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Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Mother and the Majestic Theater

About two months ago my mother called me from her home in Wills Point, Texas. She wanted to let me know that my cousin had called her to tell her that my mother's picture was in a local newspaper. The picture was of my mother purchasing her latest pet, a chihuahua she named Oliver. So excidedly I went online to try to find the picture but couldn't. So I turned to the local newspaper, The Wills Point Chronicle just to see what was going on in my mother's neck of the woods. What I found was a news article about the local cinema, the Majestic Theater, undergoing renovation. Now unless you know something about the Majestic Theater, this might not seem like news.

On a cotton-harvesting day in 1929, my mother was born in a farmhouse in a small town in East Texas, Wills Point. She was the tenth child born to share-cropper parents but the seventh to actually live. On the day that she was born prematurely, the doctor came and told my grandmother, "That poor little heifer aint going to make it, she aint got a chance". My grandmother, known to her grandchildren as Other Mother or Dudda, thought on her feet, not wanting a fourth child born to her to die. So she put my mother in a box with blankets on the open door of the coal stove. Four years later her sister, "Pet" was born completing the family of ten.

As my mother grew older, they lived in numerous homes in the surrounding area, never owning as sharecroppers, only renting. Some were nicer than others, but none provided space enough for the children to have their own beds. So my mother had to share not only her bed, but also the bathwater on Saturdays which was boiled and put into a tub in the kitchen to bathe, one after another due to no indoor plumbing. Toys were made out of whatever existed, balls made from socks, bats made from branches, and eachother to chase and make mischief. Since smoking was seen as a rather grown-up thing to do, my mother's first "cigarettes" were sticks.
All the kids did it, because Big Daddy, her father smoked occasionally, and they all wanted to be like him.

The one exciting thing to do in those days was to go to the cinema. By the time she was old enough to go, they had moved to another town where they went to a cinema which has long since been turned into a used book store. But others who lived closer to Wills Point had the Majestic to go to which had been built in 1923, six years before my mother was born, Back then the shows were double features with cartoons added in also, they same format I grew up on as a child. During this time of the Great Depression, the Majestic offered for a nickle, (if you had one)
a respite from the reality of daily life. There you could go and watch movie stars portray cowboys and Indians, glamour girls and guys, and thoughts to take you away from your existance.

My mother left her hometown surroundings after high school to attend nursing school in Arkansas. She was one of only two siblings who graduated high school, let alone go further. Her dreams of becoming a nurse were only made possible by her own sheer tenacity to achieve those dreams with hard work which lead to her being awarded a full scholarship to a Catholic nursing school.

From the moment she graduated at age 20 (she had skipped a grade in elementary) till the day she turned 65, my mother worked as a nurse. My parents had moved to California when I was seven so my own ties to her childhood which she had worked so hard to overcome were mostly severed except for a very occasional trip "back home".

My mother is a STUBBORN woman, and when it came time to retire, a few years before, she and my father purchased a home in none other than Wills Point to move to for their retirement years. I was absolutely devastated. I am an only child, and my parents, the doting grandparents of my own children, were going to move so far away I wouldn't be able to see them on a regular basis. To add to that, I was pregnant with my youngest child at the time, which meant they would not be around her nearly as much as they had the older two.

Since that time when they moved back, we have been to visit them every summer. Their house is WAY OUT in the country, on a beautiful lake. It is a very small modest home, ten miles from town which really doesn't offer any form of entertainment other than the Majestic Theater which is the longest continuously operating cinema in the state of Texas. Movies are only shown three days a week, once a day at 7:00. The price to get in is $4 and a bag of popcorn from the one lone OLD popcorn machine will set you back $1.50. They don't even issue tickets or have anyone at the door. You just walk up, pay your money and go in. The first time I took my kids was six years ago. My mother could simply not understand why I would want to go to the Majestic as decrepid as it was at the time. We realized soon what she meant when we entered. The seats were original, wooden, hard, with many rows blocked off with yellow tape because they were broken. We found three seats together, sat down and began the movie, only to be shaken every so often by the train going by on the railroad directly in front of the theater. But my kids loved it. We laughed, we compared it to our own modern theaters here in Los Angeles and wondered how much longer the Majestic would last. Then last summer when we went, they had replaced the seats with used blue cushioned ones. Again we wondered, how long will the Majestic last.

Now the Majestic is undergoing renovation to upgrade.

My mother is now 76 years old and has returned to her roots for retirement. Part of her wants to move back to California to be nearer her grandchildren, but so far that has not happened. She has gone home. She is in familiar surroundings. She is living where she grew up and when we go to visit her she takes us to those places each time. As the Majestic is renovated, my mother is growing older. She had knee surgery recently to help her walk better. Then came the back procedures. The majestic is 82 years old and has been declared a state landmark long ago. My mother is a landmark, she is OUR landmark, and we CANNOT renovate her. But what we can do is keep going back, visiting the places where she grew up, taking them in as they become part of our lives also. She has taught my children to drive LONG before they are able to drive legally on the country backroads where she began driving at age ten herself-a country tradition. She can take them into town, onto the cobblestoned streets that her own father, my children's great grandfather, helped lay so many years ago. She can show them the statue in the middle of the street and tell them, "That is where we used to tie up our horses".

And she can take us by the house (it has been moved back a few hundred yards to make room for the new highway) in which she was born 76 years ago and laid on a coal stove door in the hopes that she might live.

Those are just some of the things she has done.

The Majestic Theater, may you always have your doors open to welcome visitors.

Mom, I love you with all my heart, you are our touchstone, the one who takes us back in time to share your life with you. As you grow older, we ALL pray that you will be blessed with good health and a long life. That's all Mom, you know what I mean.


Robin said...

My mother is here visiting in Los Angeles right now (November 26, 2010) She just told me the Majestic Theater closed last month. The end of an era, the oldest continuously running movie theater in Texas has closed.

Robin said...

My mother is here visiting in Los Angeles right now (November 26, 2010) She just told me the Majestic Theater closed last month. The end of an era, the oldest continuously running movie theater in Texas has closed.

Robin said...

My mother is here visiting in Los Angeles right now (November 26, 2010) She just told me the Majestic Theater closed last month. The end of an era, the oldest continuously running movie theater in Texas has closed.