Tom Sawyer, Elvis, And The Ector Theatre

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The Memory

 

The years have flown by

In groups of ten.

 

I can picture her face

and then it fades again.

 

The things we did and said and shared

Gently drift away.

 

Ah, but the way she made me feel..

That was only yesterday.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Poem by Larry Bradfield, a graduate of Andrews High School, a genuinely talented person, and a lover of history of West Texas.  His poem characterizes felt emotions for the great ladies of the day.  He knows the feeling is universal whether or not ever expressed.  I hope the ladies blush..................mlm

 

I have decided to print a variation of something I wrote in a memoir that was meant to be read by a very limited audience consisting of my immediate family and some friends, some close, some not so close, but those not so close were very important to me at one time in my life regardless of how distant they became years later.  I once let a lady, the wife of a close friend, in San Antonio read that memoir even though she did not know me in those years.  (ironically she did grow up in a little town close to Snyder, Texas, in an oilfield camp, much like those burgs surrounding Odessa in the fifties.)  She and her husband, now deceased, became my friends through the decades beginning in the early ‘70s and when she read the Ector Theater piece she commented, “I am glad to learn that some boys will admit to feeling something similar to us girls in those days.” 

 

When I read her remark I realized that they, the young ladies, may not have known what the guys were thinking and emoting in those days.  That was a sad thought to me.  Evidently, the ladies shared more with their best friends than us guys did, especially us football guys who were taught to be tough and secretive through the mores and influences of the time, but in fact, I know to this day that both sides of the gender equation felt the emotion of being what I call “validated.”  Over the years I have heard some pals express what it felt like to have a girlfriend in those young years who made them feel cared for, so I know I am not alone in what it all meant.  I just know it is rare to see it expressed in print by a male, but what the heck, I’m getting old and keeping things a secret forever just does not make sense anymore, because when I die, the memory dies with me, so when I wrote this piece it was a way to say THANK YOU, LADIES, from all of us secretive tough males. 

 

I first heard the term “validated” used this way at a conference sponsored by psychologists and neurophysiologists and other professionals in Austin, Texas, years ago.  The speaker who introduced the term probably destroyed two hundred years of theories of psychology and psychiatry by reducing all human emotion and behavior down to one pressing factor, the need to be validated by our fellow human beings. Adios, Freud! I agreed wholeheartedly with the speaker at the time when I heard the concept.  That conference was nearly ten years ago, and I have not changed my mind about it at all, in fact, my convictions have become set in stone.

 

There was a fad in Odessa when I was in the eighth grade, 1956.  The fad only lasted a month or so, but it was unforgettable.  That fad is described within the modified essay below.  I got to express in the memoir how a lady made me feel during that fad.  We were just kids, barely teens, but I know through remarks made from long time friends over the years that there was a mutual experience felt during that brief period.  The reader can call the experience what ever they want, but I know to this day that among other things, it was youthful validation and it will not be surpassed in any subsequent event in life because when it happened, it was one of life’s important first experiences and lessons, and I will go out on the limb here as a grown man and again say, “Thank you, Mam”to the young ladies of those years from all of us supposedly strong silent type males who for years were taught not to express things like this.  Ladies, you were wonderful.

 

One final note:  The story is opened by a quote from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  I used the quote in my original memoir.  I will never forget reading the passage for the first time many years ago as a kid because it struck me how well Mark Twain knew us young people; he knew us far better than we knew ourselves.  His writings reminded me of our smooching in the Ector Theatre during a brief time in the year 1956.  So, I have concluded that if Mark can write of those things, so can I.  Some things never change.   Mark Twain knew that.  I think any young male can identify with Tom Sawyer and how he felt about Becky Thatcher.

 

 

 

KISSING AT THE ECTOR THEATRE

 

 

“By and by she gave up, and let her hands drop; her face, all glowing with the struggle, came up and submitted.  Tom kissed the red lips and said:  Now it is all done, Becky.  And after this, you know, you ain’t ever to love anybody but me.”   From the Adventures of Tom Sawyer

 

Historians of Odessa, Texas, could easily say what year the Ector Theatre first opened back there in the fifties.  (circa, 1951) It is a bit of research easily done, but doing that research would be useless in trying to determine what it was that suddenly made the young teen crowd of those times want to meet there on Sunday afternoon, for what was a short duration, but that is what happened after church and after the Sunday meal was served.  Maybe it was the movie that was showing and the timing of the showing that was convenient for so many young kids to be able to make it at the same time. Although such reasoning might be faulty because I cannot remember one of those movies except one, and that was when Elvis made his first debut in the acting world, and I remember that because Elvis was a lady’s man, and he had a charisma that all boys envied and all girls swooned over, but anyway, something happened because the lines to get in were terribly long in those days for a period of time. 

 

The lines consisted of really young teens, teens who knew each other and many knew each other all their lives or at least since the first grade of elementary school, and those teens were coming together for reasons very different than any reasons they had in the past.  Many of them had started GOING STEADY with a member of the opposite sex, and this was new to them.  A first.  Going steady had become important because going steady meant something new and exciting to those entering the new teen-age world.

 

The lines to get into the Ector began at the box office where the red tickets were sold for probably less than twenty-five cents, and then the lines stretched eastward down the sidewalk sometimes beyond the length of the building, or more. And you can bet that line was energetic and disjointed because there was a great deal of jockeying going on back and forth in that line among friends and acquaintances.  Those who arrived late anxiously searched for friends and acquaintances that were closer to the front of the line to take their money in order to buy their ticket for them because that friend was much closer to the ticket office.  This was an important maneuver, important because it might mean whether or not you got to sit where you wanted to sit and it might mean whether or not you got to sit next to that person who was the reason you were there in the first place, that person with whom you were going steady.

 

Inside there were friends in groups everywhere scheming to find the partner they had come to meet.  The place was packed.  I wonder if we all got there by jackrabbit telegraph.  Many of the girls who went there in groups were saving seats for the boys and the boys were searching for those girls the minute they entered the darkened seating area looking for their chosen ones. 

 

The crowd could be electric with anticipation because it was not often the young could get together beyond the supervision of their parents.  This was one of those times.  If you were lucky, you found her in time, your steady, and with a beating faster than usual heart, you would spot her, waving, and then you would be weaving through the crowd in the aisle to get where she and her friends would be.  Then, you would be invited to sit beside her as her girlfriends shifted down and you could see it was all planned and it made you proud and grateful, and special that you were there in that n a seat she had saved for you.  You felt cared for that she had done that, and it made you think that you wanted this movie to never end, and it hadn’t even started yet.  The lights had not yet dimmed, and the dramatic curtains covering the screen had not yet parted to show the giant silver screen.  All the talking among the excited kids was a bee hive of chatter and people were milling about trying desperately to get where they wanted be, and where they wanted to be depended upon their relationship at the time.  But the lucky ones were settling in and hands were being grasped and those clasped hands were settling onto thick petticoats, resting there, gripped tightly with each partner showing their emotion through the held hand, and at the moment it was a Tom Sawyer’s heaven just to be there. Soon the lights dimmed and the noise would begin to subside slowly as the big red curtains parted to the beginning of the music and the silver screen would flicker into life.  First, there would be the newsreel of current events with familiar voices telling us what was going on around the world and we saw high lights of football games, and previews of coming movies, and then maybe there would be a road-runner cartoon while held hands would soften some as shoulders started touching and both bodies settled comfortably into their seats, and then heads would come together.  Closeness came in increments.  The scent of her hair would become a life long memory; her perfume would be etched in your memory’s senses for life.  Soon, heads, shoulders, and arms would all be touching, all the way down to clinched hands resting on petticoats still, an absolutely electrifying contact. (A lady wrote: “I think perhaps some electrical connection actually did spark…like a synapse.  It was pure bliss) The experience would be intoxicating because it was the first time ever you felt that way for someone else.  Nothing that came afterwards over the years quiet matched that first time magic of knowing you were cared for like Tom and Becky cared for one another.  .

 

The movie showing made no difference because every second was being preserved in your mind and you desperately tried to will seconds to slow and stretch out and instead the moments slipped by much too soon, and as they movie played on and the intoxication deepened and the breathing became different, and as the bodies pushed closer together, with a neuro-electrical chemistry signaling she was feeling the same as you, then you could not stand it.  You had to risk it. Both of you sank deeper into the seats hoping to become less visible and hoping not be noticeable to anyone else, and the fear that it was not so did not matter because the faces had become too close to stop now, and besides the held hand signaled some way that it was okay, and the kiss began.  You dared not breathe during the duration and the shortness of breath dizzied the brain and the dizzy, dancing way you felt was seared onto the memory for the rest of your life.  You would never forget the moment.  It was heaven.  It became apart of your consciousness forever.  Afterwards, through the intoxication, due to the shallow breathing, your eyes dared to look left and right without turning your head too much because you did not want the separation from her closeness, but you could see lucky others doing the same. 

 

Then, inevitably, and regrettably, the movie would end, and you would wonder where all the time went and the lights came on and the curtains closed and the best show of all was over.  Tired little hands would get some relief, and the dresses and petticoats would be hand brushed back into shape, and the time would come to exit slowly together.  It was the last chance for days to again hold hands, in line, slowly, walking out into the other world, and knowing just outside the theatre doors there would be bright sunlight that would make you squint your eyes and you would be forced back into reality because there would be a long line of cars waiting with mommas at the wheel looking for their innocent daughters and sons.  Those good mommas hoped the kids all had a good time, and hoped they all saw a good movie.  They were a good-hearted bunch of moms.  They really were.

 

Yes, Moms, that is what your teenagers did at the Ector Theatre on Sunday afternoons in Odessa, Texas in the mid 50’s.  Thank you all for letting us all go there.  But I somehow think the Moms knew what would happen at those theatres, just like they knew what the daughters were feeling as they danced with these young men under the basketball goals in the gym on Friday nights at the Junior high schools where their little girls were growing up. And the males would silently depart to their own worlds changed inside some, and feeling somewhat euphoric in his new teen-aged world, totally thankful, silently thankful for his incredible good luck, and just knowing that next week might bring some more of the same thing. Could life get any better?

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