An editor recently asked me for "your first literary memory." After a lot of pondering I realized it would have to be this incident.
It was a sweet-smelling, balmy summer evening in a little country town, many years ago. My sister and I, sixteen and seventeen (we were "Irish twins") were sitting in the tiny Prairie du Sac movie theater. We were watching the romantic comedy Lover Come Back, with Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Because we were innocent to the point of mental disability, we saw nothing bizarre in the fortyish Doris's frantic attempts to preserve her virginity against the lecherous assaults of leering playboy Hudson. She fled his slobbering pursuit in her high heels, both flirting with him and flouncing away from him with such manic energy she almost bounced off the screen. She scolded sex-crazed Hudson for his base desires, shaking her finger at him and telling him off, a high-minded ash-blond angel in tight-fitting suits.
My sister and I were fascinated, rooting for Doris and filing away her strategies for taming bestial, drooling, skirt-chasing Hudson--who, as became obvious later, was a far better actor than anyone gave him credit for.
The movie was well-started when a huge bulbous man entered and began fumbling his way down the dark aisle, looking for seats. He was holding the hands of two small fair-haired children. Everyone in the theater recognized the father, who in terms of mass alone was the most gigantic man in Sauk County; and they knew his children, April and Wally. On the screen, at that very moment, Doris Day was vigorously shaking her blond French twist at Hudson and showering him with maidenly reproaches; and in the aisle, the brilliant regional writer August Derleth looked at the screen, listened for a minute, snorted, and then laid down the most tremendous, roof-lifting fart.