We had a slideshow of pictures playing during the viewing and asked people in attendance to speak, if they wanted, during the funeral.
Several friends and family members spoke. They talked about Nana's unselfish spirit, her smile, her loving heart, and her spiritual legacy.
I read part of a story I wrote. Several years ago, I wrote a novel based upon incidents Nana told me about her childhood. While the story is fiction, the idea for it – Nana's first visit to a movie theater – is true.
Although there were more than a hundred people in attendance (we ran out of programs!), some were unable to come. I had some requests from people to read the story, so I thought I would post it here.
The set-up is simple. Mama has Alverda (that's Nana!) and Alverda's brother Ellery to go into town to retrieve another brother, Leard, from the movie theater.
A Powerful Picture
by Sara K Joiner
When Mama pulled up in front of the theater, Alverda gazed in awe at the white building. What went on behind those doors? she wondered.
“Alverda, run inside and get Leard,” Mama told her.
Her mouth dropped open. She was going to find out! She was actually going to learn what went on behind those doors!
“Come right back out,” Mama instructed.
“Yes, ma’am,” Alverda answered and was out the door of the pickup truck quick as a minute.
She strutted up to the doors of the theater her thumbs hooked under the straps of her overalls.
“Excuse me,” the man who sold the tickets said. “Where are you going?”
“My mama told me I have to get my brother,” Alverda explained. “He’s inside at the picture show. He’s got to go home and do his chores.”
“I reckon it’s all right if you go in there, but make sure you come right back out, ya hear?” he said.
“Yessir,” Alverda replied.
When Alverda opened the doors, she walked into the theater’s lobby.
The buttery popcorn smelled delicious. Alverda wished she had some money to buy herself a Coke.
“Hello, little girl,” a woman behind the popcorn and soda booth said.
“I’m not a little girl,” Alverda insisted.
“Of course you’re not,” she said. “Do you want a Coke?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Alverda answered. “Only I don’t have any money.”
“Honey, no one has any money,” she said with a sigh. “Let me get you a Coke anyway.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome, honey,” the woman said as she handed Alverda a Coke. “Enjoy The Kid.”
“What kid?” Alverda asked.
“That’s the name of the picture, honey,” the woman replied. “Enjoy it. It’s a good one. Charlie Chaplin’s in it and that cute little Jackie Coogan.”
“Oh, I’m not going to the picture show. I have to get my brother. He has to do his chores, Mama said,” Alverda explained.
The woman laughed. “You’re the talkingest girl I ever met,” she said. “You better go get your brother or your mama might get angry.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Alverda said. “And thank you again for the Coke.”
She managed to push the heavy, wooden doors to the picture show open without spilling her drink and found herself in a room that was much darker than the lobby.
The only light came from a huge screen at the front of the room with hundreds of seats facing it. People sat in the seats staring at the screen.
A man sat beside the screen playing very sad music on a piano. On the screen, a little boy was sobbing and stretching out his arms toward a man who looked like a tramp. The little boy was crying, and the tramp was too.
“Why doesn’t that little tramp help that boy?” Alverda asked. Her voice sounded very loud in the group of quiet people.
“Shh,” voices around her whispered.
Someone in the audience got up from the seat.
“Alverda, what are you doing here?” Leard whispered as he walked up to her.
“Mama said to come get you. You have to do your chores,” she told him.
“Shh” came from the audience again.
“You have to whisper,” Leard said. “And the picture ain’t over yet.”
Alverda just gazed at the screen. “Why doesn’t that little tramp help that boy?” she asked again, whispering this time just as Leard told her.
“The boy is an orphan and the tramp has been taking care of him,” Leard explained. “Now the police are taking the boy away, and they won’t let the tramp come with them.”
“Oh,” Alverda said. She walked to the nearest seat and sat down. Leard sat beside her.
“How come we can’t hear them talking?” Alverda asked.
“You can’t hear talking in any picture shows,” Leard told her. “I read in a magazine that people are making movies where people’s voices can be heard, but I ain’t never seen one of them.”
“Oh,” Alverda said again. “How come everything’s grey?”
“What do you mean?”
“All the people and the clothes and stuff. It’s all grey.” She could not take her eyes off the screen.
“It’s called black and white, Alverda. Just like in photographs. No movies have color. Don’t you know that?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “I’ve never been to the picture show before.”
Minutes passed, but it seemed like hours. So much was happening on the screen!
Then Alverda felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked around. Ellery was standing behind her.
“I came to get the both of you,” he whispered. “Mama’s madder than a hornet. We’ve been waiting out there for twenty minutes. Let’s go!”
“All right, Ellery,” Leard said. “We’ll go. Maybe I’ll get to see this picture some other time.”
All three of them left the theater while Alverda wondered if the little tramp would be able to get the boy back. Thinking about that little boy made Alverda sad. What would she do if Mama and Daddy weren’t there to take care of her? She didn’t want to think about it.
“Leard, we should pray for that boy to be given back to the little tramp,” she suggested.
Leard and Ellery burst out laughing. “Silly, the picture show’s fake. That boy has a mama and a daddy in real life, and the tramp has nice clothes and lots of money. It’s fake. It’s not real,” Leard said.
“So, we don’t need to pray for them?” she asked, trying hard to understand.
“No,” Ellery said. “It’s not real. They’re doing just fine.”
“I didn’t know! I’ve never been to the picture show before,” she told him.
“Well, if you want to pray for somebody, pray for us,” Leard said. “We’re the ones who need help. No rain, no crops, and no money. All we’ve got is prayer.”
The three of them walked up to the pickup truck and climbed inside.
“What took you so long?” Mama demanded.
“You sent the wrong person in to get me, Mama,” Leard said. “Alverda’s never been to the picture show before. She sat down to watch for a while after she found me. We would’ve left sooner if not for that.”
“Don’t you blame your sister, young man. You should have left when she told you. You know better than to cross me,” Mama said angrily. “I can’t believe I had to send Ellery inside to get both of you. You’re lucky I don’t turn you and Alverda over my knee.”
“Mama, I’m too big for a whuppin’,” Leard said.
“Not yet you aren’t,” she reminded him. Then she eyed her daughter. “Where did you get that Coke?”
“Yeah, where?” Ellery asked.
“Hush,” Mama said. “Well, Alverda?”
“The lady inside gave it to me,” she explained.
“Did you ask for it even though you don’t have any money?” Mama wanted to know.
“No, ma’am,” Alverda answered, shaking her head. “She said I was the talkingest girl she ever met, and she gave me a Coke.”
“Well, you got that right,” Leard said. “You are a talker.”
“I’d rather be a talker than someone who doesn’t do my chores,” she told him.
“Did you hear that, Leard?” Mama asked. “She just told you what’s what.”
Mama started the dusty truck and drove back to the farm. Alverda kept thinking about the little tramp and the boy. She hoped everything turned out all right for them.
I think I’ll say a prayer for them anyway, she thought to herself, no matter what Leard says.
As Mama turned the pickup truck into the drive, Alverda thought, if the picture isn’t real, why am I so worried about the tramp and the boy? Right then, she understood that the picture show was a powerful thing.
The names are true, as well. Nana's middle name is Alverda, which I've always found fascinating because it sounds so old-fashioned and Southern. And she did have two brothers named Leard and Ellery.