perils with writing and whatnot
I think I’ve always been too much of a realist. The Easter rabbit, the boogieman, and even Santa Clause never had a chance with me. I’d play along with everyone and let them believe that I was taken in by what I knew to be untrue.
Even though that childlike magic that hung in the air during December didn’t really touch me, I waited with bated breath for the Christmas season to start. Living in Denver, Colorado during the 1960s at this time of year was an exciting place.
My mom would take my brother and me downtown to do what she called ‘the special Christmas shopping’. We usually went to Joslins, a department store that had branches all over the city including one about seven miles from our house. Why Mom would take us five extra miles to the one downtown had more to do with what else she wanted us to see during the special trip.
I do have to admit that the Joslins downtown seemed more spectacular than the one in the Cherry Creek shopping center. The displays were more luxurious and the different departments had more space so I didn’t have to be as careful about where my body was (always a plus for children). Even the front doors of the place were more majestic with brass around the entire frame of the doors and a gold-colored bar across each door that the costumers used to get inside.
Our first order of business was to find those two unique and glorious ornaments that my brother and I were allowed to pick out and buy each year. Once we would get to the Christmas department, Mom would let us loose to go wandering down each aisle that had ornaments carefully placed in large boxes. Both my brother and I knew that ‘big’ didn’t necessarily mean best. My brother usually went for the ones that sparkled the most, where I would be searching for the one with the most unusual shape. Of course, I wanted the sparkles too but that was a secondary concern for me.
After our shopping was done, Mom would do hers. She was a sly one. She knew that if she took care of what we were interested in first we’d be more likely to obediently follow her around the store. Yes, we were kids who were thoroughly hooked on ‘the even Stevens’, and this means that it applied to our parents as well. What this means is that everything is doled out completely even including time for shopping. (The only time this strategy wasn’t used was for birthdays. The birthday always belonged exclusively to the birthday person.)
After our shopping was completed, Mom would take us to one of the little cafés nearby and treat us to giant-size mugs of cocoa. The café we usually stopped at always gave us straws so that we didn’t ever have to worry about spilling that wonderful chocolate liquid onto our clothes or the table.
This café looked out onto 16th Street, the hub of shopping in the downtown area. Usually we could get one of the booths along that outside wall. I loved sitting there. All the people passing by were interesting. I’d see women dressed to the hilt with fur coats on and their hair done up. I’d see men and women wearing tattered jackets shuffling along. I’d see little children tugging at their mother’s coat wanting to be picked up. It was all quite fascinating to me.
After we finished our cocoa, we’d head out the door to go the M D & F, another department store that also had branches closer to home. However, this one downtown had something none of the branches had. Right outside its doors, they had a sunken area where people could sit on benches. That is, they could sit there until December. In December, this area became an ice skating rink.
No, Mom didn’t take us ice-skating. What we would do is get on our knees on the benches facing the street above and look down to watch the skaters. Most of the skaters were skilled and could do the figure eight and many of the different spins. Some were even in costume.
When it was clear to my mom that we were slowly freezing to death, she’d drive us home with the heat going full blast and us singing Christmas carols all the way.
Text+Sound by Wayne Mason
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