When my brother Tim and I were little, my parents would drop us off at the Lansing Cinema for a double feature. We would watch Tim Conway in the Apple Dumpling Gang. One Saturday, we watched the four-hour long epic, Gone with the Wind.
The theatre was dark and musty. The velvet upholstered seats were stained and lumpy - and a few had duct tape across the arms since they were no longer safe to sit in.
Popcorn was less than a dollar for a huge bucket. We could pay for our tickets, popcorn, drinks, and candy and still have change for a ten dollar bill.
We had never heard of a cineplex or multiplex. The Lansing Cinema auditorium was huge and probably sat several hundred viewers. Most of the time, it was half empty. Heavy velvet drapes would part slowly, creaking as they moved, and the projectionist would start the film. A real person operated the projector, and if the movie started to skip or went out of focus, the whole theatre would yell to wake him up and fix it.
At old movie theatres, the audience felt like family. We would cheer the hero and gasp at the villain. We would even applaud together if we especially enjoyed the film.
It is for this reason that I am mourning the loss of some of my favorite old theatres. The latest to slip away was the Town Theatre in Highland, Indiana. Although I have heard rumors that it has been purchased by the town, it stands (for now) empty and abandoned.
The Town Theatre was a bit creepy with its knights and armor decor. Two life-size armoured figures stood on either side of the screen. I always imagined that someone was inside of the knight's costume spying on us.
But the price of the movie was cheap, and they picked odd, arty films. Kids were not allowed for evening movies. The Town had an intermission - designed to give people a chance to discuss the film (imagine that). During the break they served free - yes free! - cake and coffee. We would gather in the dingy foyer with its out-dated decor and stained burgundy carpeting, and eat squares of yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and drink watery coffee from styrofoam cups.
She was shabby, sure, but she was also loved by many. I am worried now that many of these small-town gems will be forever closed. This is a part of life that is slipping all-too quietly away.
The Town was, for me, a tiny piece of heaven, a remnant of my past.
She will be missed!