We’re beginning to learn during this crisis that you don’t realize how important something has been to the fabric and quality of your life, until you’ve been separated from it.

For my wife and I, that has been sparked by our being shut out of the movie theaters for the past three months. We miss it terribly. We’re afraid that whatever the new normal shapes up to be after this pandemic finally ebbs, that some of our movie theaters may go the way of the bowling alley and roller skating rinks. For now, drive-in theaters are the only show around.

My movie milestones began when my mother took us to see “Bambi,” “Song of the South,” “Cinderella,” “Snow White” and “Dumbo,” but you’re not a real movie fan until you get to pick them yourself.

For me, that independence came when a new movie theater was built in our neighborhood during the mid-1950s. The auditorium sat 300 in air-conditioned comfort, but the owner could stuff another 100 yelling, stomping, and screaming kids in there for the Saturday morning matinees. There were always plenty of cartoons, Flash Gordon serials, and the movies always featured Tarzan, Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.

During high school, if there wasn’t a practice or a game, we’d walk to a downtown theater, slip in a side door, and we were introduced to a whole new world of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Natalie Wood, John Wayne and Jerry Lewis. Movie themes of romance, war, sci-fi, crime and musicals replaced Disney.

Weekends, our jean pockets almost empty after forking over 18 cents a gallon for gas, we’d head out to a local drive-in theater hoping, most often frustrated, to meet some girls. Two of the smaller guys would climb into the trunk, totally petrified that a faulty exhaust system could do them in.

During the 1960s, there were two standout film hallmarks — sweeping landscapes and movie soundtracks, making it for many of us our golden age of movies.

Cars lined up in front of the screen as previews play during opening night at the Bridgton Twin Drive-In on Friday, May 15. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup photo/Press Herald

Who can forget the cinematic vistas, some lingering almost too long it seems now when we revisit them, of the snow-bound Russian steppes of “Doctor Zhivago,” vast sand dunes and empty horizons of “Lawrence of Arabia,” the black and white majesty of John Ford’s Monument Valley and the alpine mountain meadows of the von Trapp family.

Beginning in the 1960s and continuing into the last decade, John Williams made movie magic with his soundtracks for the umpteen “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park” films. Every time I hear his theme from “Jaws,” I start looking around for the fin and hope that there isn’t any bait chum in the water.

During the mid-60s, after our successful blind date, for our follow up date we went to see “Goldfinger,” starring the “real” James Bond. So began our more than a half-century love affair with the movies, probably more than 1,200 on the big screen.

When our kids came along later, it was easy on the weekends to put them in their PJs, pack blankets and pillows in the car and head to the Kennebunk Drive-In Theater. The kids would try to make it through to the end of the first feature, always a family movie, so they could march to the concession stand at intermission. They’d soon be curled up in the back seat and fast asleep before the start of the second feature, always an adult movie.

During those summer weekends in the late-70s, as a selectman, I could always count on calls from Merrifield Drive residents whose homes abutted the Kennebunk Drive-In. “It’s too loud at the drive-in. They won’t answer their phone. Can you go over there and turn down the sound?”

Years later, after the theater was demolished, many of them told me how much they missed sitting in their backyards, having a cold beer and watching the drive-in movies. We’re not the only ones today now reminiscing about the loss of those theaters.

Maine’s regular movie theaters are closed till who knows when, but our surviving 20th century drive-in theaters are enjoying a revival during this pandemic. Several area high schools are holding their graduation ceremonies in their safe, open-air space. Also, now 30 years later, some of those kids had who been asleep in the back seat, are introducing their own families to the summer magic of drive-in movies in Maine.

Drive-in owners have solved the previous century’s risk of stuffing teenagers into the trunk by “one car pricing no matter how many passengers” policies.” It probably wasn’t necessary given all the SUVs on our roads, there aren’t that many trunks left for hiding teenagers.

Back then and now, if you’re planning on going, it’s sometimes not easy. Summer and fall the evening dew can sometimes come early and you could be running the wipers. If it’s hot and you roll down the windows, the mosquitoes can get you. Bring the spray.

Today in Maine, if date night at the drive-in for young couples involves too much kissing, you can come back 12 hours later looking for forgiveness to the same drive-in for the open-air Sunday church service. It won’t look as romantic at 10 in the morning, but it’s a good two-for-one.

If you do take your family or a date to a drive-in, the nearest one is in Saco on Route 1.

And remember, like I didn’t back then (several times), before leaving the drive-in, roll down your car window and re-hang the speaker on its pole. Passenger windows are now much more expensive to replace than they were in the early-1960s.

Tom Murphy is a former history teacher and state representative. He’s a Kennebunk Landing resident and can be reached at [email protected]

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