Sunrise on Friday morning found me dropping Christopher off at his last 7:30 morning class (Hallelujah!), on my way to an 8:00 doctor's appointment. I had the time to drive a longer route than usual, through the middle of town where the Courthouse was ablaze with Christmas lights and politically correct snowflake signs hung from lamp posts on Main Street.
Memories flooded me as I drove down that street. My favorite "secular" Christmas song is Silver Bells. It always reminds me of Downtown at Christmastime when I was a child... such a magical place... when one believed Mother's story of presents appearing on Christmas Eve as we were one of Santa's first stops.
Downtown meant stopping at Woolworth's 5 & 10 soda fountain for chicken salad in a tomato (very posh at that time) and a piece of pie, where I also could shop for the entire family with a couple of dollars and see if the latest Nancy Drew book was available.
We would pick up a catalog from J. C. Penny's to peruse for weeks (along with the Sear's Wish Book) and circle our hopes and dreams.
We often walked slowly to gaze at the upscale department store windows decorated each year with lovely items drawing us in from the cold. This was the place where ladies met each other in the afternoon at their Tea Room to chat about purchases, plans, and family events... smartly dressed for shopping.
Walking around the square, we would view the displays at the jewelry store, the lady's dress shop, the barbershop with the candy cane pole outside, perhaps walking a little further down Main Street to the shop where homemade candy and cherry Cokes were sold.
My mother or one of my sisters would often have to take me by the hand and run into the public restrooms at the Courthouse... ladies on one side of the building and gentlemen on the other. Sometimes we would stay inside for awhile, sitting at the section of the large room with tables and chairs for reading.
We would look through the Christian tracts on the shelf of the wall... explaining salvation, or the raising of good children, or how one could have a good "Christian marriage"... all available on the walls of the county place of government offices and trial rooms.
The mall coming in changed not only the buildings but the very culture of our lives. Slowly the tea room closed, the department stores left for the mall, law offices replaced the clothing stores and jewelry shops. No more was Downtown the cultural center of the County. Only in the past few years have retail shops returned, mostly specialty stores.
Long gone is the Courthouse of my childhood as there are now no restroom-reading rooms on the first floors to be entered from the outside... much less any Christian literature or symbols of any kind. Entrance now is available only through the front door and one must walk through the structure which shouts out an alarm if one is carrying a weapon in their purse.
No longer do I hear the sound of silver bells as Salvation Army members (in full uniform) would shake the bell on various corners to remind us to remember the poor and lonely in this time of the birth of the Saviour.
The world was not and has never been perfect and that culture had much to worry about. The Cold War was always over our head with the threat of a crazy Russian pushing the button and nuking the United States... while little Russian children were having nightmares about crazy Americans. The Korean War was behind us... Vietnam still to become... what it became.
Yet... when I'm asked if things are so different now than before... I say a definite yes but the words to explain are difficult to come by.... even for one who loves words. Not only has the culture changed but there is a different... feeling.
I took a last glance at the Christmas lights as the car left Downtown and headed for the one way street toward the clinic and the reality of 21st century life as it is. While part of me longs for the simplicity of life as it was... the other part is thankful for that which life offers us today.
We don't live in the past and we should never romanticize that which has gone before. But it is always good to stop and look at ancient paths and take from it what is good... simplicity, friends, family, tea rooms, faith, and lunch at the five and dime.