And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Over the weekend, Michael and I decided to be brave and venture out to a movie. We hadn’t been inside a movie theater for over a year. When someone asked me what the first thing would be that I’d do after my second vaccination, I immediately said, “Go to the movies.”

The streaming movie channels are fine. But there’s just something about going into a theater.

I think the first movie I ever saw was 101 Dalmatians. I remember going to a theater in Cloquet, Minnesota. The fold-down seat wouldn’t stay down very well for me, because I was so small, and that screen! That screen was just so big! I honestly don’t remember anything about popcorn or soda…just looking up at those big, big dogs, Pongo and Perdita, and their babies and all of those spots.

Looking at research on that movie now, I’m not quite sure why I would have seen it. 101 Dalmatians originally came out in 1961, when I was a year old and living in St. Louis. But I know this was in a theater in Cloquet, right next door to Esko, Minnesota, where I moved when I was six, and that I was still little. So maybe the movie was going through as a revival. I do know that several years ago, when I traveled up to that area of Minnesota, I saw that theater, now an antique mall and coffee shop, and I immediately felt the seat under me as it tried to fold me into it, and those big, big spotted dogs. I remember being chided for being a baby as tears ran down my cheeks as the little puppy Lucky was born, and nearly died.

From that point on, it was all about the movies for me. The amazing, amazing movies.

My favorite movie, if I had to choose one, would be Mr. Holland’s Opus. Though there are so many others as well. The experience of seeing them on the big screen was always breathtaking. Even bad movies are better on the big screen. When the movie Cats came out in very late 2019, it was almost universally panned (I didn’t agree). But in the theater, I sat between Olivia and Michael, and when Jennifer Hudson completely filled that space with her voice and her emotion when she sang Memory, I sobbed out loud. Would it have been as impressive on my television at home? Not a chance. But there? Every bit of me was affected.

And so, during COVID, I really missed the movie theater.

When I looked at what was showing last weekend, my heart fell. There was nothing I wanted to see! How could there be nothing I wanted to see after more than a year of being unable to see? And then, by chance, I looked at a movie theater we don’t go to often, because of the distance. It had a movie with only one showing on Saturday. French Exit. I read the description to myself, and then to Michael, and then we set our sights on it.

Driving to the theater, it was clear things weren’t the same. Businesses that used to be landmarks were no longer there. Restaurants were gone. When we used to go to this theater, pre-COVID, we often went to dinner at Applebees, which was located at the far end of the parking lot. But Applebees was shuttered and dark.

Inside the theater, when we bought the tickets, we had to choose our seats, so that social distancing would be maintained. We wore our masks for the ticket purchase and the purchase of popcorn and soda. The aromas in the theater remained the same. The young man who sold us the popcorn asked what we were going to see, and when we told him, we got into an engaging conversation of how he’d seen Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman, and now here she was, playing a widow in her sixties.

In the theater itself, we found our seats, roped off with a paper barrier that promised us our seats were sanitized and safe. It was a little like ripping off the paper barrier on hotel toilets. I glanced around before we sat. People were seated with great gaps between them, and those that weren’t munching on popcorn wore masks. My own mask came off while I munched on the popcorn that only tastes like this in the theaters. Yum. And then the mask went back on.

I wondered if the whole experience would feel odd. I wondered if nothing was the same.

And then the movie started.

When you laugh with others in a movie theater, you can’t tell that you’re laughing through masks. You can’t tell that you’re sitting in seats that have been sanitized for your safety. You can’t even tell that everyone is distant from you, because the sound is so clear. So you laugh, and you gasp, and you sigh, and you do all that with other people who are doing the same thing. At one point, a character in the movie jumped up from her chair and walloped her head on a standing lamp. I involuntarily exclaimed, “Ow!” and all around me, I heard other people who had the same reaction, and then we all laughed.

We all laughed. The magic was still there.

The magic of great big spotted dogs on an impossibly large screen. A little puppy not breathing, but then breathing again, right before my eyes. A woman walloping her head on a lamp and all of us feeling it, even though it didn’t happen to us.

Still there. Even behind masks, we could see smiles as we walked out.

This weekend, I am taking my granddaughter to the movies. She will wear her little mask and I will wear mine. And we’ll laugh just like we did before COVID. Just like we always will.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I couldn’t find an image of the 101 Dalmatians that wasn’t copyrighted, so here’s me with my own dalmatian, Rantu, a Christmas gift when was probably about the same age as when I saw the movie.
The Chief Theatre in Cloquet, MIN, as it was when I went there.
As it is today, as an antique mall and coffee shop. I bought two mannequins here, from WWII era. 





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