Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
I had quite a few part-time jobs when I was growing up in Marysville during the 1940s. One of my favorites was running the popcorn machine at the Avalon Theater. I can’t remember how much money I made, but there were some great fringe benefits. For example, I could have all the popcorn I could eat. And I got to see a lot of movies for free.
But like all jobs, it wasn’t perfect. My toughest days were Saturdays, not because there was a matinee as well as an evening performance, but because the theater’s owner, a man from Newark named Floyd Price, made his weekly inspection on Saturday mornings. He was a nice man, but he did everything by the book.
First, he and theater manager Claire Jarvis reviewed the week’s financial records from ticket and popcorn sales. Both the tickets and the popcorn boxes were consecutively numbered, and they went over that stuff with a fine-tooth comb.
Then, the two of them inspected the entire theater, starting with the projection booth upstairs, as well as the room where I kept my supplies. Then they came downstairs and inspected every inch of the theater, even the stage area behind the big screen. Mr. Price was a stickler about cleanliness.
When all that was done, Mr. Price went directly to my popcorn machine. I had gone through his inspections for quite sometime, so I knew what to expect. That’s why I got there early, around 7:30 a.m. every Saturday morning.
I started by throwing away any popcorn left over from the previous evening. Then I went to work on the glass. Mr. Price didn’t want to see any smudges or even a hint of grease on those windows. Then I cleaned the area where the freshly popped popcorn was displayed. He had some sort of special cleaner that got rid of grease.
Only when that entire area was grease-free did I shine the outside of the popper itself. I think that’s where most people would have ended their inspection, but not Mr. Price. He seemed to think that the most important part of cleaning that popcorn machine was to scrub the inside of the popping kettle.
I don’t know if you have ever looked inside the popping kettle of a commercial popcorn machine, but it is pretty much solid black. A sizable amount of peanut oil was put into the kettle with each batch of kernels. The temperature gets so high that it literally burns the peanut oil that sticks to the side of the kettle. And as it cools, it turns hard as a rock.
So it was my job every Saturday morning to get the coating of black stuff off the inside surface of the kettle. Oh man, I scraped and scraped as hard as I could. But you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get rid of that black stuff.
I never really understood why Mr. Price was so concerned about the appearance of the inside of the kettle. He and I were the only two people who ever saw that area. It couldn’t have been for health reasons. There’s no way a germ could survive inside that hot kettle.
I kept the outside shiny and spotless, and that’s the only part people ever saw. Yet he never commented on what a good job I did there. He just kept telling me what a great job the kid who ran the machine before me had done. I vowed to get it cleaner next week, but I knew he wouldn’t be satisfied.
He never chewed me out, or anything like that. He just kept telling me that I needed to use a little more “elbow grease.” I thought that was pretty funny. I mean, I was working hard to get rid of the grease inside the popper, and he wanted me to add more grease.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the inside of the kettle clean enough to please him. So one day I was talking with the kid who ran the popcorn machine before I got the job. His name was Dale Bell, and he was three years older than me. I asked him how he cleaned the kettle, because Mr. Price was always talking about what a great job he did.
Dale thought that was pretty funny, because he said Mr. Price was always telling him he didn’t get it clean enough. And he raved about what a great job the previous boy had done. I guess that was his way to keep the kid running the popcorn machine on his toes.
If I had a chance today to go back and relive a few days of running that popcorn machine, I would do it in a heartbeat … but not if one of those days was Saturday. There’s just no way I could get the inside of that popping kettle clean enough to satisfy Mr. Price.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org