220728ind history

The Saw Mill Square apartment complex in North Kingstown now occupies the site of the former Quonset Drive-in, which was one of the top attractions for families in the area when it opened in 1954.

Inspired by the summer sun, this week’s column journeys back to the late 1960s as I once again touch base with my fourth grade alter-ego.

Yeah, it’s me again. That Swamptown guy asked me to write another story about what kids do in the summer around here. Mom said it was good practice for school, so I told him, “What the heck, I’ll do it ... again.’ I thought for a while about what I was going to write about and then figured out the perfect idea. I’ll write about going to the drive-in. That’s definitely one of the coolest things we do in the summer.

Now, there’s two different drive-ins around here. One is the Quonset Drive-in and its right here in town, and the other is the Hilltop. The Hilltop is fancier than the Quonset — why, it even has a playground in front of the screen. But its in East Greenwich so we usually go to Quonset because it’s so close. Mom doesn’t like to drive any farther at night than she has to. Besides, she likes the Quonset Drive-in; it opened in June of 1954 right when my mom and dad were graduating from high school. They went on dates there and even saw the big opening weekend feature, The Long, Long Trailer starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. I saw that movie on TV once; it sure was funny.

Grandpa St. Pierre said that the genius who originally thought it up had planned to surround the entire drive-in movie place with houses and try to sell them. My grandfather’s on the planning commission; now I really don’t know what the planning commission does, but I do know that if you’re on it, you know all sorts of junk about what is going on it town. I really don’t think that Grandpa really thinks that that guy is a genius because the planning commission wouldn’t let them do it that way. But, heck, I sure wouldn’t mind having a drive-in movie theatre in my backyard.

If you are going to go to the drive-in, you’ve got to get ready beforehand. We usually pack up a cooler with sodas and snacks and put it in our car. We are lucky, because we have a big station wagon. That way, even if my mom’s friend Sharon and her daughter Jill go with us, I don’t have to sit in the way-back with all the little kids. I mean, gosh, I’m nine years old. I’m not a little kid anymore.

You know, one time one of my friends, Marty, whose dad is in the Navy (they’re from the south) asked me why everyone around here calls the back of their station wagons the way-back. I told him, ‘Heck, what else should you call it? There’s the front, the back, and then the way-back; it only makes sense.’ One other thing about the way-back is that if you’re staying back there while you’re at the drive-in then you have to wear your pajamas. Not me anymore, though. Like I said, I’m nine years old. Nobody really minds though, because all the little kids at the drive-in are in their pajamas. Mom says it’s because the little kids usually fall asleep at the drive-in; this way when you get home you can just pick them up out of the car, carry them into the house and plop them into bed. Last time we went, I helped Mom by carrying my little sister Linda into the house.

I woke her up, though when I tried to plop her into bed. Mom says, ‘That’s a figure of speech, Timmy, she’s not going to make a plopping noise no matter how you put her to bed.’ Man, how was I to know it was a figure of speech?

I guess it’s sort of like when Grandma St Pierre says she won’t go to the drive-in with Mom and us because it’s just too ‘new-fangled’ for her. I asked Mom and Grandpa what the heck ‘fangled’ was but they couldn’t say. I wonder if something can be old fangled? Oh yeah, about those pajamas; one time I remember when we were at the Hilltop and I was taking my other sister Julie back to the car from the playground because she said she felt sick.

Well, of course she did. She was spinning around on that spinning merry-go-round thingy that they have there for like a half an hour.

I looked back at the playground right there under the big screen and there were like a million little kids all in pajamas running around, laughing, playing, and swinging. Right over their heads I could see a whole parade of dancing hot dogs, sodas, and French fries telling us the movie was going to start soon.

Sometimes Mom lets me watch that new show ‘The Twilight Zone’ with her and that’s what I thought about as I was looking at all those kids and those dancing hot dogs. Last time we went to the drive-in movie, when I walked with my little sister Linda down to the snack bar to buy our one snack for the night, she actually asked the lady at the cash register where the dancing French fries were. As a matter of fact, I think I heard her mumbling something about dancing French fries while she was falling asleep in the way-back next to Jill.

After I brought Linda back to the car, I went back down there to the snack bar building to use the bathroom.

Sometimes after I’m done I stand out there for a while and listen to all those Navy and Seabee guys talking while they wait for their girlfriends to get done in the bathroom (ladies always take a long time in the bathroom).

I like looking at all their tattoos and listening to them talk, although mom calls it colorful language that she better not hear me repeating. After a while, I headed back to the car and on the way I saw someone who must have been having car troubles. I don’t know what could have been wrong, but I noticed all the windows were all steamed up or something. I figured, how the heck are they going to be able to see the movie through those steamy windows and besides, they forgot about hanging the speaker in the window; they’d miss the movie when it started.

I was just about to go over there and bang on the door —you know, to let them know — when mom grabbed me by the shoulder and told me to get back in the car right now. Jeepers, I was just trying to help.

Mom says she’d explain it to me when I’m older. She sure is going to have to spend an awful long time explaining all this stuff to me later; I mean she says that a lot. I don’t even know if I can remember all the stuff we are going to have to talk about.

Well, anyway, drive-ins are really neat places to go in the summer and except for the mosquitos, I can’t think of one thing about them I don’t like. Well, I’ve got to finish this; Peter Crooker is coming over. He got a couple of packs of firecrackers and we are going to go out and blow stuff up.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

(1) comment


I miss the drivein. If it were still there I'd probably be there once a month.

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