Thursday, May 13, 2010

Living with Parkinson's in the Wonder of Twilight

It was an odd and now outdated twilight pastime. It took place on a warm summer weekend night in my small town. Despite the fact that the day’s labour and heat was still causing beads of sweat to form on my father’s brow, there was a sense of anticipation as we rushed to get ready. My siblings and I did not complain when we had to take our baths early and bundled into the car with blankets and pillows. And we were required to wear our pajamas before it was even dark. This was not punishment. In fact, driving into town we were proud of the fact that we were wearing our flannel PJs rather than the seersucker summer ones. We bounced with unbridled excitement as we hung onto the velveteen rope that dangled from the back of the front seat, waving at anyone we might know. No seat belts to restrain us back then. We were on our way to the Skyway Drive-In Theatre. The year was 1959. I was 7 years old and the Drive-In was 9.

When we arrived we paid the young girl in the small shack a few dollars, one price to admit a carload, and drove to one of the gravel humps close to the painted iron posts from which hung the aluminum speakers on short wire cords. That is unless someone had left in a hurry with a speaker firmly fixed in their rolled up window, leaving a useless wire dangling. Dad maneuvered back and forth as he tried to park so that he was close enough to the post to still get out of his door and the viewing angle through the front window was right. But inevitably the alignment required us kids in the back to crane our necks to see past the rearview mirror and our parents’ heads (at least there were no headrests in the way). We did not complain. This was a special treat for my family.
As soon as my Dad was satisfied with his place on the knoll we dashed to the only grassy portion on the lot, the area right under the screen, where there was always a passel of kids our age to play with while we waited for the darkness to set in. We stayed there, unsupervised, until our father came and got us as the first movie, always one for us kids, started. But we would return to play after the first show. That is unless we were sneaking in front of the projector room making animal shadows in the beam of light that was splashing images of animated snack food doing tricks in a circus. The intermissions were always too short when we were kids because when the second show started it was time for us to curl up and go to sleep. We rarely did, although we faked it well.
Of course there were others at the drive-in that thought the intermissions were too long. When the lights went on there seemed to be a number of cars where the occupants had been sleeping, and popped their heads up as if startled. It was always two teenagers, a boy and a girl, who ended up wiping the condensation from the windows before they struggled outside, somewhat disheveled, to line up for the snack bar or washrooms. Why would two people spend their money to go see a movie only to sleep through it I thought? It was a few years before I unraveled that mystery.
We rarely got snacks ourselves, unless we brought them from home or my mother treated us with one bag of popcorn and drink to share. In the scrum that followed the popcorn ended up on the floor and in various nooks and crannies of our pajamas, and the pop was assigned a safe refuge in the front seat. There were no cup holders.
The Skyway closed in 1985. Some years later a client of mine successfully converted it to housing. I understood the merits of this with my adult brain, but there was still something in me that felt deprived of an icon of my childhood. There remain only 3 drive-in theatres in British Columbia. Today, few know they exist and wonder why they do, given many have huge screens in the security of their media rooms. But there is something missing in our cloistered movie experiences. Besides steamy windows.
Most people with Parkinson’s are in the twilight of their lives, where day meets night and they watch more than participate in the daily action. Pajamas are put on early and falling asleep before the movie is over becomes a common event. But, like the drive-in theatres of my childhood, there can be magic in the twilight. Watching the adventures of others. Remaining childlike enough to enjoy making animal shadows. Having a popcorn fight (butterless of course). Being together as a family. Making memories to last a grandchild’s lifetime. Delighting in the darkness, without which the stars would not be visible. And I suppose if you are lucky you might find a drive-in theatre and fog up the windows a little.
Twilight, even with Parkinson’s, need not be empty. There is wonder and enchantment if we but search for it.

1 comment:

  1. We have he same childhood memory. We lived 30 miles in the country so a night at the movies was very special. We packed sandwiches and dessert. We never stayed for the 2nd movie as far as I can remember, as it would mean driving 30 miles in the dark country after midnight. I loved going up to the concession stand and seeing my friends and sitting in the chairs outside instead of staying in the car with my folks. I too loved the playground. We have one drive in still in Amarillo, but it's been a couple years since I went to it. You have to run your radio for the sound now, and I always worry about the battery.