summers with spielberg

By Brenda Tadych
Woman Newspapers

I like going to the movies. As much as I appreciate how modern movie theaters cater to us with reclining seats, air conditioning and digital creations, they don’t compare to the drive-ins of my youth.

On hot summer nights, our green station wagon rolled up to the entrance where admission was paid by the carload. We’d scout for a parking spot in the middle of the lot - not too close to the screen because we would need to see from the back of the car where we stretched out on our bellies, propped up with pillows. If we didn’t arrive early enough to get a prime spot, we set up lawn chairs beside the car.

I’ve always enjoyed a good scare as much as a good tear jerker. Stephen Spielberg was the master of both in the 70s and 80s. From the depths of the ocean to the infinity of outer space, watching a Spielberg movie on a gigantic outdoor movie screen only served to amplify the excitement.

“Jaws” was terrifying to this nine-year old who vacationed on the New Jersey shore each summer. That 25-foot shark looked like it could swallow the movie screen whole. If it weren’t for Chief Brody, the menacing Great White could have wound up in the Wildwoods during one of our vacations!  “It’s only a machine,” the grownups patiently answered. Sharks like that aren’t in “our” ocean.

Nonetheless, I studied innocent dolphin fins with the intensity of Nancy Drew sleuthing for a clue, making sure they weren’t pointy like a shark’s before I would cautiously tread into ocean.

As if what lurked below the surface of the ocean wasn’t frightening enough, Spielberg fanned our fears of outer space with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” There were a few reported UFO sightings in Pennsylvania at the time, so, of course UFO’s could be real! As a matter of fact, what was to keep one from landing right there in the drive-in parking lot? 

Thank goodness for intermission, giving us a temporary reprieve long enough to stock up on pizza and fries at the concession stand before the next onslaught of Spielberg thrills. There were also the occasional unwelcome intermissions when the movie reel malfunctioned, resulting in patrons blowing their horns until the movie resumed.

The last movie I saw at our favorite drive-in was “E.T. the Extraterrestrial.” That adorable and mysterious creature from another planet befriended Elliott and stole our hearts. I was a teenager when I saw it for the first time, but it made me feel like a child in the best possible way. To this day, watching that movie gives me a lump in my throat. The trail of Reese’s Pieces, hiding among the stuffed animals, letting all the frogs loose in Biology class - enjoyed in the comfort of our green station wagon, shoulder-to-shoulder with the people I loved most.

And the final scene when E.T. has to go hoooome (who else is grabbing a tissue right now?).  A fitting end to our last night at the drive-in; E.T.’s fingertip lighting the screen up like a spotlight as he promised, “I’ll be right here.”