A neighbor shared his movies with the neighborhood on hot summer nights

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

When my parents were young newlyweds, they lived in a predominantly Portuguese neighborhood where they knew all the neighbors. One interesting gentleman who lived in the neighborhood had something no one else did, an outdoor movie projector.

On hot summer nights, he would set up the movie projector in his backyard and allow anyone who wanted to watch the movie to come on in and join the fun. According to my mother, he was a kind and generous man. He didn't have to entertain the entire neighborhood, but he did.

This was back in the 1960s when seeing a movie was special and rare. Sure, you could watch a movie at the movie theater if you could afford it, but most people in my parents' old neighborhood couldn't afford to go to the movie theater very often, not if they also wanted to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Not everyone in the neighborhood owned a television either, and most of those who owned a television only had a black and white set. People with a color television set could rarely find programming that was broadcast in color, and no one caught over two or three television channels, even with a large antenna mounted to the roof of their house.

Most people didn't have air conditioning. Staying indoors on hot summer nights with nothing to do wasn't anyone's idea of a good time.

So when my parents' neighbor rolled out his film projector and offered to allow the neighborhood men, women, and children a chance to see a movie right there in his yard, people showed up.

The man would hang a projector screen in the backyard and stand behind the projector to entertain others. He only had one rule: bring your own chair. He simply didn't have enough chairs to go around, but it was a small thing to ask.

Those without a seat were still welcome to stay and watch as long as they sat in the grass or stood behind those who sat in chairs, so no one had an obstructed view.

Some of the neighbor's movie selections were great. He had film reels of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Other films weren't so great, but it didn't matter. People appreciated his efforts and his kindness from the bottom of their hearts.

He was just as poor as the rest of the neighborhood, but what he lacked in resources, he made up for in generosity of spirit. According to my mother, this man was a pillar of the community.

My mother told me he gave something special to her and my father one summer. It was a reel-to-reel audio recording of John F. Kennedy's funeral. She said the sadness of the occasion came through on the tape, which the neighbor had made himself by recording the event when the local station broadcast on the radio.

Here's the funny thing. I remember that reel-to-reel recording from when I was a small child. My father would bring out the box containing his reel-to-reel audio tapes and his reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I would think, "Oh, no, not this again."

The equipment was outdated even back then, and to my ears, the recording of JFK's funeral was boring. I didn't understand what was happening, and I certainly didn't understand why we had to listen to it again.

It wasn't until recently when my mother told me the story of their old neighbor and his generosity in sharing his reel-to-reel movies with the neighborhood that I understood the significance of that old audio recording.

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