December 19th……….“WHAT CHILDHOOD CHRISTMAS EVENT, THAT WAS HELD IN YOUR HOMETOWN OF KIESTER, MINNESOTA, STILL HOLDS MAGIC FOR YOU AS A FAVORITE MEMORY OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON”??
Combine the jungle king, “Tarzan”, a snow blizzard and John Deere tractors and they seem to be an incongruous teaming that could hardly ever be associated with Christmas memories. Yet to me, they go hand in glove to induce me to smiles and traveling back into the sweetness of childhood there in my hometown of Kiester, Minnesota at Christmastime.
In my boyhood days on our farm, my weekly bank account grew by a mere twenty-five cents (thanks to my parent’s kind sharing). Yup, a slim one quarter of a dollar bill was all mine to enjoy. Burning in my pocket (so to speak), that miniscule sum was usually expended by yours truly each and every Saturday night when our family drove into Kiester for our weekly shopping needs and the popular “Lucky Bucks” drawing. Needless to say, I was not in the financial position of having a surplus of monetary means to be able to afford to pay for a movie at the KEE Theater on my limited income of just twenty-five pennies.
Like another Santa Claus, a much loved man of our community, by the name of Arnold Bauman (along with the Sime family), came to the financial rescue of myself and hundreds of other boys and girls each year with a special Christmas “gift”.
Mr. Bauman had collaborated with the “Sime Equipment Co.” (our local John Deere tractor merchant) to provide a Christmastime gift to the children of our town with a FREE movie and popcorn each holiday season. This festive occasion was made all the sweeter by the parting gift of a tasty treat for all the little ones after the cartoons, short subject films and movie were completed.
The venue for this wondrous Christmas event was the one and only “KEE Theater” located at the north end of our small town’s Main Street. Having first opened 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 cozy lobby, you were greeted with the fragrant aroma of scrumptious theater-style popcorn being brought to perfection as it called to your culinary senses and said, “BUY ME!! I’M TASTY”!!! …….but on this special day, the price was FREE! 😉 My happy, little boy eyes watched each popcorn kernel jumping for joy as it ricocheted from the hot popping kettle to the glass wall and back into the amber-glowing of heat lamps awaiting the attendant to scoop it up and into your very own popcorn bag. A kid ambrosia of delight, it was, as I carefully navigated the crowd of bumping bodies so as not to spill even one delicious puff of popcorn!!
Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Bauman and the Sime family, this dollar-challenged little farm boy was now perusing the movie theater aisles in my winter rubber boots as I “kah-lumped” along while I sought the best seat to settle into and prepare for our kids Christmas film fest to begin.
As was the norm, for those Minnesota Christmastimes, there was usually a snowstorm blowing just outside of these cozy walls with frigid temperatures down in the 20’s or colder.
The lights of the KEE Theater Auditorium gently began to fade into darkness. We kids hushed our noisy chatter as we noticed the tall, regal, red velvet curtains begin to make their swishing sound as they pleated themselves into the sides of the arched framing which now revealed the immense white movie screen.
With an anticipatory darkness surrounding us all, the KEE Theater’s massive film projectors, in the balcony Projection Room above us, sparked to life and flickering images became clear on the sky-high movie screen as this agrarian audience witnessed promotional “commercials” for the latest John Deere tractors that could be purchased at our local “Sime Equipment Company”.
The John Deere advertisements were now over and on came joy-filled glee in the form of cartoons for old and young kids alike to create happy endorphins from giggle muscles being well exercised. This dominantly young audience around me made the sounds of happy popcorn munching as the last cartoon ended and it was now time for the main feature film to begin………..ohhhh boyyyy!!!
I, for one, was intrigued by the various choices of film subjects that were brought to us kids each year for this free movie day. The Tarzan movies were my favorites because here we were, all bundled up against the frozen temperatures that awaited us outside of the movie theater and yet, there, on the screen were story characters living in a hot, humid jungle setting while getting all sweaty in the sunshine of far away Africa. 😉
Having thoroughly enjoyed ever single minute of our FREE Christmas movie, it was now time to file out of the KEE Theater to face the cold snap of winter temperatures once again.
What happened next was the treasured time of a “dessert” after the “meal” of the movie in the form of a FREE little paper bag of Christmas ribbon candies, jelly-filled hard candies and salted peanuts still in their shells.
These holiday delicacies were 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” waiting for us and seated in his special chair. In front of him was a very large, red velvet bag full to overflowing with our candy and peanut bags that had been individually taped shut. “Santa” handed one bag to each little darling that passed him on their way to reunite with parents waiting outside the theater. On this particular Christmas movie occasion, the ill-fitting red suit easily revealed the features of a dear local farmer by the name of 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 “farmer tan” of a snow-white forehead and sunburned face, it was a cinch to recognize him from the traditional look of the “man from the North Pole”. With a child’s very grateful heart, I received “Santa’s” greeting of, “MERRY CHRISTMAS”!!! as he handed me my little bag of treats in the frosty air of this beloved hometown of a happy little Norwegian Farmer’s Son.