I recall it clearly, the way you recall all moments of abject terror.
It was dark. My entire body was tense with fear. And then something grabbed me. I screamed and jumped, and everyone around me started laughing.
Norman Gagatek, two seats down, had grabbed my shoulder from behind during a tense scene in some scary movie. Alien, I think, and I reacted just as he had hoped.
I cannot recall who else from our group was there, but I do recall that moment, and I will never forget the jolt of electricity that flew down my spine, nor the camaraderie of the people I was with.
We were at the Toby Theatre, a spot where so many good memories were created.
A place of first dates, stolen kisses, popcorn and cherry drink.
A place I had been going to since I was 12 years old, with friends, boyfriends and sisters, both by blood and by heart.
When I was older, I took my children and had hoped to one day take my grandchildren.
Some 30 years after my first movie there, I sat in my car weeping after I read the last notice on the marquee: Toby Theatre. Thanks for the memories. 1952-2014. Closed.
I can remember the time my sister Sharon and my best friend Arly and I stood in line to see Back To The Future, only to be turned away with the rest of the end of the long line when the theatre was full. So we did what any responsible group of one adult and two teens would do we headed down to the ape swing in Athalmer, stripped down to our bras and panties, swung into the river, shrieking and laughing, and caught the movie the next night.
I remember so many movies with my sons as well as dreaming up plans to win the lottery, buy the theatre and run it in the same tradition that long-time owners Ron and Elizabeth Peters had run it.
You see, it was not because they were tired of running the place. It is not that they longed to retire. But, with progress being the double-edged sword it is, they could no longer bring in movies that were compatible with their old projector. And the upgrade cost has just too many zeroes behind it to make it doable. As my friend Koos put it, on an unrelated topic but very fitting for the Toby as well, not every improvement is an amelioration.
Changes in technology, and the costs thereof, have not improved anything here, but rather robbed us.
As a teen, I was always a little in awe of Ron and Elizabeth. I think we all were.
But as an adult, I got to know the people who had been a part of my life in their own indelible way.
They held onto a time when you stood at the door at the end of the show, thanking everyone who had come. They held onto a time when you behaved in the theatre, and who among us cannot recall at least one instance of Ron heading down the aisle with his flashlight, shushing the noises so everyone could enjoy the show.
They gave us, those of us who were so blessed to grow up here, that wonderful piece of ourselves, that piece that bespoke of community, of fellowship, of fun, scares, tears and laughter that a movie theatre can invoke. It was not an impersonal jaunt to a flick. It never was. It would never be.
It was more than Roger Rabbit on the wall more than model airplanes cruising beside the chandelier more intermission and the best damned popcorn I have ever had. It was The Toby.
It was, and will remain in my heart, a cherished part of who I am, who I have become. My tears were not just for the future movies lost, but for the piece of this community that has passed on, an experience that can no longer be shared.
When I saw Elizabeth a few days after I sat weeping under that sign. I shared her tears in the grocery aisle, and she knew I understood. No words required, no explanation needed.
Thank you for everything Ron and Elizabeth. You watched me grow up. You watched my children grow up. Your theatre was more a part of our lives than perhaps you know.