Royal Theatre memories live

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Royal Theatre on Covington Avenue in Opp– I smiled at the newspaper picture someone posted. There was the big arrow with the word “Royal” pointing to the smaller word “Theatre” underneath. Lights flashed around the façade of the building and posters under glass showed the coming attractions.

Oh how that sign shown on Saturday nights when my friends and I met up at the movies. Of course, Saturday night was for the older kids, but the Royal experience began on Saturday afternoons when we were younger. It cost, if I remember correctly, a dime for the afternoon movie; the evening price was 25 cents. Or maybe it was 25 cents and 50 cents.

Anyway, a crowd of us walked or rode bicycles (if parents allowed you to ride in the street) to the Saturday matinee. After a stop at Dean’s Pharmacy for a Coke float or a lemon sour, we headed for the Royal.

Dark and cool with the smell of popcorn and the sticky feel of a floor covered with dried syrup from too many spilled drinks is how I remember it. Thick velvet curtains hung at the entrance to the theater and shut out the light from the too-bright lobby.

The younger kids sat closer to the front; the older ones near the back. Boys and girls trying on the titles of girlfriend and boyfriend often met in the lobby and slipped into seats at the rear of the building.

In the picture, there are the faces of Mr. Owen, who owed the place, and Miss Ida, Annie Dell and Doris who handed out tickets and popcorn and policed the area with flashlights. In my day, a teenage Jimmy Lubert was the one with the flashlight and the thought of him shining it my way scared the living daylights out of me. Too much noise or other misbehaving and Jimmy escorted the offenders out of the movie. That was not something I wanted on my resume of kid experiences.

Now, let us be honest here. Once you got past a certain age, a trip to the Royal Theatre was more about seeing, being seen and whom you sat with than about watching a movie. That is when you graduated to Saturday night instead of Saturday afternoon. It was also when the flashlight was about much more than kids making too much noise.

And how you dressed and having every hair sprayed perfectly in place was so important. Never mind you were sitting in the dark most of the time where no one could see your hair or what you had on.

Oh, but before the feature started or during an intermission trip to the restroom you might collide with a certain someone who was the real reason you were there in the first place. The wrong dress or bad hair and no romance, of that I was sure.

Yes, romance was alive and well in the aisles of the Royal Theatre on Saturday night. Many a pre-Sunday School conversation revolved around a discussion of who held someone’s hand the night before and if, maybe, there was a first kiss slipped in before the end of the movie.

The caption under the picture said, “The Royal is gone now…” At the time the photo ran in the newspaper, the old theater was a furniture store that is now also history.

I read the comments from others who saw the picture and remembered first movies, scary movies, gum under the seats, and first dates that became lifelong relationships.

“Good memories,” someone wrote.

They are good memories, not just of a once-upon-a-time place, The Royal Theatre, but also of a moment in our lives when the biggest worry was coming up with enough change to pay our way into a movie. A time when ducking the beam of a flashlight was our greatest challenge.

Yes, the Royal is gone, but the innocence of hours spent in the sweet, popcorn-scented air of that place live on forever.