Mud Truluck’s Last Drive-in Picture Show

By Ronald C. Paxton

My name is Danny Lee Truluck, but you can call me Mud. Everyone does. Mama used to get a big kick out of that.

I remember when I was little she would pretend to be mad at me and say, “Danny Lee, your name is mud.” Then she would smile, and I would be treated to that soft, throaty laugh that always made me think of pancakes drenched in blueberry syrup on a lazy Sunday morning.

I miss her. She died last May, the prettiest time of year here in Jasper County, South Carolina. I guess she figured it was a good time to swallow a bottle of pain pills before the cancer could finish eating her away to nothing.

You’re probably wondering how I came by that childhood nickname and why people are still calling me that forty years later. It’s simple—I used to love playing in mud puddles on rainy days and sloshing around in the muck at our local park while the other kids climbed on the monkey bars and played on the swings and sliding board.

I live in a small town; not even a town, really, just an unincorporated community of less than five hundred people who have known me all my life. Maybe I would have outgrown that nickname if I had outgrown my fondness for rain and mud. Truth is, I don’t mind the nickname. It’s a small price to pay for continuing to indulge my love for long walks in the worst of downpours. I no longer make gooey brown mud forts in the middle of back country roads, but I still splash through any puddles that catch my eye. There’s just something about it that feeds my soul and allows me to temporarily shed the shackles of my life here in rural South Carolina.

At this point you may be thinking I’m either a weirdo or a full-blown nut case. You would be wrong on both counts. I follow my own path, and I make no apology for that. The fact of the matter is, I don’t fit in here. Never have. I am not your typical Southern male. I don’t hunt or fish, because I find the former disturbing and the latter boring. I don’t play or follow sports, and I especially detest the testosterone-fueled environmental menace known as NASCAR. Religion in my little corner of the world is a viper’s nest of backbiting, judgment, and intolerance. You don’t have to say it . . . I realize I should probably be living somewhere in Europe, or maybe the Pacific Northwest. Almost anywhere other than Jasper County, South Carolina.

“Mud! You told me you would cut the grass. What the hell have you been doing all day?”

“Sorry, baby, I got distracted. I’ll do it right now.”

That’s Holly. We’ve been married for twenty-one years, and we’ve had our ups and downs. This is one of the downs, and it’s a bad one, almost as bad as that visit to the doctor twenty years ago when we learned I was shooting blanks and couldn’t produce the two children we had talked about for so long that we had already named them. It took a while, but we got past it. This time? . . . I’m not sure, but I’ve got a strong feeling the end is in sight for Holly and me.


The mill closed down a year ago, a victim of the recession, foreign competition, Covid, and who knows what else. The owners said our pay structure was unsustainable. I call bullshit on that. We weren’t even unionized. I had twenty-three years on the job and was knocking down twenty-six bucks an hour. At least I was one of the last to get my pink slip because of my seniority.

So, what’s next?  My unemployment is about to run out, and there’s no way we can cover our monthly living expenses on Holly’s income working as a customer service associate at the local bank. I’m a little old to start over, not that there’s really any place to start over in this tired little backwater. Fortunately, I have a plan, but first I have to be sure of something.

“Christ on a pony, Mud! Would you please get your ass in gear and mow our lawn. Now!”

“Sorry, darlin’. I’m on it.”


Man, that beer hit the spot. The lawn looks good, and Holly’s done bitching at me about it. I think she’s got other things on her mind.

There’s something I haven’t told Holly or anyone else, and it has to do with the sale of Truluck’s Drive-In, the family business once upon a time.

My grandfather bought a parcel of land back in 1957 and turned it into a drive-in movie theater. It’s just a mile down the road from our house. Back then the mill was booming and Papa Truluck was working lots of overtime. The bank considered him a good credit risk and loaned him some money for the purchase. Papa had already used his savings to get the ball rolling, so he had plenty of skin in the game.

The timing was perfect. People from all over the county came to see this new attraction. The first five or six years Papa’s income from the drive-in nearly equaled what he was making at the mill. The Truluck family was rich, or close enough to it by Jasper County standards.

My grandfather died in 1970. His elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and my grandmother’s mouth-watering Southern cooking finally did him in before his time. My father took over the drive-in, but times were changing. People still came, but profits from the business had dwindled to little more than pocket change. Dad kept it going, but it was mostly to honor my grandfather’s legacy.

I took over ten years ago. We made a little money the first year, broke even the second, and have operated in the red the past eight years. Digital technology, streaming services, movie channels, and the Internet have killed drive-ins. The few customers that continued to come were mostly older folks chasing nostalgia, maybe trying to turn back the clock.

I’ve limited the losses by doing everything myself. I man the admission booth, handle the concessions, and run the projector. My expenses are minimal, but I still can’t afford new movies or fresh food and snacks for my customers.

Three months ago I closed for good and put the property up for sale. It sold in less than a week. A real estate developer out of Savannah is planning to build a luxury condominium complex, with units starting at $400,000. I thought the man was crazy. The words luxury and Jasper County don’t belong in the same sentence, but the Realtor pointed out that I was only thirty miles from Hilton Head and about the same distance from Savannah. The gateway to the Lowcountry, that’s what the slick marketing brochure said. It must be working because fifty units have already been pre-sold.

Anyway, the sale closing was yesterday. We used a bank in Colleton County, so Holly doesn’t know that my bank balance has been restored to robust health. Like I said, we’ve had our ups and downs.

“I’m heading to the drive-in, Holly. I need to do some work on the concession building. It’ll probably be a late night, so don’t wait up.”

“Fine. Text me when you’re done so I don’t mistake you for a burglar and blow your head off. I don’t want to have to clean up another mess.”

Here’s the problem I’m facing: I think Holly has been seeing Dickey Bruner, who runs his dad’s hardware store. Dickey and I went to school together, but we weren’t friends. We weren’t enemies either, but Dickey was mostly interested in drinking beer, fighting, and cruising around in his old man’s classic Pontiac GTO. He seemed kind of no-account to me, but at least he has a job, so I guess he’s one up on me.

I’ll put in a couple hours at the drive-in, and then swing back by the house when it’s dark. If my suspicions are correct, they’ll have to be at my house. His wife, Dana, is always home with their three children. I hope I’m wrong about this. Dana’s a good woman. She deserves better. So do I.


Well, I was right. He’s got that midnight black F-250 parked in my driveway, big as life. Dickey was always pretty stupid, and Holly will never be a contestant on Jeopardy! Looks like it’s showtime.

“Mud! What . . . you’re back, but . . . ”

“Hey, Mud, listen . . .,” Dickey said. “I mean, this isn’t . . . ”

I put my camera down. There are few things I hate more than being interrupted when I’m working.

“Settle down, you two. I just need a few more shots.”

I fired off three more, two with their mouths hanging open. The last one caught Holly’s floppers and Dickey’s beer belly.

“All right, I’m done. See you later, Holly. Dickey, give my best to your dad.”


She came to me later that night after she got my text. Holly’s a whiner, but I let her run on without saying a word. In the end she gave up and accepted my offer. She would get nothing from me, not even the house. In exchange, I would refrain from texting the pictures I had taken to Dana Bruner, Holly’s boss at the bank, and everyone else in my list of contacts. I would also hold off posting them on my social media accounts. She will get to keep her job and live in the community without judgment if she’s clever enough to spin a tale that I took off and left her high and dry.

I didn’t tell her about the drive-in, although she’ll see the construction vehicles coming down the road soon enough. And Holly didn’t need to know that the $250,000 I got for the sale was just a drop in the bucket. That Realtor from Savannah was so anxious to buy the drive-in that he agreed to a clause that would pay me five percent of the sales proceeds on every condo that was sold. Funds in the amount of $1.2 million will hit my account tomorrow. I expect I’ll see another million or so in the next ninety days when the project is sold out.

The movers are coming next week. I’ve found a nice two-bedroom condo on the Oregon coast, a location that got ninety-five inches of rain last year, according to Wikipedia. It sounds perfect.

I’ll be staying here at the drive-in until then. I’ve got a cot and a couple of blankets in the back room and a few snack items that still look edible. Best of all, there’s an old movie reel of Hud still in the projector. It’s the last film we showed at Truluck’s Drive-In. I could watch it a hundred times. Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal; my God, how can you beat a cast like that?

The weather forecast was right for once. It’s raining so hard I can hardly see the people on the screen. Never mind; there’s no reason to stay inside on a night like this. The puddles are calling my name, and I do believe there’s still time to build one more mud fort before the bulldozers bury another small piece of history.

Ronald C. Paxton

Ronald Paxton is the author of nine novels, one children’s book, and more than fifty short stories. He is also a published poet and essayist. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Mr. Paxton’s latest novel, Heaven’s Ashes, is being published by World Castle Publishing. The author lives in Conway, South Carolina. You can find out more about him at Amazon and on Facebook.

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