Life lessons found at the movies

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When I was 6 years old something magical and at the time almost life changing happened. Aurora received its very own movie theater and while I was excited, I had no idea how much that place would impact my life.
Merwyn and Betty Davidson started the 12th Street Cinema using a volunteer system with a simple reward. If you volunteer to work tickets, concessions or the projector then you got to see that movie and received a free popcorn and soda. A simple enough plan, but something extraordinary to a child.
I can still remember going to see Runaway Bride with my family. Not because I had any interest in that movie, but because of the thrill of seeing a movie in my own town. Before 12th Street Cinema opened, it just wasn’t feasible with both time and money to go all the way to Grand Island to see a movie, and still is difficult to this day.
Shortly after the opening of the theater my mother found that volunteering was the best way for a rather large family to go see a movie, and I was soon put to work. Too young to operate a projector or popcorn machine, I was put in charge of candy and ringing up orders.
My sisters and I would don our decorated aprons and settle into place, waiting for the rush of friends, family and community members lining up to get some snacks. This was a time before smart phones and the cash register consisted of a cabinet drawer.
That is how I learned math, taking and expediting orders, stocking items, and customer service. I might not have realized it at the time because for me I was just hanging out with my family and getting a free movie out of the deal.
I’m sure that the countless other volunteers share similar memories, each unique and special, from the magnetic reserved signs to writing numbers on the cups and popcorn bags. That doesn’t change how irreplaceable those memories have become.
One such time was volunteering to clean up the theater after the second Harry Potter movie. My sisters and I listened to my music and laughed together. Thinking about how long movies were getting, man if only we had known. Moments like that are priceless.
Other times I would be too young to see the movie that we volunteered for, and Merwyn would send me back home with popcorn in hand. All I would have to do is come back another time and I could see a different movie.
Who knows if Merwyn and Betty knew the impact they had on community members with how they ran the theater and that the lessons would still resonate 20 years later. It’s such a small thing, but it means so much to so many.
As our theater continued to change and grow with the times, we all did too. While decorations changed, seats were updated and volunteers came and went, my time there is something I’ll always have.
Congratulations 12th Street Cinema on 20 years of entertaining families, friends, volunteers and visitors alike. Here is to 20 more years.
(See related story about pending 20th anniversary celebration in this week’s edition)
JENI MOELLENBERNDT can be reached at features@ hamilton.net

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