An Essay by Natillie Painter
Soon to be Published as a short story called “Bare Necessities”.
The spring of 2020 has kept us indoors. Artist, Authors, Actors, and Musicians have been entertaining us through these isolated and unprecedented times. A majority of people love Disney productions. Do you ever wonder where that love affair with the animated screen started for yourself? I know exactly when and where I saw the magic of Disney for the first time.
In 1978 everyone was watching “Happy Days” and “Taxi” on their T.V.s and you heard the Bee Gees and Billy Joel on the radio. Adults were going to see “Jaws” and “Grease”. Us kids? We wanted to see “The Jungle Book”. It was new to us, as my brother and I weren’t born when it has its theatrical release in 1967.
I ran around with my brother and random neighbor kids in Omaha, Nebraska. My mom and dad’s best friends lived there with their children and were having a summer BBQ. I was expected to play with children I didn’t’ know and most certainly would never see again. Children of your parents friends were automatically suppose to be your friends, no matter what, that was just how it was in the 1970s.
It was sweltering. I wore a pair of cutoffs and a too tight T-shirt as I was already starting my life as a chubby kid. Sweat matted the hair on us kids till it stuck to our foreheads in chunks. We would leave grimy finger prints across our foreheads to wipe the hair out of the way.
As the day carried on we ran out of steam. All of us rugrats got on each other’s nerves and the more we complained to our parents the more our parents told us to “go away” or “go play”. They ate, smoked, drank beer, and we all ate some more. Cigarette smoke swirled in the air all afternoon. Every grown up smoked and flicked ashes on the lawn and you couldn’t run up to any dad too fast because the red hot tip of the cigarette might just be the same height as a six-year-old.
As dusk started to spread on the horizon a booming father announced us kids all needed to go in and use the bathroom because we were all leaving. We had a special place to go and needed to get going. All of us kids chattered amongst ourselves, the littlest ones clueless and whiny by this time of the active day. We went into the house and got smacked in the face by the cool air of the dark house. Lights flipped on and moms filed in carrying trays of leftover food. One by one each mother inspected her child, or children, and fussed over our dirty, feral states. Obviously we weren’t going somewhere too high class on this summer night.
Each child latched on to their mom and dad and followed them to the family vehicle. The BBQ remains in the yard left for later. Every car, van, and truck left their make shift parking spots that were made on the front lawn and street at the Hosby’s home.
“Where are we going’, uh?”
“If you keep asking, I’ll just turn around.” Dad says.
“Ok. Ok.” With that I held my tongue as I sat between my parents in our old ’65 Chevy pickup. My three year old brother on the other hand continued to stand on the vinyl seat, leaning all his weight into the side of our mother.
We drove through the city with both windows down, dad’s arm out the driver’s window, holding a cigarette. Ashes flaked off into the traffic behind us. The city had a different smell when the heat was replaced by a fresh evening breeze. Finally some relief from the day’s heat.
We drove and I saw the city lights were disappearing. I couldn’t figure out for the life me where we were heading. My brother was asleep, still standing up.
Soon the Chevy truck started to only move at a crawl. I wiggled up enough to see we were in a long line of cars and trucks, the Hosby family directly in front of us. My brother stirred and was delighted when he caught glimpses of fireflies going by the window. There were hundreds of the green and yellow bugs flickering in the fields all around us.
Looking for fireflies is when I saw it. It was huge.
“MOM! That’s the biggest TV I’ve ever seen.” My little mouth hung open.
“It’s a movie, we’re at the drive in kids,” mom said with a tired smile on her face. Her cheeks too red from having been in the sun all day.
“A do in mooing?” my three-year-old brother tried to repeat.
“No, no, a drive in MOVIE.” Dad chided as he paid a man standing in a blue wooden shed.
I had no idea what this was and when it started or how it ended.
We followed the friends ahead of us and parked next to them when they came to a stop. Mom and dad both open their doors and us kids bounded out with warnings to not go very far. We needed to be close when the movie started.
Being it was 1978 a six and three-year-old could go off exploring together if we promised to keep an eye on each other and come back soon. Sound parenting.
The Hosby kids joined us and soon Jennie and Danny were leading us two younger ones. The other kids that filled our day seemed to have disappeared before reaching our destination here on the edge of the city. The big white movie screen up against a cornfield was just our special treat.
We discovered a rusty swing set and several teeter totters. We just ran around taking stock of what was available but without any real time to play. There were cars, trucks and vans of every color, we thought we were lost. Jennie, being the daredevil, shimmied up the side of the metal swing set leg to get a bird’s eye view. She spotted our red truck and their white roadrunner parked next to each other and we headed that direction.
As we moved in a serpentine pattern between vehicles and other children trying to find their cars, we were stopped in our tracks when the big white screen became animated. We tried to watch the start of a Yogi Bear Cartoon as we walked and bumped into things in our way.
“There ya are,” said dad and he asked, “Are you ready?”
Next thing I knew he swung me up the roof of the cab and then did the same with my brother. We were sitting high and mighty up there on the sun bleached metal of the pickup, mom and dad sitting inside, underneath us.
Then things got even better. Woody Woodpecker followed Yogi and Boo Boo and we thought that was the whole thing when the screen flickered bright white for a second.
I threw my head over the side to look into the cab, “Should we get down dad?”
I was told the best was yet to come. How could that be I just saw twenty foot high cartoons. My liife was great.
Then the music began to play. The Buena Vista and Disney logos came across the screen. Then I saw “The Jungle Book.” I tucked my knees underneath myself and my brother flopped to his belly, the toes of his little sneakers hanging over the back of the cab.
I don’t think we moved for the next ninety minutes as we watched our first Disney movie and not just on any old movie screen with popcorn spilled on the floor but out in the great wide open sitting on the cab of a truck on a warm summer night.
Years later the movie would come out on a new thing called VHS and we could watch, rewind, and watch again. Then DVD and now, I can watch anytime with the a few taps on a screen. And every time I am taken back to the smell of car exhaust, cigarettes, sweet fresh green grass, and of course, popcorn.