"Grace, how would you like to go and see a movie with your 'ol dad?"
"Ooh! Twelve Dancing Princesses?!?"
"No, not a DVD, honey. I mean in a special place called a movie theatre. They have lots of seats for people and a big, huge screen. It's fun — we can eat popcorn and watch the movie with all the other people."
She pressed her hands into her stomach and started at me silently. I know what that look means. It's the same look I saw at the sock hop.
Grace is a timid kid. When she feels nervous, she presses her abdomen. We're not sure why, but we're guessing she's responding to the "butterflies" in her stomach. Or maybe that's where the voices come from.
Either way, it's a sign of trouble. She looked away for a moment and asked, "Can I bring Cow?"
"Of course you can, honey." I said. "I think Cow would like to see a movie." With that, we were off to see Ratatouille.* Grace's very first movie.
In the car, I described the process. "First we'll buy our tickets from the man at the counter. Then we can get SNACKS!" I waited for some sign of excitement. Nothing.
"After that," I continued,"we'll find our theater and pick the seats we want. We'll watch a few commercials on the big screen then our movie will start. Okay?"
"Are you sure you want to go, honey?" I asked. She nodded.
Once were were inside, and she saw the oil drum-sized bag of popcorn the kid gave me (which, appropriately, cost as much as a barrel of oil), she began to perk up. Being the sentimental sap that I am, I made her pose for a photograph, which I then emailed to everyone in my family. They've learned to tolerate these outbursts from me.
The previews began and she was motionless, leaning close to me. I put an arm around her, and tried to talk about the previews in a gleeful tone. "Ooh, that polar bear one looks funny!"
"Yeah," she said.
Finally, our movie began. For the first thirty minutes she was leaning into me pretty good, especially during the dramatic events of the first act that set up the rest of the movie. Eventually, she pulled away. Then she requested popcorn. That was when she started laughing. I mean really laughing.
That's when we became father and daughter, together in the dark, chowing popcorn and watching a movie. I kissed her little blonde head as she talked about the "mice," stuffing popcorn into her mouth with her greasy little fingers.
I thought of when, as a child, I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatre with my own family. When Darth Vader lifted the Emperor over his head and threw him to his death at the movie's climax, saving his son, Luke, the whole audience erupted into applause. It was a thrilling experience for me as a 12-year-old, and I still think of movies as magical because of that day. In fact, my mother says that I still get a twinkle in my eye when I talk about the Star Wars movies.
As we drove home, Grace wouldn't stop talking. "Remember when he called him 'Little Chef?'" she asked. "That was so funny!"
"It sure was," I said, looking at her in the rear view mirror.
I'm pretty sure I saw the twinkle.
*By the way, Ratatouille is fantastic.