The last movie I went to was "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban". It was winter and I went alone on a Sunday morning. I've always loved sitting in a dark theater, letting the movie take me away. But for that last movie, it was memorable for another reason.
I grew up in a little town on Lake Superior. Ashland had a movie theater on the corner of Second Street and Vaughn Avenue, right across from the library. When we were kids, we went to see matinee movies on Sunday afternoons. It was 50 cents to get into the show, 15 cents for popcorn and 10 cents for a cup of black cherry soda. I would savor that soda like it was liquid gold. Sometimes I had two sodas and just skipped the salty popcorn altogether. Sipping my black cherry soda was nirvana.
We were lucky to be kids in the '60's. Lots of great Disney movies. We saw "Huckleberry Finn" starring Johnny Whitaker from TV's "Family Affair". We immediately started a "Huck Finn Club". Our goal was to sail a raft out of Chequamagon Bay to places like the ones we saw on TV and in the movies. Surely we could sail ourselves into a Technicolor, Wonder Bread world where all of our problems were solved and someone named Alice baked cookies everyday.
Of course not every movie inspired club formations. After seeing "The Parent Trap", we all wished we were twins, but we didn't know any twins and besides Clare is blonde and blue-eyed and there was just no way to get around that.
As we got older, we started to go to movies on Saturday night. The early show was at 7PM and that made scary movies a bit scarier. NOTE: See previous story about "House of Dark Shadows" Still makes me shiver.
So when the Harry Potter movies came out, I couldn't wait to see them. So on a Sunday in the winter, I got in my car and drove to Madison to see "The Prisoner of Azkaban". I got Dots and a diet soda and settled into the theater. I really enjoyed the movie and it made me wish I was a kid again. It made me think I still like kid's movies and I like the message. After all, Harry is really looking for love and a family. He just wants a place to fit in and feel safe. Don't all kids want that?
I drove home and was happy and still thinking about that kid, the one who still lives inside me that dares to come out now and then. When I got home, Jerry looked kind of serious and said "Dar called". Dar is a good friend of mine, we worked together for over 15 years. I knew why Dar called. It was a Sunday, it was afternoon, this wasn't about work, it was about a programmer named Jim. Dar called to tell me he had just died.
It was so weird, someone from work died. No employee in the history of WEA had ever died before. I felt kind of lost and I felt so guilty. Why was I still here?
It was just a few months earlier in October of 2002. My back had been bothering me for a while, so I decided to take a Friday off. I thought a long weekend would resolve my back pain.
On the following Monday, I couldn't got to work, my back was worse and I went to the doctor for the first of many visits leading up to my inevitable back surgery. My doctor gave me pain meeds and told me to stay off my feet for a week and so I did. When I returned to work the following week, I found out that Jim had missed a whole week too and that it was his back too. We both talked about how much it hurt, what meds we were taking and where it hurt. We both had bad lower back pain, it hurt to sit, stand and lay down. It was all the same.
Over the next few weeks, I would be x-rayed, scanned, poked and prodded and still hurting a lot. But Jim received very different news. Jim found out that he had cancer. It was aggressive and just a couple of days after seeing that movie, that last movie, I was saying prayers at my friend Jim's funeral. And I was asking why? Why am I here? And I'm still asking why.
About a year before Jim died, he took his wife to Hawaii for a vacation. Before he left he asked me "Kiddo, what do you want me to bring back from Hawaii?" I told him, "The beach."
And when he came back, he placed a small plastic bag of sand in my hand. He kept his word. I kept that little bag in my desk drawer and when I was tired of my back pain, or winter, or both I would pick it up and remember the friend who gave it to me. I still do.
I don't know why Jim died and I lived. Someday when I'm a little smarter than I am right now, maybe I'll understand why I have a bad back and Jim had cancer. I don't know, maybe it's just one of those things that only God understands. Whatever the reason, I still have that sand and when I'm feeling down, I still run my fingers through the grains and imagine the beautiful beach where he picked it up. Thanks Jim and God speed.
Thanks for listening,