Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Tea

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.


Anonymous said...

This is your best post. It made me burst into tears.


Anita said...

Thanks for the tea early this morning! I know exactly what you're saying, it's just in a different place. It's fun to think back over the years. Thanks for sharing.

Raquel said...

I grew up in the 70's, with the Vietnam war and I can remember things being so different as well. We thought nothing of going to the late show at the movie theater (where the Janitor would sneak you free candy) and then walking 6 blocks home - in the dark. Of course, movies were much different then. I, too, am grateful for the many conveniences we have now - but oh, the expense at which they have been gained! Much love - praying for you and your family - Raquel XO

Susan P. said...

Reading your post was the perfect way to start my Sunday morning! Oh, how I remember all the things you spoke of. Sitting at the soda fountain watching my Mama eat the tomato in the chicken salad ~ of course, I opted for the shake, instead;) Nany Drew, tea rooms, Sears wish book.... Thanks for taking me down a "lane" I had almost forgotten!

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

I think sharing your memories will have triggered a happy visit to the past in those of us who are old enough to remember another world, and I suspect many of your readers fit into that group. I especially remember going downtown with my grandmother "Nana", and having lunch in the Silver Grill on the 11th floor of Higbees Department Store in Cleveland, Ohio and then going down the escalators floor by floor and looking at all the departments on each one. We especially loved the model rooms on the floor that sold furniture and home accessories. And sometimes we went to other stores - especially at Christmas to Sterling, Lindner Davis to see "the biggest Christmas Tree in the world". But I often reflect that that world had great institutionalized injustice to people of color, and am glad that that has changed. It really has, although nothing is perfect! But it is sweet to remember happy days in my childhood! Thanks, Brenda.

Cheryl (Copper's Wife) said...

Thank you for this.

matty said...

Oh, Brenda, you have put your finger on what is bothering me this Christmas season. I miss the simple joys of earlier years. I am tired of the complicated, politically correct world we live in. Thanks for taking me away for a few short minutes to a time that was simpler and more wholesome.

Marie said...

Enjoyed your walk down "Memory Lane". Sounds a lot like it was for me at Christmas those many years ago. The stores that were in our small town years ago have moved to the mall or closed except we have a renovated hardware store that is wonderful. The decorations they use around our town square are even more beautiful than I remember them as a child.
Love you!


Anonymous said...

After a weekend with my In-Laws visiting from out of town and helping them get their Christmas shopping done, I most definitely enjoyed reading this post. As I sit here sipping my favorite coffee, with O Holy Night playing, which is my favorite Christmas song, I too am taken back to my small town Christmases. Growing up, we didn't have alot of money, so I was glad to get some new
clothes and maybe a toy. I really enjoyed the night when all the decorations and lights would be turned on downtown and the stores would stay open late. I remember putting our names in a box in the stores for a chance to win something. It was fun even if we didn't have much money to spend. The 5&10 was one of my favorite stores. Thanks for reminding me of of these happy times,
something to take my my off my own doctor's appointment tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least we are old enough now to know what those old times were...I wish my children had a better idea of such!! Of life when stress did not have to be in order for things to function normally...undue stress that is. A certain amount is part of living...but somehow I think in general, we have passed that point, don't you? If we go along, with what is...hubby and I still long and hope someday to move someplace with a slower pace, even though THANKFULLY we are not in the CITY!!

Emily said...

Thanks for reminiscing and bringing back some fond memories for me, Brenda. I loved Christmas shopping at Woolworth's or Kresge's. With a pocket full of change, I could get gifts for everyone in my family. Things truly were five and ten cents at the time. I remember my Daddy's treating us to banana splits and hot fudge sundaes at the lunch counter. Mom always got the banana split, sometimes for free. You see, over the counter hung a string of balloons. Each customer who ordered a banana split would choose a balloon, the clerk would pop it, and out would come a piece of paper divulging whether you were a winner or not. Yes, times were simpler, we were more easily pleased back then and content with what we had. Nowadays there is such an atmosphere of tension, distrust, impatience, and selfishness. So sad.

Tracey McBride ~ Frugal Luxuries® said...

Beautiful, poignant and spot on, as always, Brenda.

Thank you so much for your thought provoking essays.

Good thoughts and prayers from...

Lisa Z said...

Even though I was a small child in the 70s and grew up shopping at those malls, I remember the department stores as fancy places where quality items could be bought, and even at Target (in Minnesota where they began and have been here for my whole life) you could buy quality items. It's the drive for cheaper and cheaper items, and more and more profit for the companies, that has led to many of these changes. Now the department stores are "has-beens" and it's all about crap that won't last at all (leading to more profits, of course, when we have to buy the same thing a year later...). I think that reflects on our larger, sadder values, in general.

It's true that we are not as overtly racist a country as we were back then, and for that I'm so glad. However, we've moved the people of whom we take advantage out of the country, to China and elsewhere, in search of that cheaper product and higher bottom line. It's sad, isn't it?

Thanks for bringing back some good memories, though. Like I said, it wasn't quite the same for me a generation younger (or maybe less) than you, but it's still nostalgia to think of my childhood and Christmas "back then".

Anonymous said...

I also remember those days! Ayers and Blocks had mechanical elves making presents for good girls and boys. I think it was Blocks that had the train you could ride on and then visit Santa. We usually had lunch at Murphys. The circle had a beautiful life size manger for the Christ Child as well as the worlds' tallest Christmas tree.

Friend Debra

Susan Humeston said...

Oh how beautiful, Brenda - I, too, remember similar things, and I do long for the "old days" many times in this crazy world. The Savior promised never to leave us or forsake us - and I thank Him for it in this dark world.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a night of walking the neighborhood or driving downtown to window shop the beautiful Christmas windows of the stores. Back then all stores had big windows lite with beautiful displays that were always changing. Our main big departments store had a display for children of mechanical Santa and his helpers making toys. They would display the trains and bbguns and dolls and doll furniture and hobby horses etc the store had for sale. It was like the store windows in The Bishop's Wife movie. Full of wonderment. Even the adults looked at them with their mouths open in wonderment. The 5 and 10s with wooden floors and counters of candy or cosmetics and inexpensive toys but made much better than some of the more expensive ones are now. You could buy a hammer or a length of cloth or a book, a brooms ..nearly anything there. The lunch counters. Buying candy by the pound or by the piece. Even candy at 2 for a cent. The butcher shop down the street with its saw dust on the floor to get the Christmas ham. Then down 3 shops to the dairy to pick up the cheese and cream. If you didn't drive down you caught the bus home. Yes, there was a different feeling. Each geneeration has its own stresses. You wouldn't call people who liived through the Revolution or the Civil War or even WW2 unstressed but there was a difference to life. Yes we were worried about the Cold War and learning to cover our heads with our arms and hide under our desks if the bomb went off. Oh how naive we were. But how sweetly naive too. Your thought that the children in other countries were worried about us harming them too was of course right. I suppose our parents and their parents would too say their growing up was special and unlike ours and in their thinking even better. It is all relative. I though, lived in the late fortys on and to me that will always be a special sweet time. A time of innocence as Simon and Garfunkle would say. Oh I so wish that some of that innocence and sweetness was still with us! We could sure use a turning back to it. I too cryed over your writing. You wrote it as it was. It was a beautiful time to live. Jody