I am escaping the present. I didn’t mean to leave the here and now. But, really, the here and now is not such a fun place to be. So why stay?
I was on Facebook sipping my morning coffee, scrolling through reposted news stories, reading the comments of people I don’t know (Why do I do this?), getting more and more annoyed, a too typical morning, when up popped a post with a slightly blurred photo of the Randolph Movie Theater, the one that was on North Main Street in the 1950s. And just like that, the present was gone and I was at that old theater, the box office right in front of me, my best friend Rosemary beside me. We were 9, maybe 10, and the day was bright and sunny. Music was playing, happy, upbeat music, and all the kids behind us in line were talking and laughing and the sun was shining and the smell of popcorn drenched the air.
If you could go back in time, where would you go? People liked to ask this even before the pandemic got our minds going in a thousand directions. So I’ve thought about this before. But I’ve thought about it a lot more lately: where I would choose if my fairy godmother suddenly came calling.
9 Davis Road is what I would have said before this morning, before some combination of pixels on Facebook worked its magic and delivered me back to the place where I spent at least one afternoon a weekend for all of my childhood (except for the 40 days of Lent when, every year, I gave up movies). I would have asked my fairy godmother to take me back to an early morning when I was a child, my mother wearing a flowered housedress, at the kitchen sink, humming some show tune. My father pinning his MDC Police badge on his perfectly creased blue shirt, which he had just ironed. Buttons, my dog who looked like a dry mop, sprawled by the back door, and Larry, the bird we had until my mother heard that parakeets carried disease, chirping away in his cage, blissfully unaware of his abbreviated future. Take me back and sit me at the red Formica kitchen table where we ate every meal, and plant me in the chair closest to the stove, my chair. And let me dwell there, floppy slippers on my feet, a pink bathrobe keeping me warm, the sun making stripes on the red linoleum floor, the smells of coffee perking and my father’s Old Spice making me feel safe and happy and beloved.
That’s what I would have said.
But one slightly out of focus picture of a long-gone theater in a town I haven’t lived in for half a century has me reconsidering.
I fell in love with movies and stories because of the Randolph Movie Theater. I learned about a world that was bigger than Randolph, Massachusetts. I learned about war. And love. And death. And life. I learned about people, too: Benny Goodman. Glenn Miller. Houdini. Audie Murphy. Vincent van Gogh. Wyatt Earp. Rocky Graziano. Leopold and Loeb. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Movies were my books. Movies were a bargain, two for 25 cents on Saturday, 2 for 30 cents on Sunday. I never went both days. But I always wanted to.
The Randolph Movie Theater taught me to show up ahead of time (if you want a good seat). To sit still and listen. To chew quietly. To not drink anything if you plan to sit in one place for any length of time. To clean up after myself. And to manage my nickels and dimes so that I had enough money, come the weekend, to pay for the movies.
So what would I choose, now, today, if my fairy godmother came calling? An afternoon with Rosemary at the movies? Or a morning with my parents at the kitchen table?
What makes me happy, and it’s a challenge to be happy these days, is that I do not have to choose.
I can have both. I can have any memory I want. I can choose watching “The Restless Years” with Rosemary, the Charleston Chews we brought from home because movie candy cost too much, sweet on our tongues. And I can also choose having coffee with my mother and father, my coffee milk with Eclipse Coffee Syrup, but sweet on my tongue, too.
I can choose sweetness over bitterness any time. That’s what I learned today. I can choose to remember all the good times that were and all the good times that still are. I can choose to be buffered by them. The secret is to take a break from the big world, step away from the news, and remember.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.