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Thurston column: The Saturday afternoon shootout

ěYou boys will need a little jingle,î my father would say as he pulled the old í38 Buick over to the curb in front of the single theater on Main Street of the little town five miles from our farm.
It was our weekly respite from school and chores ń the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Weller Theater. My dad would hand my brothers and me each a quarter and drive off, after giving us orders to look for him in a couple of hours.
A whole quarter! The Saturday matinee was 15 cents in those days, which left 10 cents for whatever extravagance we wanted. Our first move would be to head across the street to Hortonís Cigar Store, which had an actual wooden Indian in the front window. Mrs. Horton was usually behind the glass-topped counter, which did have cigars, to be sure, but of far more importance to us ń an amazing collection of ěpenny candy.î
We pondered our selections as seriously as grownups would in buying a car ń the better to get the most for our 10 cents. I am here to tell you that you could get sick on a dimeís worth of the right candy combination in those days, as I proved to myself on several occasions — not that it ever stopped me from repeated experimentation.
Then back across the street, bag in hand, to buy our tickets and take our place with the rest of the mob in the theater. Most often we would find school buddies to sit with, but I use the term ěsittingî very loosely. Now and then an older boy and girl would stay put in their seats ń usually toward the back of the theater under the projector where it was darker. The rest of us constituted a hive of milling miscreants ń and woe to the romantic couples who had the misfortune to draw our attention. We knew just the right embarrassments to direct at George and Beatrice. Adults knew better than to attend these Saturday afternoon shootouts, which suited us just fine.
The feature was invariably a cowboy movie. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were regulars, along with Hopalong Cassidy, Red Ryder, and my personal favorite, Lash Larue. Lash, ěThe King of the Bullwhipî was a regular at the Western Film Fair held in Charlotte until 3 or 4 years before his death in 1996.
Before the horse opera, though, there was an assortment of short films: Cartoons, travelogues, newsreels showing WWII frontline action, and, very often, a serial ń Buck Rogers or Nyoka, the Jungle Girl, perhaps. Since we rarely missed an episode, we were anxious to find out how our heroes had escaped the space ship crash or the flaming pit of the week before. If we were incredibly lucky, we would be treated to the ultimate adolescent entertainment ń a Three Stooges comedy! That would whip us into a frenzy, and candy wrappers, spitballs , wads of gum and other debris filled the air, The ushers ń usually high school boys that we all knew and ridiculed ń tried without luck to maintain order.
Finally, the main event. As Gene and Champion were in full gallop across the prairie, a boy or two who had smuggled in a cap gun, would help out by banging away at the bad guys, and the wonderful smell of detonated caps would fill the air, as the ushers went berserk trying to find the culprits — who of course would have holstered their arms long before they were discovered.
We had our own idea of what a cowboyís code should be, and it didnít include kissing girls. We could certainly tolerate Roy giving Trigger a peck, but anytime he came close to smooching Dale, the theater would be filled with whoops and catcalls.
At the final ride into the sunset, the theater lights would come up and we would escape into the bright light of a Saturday afternoon. Hoarse and nearly deaf from the din, stuffed with sugar, we would locate our old Buick and pile in for the trip home. Evening chores awaited and make-believe was over ń for another week.
Chuck Thurston is retired and lives in Kannapolis, NC. His email address is cthurston@ctc.net

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