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Big sister Laura holding baby sister Cathy on her christening day in 1959. That's at out great-grandmother's house in Russellville, and I still have the chair that went with the couch.

Big sister Laura holding baby sister Cathy on her christening day in 1959. That’s at our great-grandmother’s house in Russellville, and I still have the chair that went with the couch. I’m guessing early summer by my tan – and my necklace that was a gift from some neighbor boys for my first dance recital. I’m 3. She’s 5 or 6 months.

My sister and I are walk-through-fire-for-each-other sisters. We’ve gotten through enough hard times together that we know we can survive anything together.

And, yes, we realize we’re lucky to have such a relationship. Hard for us to fathom, but not everyone gets along with siblings.

I loved her from Day 1. Heck, I even named her. As an only for three years and four months and the first grandchild on Mother’s side, I had my day in the spotlight and was ready to share.

Posing in our grandparents' backyard in Russellville in 1961, I think. I'd be 5 and Cathy 2. We were hot stuff.

Posing in our grandparents’ backyard in Russellville in 1961, I think. I’d be 5 and Cathy 2. We were hot stuff.

She drove me crazy at times, as little sisters do, but that didn’t come until later. We never even really fought.

We did have  to share a bedroom until we moved to the “big” house in Indian Hills the end of my fifth-grade year (the third bedroom before then always had to be a den/TV room). That caused most of the few problems I had with a pesky little sister – Cathy was oblivious that there was a problem. If I had a friend over to play and we shut her out of the bedroom, she’d beat on the door and yell, “Let me in! I want to play.”

Mother always made me let her in – “You can’t shut her out of her own bedroom, and she just wants to be like you,”  she’d say, adding that it was a compliment.

Sigh. We mostly played outside, though, which eliminated that problem.

I do remember being super-annoyed when we’d go on trips and Cathy would insist on putting her feet in my lap or leaning on me. Mother, however, would abide no “She’s touching me,” or “Cathy’s got her feet on me again!” Nope, “She’s your little sister,” Mother would say. “She’s not hurting you. Be sweet.”

After we had the big den on Blackhawk Road, I often got stuck cleaning up messes made by Cathy and her friends. If I tried to say that wasn’t fair – by now you can guess how far that got me.

Sure, I teased her and told her lots of crazy stuff as if it were true – she was very gullible – but I never really picked on her.

I also got lots of spankings up to a certain age – generally for sassing but sometimes for running off, doing something crazy/dangerous – and Cathy never did. After we were older, she told me she found it easy to stay out of trouble; she just watched what I did and didn’t do it. Smart girl, that baby sis.

She always had my back, too. Never tattled, covered for me when I needed covering, and thought everything I did was cool or worth copying. She trusted me to pierce her ears. (Nearly killed me to poke holes in my sister, even though I’d done lots of other lobes. Almost fainted, as in had to put my head between my knees. I retired from that after her ears.)

I cut her hair when she wanted a shag in junior high. That’s trust.

The back of this photo says "The Robert L. Cartwright Family: Bob, Willette, Laura and Cathy 1970." I think it was early enough in the year that Daddy's 36, Mother 34 and Cathy 11. I'm 14.

The back of this photo says “The Robert L. Cartwright Family: Bob, Willette, Laura and Cathy 1970.” I think it was early enough in the year that Daddy’s 36, Mother 34 and Cathy 11. I’m 14.

Fortunately, we never had to fight about clothes, as many sisters do. The age and size differences were too great. And her feet passed mine by just enough to keep her out of my shoes. But, lordy, when it came to my makeup (which I bought myself) and accessories, did she ever help herself.

Her best friend and neighbor across the street, Connie, even ’fessed up to tell me they liked to wear my retainer when I wasn’t home.

“Gross! Mother!!”

That one Mother did back me on – retainers were expensive.

Cathy and Connie on my 15th birthday. That's our driveway on Blackhawk, and Connie's holding my kitten, Ben, one of many strays I brought home.

Cathy and Connie on my 15th birthday. That’s our driveway on Blackhawk, and Connie’s holding my kitten, Ben, one of many strays I brought home.

By comparison, that's me a month later (holding Pam's kitten, Peanut). Dig the short white Levi's and chukka boots. Oh, I'm standing in front of the Crownover's house next door, for some reason. Looks like Pam took the photo from the shadow.

For size comparison, that’s me a month later (holding Pam’s kitten, Peanut). Dig the short white Levi’s and chukka boots. Oh, I’m standing in front of the Crownover’s house next door, for some reason. Looks like Pam took the photo from the shadow.

Only two times do I remember being really upset about “borrowing” episodes. The first one I’d willingly loaned her my first good watch to wear to a party. She’d asked and everything.

But afterward, when she came in and tossed it to me, saying, “Here’s your watch. It doesn’t work anymore,” and walked out, I was stunned. Still don’t know what happened to it and can’t remember the outcome.

In retrospect, I have to respect her punkitude. Rare for little sister.

I’m pretty sure that was my Elgin, something I’d really wanted and had gotten for Christmas. I don’t remember if it was before or after I broke it myself at a New Year’s Eve party – but it worked when she left with it. (I do hazily remember how I broke it, but we won’t go into that. The New Year’s Eve event was definitely Blackhawk years and Cathy covered for me in an uber-big way. Owe you, kiddo.)

But it could have been a different watch and we could have already moved to Wewoka. Time blends together 40 years later.

The one time I really had a meltdown, though, was over some expensive-ish kohl makeup I’d splurged on. It came in little clay pots and was supercool. I can’t remember the brand. I’ve looked and looked but can’t find it online, though it did look something like this little pot from the late 1970s. indwebready I’d gotten some sparkly cobalt blue eyeliner and  blush. Maybe black eyeliner, too.

I did find this cool magazine page touting the look. I might've had a turban, too.

I did find this cool magazine page touting the look. I might’ve had a turban, too.

Let me add that I was a heavily plucked eyebrows and mascara-only girl from about 16 on, except for special occasions. And since the fancy kohl stuff was in clay pots, I couldn’t tell that it was disappearing at an alarming pace.

One night was a special occasion – don’t remember what it was, but I was ready to get dolled up, ready to roll, when I discovered my little clay pots were empty!

“Mother!!!”

That one time Mother bought me replacement makeup. Guess I made do with mascara that night.

Shortly thereafter I married too young, too quickly, too foolishly, and shortly after that Cathy married obscenely young, at 19. We grew closer every day even though we lived apart.

Hardship draws you together and blood is definitely the tie that binds. Though I’m designated “the strong one,” I count on her for more than she knows.

She’s got my back, and I’ve got hers. We’re the Cartwright girls through thick and thin.

Love you, kiddo.

 

 

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Hot fun in the summertime

It never takes much to set off a reverie of the hot fun in the summertime we Indian Hills kids had, but what started this one was really two-fold. A. Tonight is my 40th high school reunion, NLR Northeast Class of 1973. B. Yesterday I got a message from Greg Jones, fellow IHer, who told me he’d just learned that we were cousins of some sort!

Seems our moms  had made the Tackett connection years ago at a party at Mary Frances Cole’s house (where I spent years babysitting Mike and Mark in the summer while Mary Frances went to college) and neglected to tell us. And since Mary Frances hasn’t been a Cole in years, they’ve known for a long time indeed.

But in those days of old, she was, and Buddy Cole was my dad’s best friend. He used to pick me up early in the mornings to babysit, so early the boys would still sleep for hours and I’d watch the classic movies shown on KATV, Channel 7. blue dahlia (I’m sure that’s the right station. If it’s not, I plead a long time ago.) Loved them and learned so much about cinematography and life.

And I read. One book in particular stands out – one morning Buddy tossed me a copy of the new, sensational Everything You everythingWanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), saying, “Here, you should read this. You might learn something.”

Did I ever! Another clear memory is of Daddy’s face when he came somberly to me with his and Mother’s copy of the book and said, “Your mother and I have read this and we think you should, too” – to which I replied, “Oh, I’ve already read that. Buddy gave it to me.”

In retrospect, I can understand the look on his face.

And of course the pool is always a deep subject to explore. We had so much fun there and almost total freedom after a certain age.

I’m not sure if it was the day after school was out for the seventh grade or eighth grade, but Pam and I decided to have a sleepover and day at the pool. We decided we’d each invite one other girl – Carolyn Huff was Pam’s pick, Gina McDonald mine – and somehow we talked our parents into letting us sleep in Pam’s stepdad’s boat, which was parked under a tarp between their house and the Jennings’ next door.

We stayed at the pool all day and had a blast, but the main thing I remember is how sunburned Carolyn got – it was frightening and she was ST37 literally sick from it. Daddy was so concerned he drove to the pharmacy in Sherwood and got our magic elixir for sunburn, S.T. 37. We doused her with it. Don’t believe we slept in the boat – after sweltering with flashlights a while, we had to get our poor burned friend under the air conditioning.

Don’t ask me why this came to the forefront of my mind, but another memory stirred up by Greg’s message is a vivid one of Rob Fisher, our redheaded neighbor boy (he and Cathy are the same age), dancing like mad on our front porch and singing, “Roly poly, roly poly” along with my 45 of “Mony, Mony,” which I had blasting in the living room with the window open.

Pretty freaking cute in retrospect, but I teased him mercilessly about getting the lyrics wrong. Sorry, Rob – you know I love you. But music was serious business in my world. Even bubblegum pop like “Mony, Mony,” which was kind of feeble for Tommy James and the Shondells. (Billy Idol covered it in the ’80s, oddly, so it did have staying power.)

One more memory chain, then I must fly. Can’t find any pool pictures – they must be at Mother’s, if they exist, but I can remember summers by bathing suits. The first year we were on Blackhawk Road was the last year I could wear a little girl’s suit. It was a two-piece, white with ’60s neon-color mod flowers all over it. I tanned through the white and had reversed-out flowers everywhere else.

I won’t go through them all, but, again in retrospect, I’m kind of surprised my parents let me get that canary yellow ruffled bikini at 13. I know there’s photographic evidence of it somewhere because I remember Garth taking the picture. The summer pictures I did find (below) all show the joie de vivre of those days.

I hadn’t yet become camera shy. Life was a gas, man, and you can see it in the smile.

And now time to stop to get ready to go back to the past. Forty years. Crazy.

Thanks, Greg, for getting me going again on the Indian Hills train.

This is 14-year-old me and Linda Lowe, who will be at the reunion tonight, posing at the Cole's house when I was babysitting. Don't know who wielded the camera.

This is 14-year-old me and Linda Lowe, who will be at the reunion tonight, posing at the Cole’s house when I was babysitting. Don’t know who wielded the camera.

So this is me and dearly departed Tom Bennewise, who refused to cooperate for the picture, which I think my sister took. The short hair is the result of the home perm gone bad that made all the longer hair fall off.

So this is me (just turned 15) and dearly departed Tom Bennewise, who refused to cooperate for the picture, which I think my sister took. The short hair is the result of the home perm gone bad that made all the longer hair fall off.

With my beloved cat Ben (yes, that's my son's name, too). Approaching 16 and with the addition of braces, which didn't stop the smiles.

With my beloved cat Ben (yes, that’s my son’s name, too). Approaching 16 and with the addition of braces, which didn’t stop the smiles.

In the backyard, which extended for miles, since Blackhawk was the last street in North Little Rock in those days. Cuddling Ben again. Wet hair, no makeup, no worries.

In the backyard, which extended for miles, since Blackhawk was the last street in North Little Rock in those days. Cuddling Ben again. Wet hair, no makeup, no worries.

Twisting by the pool

April 27 is Neighborday, a very nice construct being promoted by the folks over at Good.Is. The point is to get out and meet some neighbors, something I plan to do this afternoon, with grandbabies in tow.

We’ve hit the neighbors jackpot already, with one of my best friends (Julia) within walking distance, Bob and Theresa across the street, Alyssa and Matthew next door – too many to name, which is very cool in 2013.

But Neighborday harkens me back to the days of twisting by the pool in Indian Hills, when you didn’t have to force neighborliness at all.

For two of those idyllic years in the late ’60s-early ’70s, Daddy (who died 31 years ago this past Thursday) was president of the Indian Hills Community Club, which meant – in addition to me having to work at the pool for free (but I loved it) – teen dances and adult parties at the pool. He and Mother always loved a good party.

We literally danced on the diving boards and felt ever so cosmopolitan – like something out of a beach party movie. When we  girls were lucky, the lifeguards asked us to slow dance.We also spied on the adults and saw them twisting by the pool, too.

What fun days. I don’t have any photographic evidence here, but if I find some at Mother’s some day, I’ll add it.

But just hanging out on Blackhawk was fun, too, and I do have photo proof of that. Every day kids would meet in the street and come up with some kind of fun. It happened organically, no planning required.

Here are just a few of the Blackhawk crew in front of the Cartwright driveway. Occasion? none. Just random fun.

Here are just a few of the Blackhawk crew in front of the Crownover driveway. Occasion? None. Just random fun.

Neighborliness just was. When new neighbors moved in, you went over to meet them. Even if you didn’t really like someone, you were friends by proximity and you accepted each other.

You rode your bike all over the place and got to know people several streets over. You met kids who went to Catholic schools at the pool. Neighborliness was easy.

While many factors have played into the demise of the neighborliness of the good old days, I blame much of it on the disappearance of front porches and the privacy fences surrounding back yards. You’ll notice in these pics that we’re in the street or front yard or driveway. We had huge, huge backyards that we hardly touched.

Recently Cathy and I discussed that we need to meet Mother’s neighbors. She and Bill moved there in July 2002, and we don’t know a single person to call should we need someone to check on her since she’s 20 minutes away.

The street has tidy lawns, no porches and privacy fences.

See what I mean?

Anyway, it won’t be on Neighborday, but I am going to do something old-fashioned, like bake some cookies or bread and take it to her neighbors on each side and ask for their phone numbers for emergency use.

And you know what? I’ll bet they like it.

Happy Neighborday to the Indian Hills crew. Still love you guys.

Little sister Cathy and neighbor Connie, with my little rescue kitten, Ben. On our driveway, of course.

Little sister Cathy and neighbor Connie, with my little rescue kitten, Ben. On our driveway, of course.

I think I've used this study in dorkitude before, but the point is, look where Pam and I are standing – by the front porch. And look at my sister's Stingray bike on that porch. You can't tell, but it was purple.

I think I’ve used this study in dorkitude before, but the point is, look where Pam and I are standing – by the front porch. And look at my sister’s Stingray bike on that porch. You can’t tell, but it was purple.

Wrap it up

Mother and I have spent a lot of time talking since she’s bedridden until her back surgery after the holidays. One of the things that came up Saturday, as I was wrapping Christmas presents for her (on her bed, as we talked) was how special wrapping packages used to be at our house on Blackhawk Road. Gifts2

Then yesterday morning, as I was wrapping a present at home (a late arrival for son Ben), I thought of something else about packages and the kids on Blackhawk. But I’ve hesitated to write anything.

My grief for the families in Newton – who surely have gifts wrapped and under their trees for children who aren’t there to open them – makes me feel almost obscene for writing about anything but that. But plenty has been said by others smarter and more gifted at writing than I, so instead I’ll offer something frivolous.

Mother made a major production of wrapping packages, especially at Christmas. I loved to help and learned to make fancy bows, cut decorations out of old Christmas cards – anything to jazz them up – and by my early teens, I was wrapping more presents than Mother was. It was fun, a creative outlet, and I was good at it. My patience was great back then, unlike now, and I made sure each fold was prefect and each bow special.

Somehow I discovered another talent – that I could unwrap and rewrap packages without detection. Must have been by forgetting who a package was for before labeling it and needing to peek inside, because I like surprises and would never have pre-opened my own presents.

Sudden random memory – Pam’s mother, at least once, handed her a box and told her to wrap it without looking inside because it was a Pam’s own present. Do you remember that, Pam? We thought it was funny and bizarre, as was our outlook on lots of things in life.

gifts.jjpg Anyway, word got out that I could unwrap as well as I could wrap, and the Fisher kids came knocking. They were eaten up with curiosity and talked me into coming to their house when their parents were at work and slightly opening their presents under the tree, just enough so they could get a peek at what they were, or might be (sometimes boxes are deceptive).

I felt pretty bad about it and was mightily scared of their mom, but there were four of them and one of me, so I gave in and did it. Just that once, I think, but that was 40+ years ago, and there could have been a repeat performance.

I might have done it for Pam a time or two, as well.

Today, as Mother pointed out Saturday, gift bags have made fancy wrapping not moot but less special. I’m certainly not obsessed with perfection, as I once was.

There was a time, though. When I worked at M.M Cohn at McCain Mall in college, I was known for my folding skills – we didn’t wrap at the registers, but we put clothes in gift boxes to be taken to customer service, and I would get paged all over the store to fold sweaters and things that needed to look special.

And that, and another talk Mother and I had about the past has sparked another blog for another day this week.

Sounds of silence

Simon and Garfunkel sang about the inability of people to communicate, but this post is about the inability to sleep. Insomnia runs deep in my family, and  “Hello, darkness, my old frenemy” would be a more appropriate line.

The moon over the Tuscan hills this summer was worth losing some sleep over.

The moon over the Tuscan hills this summer was worth losing some sleep over.

I inherited it from my father, who got it from his father. Both my children got it from me. And now that she’s older, Mother, who used to have the gift of sleep, has joined our ranks.

When I was young, up until my later 40s, a good four hours a night would get me by. Not an optimal condition, of course, but I was perfectly functional. The older I get, the less true that is. Foggyheadedness is pretty much guaranteed after too little sleep, although, on the upside, in an emergency or on an overnight flight I can miss a night and still function.

I’ve always been a night owl – I read under the covers with a flashlight as a child and fell asleep with my transistor radio on under my pillow. But sleep was always elusive; once as a teen I threw a clock that ticked too loudly across the room and broke it. The damned thing kept me awake, even though I stashed it in the nightstand drawer.

To this day, if I get a second wind before I wind down – which often happens – sleep is just a pipe dream. It won’t happen, at least not without heavy drugs.

But even those have stopped working again the past week. I think this is the beginning of week two, never a good thing.

I’m not talking 100 percent sleepless, of course. But it’s been rough. Real rough. And confusing. Lying in bed wondering (dreaming??), “Am I asleep? Am I awake?” Tossing. Turning. Reading way too late to get sleepy without getting sleepy and giving up and turning the light out anyway.

Two times in my life I’ve literally gone two weeks without sleeping and I remember them well. The first time was in the 11th grade. We lived on Blackhawk, and by Week Two, Mother was consoling me at bedtime, telling me to relax and to try not to worry because that would make it worse.

By late in Week Two, my theme song was “As Tears Go By.” Approaching darkness brought a sense of dread. Then, one night, I slept. And the spell was broken for a while.

The second time, 10 years later, was a more deliberate thing. After watching my father die, I was afraid I’d see it again and again if I dared to close my eyes. Finally sheer exhaustion took over and I crashed into slumberland.

I had a couple of pretty good decades after that. Insomnia was usually with cause – something on my mind, staying up too late and getting that second wind. As a working mom, tiredness usually won out, though the least thing woke me up, and the least light coming in from anywhere kept me awake. Still does.

But as I’ve aged, it’s worsened considerably. Hamlet’s “… to sleep, perchance to dream …” comes to my cloudy mind as a blissful thing.

And now that I think about it, the inability of people to communicate is on my “Grandmother’s List of Things That Keep Me Awake at Night.” (Politicians, world leaders, I’m talking to you.) So “Sounds of Silence” is the perfect title for this blog.

The supermoon of 2011 was wondrous, but the light kept me awake.

The supermoon of 2011 was wondrous, but the light kept me awake.

Stand by me

I read an article in the Oct. 22 Newsweek about how hard it is for 20somethings to find friends who will last through thick and thin.  I keep thinking about the article, by a mother-daughter team, Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig, which says social media makes it harder for young people to form intimate relationships.

I’m sure that’s true. But what has stuck in my mind is the premise that lasting friendships are formed in your 20s. “The friends we make in our 20s are not only BFFs; they’re also our first truly chosen friends, people we discover as a result of our adult decisions – where to live, work, or study – as opposed to our parents’ choices,” the article says.

Most lasting friendships are the ones you make between 22 and 28, according to research cited in the article.

What’s struck me about all this is how it’s so not the case for me. The major lasting friendships of my life were made at almost 3 (Kelly) almost 11 (Pam), 15 (Anita).

Just before my 13th birthday and just after Pam’s we lived at the Indian Hills pool.

At just turned and almost 15, we were a little surlier about having our picture taken on Pam’s parents’ boat.

Granted, I was married young to a man who a. wanted to keep me socially isolated and b. succeeded by being so unpredictable that no one wanted to be around him. (I wrote about that in an earlier post, American Girl.) My sister – and Pam, after she moved back to town – were the only people I could really count on to stand by me in my 20s. Kelly had moved to Northwest Arkansas and was long-distance by then.

My two good friends I made in my 20s both dumped me – one because I remind her of a time in her life she’d rather not remember and the other because she decided to change her lifestyle and I no longer fit in. Both stung, but I understand.

By my 30s I was working and no longer isolated, and as I was turning 33 I met Rhonda, who was turning 30. She’s been around through thick and thin since the day we became friends (which was not the day we met, but soon after).

In our later 30s, Anita and I joyfully reconnected – she’d moved back to Arkansas after her divorce – and we celebrated my 40th birthday together as I was moving toward a divorce.

Then in my 40s I met Jan, Starla, Dauphne, all people I can count on and consider myself lucky to know. At 50, Susan became a stalwart of my life, and just recently, Julia and I re-met – we know we had to have met in a previous life or have some kind of tie, because the connection was instant. We’ve led very different yet bizarrely parallel lives in many ways.

Pam and I were just talking today about how that article and how “universal” truths are sometimes not so universal, no matter what research shows. She’d popped in for lunch since she was in from Heber Springs for a yoga workshop.

We can do that popping in and out thing without a hitch, though we never learned to do it like Samantha or Jeanie – but not for lack of trying.

Part of the reason Pam, Anita, Rhonda and I differ from the study is the southern gothic lives we’ve lived, I’m sure. None of us took the “go off to college at 18 and make lasting friendships” route. We all did life the hard way for years.

For Pam and me part of the reason is because we grew up on Blackhawk Road in the wonder years and those friendships never die.

Yes, Pam, I know. I still need to write that book.

My iPhone thought Pam and I needed the soft-lens/cheesecloth effect at 57 …

… but we thought we’d do a “photo-booth close-up” reprise, all noses and teeth like in the old days downtown. We don’t care – we’re just happy to be here and to be together.

Main Street

In the 1960s and ’70s one of the coolest things we could do downtown – at 407 Main Street and 516 Louisiana – was go to the movies in style. I’d give, well, not anything, but a lot to have photos of those theaters, but, alas, the only pictures I have of them are in my mind’s eye.

The Center Theater on Main and the Arkansas Theater on Louisiana were old-school movie houses, with red velvet curtains that opened before the show; large, lingering-friendly lobbies; and ushers with flashlights.

I’m not sure if I ever saw anything in the Capitol Theater on the corner of Capitol and Spring or if I just remember seeing the sign after it was closed, but I have vague memories of that, too.

If you’ve never seen a movie in such a theater, you don’t know what you’ve missed. Going to the movies was something of an event back then, similar, in the smallest of ways, to going to “the theatre” in a larger town, or maybe to Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock to see a play or recital – minus the fancy-dress clothes.

Of course we also had the Park Theater in North Little Rock, the Heights Theater on Kavanaugh, three drive-ins, and, in the late 1960s, the “futuristic” Cinema 150 on the corner of Asher and University.

But the downtown theaters were the coolest for junior highers. We could ride the bus to town, hang out for the day shopping (mainly window shopping), grab a bite, then see a movie. If it let out too late, an accommodating parent would pick us up.

For daytime movies, we could take the bus home.

My first somewhat vivid memory of the Center predates junior high by several years, though. When Spencer’s Mountain debuted in 1963, the entire family dressed up to go, even little Cathy, who was 4. 

We should have left her at home, as it turned out, because she was traumatized by the movie and ruined the experience for whichever parent had to take her screaming to the lobby. (Spoiler alert!!!)

Though it was billed as family fare and later spawned the long-running hit TV series The Waltons, seeing Grandfather Spencer crushed by a felled tree was too much for my little sister, who started crying and yelling, “I hate this movie! I want to leave!” My mortified parents tried to hush her, then one of them scooped her up and ran to the lobby.

It was a full house that night, as I remember. I think Daddy wore a suit.

Another major Center Theater memory is of the time Mother had some kind of daytime party for her friends, who brought their kids for me to watch. I must have been 11 or 12 and the children ranged in age from 4ish to 9ish. The moms didn’t want the kids in their hair (Wonder what kind of party that was?? Or maybe they went golfing. Hmmm …), so my job was to take them to see Walt Disney’s Snow White. 

I don’t remember exactly how many kids were in tow, but I know they outnumbered the dwarves. Things went well; remember, these were kindler, gentler times. I’m reasonably sure Pam agreed to help me herd munchkins.

I know Pam was part of my next important Center memory. Mother took us at 12 to see a special presentation of Gone With the Wind. I had just read the book for the first time (of at least six readings so far), and Vivien Leigh had just died, tragically young at 53 and still beautiful.

The curtains opened before the show, closed for intermission, then reopened for the second half. For Pam and me, the experience was a heavenly glimpse of the heyday of Hollywood blockbusters.

But my memories of seeing movies with friends downtown are mostly from the Arkansas Theater, which was on Louisiana. That’s where Gina McDonald and I saw Little Big Man in the ninth grade. At night. One of our parents picked us up.

I was moved and shocked by the movie’s intensity, and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. And the book by Thomas Berger is one that you must read, if you haven’t already. You owe it to yourself. Trust me. You’ll forget that Jack Crabbe is fictional.

But I digress.

I’m sure I saw Planet of the Apes there the first time (before the P of A marathons at the drive-ins later) and True Grit. 

As always, forgive me (and correct me!) if I’m wrong – this is all from memory, though I did look up street numbers of the theaters.

One thing I know I remember perfectly is seeing the press sneak preview of The Exorcist at the Center Theater. I had just turned 18 and working part-time in the Arkansas Gazette library, so I scored a pass.

People were screaming and jumping, but, having read the book at 16 (straight through – I stayed up all night reading in our downstairs den on Blackhawk Road), I was able to stay cooler than some.

I still jumped and squirmed, of course. Scary stuff, demons and spirits.

That glorious theater was still filled with a spirit of its own, even in its waning days of life. They both died in the late 1970s. I still miss them.