My father was coming off a divorce and my mother was, until recently, a party girl and a confirmed bachelorette. Whatever "magic" it was that brought this unlikely couple together, it made them act like giddy newlyweds, despite being in their early thirties.
It was December 1955 and my parents had married just a few weeks earlier. My mother sat on the sofa in their small living room in their small apartment on Roosevelt Boulevard. My father, a butcher at a Penn Fruit supermarket, arrived home after another grueling day of turning whole steer carcasses into conveniently-packaged roasts, chops and steaks. My mom greeted her new husband with a kiss. In her hand, she held the Evening Bulletin, opened to the television listings, and she was bubbling with excitement.
"Look what's on tonight," she said, her finger jabbing at one of the tiny, typeset lines in the first column, "Dracula! The one with Bela Lugosi!"
My father smiled.
"We have to watch it.," she continued, "That movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. It gave me nightmares! I haven't seen it in years! We just have to watch it." She looped her arm around my dad's skinny waist and squeezed herself closer in playful fright. My dad laughed.
They rushed through dinner. My mom popped a bowl of popcorn in a soup pot on the stove. They dimmed the lights in the living room and snuggled up close on the sofa. The only light in the room came in a harsh glow from the black-and-white images flashing across their modest television screen.
The movie began. My mom lowered her head as memories from 1931 swirled in her subconscious. She was a nine-year-old girl subjected to the big-screen menace of the Transylvanian count. Although details of the film were vague, she distinctly remembered the terror she felt when the malevolent Lugosi appeared. She silently shooed the thoughts out of her head and focused on the present. She was with her husband now and she was an adult. But still, she watched with a bit of uneasy anticipation.
A carriage carrying Renfield, the real estate agent, rumbled up a hill. He headed toward the castle to meet the infamous Count, disobeying the warnings and superstitions from the quaint Bavarian townspeople. He opened the great heavy doors and stepped into a massive foyer filled with cobwebs and (inexplicably) armadillos. Suddenly, in the darkness, Lugosi's rich Hungarian accent cut the atmospheric silence.
"I am Dracoola. I bid yoo velcome!"
The camera cuts to a close-up of the actor's face. It's a pasty white visage perfectly painted with cartoonish cupie-doll lips. They looked like and were about as threatening as Betty Boop's.
My mom burst out in uncontrollable peals of laughter. My father laughed as well, as he stepped into the kitchenette and returned with a calming glass of water.
My mother finally caught her breath. "This is what scared me? This? My goodness, this is hysterical!"
They watched the rest of the film accompanied by the sound of their own giggly amusement. It was comedy that rivaled Jack Benny.