Do you hear the people sing? Yes, for a long time

Contributing writerJanuary 6, 2013 

Our local movie theater has been remodeled. The old iconic upright seats have been replaced with overstuffed reclining chairs which you can enjoy adjusting up and down when the movie gets dull. This can be very challenging to the technically inept – that would be me. If you wear slippery clothes and press the wrong button, there’s a good chance you’ll slide right off onto the floor.

There are all sorts of possibilities. For instance, when I arrived for my celebratory first of the year movie last week, I saw that a couple midway down my row had made a double bed. Both seats were completely reclined and they were all covered up with a blanket. It made concentration difficult. The movie kept distracting me.

The whole theater experience has certainly changed since I saw my first show at the age of 3. My mother and I traveled by train all the way to the big city of Libby, Mont., (population at the time was 1,752). I’m sure we made the trip for something dull like a doctor’s appointment, but we saw the original animated “Snow White” at the old Kootenai Theater and Opera House. That movie is recognized as a film breakthrough, but all I can tell you is that the witch was a very scary lady. My mother had to take me out of the theater when my screams and sobs became disturbing to the other patrons. I didn’t sleep for many nights, but I did come away with the idea that movies are what you do to celebrate special occasions, So that’s how I happened to arrive at Lakewood Towne Center to celebrate my birthday and the start of the new year.

The movie was “Les Miserables,” which is being called either a breakthrough or the most depressing movie musical in history, depending on your point of view “Didn’t know it was possible to spoil Date Night,” my youngest son grumped after seeing it. I don’t know what kind of seats they have in his theater in Minnesota.

I started this year, as is my custom, with a birthday. It’s one of those things you get used to doing at the same time every year. My birthday comes on the second day of the new year. I’ve had really mixed feelings about birthdays since I started turning 80. The approach of this momentous day causes me to spend a lot of time grappling with the universal verities: Where are we going? What is expected of us? Why in the world are my pants so baggy? That kind of thing.

Technically I’m not actually 80 yet. I’ve been celebrating my 80th birthday for the past three years. This is a huge landmark. I’m just trying to get used to the idea. But this is the last practice. Next year is the real thing. I just hope I’m ready. According to the US Census Bureau, only 1.7 percent of the people in Pierce County are over 80 years of age, so it’s a big responsibility and I want to be sure to get it right.

There are more opportunities for people rounding the curve from 70 to 80 than there have ever been before. Anything you ever wanted to do – now’s the time. Last year I worked with dozens of other volunteers on the Habitat for Humanity/SJB/Father Lee Hightower House in Tillicum. Because of computers, there’s so much work I could do even though I can’t swing a hammer. It was very satisfying to see the finished house and to meet the family who are the resident owners and to feel that we had made a difference. At any age, I guess, that’s the most rewarding thing.

Back at the theater, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert used up both of his available facial expressions and jumped in the Seine which was the least he could do, I thought. Jean Valjean sang quite a bit and finally expired. I thought he’d never get around to it. My neighbors shook out their blankets and left the theater, looking quite happy. Les Mis lasts a long, long three hours. If you go, you might want to take a blanket and a really good friend.

Contact Dorothy Wilhelm at P.O. Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327; 800-548-9264 or She’s written a book, “No Assembly Required.”

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