Every family has Christmas traditions, a cruise, a trip to Grandma’s, a big turkey dinner, sitting on the beach, skiing in the mountains. Our Crockett family tradition was to work.
I have mentioned growing up in the theater business. Movie exhibition is in the Crockett DNA.
As Christmas approaches, I wanted to share a set of fond childhood memories.
We always had Christmas Eve early at the Crockett house, because my Dad, a theater manager, would have to work.
This may or may not come as a surprise, but with the exception of the COVID months, do you remember a theater closing? There’s a reason for that, theaters are busiest when everyone is off work.
We would open our presents in the early afternoon so we could have the evening to play with our toys. Unwrapping gifts was a long process, everyone took turns opening the gifts and my mom, who grew up very poor, always made sure we had a huge Christmas.
For a number of years, my Dad would always schedule the bulk of his staff to work on Christmas Eve. To this day, there is usually just the early evening shows, and then the theater closes, eliminating the late shows.
Once we opened our gifts, we would, as a family load up the station wagon and drive the mile or so to the theater. Dad would send the staff home but made sure they still got paid those hours.
As a family we would run the theater.
Mom ran the box office. The Automaticket machine sold three different tickets. Matinee, kid and adult. There were black buttons numbered one to five, you had to push pretty hard, but the tickets would come flying out of a little metal flap on the top of the machine. If you were not quick enough, the tickets would fly off the edge and onto the floor or worse, beneath the machine. Today’s tickets are lame, just computer printed cards or worse, a code on your phone.
Kimberly and I were pretty young, so we did not know how to do the math in our head or count back money. After all these years, I still can’t do the math in my head, but I can count back change like a pro, and thanks to my years in the theater business I still face all my bills.
Dad helped my sister and I run the concession stand. Dad of course, handled the money. I did the popcorn; Kimberly did the drinks and candy. The only reason she got to do the candy was because her arms were just long enough to reach to the bottom shelf of the candy display, which back in those days was chilled by a small refrigerator system underneath the cabinet. I didn’t mind the popcorn task. I loved popcorn. It gave me a chance to stick my fingers in the grated (for old maids to fall through) warmer and pluck out the Texas Mushroom kernels. I would get such a kick out of the crank on the warmer. Like the Automaticket machine, the crank was tough to turn, but it was so cool to turn the crank and watch the entire bin of popcorn raise and lower. The Mall Cinema had a Cretor’s machine. A company my dad lovingly refers to as the Cadillac of Poppers.
Christmas Eve was always a slow night for customers. Christmas day is one of the busiest days of the year. Really, what else can you do with your family that will keep them quiet for two hours?
Once the movie started and we closed down the concession stand. Kimberly and I would sprawl out on the red carpet with black and gold dots and start to play with our toys. Kimberly unboxing her Barbies and me flying around the lobby with my new Tie-fighter or the year I got my Millennium Falcon… oh that was a happy day! I used the front leg/handle and flew up the stairs to the projection booth (which reminded me of a spaceship) and “landing” the Falcon piloted by Han Solo with ease on the splicing table. I’m not sure of the storyline, but for my young mind I am guessing it was pretty awesome as I introduced the new action figures into the imagination of a little red headed kid.
Mom would watch us and the lobby while dad counted the money in the tiny office off of the concession stand. As long as I can remember it smelled like dust and cigarettes. Dad didn’t smoke, but I am sure several managers and assistants had smoked in there. When I worked at the theater in the 90’s the office still smelled the same. And the yellow curtain that covered the window was still there. You know it might have been white at some point, but between the cigarette and popcorn smoke, it probably turned yellow.
I know it was a weird tradition, but it was one that meant a lot to us. We were a theater family after all. And as the curtain comes down on this post… it’s not the end.. it’s to be continued.
Writing about those toys made me dig them out in the basement. They are a little dusty, and this is just a small part of the collection. While modeling them, I felt like I was getting re-acquainted with old friends. Such great memories.
I hope you and your families enjoy your traditions, create new memories, and take a moment to remember what made the holiday so special when you were a kid.
From Jeremy, Skyler the cat, KC the dog, and me. Have a great holiday!