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Bob Lind, Published September 01 2013

Neighbors: Mondays at the movies with Esther Williams

It was tough, trying to swim like Esther Williams. Or look like her.

But the young girls in Hawley, Minn., sure tried, back in the days when Esther starred in movies featuring ballet-like swimming productions.

Going to the movies made by Esther, who died this summer, or any movie, especially Westerns, was great fun for kids growing up in small towns in the ’40s and ’50s.

One of them was Kay Syvrud, who still lives in Hawley. She says the town’s theater usually would be “packed with the kids and grownups who loved Western movies with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes, Gene Autrey, Pat Buttram, Hopalong Cassidy or Randolph Scott.

“We called it ‘going to show,’ ” Kay says, “and Friday was always a good night to go. Or you could wait until Sunday or Monday and see a romantic musical featuring June Haver or Jane Powell or Betty Grable. And,” Kay gushes, “Esther Williams!”

Esther. Oh, how she and other girls in town tried to emulate her.

Friday night in town

Kay’s parents were Eddie and Eveleth Solum. Eddie owned Solum’s Machine Shop in Hawley, where he could fix most anything and where he turned out parts for farm machinery during World War II, when materials were scarce, and parts for machines at the Hawley Herald, for which Kay now writes columns.

Kay says on Friday nights, “The (Hawley) streets were so full of parked cars you had to go downtown really early to reserve your place because that’s when people shopped. Adults sat in their cars or stood on the streets and talked to their neighbors.

“Farm families came to town together. Their kids did not own their own cars, but then neither did town kids. But they all enjoyed walking up and down the main street, seeing their own friends or strolling with their current beau or girlfriend; everyone knew who was ‘going with who.’ Many solid marriages were made on those Friday night strolls up and down Main Street.”

Popcorn and ice cream

Kay remembers Hawley’s Boy Scout popcorn stand. “It had the most delicious scent of freshly popped hot buttered popcorn emanating from its humble structure,” she says, “and nobody could resist, so the Scouts raked in big profits on Friday nights.

“There also were several cafes open which served pie and coffee, ice cream treats and hamburgers, caramel rolls and home-made French fries.

“One great memory is of going into one of the six grocery stores in town and purchasing watermelon. The gracious clerk sliced it for us and about four of us girlfriends took it outside and sat on the curb eating the sweet juicy melon.

“If the melons did not fill us up, there were always the nickel ice cream cones; huge things, with at least two scoops of Knerr ice cream which was produced in Fargo at the Knerr Dairy.”

And again, there were the movies with Esther Williams.

Getting nosefuls

“We girls nearly drowned ourselves at the local swimming hole trying to re-create some of Esther’s moves in the water,” Kay says.

“Somehow, we did not look as beautiful as she did, without her lovely flowered swimming caps and radiant underwater smile.”

But Kay says that even if the girls didn’t produce an Esther-like smile, “it was impossible to see, anyhow, in the muddy waters in which we tried to replicate Esther’s graceful underwater movements. But we got a lot of ‘nosefuls’ trying and had a lot of fun in the process.”

For Kay and her friends, the memories of those Esther Williams movies swim on.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors,

The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com