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Matters of Life and Steph: “Stealing the Show”- Musings from a Children’s Writer

I have a secret to share with you in today’s blog: I have been a fugitive of the law since I was thirteen years old. I have never told anyone this fact, not even my husband. It is a secret my family has concealed for years.

Had I been caught (though the statute of limitations has long passed), I would’ve blamed everything on my now-deceased grandparents. It was their influence that caused me to break the law with my older sister one day long ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

You may be wondering, has my crime weighed heavily on me over the years? Truthfully, no. In fact, my scofflaw experience was one of my most favorite memories of visiting my grandparents when I was younger.

What did my grandparents, sister, and I do that day? We snuck into a second matinee after the first movie had finished. Full disclosure, when I was a child, I found my grandparents a little annoying. But our double feature day was one of the most fun times I’d ever had with them.

The life lesson I learned: sometimes bending the rules a little can strengthen a challenging relationship and be a memorable bonding experience. (Note: this blog does not promote or advocate breaking international, federal, state, or any other jurisdictional laws.)

Nothing’s b(u)tter than popcorn

Back in the 1980s, going to the movie theater was an Experience (I used a capital E on purpose).

In a world before cable and streaming services, movies were the only way to watch a show that lasted longer than an hour and a half, and without any commercials in between. 

For kids, it was also a way to hang out without your parents. Sometimes. In the 1980s, movie theaters in Poughkeepsie, New York really took their ratings seriously. My twelve-year-old sister and I weren’t admitted to a PG-13 showing of “Breakin’: Electric Boogaloo” because we weren’t with someone over thirteen. (Sadly, we didn’t act quickly enough to fudge my sister’s age.) My poor father had to turn around and pick us up as soon as he got home. Remember the days before cell phones?

Movies were also a special occasion in my life because it meant I could have a small—but to me, really ginormous—bag of over-salted and disgustingly buttery popcorn. JiffyPop (which was what my mom occasionally splurged on at home) didn’t leave you dehydrated or your hands and lips glistening with imitation butter like movie theater popcorn did.

Hooray for Hollywood

Needless to say, I loved going to the movies.

When my parents left my sister and I with my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale  for three days, I was a little despondent. What would we do with our grandparents for three days? We couldn’t spend the entire time in the pool, playing shuffleboard, or going out to dinner at five for the Early Bird Special.

After two days of valiantly trying to keep my sister and I occupied, on day three, my grandparents announced that they would take us to the movies.

According to my grandparents, one of the other best things about going to the movies were the great discounts for senior citizens. My grandparents went to every single movie—regardless of what it was—because weekday matinees were so inexpensive. (That is my goal in life when I get older, by the way.)

Looking at the movie times in the newspaper, my grandfather decided we would see “From the Hip,” starring Judd Nelson and Elizabeth Perkins at 10:30 am sharp.  There was no way my grandparents were going to miss out on the half-price tickets.

Little did I know that they were taking us to a dine-in theater. I have no idea what the theater was called back then, but today, it’s the AMC Coral Ridge 10 on NE 26th Avenue (you’re welcome for the free advertising, AMC!)

I had never been to a dine-in theater before. Upon sitting down and having a sticky plastic menu plopped down in front of us, I learned that this was both a theater and a restaurant. All in one! I instantly regretted having a second piece of my grandmother’s coffee cake that morning (even though it was so delicious). I could only muster an appetite for a small popcorn. The unhealthy menu options that my mother would never let us get would just have to wait.

The edge of my seats

I recall that I moderately enjoyed “From the Hip.” I believe it warranted the paltry two-and-a-half stars it received from famed 1980s movie reviewer, Roger Ebert.

As the credits rolled and people began to get up, my grandmother asked us, “Would you like to see another movie?”

“Heck yeah” (or some age-appropriate enthusiastic response) was what my sister and I surely said.

“Wait here then,” my grandmother said as she headed to the bathroom. My grandfather distracted my sister and I with stories and jokes while we waited for my grandmother. It seemed like she had been in the bathroom for quite some time. But I wasn’t one to question the digestive tract of a seventy-plus year-old woman. 

Finally, my grandmother re-emerged, with her trademark Lucille Ball red hair perfectly coiffed, and her ruby-red lipstick expertly applied. After conferring with my grandfather for a moment, my grandmother simply said, “follow me.”

She glanced around, then casually sauntered into another theater where an usher had just emerged with a dustpan and broom.

Not making a scene

My sister and I looked at each other quizzically as we entered the empty theater. We had our choice of every seat. Only a few people entered the theater after us.

My grandfather smiled at us and looked at his watch. My grandmother looked around eying the door every so often. Perhaps she was worried we’d get caught? Or maybe she was just ready for the movie to start?

I wondered whether he and my grandmother had preplanned for a double feature day when they paid for their already deeply reduced-price single feature tickets earlier. (For reference, the average cost of a movie ticket in 1987 was about $3-4 per person—and that was without any discounts.) I said nothing and neither did my sister. We were eager for the second movie to begin.

“The picture begins in fifteen minutes,” my grandfather said. I wondered how my grandfather knew what I was thinking. I also noticed that my grandfather called movies “pictures.”

“Do you want anything to eat?” my grandmother asked. She waved the menu as if to tempt my sister and me. Too bad we were still quite full from the popcorn we’d eaten in the first movie. Both of us shook our heads “no.”

“What’s this movie called?” I leaned over to my grandfather so he wouldn’t have to shout. He did anyway.

“Three Guys and a Baby,” he said in his non-whisper. It was “Three Men and a Baby,” but I didn’t correct him. I was secretly glad because that was a popular movie. I hoped it was better than “From the Hip.”

Honestly, I was so happy to see not just one, but two movies, I could care less whether the movie was good or bad. (It was bad.)

Two (plus two more) thumbs up

Seeing two movies in a row with my grandparents was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I’m fairly certain I could never sit through two movies again, even if you paid me. Back then, movies were typically under two hours. Nowadays, watching two movies in a row—including the fifteen minutes of previews and ads—would take about five hours. I don’t think my butt could handle it. 

One thing I remember from our double feature day was joyfully thinking how my parents would never do something like this with my sister and me. (And I’m not even talking about the sneaking-into-the-second-movie part.) 

The other thing I remember is how cool my grandmother played the sneaking-in aspect. I’m not sure if she was showing off for her granddaughters or if this was a regular thing she and my grandfather did. I suspect it was a little bit of both. 

Either way, after that double feature day, I had a newfound respect for my grandparents. Since our generational gap made finding natural connections a little more challenging, our mutual love for the movies—and that small element of danger that came with our double feature day—made for an incredibly memorable time together.

Having later gotten a summer job working in a movie theater during college (a story I’ll save for a future blog), I feel like I’ve paid my dues to the movie industry for any of the money lost on our double feature day. Because–as the old saying goes—that experience with my grandparents was priceless.

Do you have any childhood memories about bending the rules (minor ones!) for a good reason? Please share your stories with me in the comments section.

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