The lit marquee of a movie theater
At the end of a dark small-town street.
The one in the ticket booth interrupting her knitting
To look over her wire-rim glasses
Whether anyone's coming to see the show.
Where's the pretty girl who cried every time?
The math teacher and his blind old mother?
The swarm of kids who sat in the first row?
The tough barmaid on her night off?
The undertaker who'd fall asleep and snore?
Late August night of another century.
The soundtrack now and then loud enough
To hear the pistol shots on the sidewalk.
But not the sighs of lovers on the screen,
Holding hands and getting ready to say goodbye.
– Charles Simic, from Master of Disguises, 2010.
* * *
Today Mabel Watson Payne traveled with her father (I know about this from reports, but was not present) to the East Bay and visited her two great-great aunts, sisters aged 95 and 97. They are the people from whom I have heard most vividly about the luscious, long-lost pleasures of small town movie theaters during the Great Depression, when a ticket cost a nickel. Yet nothing those ladies have witnessed in their combined life-experience of nearly 200 years can (and they are quite sure about this) approach the effortless charm of the baby they saw this afternoon.