It was a 1947 olive green Chevrolet that was Ken Garvey’s graduation present from his father, who owned six Phillips 66 gas stations in St. Louis.

Ken, I’m told, spent hours caressing its shiny skin with expensive chamois rags.

This is a story that begins with Rosemary De Branco, she of the one-thousand-and-one pastel Angora sweaters, whom I had fallen in love with at a Christmas party at Maggie O’Hara’s house.

I walked her home that very cold Christmas Eve and at the corner of the 16th block, she stopped and held her white mittens to her ears.

“You don’t have a car?”

“No.”

“You should get one,” she said.

Before Ken and his green Chevrolet, Rosemary and I had spent each date in the darkness of a movie house. But when Ken and his green Chevrolet came into our lives in the summer of 1949, our relationship took on a new musical score. And deeper hues.

This summer night, Laura sat in front with Ken. Rosemary and I sat in back. I bought the popcorn, and Ken had brought two bottles of Falstaff beer. Laura had brought Dixie cups for all.

The movie? I remember that Jimmy Cagney was in it.

There was a moon that night; we saw it as we drove out that evening, to the Hampton Village Drive In on Morganford Road. I recall Ken lifting the speaker from its pole and studying it.

You know, Ken always wrote a clean, soft white handkerchief around his neck in the summer to keep the collar of his pure white cotton shirt free from the stain of his hair oil. I admired that.

Now, he pulled it off and with the gentle hands of a summer lover, laid it on the lip of the car door, placed the speaker gently atop it, and turned it on.

As it grew dark, the speaker played popular songs. I don’t remember the movie, but I remember one song, Vic Damone’s “Again.”

In every man’s life, they say, there is a summer, and a song. That was our summer, and that was our song.

I’ll bet you remember your summer, and your song, and surely you remember the drive-in where you heard it. I’ll bet you’ve got a great story to tell.

Now, this started with another great story.

On June 6, 1933, on a hot night in Camden, New Jersey, Richard Hollingshead Jr. mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, nailed a big sheet on some trees, and — bam — hit a switch. An old movie starring Adolph Menjou flickered on, and the great American drive-in was born. There was no popcorn or soda. There were just mosquitos and fireflies and a few curious townsfolk in some old black Fords, but cinema history was being made.

For many in these parts it was the immortal Skowhegan Drive-In movie theater, 201 Waterville Road in, yes, Skowhegan, that first opened in 1954.

The Skowhegan Drive-In Theater’s neon sign, seen in 2016, was restored to its 1954 slender at the Waterville Road business. Michael G. Seamans/ Morning Sentinel file

This summer, Maine International Film Festival Programming Director Ken Eisen and Executive Director Mike Perrault, locked out of their former cinema sites — the Waterville Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema — by COVID-19, will turn to the old revered drive-in to light up the night for the 2020 film festival.

The drive-in now has spaces for 300 to 350 cars, set in semicircles with standing pipes that once held audio speakers crackling with the sounds of the movies. Theater patrons today will tune in via 88.3 FM on their car radios.

Mike Perrault was quoted as saying, “I think this is going to be a pretty special edition of MIFF … it makes the most of the Maine summer, which is something we’re very excited about.”

Perrault said the lineup of films to be shown at MIFF this year will be released in early June. The festival is set for July 7-16. For more information, visit miff.org.

And for more memories, check with the girl or guy who sat next to you that night in 1954.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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