Whitesburg KY

Brothers used berry picking to sneak into movies

When my brother and I were young, barefoot towheads growing up, we lived in the upper end of Blackey, having moved there when I was 9 or 10 years old. Before moving closer to Blackey, we lived about 1 1/2 miles above Blackey on the River Road.

The yard had a high fence around it and to venture outside the fence was invited the wrath of our stepmom. But we did venture out sometimes, mostly to play with other kids who were not allowed inside. Every time we got caught outside without her permission we paid the supreme penalty.

On a few occasions she allowed us to go outside the fence. One of the few times we were allowed outside was to go berry picking in the summer. We found out that Bill Gray, who had a movie theater in Blackey, had a matinee on Sunday at around 2 p.m. It was just too tempting to pass up.

So instead of going berry picking in the early hours of Sunday, we decided to volunteer to go about noon. Our stepmom didn’t care one way or the other as long as we got our lard buckets full of berries each time.

The first time we did this, it was just a trial run to see how long it took us to pick the proper amount of berries. We got our buckets full and hid them, then raced down the opposite side of the ridge to the theater.

Boss Slone was in charge of the clean-up after the movie. We made a deal to help clean up after the movie in exchange for getting in free. We picked up bottles and trash while others were sweeping.

It sure was a thrill to pick up a popcorn bag and hear it jingle, meaning there was a coin or two in it. I guess about 20 cents was the most we ever found on any afternoon. We didn’t believe in wasting so we ate all we wanted from the bags we picked up. After our cleaning chores were done, we hurried back up the hill and collected our berries where we had stashed them.

One time when we first started doing this, a Western movie was on. During the movie, one of the characters threw a knife at someone. I thought sure I was a goner, but I ducked behind a seat and he missed me. I raised up and didn’t see anyone with a knife sticking in them and figured he had missed everyone.

My brother wouldn’t let me live that one down for a long time, even though he had been fooled before in that same theater. Since we never had a TV at home, it all seemed so real to us. But at least we got to see a movie once every now and then.

Over the years after we were grown and on our own, which was age 16 for me, I have often wondered what would have happened if someone found our berries and carted them away while we were gone. How would we have explained to our stepmom why we came home empty-handed without even an empty bucket to show for being gone half a day? Whatever story we told her wouldn’t have held water anyway, but we would have tried.

I reckon the Lord was watching over us two barefoot berry pickers who were just trying to enjoy something the other kids got to enjoy, even if it wasn’t entirely honest.

One summer we picked about 37 gallons of berries. Needless to say, we got pretty doggone good at it.

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