Tuesday, June 2, 2015


THEE-ater. Pronounce it to yourself before you start; say it out loud. Not like the THEE in My Country ‘Tis . . ., but like you’d yell, “THIEF!!” when he was running off with your purse---only leave off the “f.” THEE-a-ter---now you’ve got it.

Paxton's was on “Main Street” and was a one-aisle little affair, with maybe a dozen rows down, six-on-each-side, with the far side chairs butted right up against the wall. When you got in a row, you were in. The whole place seems narrow now, with the ticket-lady facing you through her big window in that glass room out front. She sat behind the glass with the round hole and the scallop in the bottom for our hands to make the exchanges. We slid in the dime, she tore a flimsy bit of numbered cardboard off a big spindled-roll, and slid it back through the gap.

If we’d been lucky, our parents would have parted with a quarter, and so the quarter-in, dime-and-nickel out was a wonderful exchange. An about-face took us a few steps to the bigger window, with its big glass pull-down, through which the crackly little slick bag of popcorn and cups of Co-Cola were passed. Another dime bought one of each, and with your hands full, you waited at the double-door for someone to pull the heavy handle.
And walking into that dim cave, that flickery, same-air-as-last-week darkness, with the sound blasting and the flitter of action on the screen---next to Heaven on a Saturday afternoon. If you held the door for a moment, perhaps with your hip, so others could pass, the upsurge of dust motes in the dark glittered in the glare-path of the sun. Goodness knows what we breathed in there---and at one theater in a nearby town, the smoke in the place practically obscured the screen before the last THE END.

We settled down, chatter at a minimum (Mr Redding had a BIG flashlight, and when he said SHHH, from the back, you'd better, or you'd be picked out in the beam like a spotlight while everybody laughed). The usual Saturday rustle of fifty lively kids accompanied newsreel, serial, cartoon, previews, and whatever cowboy black-and-white was the choice of the week. We were on friendly terms with Roy and Dale and Trigger, with Hoppy and Gabby and Rex Allen (my, wasn’t he handsome, and could SING!!) and Whip and Lash and Johnny Mack Brown, as well as Gene Autry and Frog Milhouse and his alter-ego Smiley Burnette.

We cheered Tarzan and Boy and Sheena, booed the Leopard Woman and anybody who gave any indication of being an owlhoot, drygulcher or double-crossin’ double-dealin’ scallywag.

And that was just Saturday---Sunday afternoon was a technicolor singing, dancing free-for-all, of wonderful costumes and elaborate show numbers. There were the extravaganzas: The Ten Commandments and The Robe and The Silver Chalice, and anything featuring Charlton Heston, Richard Burton, or Anthony Quinn was usually a three-hour epic that left us breathless.
We’d stay all afternoon, as the huge square cone of light came magically out of that little window in the back, just going and going, with a smooth segue from newsreel to cartoon to serial to feature. Then we’d stagger out into the bright heat or the coming darkness, drunk with action and sound, our ears ringing from the audio assault and our chests swelled with great swashbuckling and riding and shooting ambitions that took us swaggering home and up trees and onto rooftops in all our young energy.

Those WERE the days; those days of free time and things to do and see and run after. We went home to our suppers around the family table, woke to churchbells and another small-town day.

Our modern generations are accustomed to the bright, garish-tiled new PLEXES with sixteen vast theaters, with the lights coming on between movies and the uniformed crew ready to man the little brooms to dispose of every grain of popcorn before another crowd is allowed into the empty, ventilated  room.

I know they’ve all probably heard the phrase, but those generations who have never twice sat through a continuous run of a movie and all its attendant extras, welcome to stay on in their seats til the final lights went on to signal That's All Folks---I wonder how many of them know the real origin of, “This is where I came in.”


donna baker said...

I had a free pass to the Vaska Theatre when growing up as my Dad was in radio and tv. I saw everything that came out. Imagine this little girl watching Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8. Huh? I didn't have a clue. Was the most boring movie I ever saw. Remember her in a satin slip and brushing her teeth in whiskey. Green Mansions was another stinker. Horribly boring. But, I did thrill in others, such as A Patch of Blue, Joy In The Morning, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and others.

Miss Merry said...

Our town featured horrible B movies on Saturday afternoons for a quarter. We would walk almost a mile, slide our quarter in the slot in the box office window in the front, line up at the bathroom, (I never had funds for pop or popcorn) and find our seats. I would usually leave with a nightmare until the next week, when after that movie, it would be replaced by some new horror. I especially remember Voyage to the Center of the Earth as very terrifying. When I saw it years later, it was hard to remember why! We must have been very impressionable in the early 60's.

L. D. said...

The Roy Rogers and Trigger racing down the way is such an interesting photo. Our little theater only open on Saturday and Sunday nights. The movies were somewhat up to date and sometimes they were really bad.

steelersandstartrek said...

This is a wonderful Remember. Thanks for sharing!

Jeanne said...

Hello dear Rachel, Your post brought back memories for sure. However, when I was nine we moved to Miami and we would go downtown to the big city of Miami to the movies. We took buses, two, and we had our babysitting money. We would go to the Olympia theater and it was splendidly decorated. The ceiling was black and a million stars lit the "sky"
There were live shows before the movie and we once saw Spike Jones and his band "and" I got his autograph. HA! Years later Elvis Presley appeared there. It was lush with heavy red velvet curtains and upholstery. There was two levels and balconies. In short...beautiful. After the movie we would go to a cafeteria at a Five and Dime and eat pie. Then we wondered over to Biscayne Park and wandered among the lovely gardens. Finally back home taking two buses. We, included two of my sisters and a best girlfriend. Safety in numbers. LOL. That is the only way our parents would let us go. LOL.

Having shared all this, we did go to the only theater in the small town where our cousins and grandparents lived and it was all like your description exactly. It was a huge event for us and we loved every action filled movie we saw. Your story is precious and what a blessing to have such wondrous adventures in our lives.

Have a wonderful week dear friend. We are in our daughter's home in Florida watching the Gator's girls softball game. They are playing Michigan for the National Championship. Go Gators.

Love and hugs,

Southern Lady said...

Oh, Rachel ... what fun it was to go back to "the good ole days" with you. Your words rekindled so many cherished memories of growing up in a kinder, gentler world (and I don't think I just remember it that way either!). Thank you for this ... and for sharing your kitchen makeover with us ... it's going to be so pretty and I can't wait to see it when it's finished. With love and best wishes for a summer filled with lots of sweet memories-in-the-making ~~ Janie

Kim S. said...

Thank you for these memories! THEE-ater, along with ‘liberry’ were pronunciations that I ruthlessly rooted out of myself, but secretly smile at when I hear them. Reminds me of that little one-screen theater in Batesville, remember it? Even as late as we lived there tickets were $1 for kids and $2 (I think) for adults. And the butter for the popcorn was pounds of REAL butter kept liquid in a Crock Pot. And I remember another old theater in California when we lived there when I was a kid that always showed cartoons and a double feature – even when the main movie was “Gone With the Wind”! My bottom was sure numb after that Saturday morning marathon! Fifty cent admission, quarter popcorn and coke and afterwards $1 bought a paper tray of taquitos – unheard of delicacies in my hometown of Washington, DC.