Tom Purcell, 2/2/2009 [Archive]

The Sister We Left Behind

The Sister We Left Behind

By Tom Purcell

Such a thing would never happen today: In the early 1970s, when I was 9 or 10, we left my sister Mary at the drive-in theater.

The outing started off well enough. My father spent several minutes searching for a spot (it took time to find a window speaker that worked). We got out of the car as he opened the tailgate and folded down the back seats, then got back in. We began devouring corn curls, potato chips, onion dip and pretzels, and washed them down with Regent soda pop.

The blue sky soon fell dark and the film projector began rattling. Black-and-white numbers -- "5, 4, 3, 2, 1..." -- flashed onto the screen. Yellowed footage advertised hot dogs, popcorn and other concession items we could never get our father to buy.

It didn't take long before we began squabbling over pillows, blankets and positioning. My sisters complained that my big noggin was blocking their view, and so I was banished to the back of the car.

As I recollect, we went to see "Paper Moon" that night -- a movie about a Depression-era con man and a young girl who travel around taking people's money -- but my sisters say it was "Herbie the Love Bug."

Whatever the case, I was so busy devouring snacks -- we didn't have them often, so I was taking advantage of my good fortune -- I didn't care about the movie. My stomach was soon so full, however, that I ended up lying on my back, groaning in agony.

It's important, at this point, to understand how everyone was situated.

My father sat in the front seat on the driver's side. My mother sat to his right holding my sister Jennifer. She "shooshed" us constantly to keep us from waking the baby. In the back, under the pile of blankets and pillows, were my sisters Kathy, 14; Krissy, 12; Lisa, 6; and Mary, 4.

Throughout the first and second movies, there was plenty of sleeping, waking, snoring, squabbling, shooshing, complaining ("Mommy, Tommy stinks!) and trips to the restroom.

Unbeknownst to everyone, however, 4-year-old Mary -- she always had a touch of wanderlust -- had slipped out the back of the car to go to the restroom. Preoccupied with my aching belly -- I was groaning pretty loudly by then -- I didn't notice her slip by me.

About then the second movie was coming to a close. My father, always eager to beat the rush, hurriedly packed up the cooler and fired up the car. It never occurred to anyone that Mary might not be under the blankets. Off we drove as the final credits began to roll.

I don't recall how far we got before Lisa shouted, "Where's Mary?"

My mother, trying not to disturb the baby, instinctively began shooshing. It took five minutes or more before Lisa persuaded everyone that Mary was still at the drive-in.

Panic overcame us. My father made a hard U-turn and floored it. Our wood-paneled Plymouth station wagon roared down the road like the car in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

We fishtailed as we hit the gravel parking lot. The lot was empty but for the car that had been next to ours. Mary stood next to it holding the hand of somebody else's dad (who waited patiently for the dopey family that forgot one of its kids).

My sisters and I laugh every time someone brings up the incident -- in part because such a thing could never happen today.

Today's obsessive parents, terrified by cable news, never let their kids out of their sight. They monitor, pamper and overmanage their children well into adulthood. When they go to a drive-in, they probably leash their kids to the door.

To my family's credit, however, Mary was the only one we ever lost. None of us was ever left at a highway rest stop, as one family we knew did. Another left their kid in Ohio after a family vacation.

In any event, everything turned out well in the end. Mary has four children of her own now. To our knowledge, she hasn't left any of them at the drive-in.

© 2009 Tom Purcell. Tom is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Visit Tom on the web at or e-mail him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications.

Download Tom Purcell's color photo - Download Tom Purcell's black and white mug shot photo
Why not run a cartoon with the column? We recommend the cartoons below as a good compliment to Tom Purcell's topic.
Click on the thumbnail images to preview and download the cartoons.

Related Cartoons

Traditional American Family
By: Nate Beeler

May 19, 2008

Portrait of a Modern Family
By: Angel Boligan

February 8, 2008

Portrait of a Modern Family -- COLOR
By: Angel Boligan

February 8, 2008

Needed Vacation
By: Cameron Cardow
The Ottawa Citizen
July 5, 2007

Needed Vacation COLOR
By: Cameron Cardow
The Ottawa Citizen
July 5, 2007

We do not accept and will not review unsolicited submissions from cartoonists.
Sales & Information: (805) 969-2829
Billing Information: (805)
Technical Support:

FREE cartoons for your website if you're already a paying print subscriber!
Artwork and columns are copyrighted by each creator. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service