A journey can be an actual trip or it can be a pathway to spiritual or emotional growth. It can describe the change of a relationship, the sharing or ending of a marriage, the details of a career, the recognition of a calling. It can describe the faithfulness of God’s work in a life or the dark night of a soul in that same life. It can even describe our paradigm shifts, the changes in thinking and the unlearning we have to do throughout our lives. This series of blogs is about the journeys of life. Guest blogger Laura Bortner takes us on a journey to her childhood and a simpler time.
A RARE TREAT
Snow White. The Apple Dumpling Gang. Star Wars. Maverick. An Officer and a Gentleman. Silkwood. These are all movies that I have had the pleasure of seeing in my hometown of Augusta, Michigan. Movies that have frightened me, amused me, entertain- ed me, made me think, and left me wanting more. Their magical, transformative powers that allowed a young girl to escape the doldrums of country living were like no other.
We didn’t go very often, but when we did the excitement pulsing through me was undeniable. I could hardly stand it. The anticipation that I had to endure all afternoon long was palpable, constantly checking the newspaper for show times and closely calculating our pending departure. It was such a rare treat, when we kids got to pile in the ol’ Chevrolet station wagon and Dad took his place behind the wheel. Off we would go, into the sunset, on a cool spring evening.
It was about a fifteen-minute drive into the village of Augusta. This speck-on-the-map town, once a sleepy railway junction between Detroit and Chicago and then a National Guard base teaming with recruits, boasted one of the best one-room movie houses for miles around. And if anything brought folks to Augusta on the weekends, it was the feature picture show.
The owners, a middle-aged couple, ran the Park Theater like a grand affair. The wife held court in the box office, while her husband served as doorman collecting tickets. For every show, they synchronized their watches, poised themselves into position, and opened the heavy art deco doors to their adoring public – their people who gave them purpose. They took their work very seriously. It was all quite formal and well-managed, for we were guests in their home and owed them due respect for the privilege.
As an impressionable tween, I always felt glamorous under the shimmering glow of those brilliant marquee lights. They illuminated the whole village square and beckoned viewers to its doors. Swelling crowds gathered outside, as we took our place in line just a few steps shy of the box office. There she was in all of her glory: a tidy blonde perm, blue eye shadow, thick red lipstick, and just the right balance of fashion and flair for an evening engagement. The wife’s features were larger than life encapsulated behind that glass bubble. Her excessive beauty always left me awestruck.
Dad exchanged cash for a fist full of tickets, and we quickly slipped inside. Here, the pungent waft of salty popcorn and sugary drinks that tantalized our senses told me that we had finally reached our destination. A tall, stout, bald gentleman, in a well-pressed, button-up shirt and a two-piece black suit with a matching bow tie, immediately greeted us. The husband wore this outfit for each and every show. His demeanor was warm and welcoming. He systematically tore our tickets as the lobby soon filled to capacity. Hectic mobs milled all around us. Squeezing past these eager viewers who sought to satisfy their every desire during this pre-show calamity, we opened the slim, swinging doors into the movie house.
A quiet hush prevailed. We made our way down the lavish red carpet runner into the dimmed theater. We picked out the perfect row for ideal viewing. I hunkered down into the soft, worn leather seat, waiting patiently for the powerful music to strike and the rich velvet curtains to part on cue. Therein was the beginning of a magical journey all its own, and I savored every precious moment. From Snow White to Silkwood, I watched my childhood unfold amidst these beloved picture shows. They revealed life to me in its rawest form: our frequent struggles and triumphs, the unexpected sorrows and heartache, and our enduring perseverance and redemption. I loved that – that I found a place where I could be transported to another world in hopes of coming into my own.
The Park Theater, in Augusta, remains for sale to this day. No one has owned it since the couple’s retirement and subsequent relocation. I miss that old place: the spectacle, the magic, and the beauty of that vintage theater. This one-room movie house is from a bygone era, but it will always hold fond memories for me.