The Matinee

Ann Hultberg

“You kids be good and listen to your sister,” yelled Mom as we piled out of the Camp Mobile on a wintery Saturday afternoon. Christmas was but two weeks away and we four siblings were running into the Dipson Movie Theater to see our favorite Christmas film, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t.

This was our yearly Christmas ritual when we were allowed to go to the movies without a parent. My mom needed alone time, I found out when I was older, to pick up her Christmas layaway toys with us four out of the way. For her, Mom would be fighting crowds and running around town picking up gifts from Santa, but for us four children, we would be spending several hours in a world that we believed truly existed: of elves, the North Pole, reindeer, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and of children saving Christmas. We sang along with the odious Phineas T. Prune, the hero Sam Whipple, and the heart-broken Santa.

We bought our boxes of chocolate nonpareils and cups of 7-UP and dashed into the lone movie
room, packed with other children whose moms were out doing the same as ours.

“Why can’t every day be Merry Christmas/Each and every day?” sings Mr. Sam Whipple, in the opening scene for this 1966 American-Italian film. As an adult, I describe this movie as a children’s story with a Scrooge-like theme: Phineas T. Prune, a rich man, changes from a person who hates Christmas (“Prune, Prune was his name. If there is no Christmas he’s to blame”) and children (“kids get all the breaks! Oh, the little fakes!”) to one who embraces the holiday spirit (“I’ve changed my mind and I won’t be sorry if Christmas comes every day” ). Like Scrooge, his unhappy childhood experiences influenced his adult actions.

Our movie ended and the dark theater brimmed to light. We scattered outside to find that it had snowed two inches; my brothers packed snowballs and slid on the icy sidewalks in horseplay, and a few minutes later Mom picked us up. We were full of chocolate and excitement, juxtaposed to our tired mother who shopped as fast as she could for those two hours. We were none the wiser that our Santa presents were stored in the many hiding places of the Camp Mobile, which was basically a small house on wheels, so there were lots of places to conceal these gifts.

In a few years none of us believed in Santa anymore; mom did not need to be secretive when shopping, so the annual Christmas matinee stopped. But to this day I watch The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t every December and remember when we siblings, all under the age of 10, shared an afternoon together –no fighting or yelling but enjoying each other’s company in the spirit of Christmas with other similar aged children, when life had no spoils, and dreams came true, because Sam saved Santa so he could deliver his presents to children all over the world. And we knew we would be one of them.

Ann Hultberg is a retired high school English teacher and currently a composition instructor at the local university. She writes nonfiction stories about her family, especially focusing on her father’s escape from Budapest, Hungary, to the United States. Her essays have been accepted by Persimmon Tree, Dream Well Writing, Drunk Monkeys, The Drabble, The Story Pub, Kindred Voice, Fevers of the Mind, Mothers Always Write, and Moonchild Magazine. You can follow Ann on Facebook at 60 and writing and @Hajdu on Twitter.

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