I Was Thinking... Christmas Past
I’ll continue my past Christmas memories for another week since we are still in the holiday season.
I grew up at a time when there was no Amazon, UPS didn’t deliver gifts to your door, and no one gave gift cards as presents. This was also before the advent of shopping malls with all the big stores within one convenient structure.
Preparing for Christmas for a child growing up in a small-town rural setting meant going to the big city to shop. Of course, our big city was Marinette, WI with a population of less than 12,000. But it was part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Just across the river was Menominee, MI with a population of over 8,000 which completed our Twin Cities.
But at Christmas, these two cities seemed special. They both adorned the downtown streets with lights that crossed from one side to the other to create a festive mood.
The largest store in the city was a locally owned three-story department store that took up a whole block called Lauerman’s. This department store was the center of the shopping experience. It had those big department store windows decorated for the holidays and displaying the many wonders that were just inside the walls.
You could enter by the wide double doors on the two main streets or come in from the back. The store had everything a person could want. The basement level had sporting goods and some hardware items, while the main floor had shoes, a candy counter, a lunch counter, jewelry, a perfume counter and some women’s clothing and accessories.
You could walk up the stairs to the other two floors or take the elevator. But this was not the self-service elevator of today, this one had a person that actually opened and closed the doors and also announced what items you would find on the various levels. There were men’s clothing, and women’s under garments, on one of the upper floors and another floor had furniture, carpeting, and household goods.
But the most important thing was Santa Claus on the second floor near the elevators. He sat in a huge chair surrounded by red and green streamers. Every kid from the area hoped to get a chance to make it to that floor before Christmas. There weren’t photographers to capture the moment and sell the photo to the parents, it was just the jolly old man with the white beard and the kids.
If you were lucky, after seeing Santa your mom or dad might buy you a frosted malt ice cream cone before you left the store. It was the first soft serve ice cream any of us ever had.
Once outside we would head to either Sears, Penney’s, or maybe Woolworth’s. If it was a Friday night, there often would be a local policeman directing holiday traffic at one of the corners without a traffic light. He had a red glowing flashlight which he used to direct traffic and blew a whistle when he stopped everything to let pedestrians cross.
In addition to his whistle was the tinkling of bells just down the street where a small red structure with a red kettle was located for the Salvation Army. Dad always paused and put in some money, and we usually dropped in a couple coins as well.
Between these stores I could usually find presents for my parents, sister, and grandparents. Lauerman’s had handkerchiefs that a small boy could buy for a grandma and a tie for grandpa. I could find gloves for dad and there was cheap perfume available for mom. My most memorable gift was the time I got a new rolling pin for my one grandmother. I’d noticed her old one only had one handle left on it and this one even had ball bearings to make it move easily.
It was a thrill when you were old enough to wander the stores by yourself trying to find a gift that would fit into your very limited budget. At this time, you learned it was true that it was as much fun to give as it was to receive.
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Photo: I was thinking Ron Albright