Making new memories at the Turnage

Published 12:54 am Thursday, March 3, 2011

Like many Washingtonians, I have lots of good memories of the Turnage Theater and its B-movie companion on the other side of Main Street, the Rieta. Growing up here in the 1940s and 1950s, I spent many a Saturday morning watching the serials and cowboy movies at the Reita. As a young teenager, I often met my crowd at the Turnage on Sunday afternoons.

Among the happy memories: recalling that a child under 12 could go to a movie for 12 cents and buy a Coke at Welch’s for a nickel, and the certain knowledge that the older lady in the ticket booth had a calendar with the 12th birthdays of all of Washington’s children circled in red, forcing us to stay honest and pay the full price of admission when our turns came.

The first date I ever had with my eventual wife was at the Turnage. Our classes at Washington High School were canceled so we could all go to the Turnage and see Charlton Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” probably because it was the handiwork of Cecil B. DeMille, a native son (technically Cecil B. was born in Massachusetts while his parents were on vacation, but he grew up here; that’s our story and we’re sticking to it). I gave my date a preview of how exciting life around me might turn out when she discovered the ham sandwiches packed for lunch had both mustard and mayonnaise; in her household, you used one or the other. She, in turn, demonstrated her champagne tastes by consuming two boxes of popcorn that I paid for.

Since retiring here two summers ago, my wife and I have frequently attended events at the Turnage and happily make an annual contribution to it, well understanding that the only way we can keep it thriving is for lots of us to do these two things. We’ve been delighted to renew acquaintances with people we grew up with, meet loads of newcomers who are a godsend in supporting the Turnage and see friends from Goldsboro, Greenville, and New Bern at some outstanding shows like the Kingston Trio and the Four Freshmen.

Last fall, we and another couple attended a matinee showing of a Katherine Hepburn and Rosanno Brazzi 1955 film, “Summertime.” We went largely to enjoy the movie’s gorgeous Venetian scenery, but serendipitously discovered a decent movie that dealt sensitively with an aging, single, American woman falling in love with a married Italian man.

Just before Christmas, we were pleasantly surprised by the talent level of Rocky Mount’s Tar River Swing Band and its vocalists. And last month, my wife and a guest thoroughly enjoyed an updated production of Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni,” on the big screen and the live show, “Diva Nation,” giving both a glowing report.

One of the secrets of a happy life at any age is to keep active, mingle often with friends and feed your mind and your spirit. I would add to that to make sure you provide yourself with “awe experiences.” Taking in a live performance at the Turnage, or watching a great film on the big screen, rank up there for many of us with the most awesome things we get to do. So, treasure those memories of the Turnage as it once was, but don’t miss out on making new ones.

See you at our theater.

The Rev. Charles Smith is a new member of the Turnage Theaters Foundation’s Board of Directors and a divinity teacher at Duke University.