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Prime Time: Theater was weekly treat

Back in the 1940s and '50s we had two theaters. The O'Brien (or Old) Theater was across from Johnson grocery store on Fourth and Morgan. It appears that the Headlight Herald has taken over that entire corner.

We went to the Old Theater for Westerns. Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers/Dale Evans were commonly showing. We watched the good cowboys (dressed in white) chasing the bad ones (dressed in black) around the same rock formations. But we loved it anyway.

The New Theater (we weren't terribly imaginative) showed the popular Hollywood movies. Rock Hudson and Doris Day were a terrific couple. I will never forget "Once in Love with Amy" with Ray Bolger singing and dancing. Donald O'Connor was another dancer/singer who I enjoyed. "Mr Ed," the talking horse, was popular - O'Connor was in that one. "Dancing in the Rain" with Gene Kelly was also good. Obviously, I love musicals.

One night I went to see "Geronimo" with my oldest brother, Rolf. Halfway home he had to run because he needed to go to the bathroom. I was about 8 years old. When he desperately raced ahead, I swore there were Apache Indians behind every tree ready to jump out and get me. I was a nervous wreck by the time I got home.

I enjoy an active imagination. I guess that is why I love writing. I began writing poetry in 1960 when my depression was getting bad. I was at the University of Minnesota. I guess I was at the age when depression becomes pronounced. In writing poetry, I was able to express a lot of my feelings, and that was and has been helpful to me throughout my life.

In 1962 I signed up for the Army Reserves: six months of active duty followed by six years in the active reserves. I loved the Army. I liked the regimen and the fact that I always knew exactly what was expected of me. There was never any doubt in that, and it was nice. The thing that bothered me about signing up was that I was giving control of my life over to another force for 6 and a half years. I had never had that feeling before, and writing a short story about the experience was very helpful in that I could re-experience the feelings and understand them. I have learned throughout my life that this is a very helpful activity for a person to come to grips with the parts of his or her life that are out of his or her control. Anyway, it has been fun.

The movies were a weekly event. There was no television available for us. I heard an artist say the other day that in painting, "less is more." I get the feeling about the movies. Not seeing them every day made them kind of special.

Also, when I was about 8 years old, the cost of the movie was 15 cents and popcorn was 10 cents. And that was about the best popcorn in the world.

Plus having Johnny Glaser handing it out was tremendous.

He was one of the many people I remember fondly when I think back on my growing up in Tracy. Later on I will write about what an impact the people in Tracy have had on my life. It is a gift that will last my entire life. I wish all the teachers, businessmen, professionals, mothers, etc., would know they will never be forgotten. The kids growing up in Tracy right now are fortunate.

The thing I liked about growing up there is that I saw people and they saw me in so many different situations. If it wasn't at school, it was at church, or downtown, or meeting each other on the street. When I moved to Minneapolis, I did enjoy the anonymity. At the university, I was one among 30,000 students, and that fit my personality. I liked the freedom to develop what was important to me rather than trying to please somebody. At the same time, I missed knowing and being known so well.

Even in Bemidji, I have friends who I see in one context and not in any other area of my life. I remember one time when I lived in Brooklyn Center I met my neighbor at a mall, and I couldn't remember which context I knew her from. Crazy? But it's true.

For a boy growing up, I definitely tested the boundaries. It didn't bother Dad, but Mom was weary. I think with three older brothers, they made it easier for me, but Mom did earn every gray hair she had.

Movies? Just another aspect of Tracy that was very meaningful. The Tracy Theater also housed other activities that were a lot of fun. When I was 5, they sponsored a talent show in which my three older brothers and I sang "Don't Fence Me In." Good old Mr. Zender made sure all of the contestants got a six-pack of 7-Up.

When I was a junior in high school, the quartet I was in sang in a contest at the theater. In the quartet, Tom Hanson sang first tenor, Bill Knutsen sang second tenor, Curt Jette sang baritone and I sang bass. We won. I don't remember the song, but Miss Donna Niebuhr played for us. The prize the businessmen gave us was a trip to Minneapolis to sing at WCCO-TV and to go out to the Biltmore Inn for steaks. When TV was really not a part of our lives, singing on the variety program was thrilling. But, being boys, we loved the steaks just as much.

Back then just going to the Cities was major. I only went to Minneapolis two times when I lived in Tracy. Bill Knutsen, Curt Paulsen and I went to the Minnesota-Wisconsin football game. We rode with some teachers who were going to the MEA conference. It was the first time I'd stayed in a hotel, which was in downtown Minneapolis on Fourth and Hennepin. We went to the Forum for our meals, a place I continued to like until it was torn down in the '60s. It was a buffet, and the three of us joyously filled our trays with all kinds of different foods.

The trip with Donna Niebuhr was educational. We sat at a round table. The four of us guys looked at all of the forks and spoons in bewilderment. Donna casually told us to start at the outside and work in. Simple enough. I think we all ordered filet mignon, which was out of this world. A feast to be remembered by four boys from the sticks!

The theaters in Tracy have a lot of great memories. I don't know if I ever met Mr. O'Brien. I knew where he lived. But I have to hand it to him and to Johnny Glaser for the great memories.