I was born in a small town….no apologies to John Mellencamp


January 13, 2012 by readlisaread

“I was born in a small town….I can breathe in a small town….I’m gonna die in this small town, yeah that’s probably where they’ll bury me”

John sang about his home town of French Lick, Indiana in 1985 (yes, “French Lick”–you can’t make this stuff up). I don’t know anything about Johnny’s experiences, but I didn’t love my home town growing up.  I didn’t HATE it, but for a long time I laboured under the misapprehension that the fun/prosperous/awesome lives were being lived in the Big City.  I guess that’s pretty common with kids, but as I grew older, I started to see the charms of my little town in a different way…and eventually, I started to experience that weird sort of nostalgia that comes from looking at the same view for a long time, but seeing the changes only as they overlap the past.

I had a few occasions recently to enjoy the view of my small town. One was “Christmas Light Up” — a now yearly event that showcases local talent in the outdoor stage, Santa arriving from the roof of City Hall, and a “hay ride” around town.  The evening culminates with Fireworks and carols blasting in the city square .

This year was the first I had released my children to wander about with their friends, and so I found myself walking along alone, absorbing the atmosphere.  As it happens, we were graced with a clear skies and a moderate temperature, and the streets were filled with families. And of course, as often happens when an old year becomes a new one, I wax nostalgic. Mine was hardly an idyllic childhood, and looking back through the lens of an adult, it’s easy to blur the rough edges.  And it’s interesting to me to think of  the past in the context of technology. There is a lot for kids to do in this small town, now.  Entertainment wasn’t delivered–we had to go to it.


There was a drive-in theatre just south of town. Back in the day, as the kids say, cars of the 60’s and 70’s were all that (also, as the kids say….). They were big and had plushy interiors and heaters and no one had heard of or cared about emissions– other than on the back seat, maybe. More than a few of my peers got into the drive-in for free–in trunks and ducked down on the floor. The technology of the drive-in was changing by the 80’s–the massive clip-on-the-window speakers were replaced by smaller antennae clips, that broadcast over FM.  People without radios or at least FM had to use the old speakers in the back. And invariably, every night, someone would drive off with a speaker still attached to their car.

Please unhook your speaker before leaving

While the drive-in only operated for the summer months, the Odeon theatre right down town was open all year. It was modeled after “big city” theatres, with a glass cage and a little cut-out for the cashier to take your money and pass through change. I realize now that the consistent darkness hid the ultimate shabbiness of the place, but for many years it seemed quite elegant to me.

In sharp contrast was the opening of a twin-screen theatre a few blocks away. It was cutting-edge, with its “acoustic” ceiling, staggered show times (Three shows a night! Two different movies!  It was the BIG TIME, baby!!). It seemed dead modern, and soon there were line ups at the new theatre most Friday nights, and the stately Odeon soon closed its doors forever.

Our “multi-plex” didn’t enjoy success for long, for soon Video Tapes– Beta and VHS–and rental machines became readily available. Stop by the shop on your way home from work on Friday and rent a machine and 5 or 6 movies, get to the Liquor store before it closed at 9, call a few friends and suddenly it was like being at the drive in again–squeezed onto the couch with half a dozen friends eating pizza and watching movies until your eyes burned.  The beauty of the rental movie was that you could watch it as many times as you wanted during your rental period. It was around that time that my love of “classic” movies bloomed. Competition in the rental movie business encouraged independent stores to specialize.  My favourite place specialized in classics, foreign films, and generally obscure or hard to find cult classics.  Being able to drink in a Bette Davis performance, waiting for “that” line, and then being able to pause, rewind, replay… it was heaven, and it was years ahead of the Turner Classic Movie channel.

We listened to AM radio until 8 tracks and cassettes took over.  The only thing on FM was weird underground stuff, French CBC and jazz. TV during my childhood evolved from black and white and the 3 channels the antenna would pull in to color tubes to solid state– smaller screens than we have now, but a piece of furniture that took up half the living room.

The other thing that has changed as much as movies and TV is the telephone. The party line we had when I was a kid was nothing like the kind they advertise on late night TV now.  Then again, late night TV was nothing like it is now, either….


The Odeon was down on the right...


  1. Dan says:

    Lisa, this was great! Does this mean we are old now?

  2. Davie says:

    Note the war memorial, in the middle of the street, later moved to the park next to the train station…

  3. readlisaread says:

    Davie, I was trying to figure that out, wondering if it was just an optical illusion. It never occurred to me that they moved it. Too bad round-abouts weren’t the rage then….thanks for pointing that out, it’s appreciated 🙂

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