If you don’t think memory is a weird thing all that needs to be done is to visit some place from the distant past, or better yet, watch a beloved movie that hasn’t been seen in a decade or two. When I was a small child, it was nothing for the kids from the neighborhood to get together on a Saturday, bike all the way downtown, and pay a dime to see a movie. All those old Westerns with Clint Eastwood in them were common fare, but I also saw my first R rated movie there; if you had a dime, they would sell you a ticket.
They also had Disney movies, long after their release in big cities, but I remember watching “Herbie” in that little theater, and that’s the last Disney movie I remember. That was 1968, when I was eight years old.
The last movie I saw there was in 1973, “The Exorcist” and it scared me worse than any movie I had ever seen or would ever see.
The theater closed at some point soon after that movie, and I left Blakely Georgia. I returned when I got a job in the area in 1992, and it was very strange to walk those streets again. I went to the closed theater and stood in front of the box office, where I had stood hundreds of times before, and suddenly, it had shrunk. The counter was much lower than it had been, and the office much smaller. The double doors leading into the theater were boarded up, and the place smelled of decay.
There was a five and dime next door to the theater on one side, and Gray’s Jewelry on the other. Redding’s drug store was across the street, and suddenly, I can’t remember what was next door to the drug store, wait, yeah, the dance studio, that taught little girls ballet, that was there.
I can’t remember the name of the five and dime, but it had everything. It was built out of the same wood as Noah’s Ark, and as kids, we would pad around barefoot. The wood floors were cool and smooth after we had walked on hot pavement, and going into town was an adventure.
1992 was an odd year. I didn’t remember what was there in Blakely, only what wasn’t. Storefront after storefront was closed, or infected with a Speedy Loan store, or something transient. I didn’t know the owners, or their kids, or their dogs. I was an alien with memories and nothing more. I crossed the street to where the Courthouse was, and still is, and remembered, bits and pieces, of what had been, and wondered at what point things were forgotten until I saw some fragment of the past.
There, on the corner, was a gas station, that turned into the bus station, and now is empty. Down the road, heading east was the Piggly Wiggly, and across from it was Davenport’s Garage, which exploded one morning, and killed three people. And it broke every window within a mile, including every window downtown. Go past that and there was a meat locker, the VFW, the fairgrounds, and finally, the city limits. I went past that sign one day and was no longer a part of the town. I never wanted to be again.
I haven’t set foot in that town since 2013, and only then for a funeral, and only for a few hours. Going back now, with most of my friends gone, dead, or ghost haunting their own pasts, it’s pointless. But I have to admit, standing there in 1992, with a dime in my hand, and leaving it on the counter, I felt like a kid again, about to go in and see a movie. Barefoot, with shorts and a tee-shirt, a coke in one hand and a box of candy in the other, life was as good as it could have been, and just for a few moments, I could taste it.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit.
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