December 17th…“WHAT CHRISTMAS EVENT IN YOUR MINNESOTA HOMETOWN STOOD OUT TO YOU IN YOUR CHILDHOOD?”
“Tarzan”, icicles and John Deere tractors seem to be an incongruous teaming that brings Christmas memories, and yet to me, they go hand in glove to induce me to smiles and travels back into the sweetness of childhood.
In my boyhood days on our farm, my weekly bank account (alias spending allowance) grew by a mere 25 cents. One quarter of a dollar, and that rotund (speaking “tongue in cheek”) sum was usually expended each and every Saturday evening when our family drove into Kiester for the Lucky Bucks Drawing and general family shopping. Needless to say, I was NOT in possession of monetary means to be able to afford to see a movie on my limited income of just 25 pennies lined up in a row.
To my Christmas financial rescue, and that of hundreds of other children in our village, came a very well-liked man, by the name of Mr. Arnold Bauman, who owned and operated the local movie theater in our sweet hamlet. Arnold teamed up with the Sime family, who ran the local John Deere tractor dealership, to bring a FREE Christmas movie and treats to local children every year in our fine rural community.
The venue for this wondrous event was the one and only KEE Movie Theater located at the north end of our small town’s Main Street. Opening in 1940, this magic arena for imagination and entertainment, over the decades, brought countless thousands the opportunity to step into its elegant chambers and be transported to whatever world of adventure one chose to enjoy.
From the second you stepped into the lobby, you were greeted with the heady fragrance of scrumptious popcorn being brought to perfection as it called to your senses. Your happy eyes saw each kernel jumping for joy at your presence as it ricocheted from hot popper to glass wall and back into the golden-lamped holding bin awaiting the scoop to fill your bag.
Thanks to Mr. Bauman and the Sime family, this dollar-challenged farm boy is now perusing the movie theater aisles, in my “kalumping” Winter boots, as I sought the best seat to settle in to and prepare for our kids Christmas movie (with cartoons, too) to begin. As was the norm, for Minnesota Christmas times, there was usually a snowstorm blowing outside of these cozy walls with frigid temperatures down in the 20’s or colder.
The lights of the auditorium gently began to fade as we kids notice the tall, elegant red velvet curtains make their swishing sound as they pleated themselves into the fully open position. Above our heads, Mr. Bauman’s giant film projectors fired up to life and flickering images become clear on the massive movie screen as John Deere tractor commercials began to parlay the advantages of owning this fine farming implement for your very own.
The John Deere advertisement is now over and on comes the cartoons for everyone’s giggle muscles to be exercised!! This young audience made the sound of happy popcorn munching all around me as the last cartoon ended and it was now time for the main feature film to begin. BOY OH BOY!!
I, for one, was intrigued by the various choices of film subjects each year. The Tarzan movies were my favorites because here we were, bundled up against the frozen temperatures that awaited us outside of the theater, and there, on the screen were actors in a hot, humid jungle getting all sweaty in the sunshine of far away Africa.
Having enjoyed every single minute of our FREE Christmas movie, it was now time to file out of the KEE Theater and out the front doors to meet the cold snap of Winter once again. What happened next was the treasured time of “dessert” after the “meal” of the movie in the form of a FREE bag of ribbon candies and peanuts handed out by none other than Santa, himself. Kind-hearted men of our town would volunteer, each year, to put on the Santa suit and be waiting outside the theater for us kids. True to form, there was this year’s “Santa” and had in front of him a big, dark red velvet bag of gifts for each boy and girl that had been in attendance at the movie. Inside its velvety redness, Santa’s bag contained small paper bags that had been stuffed with goodies and taped shut. Inside those little paper bags were beautiful old-fashioned ribbon candy, jelly-filled candy and other assorted confections that were intermingled with loose, roasted peanuts still in their salty shells. Santa handed one bag to each little darling that passed him on their way to re-unite with parents waiting outside the theater. One year, the ill-fitting Santa suit easily revealed the features of a dear local farmer, Mr. Lawrence Haase. Sweet Mr. Haase, that dear soul, was a thin-framed man, so he was “swimming” in the over-sized Santa suit. Besides, with his glasses on, and his snow white forehead above a sun-tanned face, it was easy to recognize him as very different from the traditional “man from the North Pole”. With grateful heart, I gladly received his greeting of, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” as he handed me my little bag of Christmas treats in the frosty air of this beloved hometown of a happy little Norwegian Farmer’s Son.