I Miss Going to the Movies!
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
DID YOU KNOW that when the Great Depression struck in the 1930’s, it was only the second part of a one-two punch that devastated the South? The first part was the boll weevil infestation that killed cotton crops from Mexico to the Atlantic coast. Highway 16 in Denver, NC, was one long line of cotton farms prior to the 1920’s, which is why all the nearby towns had cotton mills. By the time the farming industry began to recover, the Great Depression occurred and wiped it out again.
So what did people do to keep up their spirits during the Great Depression? They went to the movies! For the cost of one thin dime, they could sit through a double feature plus cartoons and newsreels and forget about their troubles and woes. In my short story, The Mother-in-Law – 1934, Alveena Sycamore worries that her daughter-in-law might be cheating on her husband, Alveena’s son. So she and her friend Gladys decide to find out for sure. Here’s an excerpt…
On the fourth morning, Alveena said to Gladys, “I love camp meeting. I love being with you and all our other friends. I love the preaching. But I have to say, one thing I don’t love is all this time spent with Caroline and Joe. I’m ’shamed to say it – but I swannee, they’re makin’ me crazy! I’m seeing too closely into their marriage – a heck of a lot more than I want to know. Caroline’s up to something. She surely is. She’s off gadding about in her own little world. Joe’s worried too, but he won’t do anything. I think – ”
She broke off her words, unsure whether she wanted to tell Gladys. Maybe she didn’t have the right to do so. And if she said the words, might that make them come true? But then it came rushing out. “I think she’s . . . having an affair.”
“No! No, she wouldn’t! Joe’s a good man.”
“Makes no nevermind. I hate to think it of her, I surely do, but what else can it be? She keeps running off in the car and coming back all in a tizzy. I don’t like it, Glad! I want to know the truth.”
“Well, then, do something about it! Follow her into town. See what she’s up to. We can take the DeSoto.”
Gladys’s little runabout was a sore subject between them. Gladys had learned to drive back in the early twenties, while Alveena had been content to let Walter do all the driving. “You’re a fool,” Gladys told her at the time. “Stop living in the Dark Ages. Lots of women drive.”
“Lots of women smoke cigarettes and cut their hair, too,” Alveena had said, “but you won’t catch me doing it.” It was one of their worst arguments ever and caused bad feelings between them for months. They’d finally agreed to disagree, but now that Walter was gone and she had no way to get around, Alveena sometimes felt that Gladys had a strong desire to come out with, “I told you so…”
At last she said, “If Caroline takes off today, we’ll just follow and see where she goes. Better to know the worst, than just fret myself to death.”
From then on, though she felt a bit ridiculous about it, Alveena kept a close eye on her daughter-in-law. When she saw Caroline primping a bit and putting on a hat, she hustled over to Gladys’s. With a prayer on her lips and her heart in her mouth, she rode on the worst ride of her life
“My stars, Glad, do you need to find every pothole and rut in the road? You’re driving too fast. Watch out for those chickens!” The weather had been dry and they ate a lot of dust, but it wasn’t hard to follow Caroline, even with other vehicles in-between. There was only one road to town. They’d have seen if she turned off.
Finally, praise the Lord, they made it into Bennetton without killing anyone. They found Joe’s car parked on Main Street, just outside the movie theatre, and caught sight of Caroline’s yellow dress as she entered. Gladys and Alveena stared at each other for a second, shrugged, bought tickets and went in. There were a lot of people in the lobby, buying candy and sodas and popcorn, but Caroline must have gone directly into the darkened theatre, and with a great many misgivings, and a lot of whispering, shushing, and trodding on peoples’ toes, they finally settled in seats a few rows behind her.
A newsreel played, then a cartoon and a short comedy, then a Shirley Temple movie, called Poor Little Rich Girl. Alveena could hardly follow the story line for watching Caroline. The light from the screen was enough for Alveena to see that she was intent on the film, sometimes moving her lips, and once, reaching her hand forward, as if she wanted to touch the little girl.
Was this what was going on? Some kind of fixation on Shirley Temple movies? The movie had been playing all week. Did Caroline come to watch it over and over? Or was this simply a place for a sleazy get-together with some man? When the movie ended, a Charlie Chan film began and Caroline got up and left the theatre. Alveena nudged Gladys hard to wake her up, and the two women hurried out.
“You didn’t have to do me like that,” Gladys complained. “I’m gonna have a bruise. You must have the pointiest elbow in the world. Like a fire poker, it was.”
“Hush! Let’s see where she goes next.”