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Other than going to the landing on Friday night, Saturday was the only other night of the week that Grandmom would let me leave the house after supper. I was allowed to go to a picture show at Mr. Ander's theater, located in the heart of Hatteras on the only paved road that ran through the village. As soon as the movie was over, I was given very clear instructions to come home immediately. 

Other than at church, it was the only time of the week that you could find in the community a crowd of people numbering 50 or more. Since television was not available on the Outer Banks until sometime in the late 1950s, going to the picture show was a very special event. Unlike the church gatherings on Sunday morning, a merrymaking spirit permeated the Saturday night crowd who attended the movies.  I could not wait to take my Saturday bath, dress in a clean shirt and shorts, eat supper and leave barefooted for a night of entertainment with my friends at the theater. It was at the movies that I, like so many others, discovered the thrill of the opposite sex.  There was only one thing that spoiled the excitement that this special night had to offer.  I had to cope with it every Saturday night on my way back home after the show. On the return trip, which was usually around 9:30, the walk back to my grandparents’ house was unsettling, even when someone was with me. But when I walked home alone it was terrifying, especially on this particular night.

I started making preparations for the Saturday night event in the middle of the afternoon, sometime around 3 o'clock.  The lack of indoor plumbing made taking a bath a bit of a chore.  The routine usually consisted of heating a kettle of water on the gas cook stove, getting a towel and washcloth from the old wash stand, finding a bar of soap in the kitchen, locating a small porcelain enameled basin that we called the wash pan, filling it half full of cold water from the cistern, and taking it all upstairs to my bedroom. Everyone in the family took a bath in the privacy of his bedroom. Since the rainwater collected from our roof was our only source of freshwater and that needed to be conserved, no one ever used more than the equivalent of a couple of kettles full of water for his or her once-a-week Saturday bath.

However, on occasions after a hard rain, Grandmom allowed me to take a bath outside on the back porch in her No. 2 zinc washtub.  On rainy days, the precious liquid from the sky was directed from the roof of the house into a cistern via gutters and downspouts.  If it rained sometime near Saturday and we thought of it, Pop Pop, my grandfather, would redirect the water into the washtub from one of the downspouts that led from the roof. The tub, which Grandmom normally used for rinsing her clothes, was filled about two-thirds full before Pop Pop returned the downspout back into the cistern.  After the rain shower passed and the clouds no longer obstructed the sun, its rays warmed the water to a pleasant temperature for bathing.  A tub bath was a rarity enjoyed only by my brother and me.  The adults of the family never bathed outside on the back porch, even though the shield of a large fig tree would have prevented anyone from seeing them performing this weekly activity. And besides, they were too large to fit in the tub anyway.

By suppertime, I was squeaky clean and dressed for a Saturday night on the town. After the evening meal, which always consisted of the same menu -- eggs, bacon, apple butter or jam, molasses, hot yeast light rolls, and coffee -- I was given a quarter to buy my ticket for the movie and 10 cents for candy and a drink.  I left home for the movies some time near 6 o'clock, even though the show did not start until an hour later.

As I approached the end of the path that joined our yard with the road, I met Mac, who was also bathed, dressed in his Saturday night attire, and who was headed to the same event.  Mac, who was a year younger than I, was a neighborhood friend who lived a few houses north of us.  I greeted him and together we excitedly headed down the road to the movie theater.  Neither of us knew what movie we were going to see and neither of us cared.  The movie, which was usually five or more years old and in black and white, was only an excuse to get away from home on Saturday night.

I noticed that Mac was carrying two pieces of rope, each of which appeared to be about 6 feet long.

"What you doin' with that rope?" I asked.

"Goin' to have some fun," he replied with a twinkle in his eye.

"What kinda fun?" I wanted to know.

"Oh, you'll see," he replied in his Hatteras dialect.

I thought to myself, what kind of fun can you have with two pieces of dry-rot rope which was not even fit to tie a skiff to a dock? 

An hour before the movie began, it seemed that every child in Hatteras village from the age of 8 and up converged at Mr. Ander's store, which was located beside the movie theater. Forty-five minutes later the adults who were attending the show began arriving.



Mr. Ander's store had a large, covered front porch, which for an hour before the movie began, was filled with loitering kids.  Some were sitting on the porch's edge, dangling their legs and drawing patterns in the sand with their toes, while others congregated in groups and interacted with each other much the same way any group of adolescents might do.  Laughter erupted from first one group and then another.  An atmosphere of controlled merriment increased as the crowd grew larger. 

A couple of steps up from the porch led to the entrance of the old general store that was much like it was when it opened for business in 1918. Inside, the store was dimly lit, a contrast to the brighter lights outside on the porch.  The unpainted, beaded-wood walls had grown dark with age and reflected little light. From the open office area of the store, Mr. Ander, the proprietor, a small, stooped-over and rather frail man, sternly observed the influx of cheerful native kids who were purchasing their refreshments for the movie that was scheduled to begin within the hour. 

There were two commodities that distinguished this store from the others in the village. One was a large, wooden, 50-gallon molasses barrel from which the dark delicious molasses was pumped into jars provided by the store's patrons. A layer of foam always floated on top of the recently filled containers.  The other was a display case of penny candy that seemed to go on forever.  The throng of adolescents was disproportionately distributed in the store, as the candy display drew their primary interest.  Since only popcorn was available in the foyer of the movie theater and drinks were not, a 10-cent bag of penny candy from the store was the most popular gastronomic pleasure for us while we enjoyed an adventure to a far-away place on the small silver screen.

I always had trouble deciding which candy to buy. It all looked so good and the bouquet of sweet aromas from the glass-enclosed showcase just added to my confusion. No matter how hard I agonized over my purchase, I frequently ended with the same selection every Saturday night -- four two-inch squares of bright red cinnamon hard candy, one four-inch stick of red and white striped peppermint, one four-inch stick of red and green striped wintergreen, two BB bats, a Mary Jane, and one white soft square of coconut candy.  Occasionally, I forfeited the peppermint stick, the two BB bats, the Mary Jane, and the coconut square for a soft drink.  Just as I finished paying for my purchase, I heard the squealing of skidding automobile tires followed by an uproar of laughter from the loitering crowd outside.  When Miss Inez, Mr. Ander's wife who was clerking that night, handed to me the small brown paper bag filled with my sugar treats, I rushed outside to see what was causing all the commotion.
 
Even on Saturday night there was very little traffic on the road.  Sometimes 15 minutes went by before a single car passed by.  I saw an embarrassed and somewhat angry driver speeding from the scene.  It seems that Mac and five other boys were up to their usual pranks, and this time Mr. Garland, who was home on leave from the dredge on which he worked in Florida, had unfortunately become their indiscriminate prey.  He was an extremely conservative, serious middle-age bachelor and not an understanding victim of someone's practical joke.  After a glance at the scene in front of the store, it became quickly apparent to me the role the ropes played in Mac's "havin' some fun." 

The boys had spread a line of sand about two inches wide and an inch deep across the recently paved road in front of the store.  There was a stark contrast between the golden Hatteras sand and the black asphalt of the road.  Buried at each end of the sand row was an end of one of the ropes that Mac had brought from home.  Three boys were positioned on each side of the road holding the unburied ends of the rope.  To an approaching vehicle, it looked like one continuous rope from one side of the road to the other.  The boys on each side of the road were gripping the rope in such a way that it appeared they were going to tug on it, lifting it several feet above the road as an unsuspecting vehicle approached. As Mr. Garland's new 1952 Mercury came near, the boys yanked back on their ropes, momentarily creating the illusion that the phony rope across the road was suddenly going to rise up in front of the car. Any careful driver would react just as Mr. Garland did by quickly applying the brakes to avoid dragging and injuring the boys attached at the ends.  This resulted in the car skidding and the tires squealing.  The sound echoed through the village, followed by a roar of laughter from the onlookers. The practical jokers were also laughing and rolling in the sand as a result of falling backwards from their dramatic pull on a rope that was attached to nothing.  Mr. Garland sat in his car, which was trailed by two long skid marks, relieved that no one was hurt.  He was embarrassed for being the victim of a joke in front of such a large crowd and angry at the whole situation.  A few expletives came from the light blue Mercury as it sped from the scene drawing another round of laughter from the spectators.  For the next 15 minutes everyone relived the scene over and over again.  The volume of the laughter began to wane with each retelling.

A short while before the movie began, Roberta arrived at the theater to sell the tickets.  For me, it was worth the price of admission to stand outside the theater in front of the ticket booth and to gaze upon the beauty of this older teen-age girl. Roberta's loveliness radiated like the sun.  Her dark-tanned, soft, supple skin contrasted against her sundress with its thin, cord shoulder straps. Her brown eyes, dark eyebrows, long eyelashes, and brunette shoulder-length hair added dimension to her sun-tanned face. The whites of her eyes and her red lipstick played back to the white background of her dress and the scarlet hibiscus flowers that were printed on it.  There was never a Breck shampoo model that was as beautiful.  There were many pretty girls on Hatteras but Roberta was, in my mind, the most dazzling. She was the unattainable girl of every young man's dreams. 

Roberta smiled at me from behind the glass partition and took my quarter.  She slid my ticket for admission through the half-circle opening in the partition that separated me from a beauty that would know me only as just another little kid attending the Saturday night picture show.  No matter what was playing inside the theater, I had received more than my money's worth before the projectors began to roll.

 Inside the white, rectangle-shaped clapboard theater, with its green- and red-zigzag striped shingled roof, the seats were separated into two sections by a central aisle. Outside aisles ran along the walls.  The young patrons filled the seats near the front, while the adults filled those in the rear.  Music from a 45-rpm record player saturated the room with a flat, dimensionless sound. 

It was 7:00 o'clock, time for the movie to begin.  Beginning with a few sporadic stomps from a small number of impatient patrons, the old wooden floor eventually delivered a thunderous uproar as everyone joined in to let Shank, Mr. Ander's son who ran the projectors, know that it was time to start the show.  At ten minutes past seven o'clock the movie had not started. The floor received several more brutal attacks by the mostly barefooted and impatient customers. Shank announced that the delay was due a burned out projection lamp.  One had been ordered and was due to arrive on the Midgett Bus Line --a public transportation link between Hatteras and the mainland. 

The bus was scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m., but it was late because it got stuck on the beach somewhere between Oregon Inlet and Buxton.  It was probably the only bus line in the country that drove 40 miles of its route on the open beach since there was no paved road.  Getting stuck in the sand was nothing unusual.  When this occurred, all the passengers disembarked and with shovels and brute strength, they helped Stocky, the driver and owner, to free the vehicle from the unforgiving sand, often repeating the same performance a few miles further down the beach.  Today was one of those days.  Its trip to Hatteras was extended two extra hours, the time it took to free the bus from a patch of extremely soft deep sand.  And today of all days, the bus was transporting a very significant item that stood between Hatteras movie buffs and an adventure on the silver screen to a place of which most of us only dreamed.



Shank assured us that the movie would start in five minutes.  A cheer along with another thunderous roar of bare feet stomping against the sandy floor echoed from the wooden walls of the old theater.

Most of the boys and girls paired up when they went inside to take their seats, unlike the same-sex groupings that were seen earlier outside the front of the theater and on Mr. Ander's store porch.  I sat beside Ruby.  She was a girl who lived in the neighborhood near my grandparents’ home.  We were just friends who often played together, nothing more than that. We were both 11 years old.  One day during the week, we jokingly said that we should sit together at the movies.  This was the first time I could remember making plans ahead of time to sit with a girl.  I did not tell anyone about it at home for fear of being teased.

Ruby bought her ticket and went inside before I did. I was pushed from in front of the ticket booth by an impatient patron, as I stood spellbound by Roberta's allure. I resisted his shove for a moment, relishing just one last taste of the eye-candy before me. Only then did I go inside. I found Ruby and sat beside her.  I am not so sure that we even spoke to each other. While we waited for the movie to begin, she talked to her friends and I talked to mine.  She ate candy from her brown paper bag, and I ate candy from mine.  It was not until the movie started and the lights were dimmed that we even acknowledged each other's presence.

Sometime during the first half of the movie, my right hand unintentionally brushed against her left one.  She apparently interpreted this as a signal that I wanted to hold her hand. She latched on to my hand like a cornered, old hard crab grabs at whatever passes nearby.

At first I could not believe what was happening, but I did not object.  As a matter of fact, the longer she held on, the better I liked it.  Soon I was no longer a passive victim but a mutually consenting hand-holder.  Ruby was cute. However, she was no Roberta.  But somehow, there in the dark, she WAS Roberta, causing my heart to pound like it had never pounded before.  Each time the film broke, which was a common occurrence, and the lights came on, we let go of each other's hand.  When the movie started again, so did we.  We continued to hold hands until "The End" appeared on the screen before us.  When the lights came on, we quickly broke the physical bond between us. 

Without so much as saying goodbye to each other, she joined her friends, and I joined mine.  We departed the theater into the pitch-black moonless night that lay beyond its doors and passed by the now empty ticket booth where two hours before Roberta stole my heart and sold me a ticket to fantasies that still obsess me today.

The wind picked up quite a bit from the southwest while we were in the theater.  I heard thunder rumbling from over the ocean. I reasoned that it might not be too long before a thunderstorm would come onshore, but I was certain that there was ample time for me to get home before any ominous weather activity.

Mr. Ander's store was now dark inside, even the porch was shrouded in darkness.  Before heading up the road to Grandmom's house, I must have spent more time than I thought standing in front of the darkened store and listening to Mac relive the incident with the rope.  When I turned the corner at Mr. Dolph's store heading home, I realized everyone else had gone on before me leaving me to make my way alone in the dark Hatteras night. 

As I passed the old weather bureau on my left, I could barely make out the outline of the large white wooden building. Mr. Damon's house and his barbershop, which stood in his front yard, were the last structures I passed that were located near the road before I arrived at Cousin Willie's old home place.  No one had lived there for years, and it was then being used as a funeral home. 

The old house was in disrepair and desperately needed a coat or two of paint.  The weathered green shutters hung haphazardly from the windows, creating a creepy appearance. The house, which sat near the road, was framed by the branches of two old live oak trees, draped with Spanish moss.  As I approached the sinister-looking place, my pulse began to increase.  My thumping heart had just had a good workout at the movies, and I wondered if it could stand much more stimulation.  This beat was much different from the one I experienced at the picture show while holding Ruby's hand.  Exhilaration accompanied that one, sheer terror was what I was experiencing now.

All I could think of was the story that Mac had told me about how he had helped Uncle Horton, the local undertaker and jack-of-all-trades, carry a body into the funeral home on Friday morning.  That night, in a manly effort to impress his girlfriend, Mac, accompanied by her, broke into the funeral home so he could show her the embalming room he had seen that morning. With no lights to guide them, the two intruders found their way to the old kitchen at the rear of the house. This room now served as a place to prepare the bodies before burial.  When they were half way across the room, Mac felt something grab him around the neck.  Whatever it was seemed to yank him back, throwing him off balance and sending him crashing to the floor.  He let out a frightful yell that sent his girlfriend bolting out the back door and up the road without him.
 
Mac soon discovered that he had been caught at the neck with a loop of rubber hose, which extended from an apparatus that was hanging above his head. It was attached to a pole located near the embalming table. The rubber hose was fastened to the bottom of an embalming fluid vessel at one end and to a large needle hanging beside it at the other.   At this point however, Mac, the rubber hose, the stainless steel vessel, which still contained some formaldehyde from the preparation activities earlier in the afternoon, the large needle, and the pole that held it all in place were strewn about the old kitchen floor. 

Mac managed to get to his feet and to find the same door that his dearly departed girlfriend had used when she made her exit.  In short order, he was home and thankful to be there.  The next morning, which was Saturday, he told me all about it.  He also said that the undertakers buried the blood of the dead people in the backyard.

 All I could think of as I approached the funeral home was that a body was in there.  The funeral was to be held Sunday afternoon at the Methodist Church.  I walked on the right side of the sandy road, as far from the spooky looking old house as I could.  I did not so much as even glance in that direction.  I walked so close to the edge of the road that occasionally red cedar branches from the trees in front of Miss Ursa's house hit me in the face as they were being thrashed about by the wind from the approaching storm.  Miss Ursa lived directly in front of the funeral home.  It seemed an eternity while I passed the edifice that served as a temporary resting-place for the corpse that was being kept inside.  Since I did not look at the house as I hastily made my way past, I did not see the sheets that Uncle Horton had washed and spread over some myrtle bushes to dry. Moments after I passed, a strong gust of wind caught one of the sheets, sending it flying across the road in front of me.  My feet did not touch the ground until I landed on the piazza of Grandmom's house. 

Everyone had gone to bed except my Aunt Essie, whom I called Sister. Without brushing off the mosquitoes before entering the house, I flew into the sitting room where she was waiting for me.

"Honey, what in the world is wrong?" she asked me in her gentle caring voice.

"Sister, the dead person in the funeral home just passed me on the road!" I breathlessly exclaimed.

"Now, Sugar, there ain't no dead person going to bother you," she tried to assure me.
But I was not easily convinced.

The following Monday while I was climbing in the live oaks in the front yard, Ruby walked down our path and into the yard. 

"Hoi," she said in her Hatteras brogue. "What’cha doin'?"

"Climbin'," I said.  "What you doin' down here?"

Ruby lived up the road from us.  Since up and down were relative terms used by the villagers to describe locations along the road, I lived down from her.

"I brought you sumthin'," she said with a big smile on her face.  She reached in the pocket of her shorts and pulled out a narrow silver ring. "My uncle made it for me from a nickel. I want you to have it."

"Thanks," I said as I slipped the ring on my finger.  It was a perfect fit.  "You want a climb some?"

" I 'magine," she said. 

She jumped and grasped a limb just over her head. She flipped backwards and upside down, extending her feet and legs up and over the limb. Swinging first by her legs, she pulled herself up and sat on the limb.

There was a sparkle in her eye and I am sure that I had one in mine.

The following Saturday, Mama and Daddy arrived at Hatteras from Washington and took my brother and me back to our home.  Our summer stay at Hatteras was over for another year. It was time to go back to school. 

I never went to the movies with Ruby again.  Somehow the next summer things were not the same.  I also lost the ring she gave me.  I never did tell her.  The ring may be gone, but the memories of that night live on.  I shall never forget the delicious candy at Mr. Ander's store, the rope stunt that Mac performed at Mr. Garland's expense, and my terror as the wind blew the sheet across the road in front of me near the funeral home. The way Ruby held my hand and the way she looked like Roberta in the darkened theater are also a part of many precious memories that I have of my summer visits at Hatteras.   But what I remember most about all these events is that the morning Ruby gave me the ring, my adolescent mind imagined just how good I must have been at holding hands last Saturday night at the picture show.



        

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