Photo/Coutesy Culpeper Historical Society
Old Town Culpeper, Virginia, where I attended my first ‘walk-in’ movie, “The Parent Trap” – starring my childhood idol, Hayley Mills.
Hayley Mills was by far my favorite actress as a child. Talk about having a schoolboy crush, I was barely in school when Disney’s “The Parent Trap” came out. Raymond and Bajean spent hours begging daddy to take them to the walk-in to see it. What’s a walk-in, you ask? Well, it was the opposite of a drive-in. You could actually walk up to the ticket booth, pay for a ticket and go in to the theater, sit down in comfortable seats and watch a movie. I had never been to a walk-in movie theater before. All the other movies I’d seen up until then were shown at the drive-in, we’d back our station wagon toward the huge screen, take out a blanket and lie outside enjoying the movie while watching the comings and goings of all the patrons. I often wondered why no one ever got run over out there, I think folks actually looked out for one another back then. At least until that time when it began pouring down raining and one guy whom we had seen sneak in on foot came up to my mother’s window and asked if he could sit in the car with us and finish the movie. Mom instinctively rolled up her window and turned her back on him, he finally moved on after staring in on us. He dejectedly left the place after going from one car to another and finally realized no one was going to let him in. The last movie we’d seen prior to that was “The Tingler” with Vincent Price and that left me quite terrified for years to come, it gave me plenty to think about on many a sleepless night.
It took some doing but my begging paid off because originally Dad had felt I was too young to go, but then he decided to let me go along. So once we got there, I was in awe of the place, we walked up to the building and of course, my first inclination was to walk through the front entrance, but dad grabbed my arm and escorted me to a small side entrance with the words “Colored” written over the door. I didn’t pay much attention; I was too excited about seeing Hayley Mills. We got our tickets and walked up a single flight of stairs and onto a balcony. The entire balcony was filled with loud boisterous kids,throwing popcorn, leaning over the rail and yelling at the people down below. I glanced over the edge and realized what a great view I had up there. I was glad we weren’t sitting where those other poor saps were, who didn’t have such a great view and were being pelted with popcorn by the people who were seated upstairs with us. The movie was great, Hayley Mills was cute as a button and it felt good to be in that elite club called ”Colored”, if it meant always getting perks like this seating arrangement we had. But, of course, the feeling didn’t last.
On most summer morning’s mom would send us outside to get some fresh air, “Y’all don’t need to be cooped up in the house all day”. And then off we’d go straight outside to the well. We got our drinking water from an electrical well that dad had dug by hand using picks, shovels and dynamite. He tells the story of how one day when the charge hadn’t gone off after he’d set the stick in the well and he’d gone back above ground. He turned the knob on the ignition switch and when it didn’t go off, he waited for what he felt was an appropriate amount of time, then climbed back down the ladder to reattach the wires, he climbed back up, hit the switch again and the blast went off this time. (I wonder if I was born by then).
The area around that well was our official playground. We had a young elm tree that we bent just right, so we could use it as our hobbyhorse. There were plenty of trees to climb and you could usually find us hanging upside down from a limb or the swing set bar. But we derived most of our pleasure from building roads in the dirt. We were experts at it and whenever a new toy car or garage was purchased with our nickel-a-week allowance, we were out the next morning in the dirt making roads by placing the palms of our hands on the ground and moving through the dust until we’d had a complete miniature highway built.
We were on our hands and knees right in the middle of one of our great interstate constructions when one of us looked up and yelled, “Oh no, here comes Timmy Albino!” Barbara Jean made a quick dash to the house. First of all, if we had any male friends stop by, Bajean wouldn’t be allowed to stay outside and play with them unless they were our cousins Dewey and David R. who would come across the field on a daily basis to play with us and end up chasing us around the house trying to pee on us. They seemed to get a great thrill out of trying to urinate of us, we got to the point where we hated to see them coming across the field as well. (Excuse me, I had to stop and laugh remembering what our mother taught us to call our privates, I was probably married before I found out it wasn’t really called a ‘Ding-Dong’)
After an hour or so of us screaming from one end of the yard to the other, our mother would finally catch wind of what they were attempting to accomplish and send them back across the field.
But the dread of seeing my cousins David and Dewey coming across the field was nothing compared to seeing Timmy A. walk up the road dressed in his full Roy Rogers regalia; cowboy hat, bandanna, checked shirt, holstered six guns, blue jeans, chaps and cowboy boots. David and Dewey only tried to pee on us in fun and were great to play with when that wasn’t on the list of things to do, Timmy was another story. I guess I don’t have to mention that Timmy was white, he was coming to play Cowboys and Indians or good guys and bad guys and I also don’t have to mention that we never got to be the cowboys or the good guys. Raymond and I were his designated Indians and Mom would send us outside to play with him after he stood in the front yard yelling for us to come out for over 15 minutes and it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave. And why should he, he knew we never went anywhere. So off we went to play. Here’s how the dialogue of our play went:
Timmy – “BANG, BANG!! You’re Dead!!”
Either Raymond or I would fall to the ground.
Raymond – “BANG, BANG!! You’re dead, Timmy!”
Timmy –“No, you missed me”.
Raymond –“No I didn’t, I got you”
Timmy –“No you didn’t, Bang! You’re dead again Raymond!” Raymond would fall
Stanley – “Bang, I got you Timmy!”
Timmy –“Nope, you missed me, I was ducking behind the tree”
Timmy –“BANG! Stanley I got you”
Stanley -“Na-uh! You missed me Timmy”
Timmy –“No I didn’t, I got you in the arm” – then I’d fall obediently to the ground.
Repeat dialogue fifty times, with Timmy climbing on the chicken shed, jumping from tree limbs, ducking behind the wood pile and him never once getting hit by a bullet, much less getting killed. We’d be falling and dying every time he pointed his gun in our direction. We were the most frustrated gunfighters in the West, but we did our part, we just didn’t enjoy it as much as he did.
Then Timmy would head back home, only to play again tomorrow. Timmy lived on the blacktop (the paved road) most blacks that I knew lived on dirt roads. And the only time we ever saw paved road was during the mile long trip to town. All of “our” roads were dirt and gravel and they were always the last to have snow cleared in winter or the last to be plowed and graveled in the summer. Once or twice we were blessed to have the chain gang go up our road clearing out the ditches and picking up debris. Mom would make us stay inside when that gray bus would drive up, armed guards would have the convicts file off the bus. As they went to work on our roads, we stayed glued to the window and watched in awe while they were out there.
Photo/Coutesy Brown Family Collection
Earlene Brown allows her children to relax between playing Cowboys and Indians with lifelong friend and neighbor, Timmy A.
Timmy was the only kid in the neighborhood who could get away with anything he wanted at our house. If we were caught on top of our shed we knew we’d get skinned alive. Timmy would hide up there and we’d say, “Timmy, we aren’t allowed to play up there” and it was as though no words had come from our mouths. He completely ignored our warnings and our father ignored his complete disregard for the rules that we were bound by. At first I thought it was because he was white and maybe that did have something to do with it. But I also know that my father and his mother were really close friends when they were growing up. My dad would say that Rita would always have her goats following along behind her everywhere she went and you never saw her without them”. So, just maybe his loyalty to his friend Rita was the real reason Timmy could get away with anything he wanted and that’s why we were obligated to be Indians or bad guys to his perpetual good guy/ cowboy. This went on almost everyday during the summer. Timmy was at least six or seven years older than us and we had nothing in common other than our little western gunfights. So when it came time for the annual Fireman’s Carnival and Raymond and I were walking through town to get to the carnival grounds. It was natural that when I saw Timmy walking towards us with a few of his friends that I, being a naive six year old, would ring out with, “Hi Timmy!”. But he didn’t say anything; he just walked right passed us as though we weren’t even there. So, I tried again after he passed by. “Hi Timmy!” still no answer. I turned to my older brother and asked, “Why won’t Timmy speak to us Bay Ray? Didn’t he hear me?”
Raymond just kept walking and looking straight ahead and said, “Because we’re Colored Stanley, that’s all, just because we’re Colored.” As we continued on down the street, I overheard one of the boys ask Timmy, “Do you know them boys?” To that he quickly replied, “Nope, I don’t know who they are.”
And that’s when I first learned what it really meant to be Colored, we were different. I still didn’t know exactly what all it entailed, but one thing I did know is that it didn’t feel good.
Prologue – I saw “Timmy” for the first time in over forty years in August 2003 at my father’s wake. He stopped by to pay his respects, we laughed and talked about old times and he unexpectedly apologized for some of the torment and unfair treatment that he put us through when we were kids. It wasn’t something we needed or felt was necessary, because unfortunately, we are all guilty of childhood pranks and snubs that we feel are required if we are to be accepted by our peers, we do things just to go along with the group. There was never any ill will between us and him and I most sincerely appreciate his gesture of kindness, like they use to say, “that’s just the way things were back then.”– Stan