PART I: BEFORE // Chapter One: Where He Came From: 4

The next day after church, Gilbert would still be full of his movie experience, so he would corral his brothers and sisters and lead them up to the attic, where they would all recreate the movies Gilbert had seen the previous day. Gilbert would direct and be the star; Andy would usually be cast as either sidekick or professional (sheriff, judge, cop). Eileen would be girlfriend or female lead. Mark, the youngest brother, would delight in playing the villain, while the two youngest sisters, Sally and Amy, would be relegated to “audience”. They were given chairs and told sternly by Gilbert and Andy to stay seated and applaud on cue until the “movie” was over. Then they would all run down to Sunday dinner, mystifying Vanessa with their barely-suppressed winks and giggles, while Carl (who knew what was going on) struggled to keep a straight face.

It was obvious that Gilbert was now hooked on the movies, to such an extent that he was way too impatient to wait for the very occasional weekend when his father was home and would drive him to Philadelphia. Being an intelligent and resourceful child (at least where his own desires and well-being were concerned), he soon discovered another way to feed his movie habit.

As a child he had never paid much attention to the local Ben Allyn newspaper to which his parents subscribed. It was shamefully thin (the daily edition usually running to no more than sixteen pages and devoid of comic strips as well). But now, needing any information he could get about movie matters, he decided to give it a glance. As he leafed through its pages finding nothing of interest, he was about to give it up when he noticed a two-page section at the back of the paper titled “Entertainment”. This piqued his interest and he looked closer. He was rewarded by a small section marked “Selected TV Listings for the Greater Philadelphia Area”. His parents owned a large console Zenith television, which sat in its own corner of the living room and was mostly neglected, save for news and various “educational” programs. Gilbert glanced at the television, then back to the paper. Going down the column of listed programs for the various channels and times of day, he found nothing helpful on the three network channels or the NET channel. He was about to give it up when his eyes caught a listing for channel 2, the local independent station. At midnight on weekdays was something called “Midnight Movie Madness”. There was unfortunately no description of what that could mean.

Gilbert resolved to do some investigating. After all, the word “movie” was in the title, wasn’t it? Fortunately all the bedrooms were upstairs, and his parents’ was at the very rear of the spacious house, as far away as possible from the well-meaning but loud clatter of their six children. Moreover, his parents invariably retired early, at least by eleven. If his father was home, it was for something his mother called “sex”. If he was not, his mother was usually sufficiently drunk by then to pass out.

So late that night, it being a weekday Gilbert, who had his own room and was banished there by ten on weeknights, forced himself to stay awake by reading his most exciting book, The Adventures of Robin Hood. At 11:30 he silently crept down the stairs, only to be confronted by the sight of his mother sprawled out on the couch snoring drunkenly, a nearly empty fifth of vodka cradled in her arms. Gilbert noiselessly crept over to the couch and gently extricated the bottle from his mother’s grasp and placed it on the end table. Then, being practiced at the care and pacification of Drunk Mom, he gently massaged her  temples, saying in a soothing voice, “Wake up, Mother dear.” When she finally came to with a series of grunts and snorts, he continued in the same soothing voice, “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your own Sexy King-Sized bed, Mother dear? Come, I’ll help you up the stairs.”

Finally recognizing her firstborn, she replied in a slurred voice, “What a good boy you are, Gilbert, always thinking of your mother.”

She held out her hand, and together they managed to get her on her feet, Gilbert supporting most of her weight as he half-led, half-pushed her up the stairs. He led her down the long hallway to her bedroom, then deposited her on the aforementioned Sexy King-Sized bed, thoughtfully removed her shoes, and unceremoniously threw a blanket over her. Then he silently closed the door and went back downstairs again. He checked the time: only 11:45. Perfect! He still had fifteen minutes to warm up the TV and adjust the rabbit ears. He rubbed his hands in anticipation.

He was not disappointed. The movie that night was the great noir film Out of the Past starring Robert Mitchum. Gilbert watched in open-mouthed admiration until the movie ended and the last commercial was over. Then the announcer reminded the viewers that “Tomorrow night we have another great movie classic for you. It’s The Mummy’s Curse starring the great Lon Chaney, Jr.” Then both he and the station signed off and Gilbert yawned, turned off the set, and shuffled quietly up the stairs to his room. He went to sleep immediately, dreaming about the movies.

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