Welcome friends...thanks for coming by. We're seeking beauty in all of creation... in our faith and our families; our art and our music; our crafts and kitchens, and even in our own backyard. We'll share a poem or a recipe, a picture or a memory; maybe a dream of how we wish our life could be. And though we acknowledge that the world can be harsh, we're keeping it pleasant in our little corner; endeavoring to keep the words from the Book of all Books: ...Whatsoever things are lovely; think on these things.

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Photo: Bee and thistle: Taken high in the Cascade Mountains where there is a bee buzzing on every thistle. by Debora Rorvig

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Shopping in the 60's...Downtown

Once upon a time...long, long ago; before the days of malls, black Friday, cyber-shops and revolving credit cards...

There was Downtown. That's where we shopped for Christmas.

Going downtown was a big event. There would be a visit with Santa Claus at the J.C. Penneys store followed by a ride on the escalator up to the second floor. Penneys had the only escalator in town. My first escalator ride was terrifying. I stood there at the bottom for a long time, trying to jump on the moving step at just the right time. When I finally did, I made the serious mistake of grasping a part of the hand rail that didn't move so my feet were swept  up with the moving steps, but my hands and torso remained stationary at the bottom. I couldn't let go, lest I fall flat on my back! A nice gentleman heard my hysterical screaming and rushed over to pluck me off of the diabolical contraption. To this day whenever I have to take an escalator, my hands get all clammy and  I still shuffle about as I try to put my foot on the step at exactly the right time. 

Our Christmas shopping usually began sometime around the last payday before Christmas. I don't remember anyone using credit cards, but certainly we did not. All of our Christmas presents had to come out of that paycheck. And our Christmas list was small by today's standards, just one modest gift for immediate family members. Grandma Cline would receive  a pair of nice silk nylons or Emeraude dusting powder with a fluffy powder puff; and Grandpa would get a small can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco. (The thought of which causes fond recollection of a childhood prank we used to play...You call the local store and ask, "Do you have Prince Albert in the can?" The clerk replies yes, to which you yell, "Well go let him out!" Then you hang up and laugh hysterically with your friends. Another variation is to call KFC and ask, "How big are your breasts?" Of course we only had party-lines back then, so you always ran the risk of a neighbor listening in on your prank and telling the folks.)

We always got Dad a warm plaid Pendleton wool shirt, usually in deep shades of green or blue. Our presents for Mom varied, but the one I remember most distinctly was a fancy new G.E. electric hair dryer with a pink plastic bonnet. That year that Dad and Mom were both out of work; Mom had a broken ankle with a bad ulcer on it that took a whole year to heal; and Dad had been diagnosed with emphysema. That was the year I emptied all of the pennies from my piggy bank to help pay for the hair dryer.  I'd been saving those pennies since I was five. Mom cried when she opened her present. I thought she didn't like it, but Dad said we did good.

Mom used the portable hair dryer for years and years. I guess Dad and I did 'do good'.

Dad had a shirt just like this. If I close my eyes I can almost feel the softness of the wool and smell  him...all earthy and woodsy.

No Christmas shopping expedition downtown would have been complete without stopping for a burger at Woolworths luncheonette. It was set up like a big soda fountain with chairs that  you could spin around on until you became so dizzy you toppled right off! The burgers were sloppy-greasy and loaded with fried onions. I always ordered a fizzy drink called Green River. It was lime flavored and oh, so refreshing!

photo from newraleigh.com

 Wahls and the Bon Marche were the two fanciest department stores in town. We were too poor to buy much from them, but they had pretty rose-colored lounges in the ladies restroom. Sometimes Mom and I would scale the stairways, arms laden with packages, just to sit on their cushy divans and rest our aching feet. Oh the days of ladies lounges! A place where harried women took their cranky children, teenage girls experimented with new shades of lipstick, and white haired grandmothers smelling of lavender rested from their shopping before hoofing it down the stairway and back into the city streets.

a Macy's window display
And how festive the city was at Christmas! Storefronts were elaborately decorated--not with the latest Michael Kors designer dress or Coach handbags, but with sweet images of the season...giant nutcrackers and sugarplum fairies, santas and elves, and trains that whistled. Even though I'm sure these sumptuous storefronts were meant to draw customers into the store, they also provided holiday entertainment to shoppers and especially the children...and they were free for the looking!

It was ever-so-delightful to stroll down Cornwall Avenue on a chilly winter's eve, so much the more if  it was snowing. Into one store, then on to the next, with our new-found treasures stashed securely in beautifully printed shopping bags...not at all like the flimsy ones you see today. Woolworths, The 88 Cent Store, Newberry's, Pay n Save, Wahls, the Golden Rule, Mode O Day, Sears Roebuck, Gallenkamps, and the Bon Marche were some of the places we stopped. Sadly just a few of those old names remain...Penneys and Sears. Macy's bought the Bon Marche and they all moved to the mall. Oh yes, there are other stores at the mall, and now you don't have to go outside to shop...but that was what made it fun...and and adventure. Now, instead of enjoying a brisk winter's walk while shopping, weary consumers trudge doggedly down the mall corridors, listening to music in a can and breathing recirculated air. They cringe as they purchase more than they should on their Visa Gold card, and regret their expenditures with every 24 percent interest payment in the year to come.

Do you know what this writer most often found under the tree on Christmas morning as a child? A simple dolly. Not Chatty Cathy or one who walks or crawls or poops in their diapers...just a doll. Maybe a puzzle or a picture book. My Christmas stocking contained a shiny apple, a fresh orange, some jacks and an Old Maid game. Grandma always gave me a pair of sensible flannel pajamas, and my sister sewed pretty outfits for the doll. My brothers' families often gave me stocking hats, knitted slippers or a teddy bear.  And it was wonderful! Because Christmas is wonderful.

Even though Christmas is vastly different these days, it still can be wonderful if you make it so.

A little Christmas advice... Put on your parka and stocking hat. Leave your credit cards at home and go outside. Look at the lights. Sing carols with your little ones-teach them all the words to Silent Night and We Three Kings. Then go back home and drink hot cocoa with tiny marshmallows on top and eat sugar cookies laden with frosting. Turn off the Wii-- play checkers. Get out your Bible and read the story again. The one about Mary and Joseph and the angels who announced the birth of Jesus to lowly shepherds. Lay aside your sophisticated skepticism and allow yourself to once again become a child and believe.

Just believe.

Merry Christmas!


Red Gate Farm said...

What a fun bunch of memories... I too remember downtown Bellingham before "the mall".... Although I don't personally remember Wahl's (I'm a 1964 baby) I believe my mom told me my aunt worked there when I was small.... My favorite holiday memories are of the cold outside as you went from store to store and then getting hot when you went into the crowded stores. I remember the first floor of "the Bon" with all that terrazzo like flooring and the big pillars/posts and how pretty it was... that they had a toy floor and my absolute favorite... the books on the mezzanine by the restaurant. Of course, we usually lunched at Newberry's... at the counter with the soda in the cone shaped inserts in some sort of metal holder... my lunch was always fries and a coke!

Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories of growing up in Bellingham...

Amish Stories said...

I remember more of the later 1960s, and yes i remember the party line as we had that in the 1970s as well. Richard

Linda O'Connell said...

Deborah, I love this post. Your childhood Christmases sound like mine, simple and appreciated. My stocking, which was dad's sock, contained an apple, orange, a few nuts and hard candy. Thank you for the memories.

Elizabeth said...

What lovely memories. x

Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life said...

I loved the peek into your own Christmas memories. Amazing how 'similar' they are in the simplicity and even the particular experiences... it was a different era and the little one in me sometimes still longs for that time (well not really, but you know).....

Oh... and the phone jokes... hilarious... and I remember those party lines too.

Wishing you a BEAUTIFUL day...


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