On the day before school started in the fall of 1944, my dad and mom moved all my siblings and me to Delaware. There were eight of us inside our two-seater four-door car. My only memory of the entire trip is when we got to Delaware and passed the Strand Theatre.
I remember saying, “Oh, goody, they have a show in this town.” As our dad turned north on Union Street, I watched out the back window until the sign “Strand” was out of sight.
I was about to enter the third grade and knew I would be getting to go to the show because it was within walking distance of our new house. I enjoyed every one of the shows I got to see, but remember being totally bored when the newsreels came on. Mostly because President Truman seemed to talk endlessly about the war that was going on. However, there was always a good cartoon to follow.
Luckily, on Sunday afternoons, after eating dinner and doing the dishes, we could all walk to the Strand to see whatever was on. We seemed to always arrive in the middle of one of the double features, watched to the end of it, then watched the entire next feature, and stayed in our seats until the original first feature came back and saw something that looked familiar. When we were all sure we had seen it to that point, we got up and walked back home. I remember walking forward up the aisle, but my head was always turned backwards to get to see every last second of what was still on the screen.
Those were the days when the Strand had just one theater, and we could sit in the balcony and see what was going on below. We were lucky to get a candy bar because I learned later that not every kid did. Of course, at least one of us always had to use the restroom, and I still laugh about how the ladies room always reminded me of a cave.
I need to stop using the word “show” (as in “picture show”) because, as an adult, I was told that I should call it a “movie.” I sometimes still use the word “show” and find myself flinching and waiting to be corrected.
In 1966, a previous owner, George Johnson, and his wife and little son, Chuckie, moved in across the street from us. George worked six days a week, taking off only on Mondays. He always stayed home with Chuckie while his wife, Cindy, and I went to the Strand to see whatever was shown that night. We always sat in the balcony. During that time, the balcony was “off limits” and no one was allowed to sit up there. But Cindy wanted to, because that’s where she could smoke.
We always got the biggest box of popcorn and made sure we didn’t drop any of it on the floor. George popped his own popcorn and also made small packets of candy that sold for a price most kids could afford. I have known him to have some patrons hand him a one dollar bill to pay for their snacks and George handed them back a dollar’s worth of change.
In 1994, George and Cindy sold the Strand and moved back to Greece. He is about 82 now and is a widower. When his own father was killed in Greece, his mother put her 16-year-old son, George, on a ship bound for the United States. He was alone and didn’t know any of the English language. Somehow he got himself from the New York harbor clear to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, he worked at a theater that belonged to his uncle. He learned English by paying attention to the movies while cleaning the theater every day.
We enjoyed getting to know him well during the years he lived across the street from us. When Chuckie got old enough to help out with cleaning the Strand, George would throw a big handful of quarters on the floor between the seats and Chuckie would clean up the spilled popcorn and candy wrappers while looking for the money.
As I walked down East Winter Street a couple of weeks ago, I saw the “Stars” being put in place on the sidewalk in front of the Strand. What a great idea for downtown Delaware! While there, I took a second look at the entrance when I remembered the little booth that used to be there to house the employee who sold us our tickets I have often wondered what it would have been like to have that job and how did they keep warm in the winter?
My thoughts, at this moment, are of wishing I could go back, and just one more time, have Sunday dinner with all my siblings, do the dishes, and walk downtown to see the Strand Theatre marquee announcing a double feature that we could sit through like we did in the ’50’s. Thanks to all the owners and employees who made it possible for everyone to be so well entertained right here in our own hometown of Delaware.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.
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