During World War II entertainment was not readily available because most of the young men were off to war. So the local businesses of Raymond, Neb., decided to have free movies to attract farmers into town on Saturday night.
Raymond consisted of only three or four businesses, two of which were taverns. The downtown businesses suspended a large sheet between two trees down by the railroad tracks and planted uncomfortable benches in the ground. It worked! Soon the Raymond movies attracted farmers from as far away as Lincoln.
The farmers were mostly Russians, and they loved sunflower seeds. They would chew and spit while they watched the movie. I learned how to take a whole handful of seeds and put them in my mouth all at once. Then I separated the seeds from the shells with my tongue and spit out the shells in one big cluster, leaving the seeds tucked into one cheek to eat after the shells were all out.
Over the years a thick carpet of sunflower shells developed on the ground around the movie benches. It was spongy and fun to walk on, but in some areas the shell carpet was 6 to 10 inches thick, and there wasn’t enough room under the benches for long legs.
Dad, who was over 6 feet 2 inches tall, found it hard to sit on the benches because the thick layer of shells put his knees up in his face. So he would take the whole family except Mom (she had been taught that movies were a sin, even on Saturday night) down to the picture show. After getting us all settled on a bench he would stand by a large cottonwood tree in the back of the “theater.” “Why doesn’t Dad sit with us?” I asked my older brother.
“It’s because he gets too much knee pain.” Nonetheless, Dad never complained, and as soon as it was getting dark he would gather sweaters and sunflower seeds and shout to the family, “Time for the picture show!”
Once in a while he would come over to sit with us. He delighted in the chance to take a little pain for his boys, and we were glad we got to see shows like “Mrs. Miniver” with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.