Michele Bender photo

Michele Mikesic Bender

Summer delights me. I need sunshine, heat (the hotter, the better), time spent outdoors, flowers and lightning bugs to help celebrate the season.

For “Boomer” kids, June meant “school’s out!” We explored thriving downtown Johnstown during Old Fashioned Bargain Days, and splashed in the pool at Fun City.

Shaffer’s ice cream sweetened every summer month.

Picnics and fireworks marked the 4th, but the Ferndale Firemens’ Jubilee highlighted July.

We cheered our team in August’s AAABA Tournament, and eagerly gobbled mouthwatering Himmel’s corn.

As for me, nothing symbolizes summer like drive-in movies.

The phenomenon originated in Camden, New Jersey, when an enterprising young man pondered: “Why can’t people watch a film from their cars?”

He pinned several bedsheets together and nailed the “screen” to trees on each side of his family’s driveway. Four carloads watched a silent flick when the Richard Hollingshead Drive-In opened in 1928.

For his second season, Hollingshead installed ramps, creating rows.

Kodak projectors flew off shelves as shoppers discovered “home movies.” Sensing progress, RCA offered Hollingshead speakers for season three.

He received his patent in 1933.

Admission was 25 cents per car.

I grew up with movies.

Mom, a Hollywood junkie, rarely missed a show at our local drive-in. During winter months, we frequented downtown Johnstown theaters.

I spent part of last weekend at our Silver Drive-In.

My visit reminded me of a lesson learned long ago: Genuine magic only happens at Mother Nature’s Cineplex.

Drive-in memories fill several chapters of my recently published book, “MsGeezerette’s Journey Thru Baby Boomer Land at the Speed of Wrinkles.”

I hoped that the Silver might sell copies at their concession stand. Mr. Rosko said, “Yes.”

Rick posted my name on the huge roadside marquis: “M. M. Bender Book Signing!” My name was up there like Tom Hanks or Doris Day. My hours at the Silver were like an old Doris song – a “Sentimental Journey.”

I perched on the patio, watching vehicles wind along paths through the open-air arena.

Two SUVs arrived together filled with a multi-generational mix of family. People unloaded blankets, canvas chairs, pillows and coolers. Three young men tossed a football while waiting for the show.

Many folks visited the concession stand. Most paused to say “hi” and some bought my book – autographed, of course.

I’d forgotten how festive the atmosphere can be when a group gathers, waiting to be entertained: a fun-filled tailgate party but on a smaller scale.

Cartoons or newsreels weren’t needed. A dazzling, radiant sunset left us breathless as we watched vivid purple, orange and pink tones illuminate the sky.

The air grew chilly, and an adorable little blond-haired girl wearing a “twinkle” hairband brought me a blanket and a warm hug. She loved the LED lights on my chair spokes.

Then it was showtime.

Movies aren’t what they used to be. But the screen still looms huge, surrounded by a dense curtain of trees, and families snuggle in their cars watching comedy and drama under a superdome of stars.

When was your last trip to the drive-in? If you have to think really hard, it’s been too long.

There is no experience like it.

Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? They paved paradise and put in a parking lot.”

Let’s make next weekend “Silver Screen Time.” I’ll go; how about you?

You don’t need to buy a book.

Just bond with your family; maybe enchant a special date.

August 23 and 24. Summer is winding down. I’ve eaten enough halupki, purchased enough 50/50 tickets.

Do something different.

Relive some memories.

Double feature: first movie about 12-year-old boys on an adventure (sorta “Stand By Me” meets “The Sandlot”). Second – bride discovers in-laws are psychos (“Bella” from “Twilight” weds Pugsley Addams).

Sounds good to me. See you there?

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at MsGeezerette@aol.com.

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