Mama, the Movies and the Dawn of WWII

Mama used to love to go to the movies. She used to take me on the Q13 bus to the Quartet 4 on Northern Boulevard when I was very young to see all the Disney pictures. I thought they were first run. Little did I know a lot of them like Snow White were new when Mama was my age. When I got older we walked to the RKO Keith. That’s where we saw all the orignal Star Wars films. We kept our movie-going tradition into my adulthood. We saw epic films like Schinder’s List and Good Fellas together. So many wonderful memories of Mama and the movies. But my fondest ones were from decades before I was born. 

My best Mama movie memories were those when she told me of the all-day experience it used to be when she was a child. Her eyes lit up when she would explain that you’d get the cartoons, B-pictures, serials, news reels then the main feature. Mama used to collect bottles and newspapers to turn them in to recycle to get the nickel to buy a ticket to the movies. It was her escape from the Great Depression bleak tenament life. In the dark of the theater, it was a completely different world. 

One weekend when Mama escaped to the movies, the world found her. An announcement was made that our Naval base in Pearl Harbor was attacked. American sailors were dead. It was further announced that all servicemen who were present on leave needed to report back immediately. The movies went on as usual but it didn’t provide the same escape. It was darker in the theater that day. 

The radio is what gave Mama hope in the days the followed. I had such a hard time as a kid wrapping my head around the notion that the radio was the main source of daily news and entertainment instead of TV. Decades later, as Mama told me about how FDR’s fireside chats used to give her ease and confidence that everything will be all right, her voice softened and her body became more relaxed. 

Her weekly adventures to the movies once again became means of escape but they also took on a higher purpose. The news reels became the windows to the war. With every clip, Mama’s pride in America grew and wanted to do all she could to help the Allied Forces in the war effort. The news reels showed her what to do. And whole on the streets of Brooklyn after emerging from the theater, no matter where anyone came from before, they were all Americans united to claim victory and behaved as such. 

Today, Mama is gone. Only five Pearl Harbor survivors will assemble at the Pearl Harbor Memorial 75 years to the day later. They were truly The Greatest Generation. Children of The Great Depression who had nothing but their pride in being American and gave more than all they had, domestically like my Mama and in battle in tje form of valiant soldier who were often no more than teenagers barely out of high school. They sacrificed not to protect materials things but for the intangible idea of FREEDOM. God…I hope that in reflection of the Day of Infamy, we don’t let that passion die out once the last survivor passes away. 

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