the bags. Yum. Take a cooler full of pop, and John would stop on his way home from work to pick up some candy. Now the movies at the Drive In were all about comfort. Off with the bra, on with the sweats and I was ready to go. The kids brought along sleeping bags, chairs and were in and out of the van a dozen times before they ever started showing the previews. Mind you, we were now in the eastern time zone, so the movie didn’t start until almost 10:30. Ugh. Any thoughts about smooching our way through the movie-not gonna happen with this brood.

Joshua & Adam ready to go to another movie, 1986…

After we moved to Muskegon in 1994, lo and behold, another Drive In movie complex. Four screens, all showing double features. Yikes, you didn’t get out until after 2 am. Not long after we moved there were some articles in the Chronicle saying the Getty Street Drive In was going to close and a sale was pending for the land. There was such an uproar from the people, the owner changed his mind. Twenty years later, it’s still open every summer. When the grands would visit during the summer, (each one always stayed separately), top of our ‘to do’ was a trip to the Drive In. (A day at Lake Michigan’s beach was right there too). It was the kid’s choice for the movies. Still made the popcorn and brought our own pop and treats too. And lost the bra before we left home. Good times.

I fell kind of bad for kids who don’t get to experience this simple form of entertainment. Family style. Snacks, pillows, mosquito spray, walking in their jammies and flip flops with a parent to go to the bathroom during intermission. No more obnoxious hanging box spewing forth tinny sound. Now when you pay admission, they hand you a small piece of paper. On it is 4 different FM radio stations, each corresponding with which your movie screen choice. I haven’t been to a Drive In movie since 2014. I think Peyton was the last grand visiting that year. I’m bummed. I can’t bear to think our great-granddaughter Jovi will not have fun watching a movie outside, at night. I believe we will have to head to Muskegon next summer and let her enjoy that experience too…

Jovi looks ready for her first Drive In movie experience…

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