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“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”Milan Kundera, Ignorance

The world is in a continuous state of flux.  The things that are here today have a tendency to be gone tomorrow.  Nations rise and fall, babies are born and the elderly die, technology gets replaced by newer inventions.  Even the mighty rivers can alter their course without a moment’s notice.  Nothing, it seems, ever stays the same.

You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.

This is a good thing, is it not?  Things are supposed to change.  If they didn’t, life would not only get stale and boring, but the quality of life would be lessened.  There would be no advancement of technology, which means that we would never discover new ways to treat illnesses or find faster ways to communicate.  Evolution is necessary for the survival of humanity.

So why do we hate and fear change so much?  And why do we dwell on the past?

I was raised in the town of Gallipolis (pronounced gal-uh-pole-LEESE), Ohio.  Don’t worry if you have never heard of it; most people haven’t.  It is located along the Ohio River in the southeastern corner of the state, on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which also happens to be the most economically oppressed section of the Buckeye State as well.  Gallipolis bears claim to the title of third oldest city in Ohio, and it has a bit of history, but it is most remembered as being the town on the other end of the Silver Bridge disaster, which was immortalized in the Richard Gere movie The Mothman Prophecies.

I love Gallipolis, and at the same time I hate it with a fiery passion.  It was an ultra conservative town, and ultra conservative towns are not kind to the weird kids with big imaginations, outlandish dreams and second hand clothes.  It was tough growing up, but there was one place I could always go to escape life for a while:  The Colony Theater.

The Colony Theater was built in 1937 and to this day the original marquee still stands over the box office.  It only played films that were long into their second run, but the cost of admission was around two to three dollars (maybe even a dollar fifty, time seems to have erased the actual amount from my memory) which was fairly affordable even to a child living below the poverty level.  There was only one screen and one showtime per night (7:30), with the exception of an occasional double feature.  Each film played for exactly one week unless it was a big seller.  I believe Titanic ran for a full month.

Upon walking into the lobby you are greeted with the best smelling popcorn ever to indulge your nostrils.  I have been to plenty of other theaters since and I have yet to come across a similar smell.  The Esquire in Northside, Ohio comes close, but it still pales to The Colony’s corn.  The lobby retained the old 30’s style, so maybe the popcorn poppers were vintage too, and that is why the smell and taste has not been duplicated by the fancy megaplexes of today.

In the back of the lobby there are two large and heavy wooden doors.  These opened up into the theater, and instantly your eyes marveled at the magnificence.  Everything was a deep maroon color, from the felt on the seats to the curtains bordering the screen.  The exception to this was the mural on the left wall (or was it on both walls?  Again my memory fails) which was all white, and featured a group of Greek men and women, naked save for the loose fitting robes that scarcely covered their bodies at all.  Oh how those robes rippled in the wind…

I cannot recall every movie I saw in that theater, but I can remember quite a few of them.  It was where I saw Star Wars: A New Hope on the silver screen (for more on that, see my first blog entry).  The only movie my father ever took me to was there; that movie was called Willow, and I’m sure most of the readers on this site remember that one quite well.  There was also White Men Can’t Jump, Independence Day, Grumpier Old Men, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (the last twenty minutes of that was in old school 3D, how exciting!), Ernest Scared Stupid, Twister, Blues Brothers 2000 and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, to name a few.

Unfortunately, we live in tough economic times. The Colony Theater closed its doors for good a few years ago, after an impressive seventy year run.  The end was inevitable; I moved away from my hometown a decade ago, and even then it was struggling to survive.  No more celluloid will flicker past the projection lens.  The screen has gone forever dark.

Why should this bother me?  I moved away ten years ago, and it is very unlikely that I would have ever sat down in one of those maroon seats again, with the salt from the world’s best popcorn lingering on my lips.  My relationship with The Colony ended all those years ago; I shouldn’t care what happens to the theater.

And yet I do.

If nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased desire to return, the empty bones of The Colony Theater serve as a reminder that you can never go back.  The past can never be reclaimed; it is but a ghost standing in the hallway, visible to the eye but impossible to touch.

The building that housed The Colony theater was purchased last year.  From what I’ve heard, the new owners intend to repurpose the property but they haven’t disclosed what it will be.  They said that they hope to keep the marquee if it is financially feasible.  I hope they make it feasible.

Colony-Theater

jamesh@coffeewithkenobi.com

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7 Comments

  1. jaymo2yp
    April 11, 2014 at 10:51 Reply

    What a powerfully written piece. It’s very obvious how special and important The Colony was to you, and how it shaped your life!

    It’s amazing how much we identify with certain places, things and times in our lives. It’s really the journey of life that makes us who we are. As much as things change, and as hard as that is sometimes, all of this is interwoven into the fabric of who we are… irrevocably.

    I have similar memories of a theater in Kent (yep – Ohio girl, too!). It’s now a live theater venue, hosting small Broadway-type productions, local concerts, etc. Whenever I’m back in that town (which is few and far between these days), I am also instantly transformed into those sights, sounds and smells from my memory!

    Change is indeed difficult to accept sometimes – I’m actually going through A LOT of it in my life right now, but I’ve decided that we can either embrace the change and grow with it, remembering and treasuring the past while moving forward to the promise of what is to come…or we can reject it and live in denial, grief and pain. I’ve tried to choose the former option as much as I possibly can. It’s been rough. Part of me feels like I’m defacing the past by embracing the future, but in my heart I know that’s really not true…

    The Colony will always be in your heart…

    Thanks for sharing this, James! 🙂

    1. Melinda
      April 17, 2014 at 11:07 Reply

      So well said! And I hope all is progressing smoothly. 🙂

  2. Becca Benjamin
    April 11, 2014 at 19:44 Reply

    Historical landmarks are so few and far between, especially the ones that we happen to take an interest in on personal level. The picture you posted here is a beautiful representation of just that, a piece of Ohio history and your own as well.

    It’s hard to let go, isn’t it? I guess Anakin isn’t the only one who has difficult time with transition or goodbyes.

    Great entry! I enjoyed it’s personalness 🙂

  3. Lisa
    April 12, 2014 at 00:43 Reply

    Great entry, James. It reminds me of a few months ago when I found out my old high school was going to close its doors for good this June. I have not visited Mount Assisi Academy since before I lost my Mom – and that was 25 years ago! Still…. It was painful news. The memories that came flooding back! I regret not taking the time to visit in the intervening years.

    The places that were important to us, the places that formed us, the places that inspired us… It’s never easy to say goodbye.

  4. Jeff M
    April 13, 2014 at 13:01 Reply

    Love this! I have a similar relationship with my hometown (Paris, TX, the 2nd largest Paris in the world). There were 2 theaters there when I was a kid: The Cinema and the Grand Twin (or just “The Grand” as we called it). Both are now closed and a Cinemark Movies 8 opened up in 1996 or 1997, I can’t remember exactly when.

    The Cinema was a free-standing building that is still free-standing, but nothing has been done with it. The Grand was downtown and in the middle of a large block of businesses like The Colony. It is the older of the 2, having been converted from a live theater to a cinema years before I was born. It was at the Grand that I saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. Then Star Wars. Then, on opening day, Return of the Jedi (I was 2nd in line, would’ve been first but Burger King sucks!).

    Near the end of its life, The Grand was the one you didn’t WANT to go to. The A/C never worked, the seats were old and uncomfortable, and the picture and sound was terrible. The last time I went, I was the only person in the theater (to see Con Air in 1997, don’t judge me). I plopped down in a seat in the middle of a row and promptly fell over backwards. It was then that I learned that all the seats were connected, so the ENTIRE ROW FELL OVER WITH ME. I got up, made sure nobody had seen, and moved to the row in front and gingerly sat down. Then, I watched a craptastic action movie while dabbing the sweat from my brow with a thin napkin that was only a step up from a Kleenex tissue.

    A few weeks later the Grand closed for good. The Cinema stayed open as a dollar theater for another year or so, I saw the Return of the Jedi Special Edition a couple of times there, usually for free because I was friends with the manager.

    I love the new state-of-the-art cinemas we have now, the picture and sound is incredible, and the seats are comfy and the stadium-style seating is great. HOWEVER, every so often I have the chance to go to an old theater to see a movie where the seats are all on the same level, but sloping down toward the front so we can see over the head of the person in front of us. The walls have a mural, or some dusty curtains on them. The screen is not huge, but seems big compared to the room. The sound isn’t great, the picture is a little dim, but it’s nice to be reminded that you’re sharing an experience with a group of people. I miss that.

    My nostalgia is acting up again, I need to go take one of my pills. Thanks for writing this blog, James. And thanks for reading my novel.

  5. Melinda
    April 17, 2014 at 11:04 Reply

    James, what a powerful blog! I loved reading every word! 🙂 As I read, I couldn’t help but think about the beautiful theater in Chicago where I saw many a movie during my growing years – including Star Wars (not yet dubbed A New Hope) – that no longer stands. I haven’t any idea what stands in its place. I’ve been gone from Chicago for more than 3 decades. And even when I venture back to visit family and friends, I’m not in that neck of the woods. Why see a part of my happy past erased?
    I am VERY lucky to live in a metro area that has not 1 – but 2! – historic, “traditional” theaters still in use today. Although there are 2 multi-theaters within a 10-minute drive from our house, my husband and I will drive to one of these theaters to see a film. Not just once or twice a year, but quite frequently. 🙂 It’s worth the drive. 🙂
    It’s really so sad that the Colony had to close its doors. The popcorn alone would be enough to tempt my husband to make the trip to your boyhood home. Granted, he thoroughly enjoys going to the movies, but even so will quip, “Can I eat popcorn? Then, I’m up for a movie.” There’s nothing quite like good movie-theater popcorn. 🙂
    If I had a glass of wine in my hand, I’d raise the glass, and offer a toast to the Colony and all those beautiful theaters of the past. It’s a bit too early for such a beverage, though, so I’ll raise my cup of coffee instead. (That seems fitting anyway since I’m on CWK’s site. lol) 🙂
    Certainly, it never is wise to get bogged down by the past, including living in it. However, memories can transport us back in time. I’m happy where I am now, but I certainly treasure that which got me to this place and time – the good and not so good. I must admit I’m lucky, though. The “not so good” has not been horrific, so it has been tolerable. Those experiences have forced the most change, and helped make me the person I am today. For better or worse. 😉
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. MTFBWY 🙂

  6. Joe2
    May 8, 2014 at 09:39 Reply

    Great read, James! Thanks for sharing your memories.

    It’s sad that the old, single-screen theaters are going by the wayside. We never had one in Tahoe, but there was one near my grandma’s house that we went to occasionally. I don’t remember too much, except for the size of the theater, the maroon felt of the seats, and the giant curtain that would cover the screen.

    The theater that I grew up with, and experienced the Special Editions in, was a much smaller theater and only had a few movies, but it was still “my” theater and I still have some good memories. The quality declined quite a bit as I got older and eventually moved away, but I still have the good memories. The property was sold and the building was eventually demolished, to the delight of the residents. I think the lot is now a Staples office store.

    Change is rough, but necessary. At least we have our memories. Looking forward to your next entry.

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