Free holiday movie is a cherished Christmas memory

With the gray clouds of a looming storm blowing in, there is more on the breeze than the smell of fresh snow. There are memories adrift. Like coal smoke on a cold winter’s day.
The memories of anticipating Christmas break in past seasons are as fresh and honest as the breeze that graces its cool fingers on my face, taking me back to the mid 1960s.
Thanksgiving marched into another season that filled most kids with hopes and wishes of the event of Christmas. We all had been looking at JC Penney and the Montgomery Ward catalogs for a good month or more. Decorations were going up all over town. With adults this was always a major competition for the $100 prize. Who could outdo whom with trim and decor of one’s house? Dale Jens with his house of blue, or Mr. (Ed) Jirak with his Santa and reindeer atop his casa?
New things to look at in Avery’s and Oldland’s. Mr. (Herb) Blagg’s window at the drugstore always had one of the nicest window displays in town with his moving Victorian choir. The bank, stores and post office added to the color and textures of Christmas trees, snow-sprayed windows and lights. Even the muddy floor at the El Rancho Cafe echoed the holiday theme — accompanied by the fragrant blend of fry grease, cigarettes and beer floating in from the bar in back. Jim Reeves singing “Hark the Herald” along with the jukebox.
The Boy Scouts’ Christmas tree lot was full of fresh cut trees of all shapes and sizes. The season was upon us.
At school there had been the constructing of many holiday crafts and making of presents. Some were posted outside in the long hallways along with wet rubber boots, bread bags, gloves and hats. There was the class Christmas party with a present exchange between previously chosen names. Then the movie for the whole school. Out the door for Christmas break … “See ya next year!” echoed down the hallways to the playground, full of mountains of snow.
The most anticipated event — bar none — for every kid in town, prior to Christmas itself, was the free holiday movie at the Meeker theater (where Rio Blanco Abstract is now located). Dr. Willis Scott made sure this happened every year. This would take place just a day or so before Christmas. The line would be long with kids from all over and all ages. Why? Not only was there a free movie, but a big giveaway drawing at the end of the movie. The long line from outside went through the doors into the long hallway by the ticket booth.
Rita Hale (my future mother-in-law) would be smiling and handing out tickets with the lucky numbers on them. “Good luck, honey,” she said to everyone. The smell of hamburgers and burned popcorn probed and permeated your nose as you stepped inside from the fresh air. You got your ticket through the double glass doors, past the fish tank, past the angry big gray cat.
Down the sticky aisles to a seat equally sticky-stained. The stage was covered with donated gifts from the local businesses. Gambles had bikes, the bank had sleds, the Palomino Cafe offered board games, other businesses gave dolls, trucks and the list grew long. As the lights dimmed the excitement began. Cartoons of Woody Woodpecker, or the Pink Panther or Mickey Mouse would start the whole process, usually a Walt Disney movie of some kind.
The movie ending led to the cusp of the gift drawing. Every kid holding onto his or her ticket, looking at it, praying to it, reading and rereading the magic numbers. At this point, quiet fell upon the room. The process of the drawing began. Numbers were read out … 33675F … and a kid would run up on stage to claim the gift. The biggest present was always left for last — the new Flexible Flyer Sled. Mr. Cook snapped photos of the winners on stage. The end of the drawing was followed by sounds of disappointment and shredding tickets before the rush outside. Why the rush outside? Because the Meeker Fire Department was waiting with Christmas socks full of candy, toys and an orange.
This was the topper of the day. No one went home empty-handed. We all walked home in the winter’s fading light, with the smell of coal and wood smoke in the crisp air. I would have a piece of ribbon candy, and blow my new chrome whistle all the way to 1270 Main.
Here is wishing everyone a very happy holiday season, full of memories, laughter and joy. I love my little home in the White River Valley. It has and always will be my home regardless of where I have lived. A simple life, a simple time. Out of that small-town atmosphere grew many people who turned out to be incredible and extraordinary. Being raised in that time, in this place, I am truly grateful.