Friday night flicks/lights

In 21st century life, there aren’t too many settings in which punch is served. Today, punch is strictly a church party offering. Years ago my grandmother and her friends owned elaborately decorated sterling silver and crystal punch bowls. They were brought out at bridge clubs and sewing circles and loaned out for weddings and receptions.

Those days have gone. Most punch bowls in use today are made of glass and come from the party rental store.

At weddings, the punch bowl has given way to the champagne fountain. I am not a fan of the champagne fountain. The champagne fountain is a health-inspector’s nightmare. Stand around the champagne fountain at the next wedding you attend. Within five to seven minutes, someone is going to sneeze or cough in the direction of the fountain. Moments later someone will stick their glass under the fountain – champagne splashing on their unwashed hands, and falling into the bottom of the fountain to be re-circulated.

The cascading chocolate fountain is just as bad, if not worse. The first time I attended a party with a liquid chocolate fountain, I stood and watched as guests stuck strawberries into the cascading chocolate. The chocolate oozed over the berries and their fingers and then back into the bowl to be recirculated, and no one knows where those fingers have been.

Today, punch is usually reserved for weddings and religious socials. Usually, both are church events. There are many forms of church punch. I once read somewhere that a person could determine one’s denomination just by keeping a close eye on the punch bowl.

Baptists dunk the entire cup into the bowl when serving it. Methodists only sprinkle a little bit of punch at a time. Catholics add a lot of wine to their punch. Lutherans will only drink punch if the recipe has been nailed to the door. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in drinking punch, but only if they can do it two at a time. Mormons, on the other hand, can drink as many glasses as they want.

My high school had a punch that was served after football games at the post-game dance in the gym. Named for the school, it was called Beeson Punch.

Beeson Punch was a non-alcoholic variety most of the time. Occasionally, if a chaperone was asleep at the wheel, it was given a little spike by one of the students. But I have no idea who would have done anything like that, and if I did, hopefully the statute of limitations has run out.

Beeson Academy was located on the edge of town situated directly behind the area’s landmark drive-in theater, The Beverly Drive In. The Beverly opened in 1948. It was a state-of-the-art drive-in theater in its day. The family who owned the theater lived in a house built into the screen. When I was a kid, there was a goofy golf course out front.

Hattiesburg had two drive-in movie theaters, but the Beverly was the showpiece of the state. On opening night in May 29, 1948, the feature film was “Swell Guy.” The flyer that advertised the grand opening stated “Dress comfortably and leave your worries behind you. No need to dress up, dress the way you please. No parking worries, bring the children with you, enjoy refreshments and smoke as you wish.” The price of admission on opening night was 39 cents per person (no charge for those hiding in the trunk of the car).

The Beverly promised their customers, “the world’s largest air-conditioning system. Evening breezes in unlimited quantities come to you through the courtesy of Dame Nature, to refresh you and make your stay more pleasant.” That line might have worked when they opened in May, but by July and August that was a pretty tough sell.

The Beverly Drive-In was one of the most iconic structures in this area for almost a half of a century. I played high school football at Beeson Academy. On Friday nights, the screen at the Beverly Drive-In was in full view of our football field.

Beeson wasn’t big enough to have a marching band, so in lieu of drum majors, majorettes and tubas, our halftime entertainment featured the Beverly’s huge screen filled with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Clint Eastwood, without sound.

In the latter days of the Beverly Drive-In, and in the waning days of the drive-in movie craze, new management at the drive-in resorted to cheesy soft-core skin flicks to help jumpstart their dwindling business. This posed quite a dilemma under the Friday night lights of the Beeson Academy football field.

I can remember looking up from the huddle and seeing all manner of depravity playing out on the Beverly Drive-In screen. Our team had grown accustomed to the momentary flashes of flesh (or as accustomed as any 17-year old boy can become to a sight such as that). However, it served as a great strategic distraction for the visiting team. Nothing created a better home-field advantage than a gaggle of Swedish stewardesses on a gigantic screen in front of 11 testosterone-filled high-school football players from out of town.

Blonde stewardesses in the distance will thwart any opposing teams play calling. To this day, I think that it was the 10,000 square feet of exposed and jiggling flesh, rather than the mighty Beeson Trojan’s awe-inspiring football prowess, that helped our tiny school win as many football games as we did.

In a state where breastfeeding in public was punishable by six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, the ultimate home-field advantage was the sight of a 75-foot tall bosom bouncing up and down in the distance and was always worth 7 to10 points on the Beeson Academy scoreboard.

After the game, punch for everyone!


Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur, author, speaker, philanthropist, father and husband – but not necessarily in that order. In addition to being the brainchild behind the Purple Parrot Cafe, Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar, Branch, Tabella and Ed’s Hamburger Joint, he’s also the founder of Extra Table, a non-profit organization created in 2009 with the mission of ending hunger and obesity in Mississippi.