Friday, November 27, 2015


I did some early Christmas shopping the other night. I browsed through nearly every department in Macy’s, Target, Sears, Barnes and Noble, JC Penney and Home Depot.

And I never set foot out of my house.

I have to admit that online shopping has made buying Christmas gifts a whole lot easier.  Years ago, I never would have believed the day would come when I’d be able to wear my pajamas, hair curlers and slippers while shopping.

I clearly remember how Christmas shopping used to be, long before there were home computers or fancy phones – long before there even were any malls around. Shopping when I was young meant having to bundle up and go downtown, where all of the stores were separate and outside, not linked together in cozy, heated malls.

On a cold winter’s day, when my mother and I would take the bus downtown, she’d make me wear a warm coat, hat, mittens, a scarf and even long underwear. Then we’d go into one of the stores, where the temperature was hotter than the surface of the sun, and after only about five minutes, I’d whine that I was going to faint. 

My favorite part of Christmas shopping when I was a kid was the hot-chocolate break we always took at Woolworth’s lunch counter.  Not only was the hot chocolate thick and rich, it was topped off with a big dollop of real whipped cream. And it was served in heavy ceramic mugs, nothing Styrofoam.

Woolworth’s was my favorite store when I was young. Just about all of my allowances were spent there. I used to enjoy buying costume jewelry and then having it engraved. It fascinated me to watch the clerk use the hand-operated engraving machine, where a metal stencil of each letter was used and had to be traced over and over again, which seemed to take forever. 

I also was magnetically drawn to the pet department upstairs. I think just about every kid I knew back then bought, at some point, one of the store’s live turtles that came in a little plastic bowl with a fake palm tree in the center.  I hate to say it, but once those turtles left the store, their days were numbered. None of us kids knew the first thing about taking care of a turtle. I remember one of my friends put so much turtle food into the bowl, it absorbed all of the water and turned into something that resembled wet sawdust.

Woolworth’s also sold baby alligators, which I thought would be a fun pet to own. But when I asked my mother if I could have one, she said (quote), “Over my cold, dead body!”  To this day, whenever I hear those urban legends about live, full-grown alligators roaming through the sewers of New York because they survived being flushed down the toilet by angry parents, I always wonder if they were purchased at Woolworth’s.

I also remember the Salvation Army bell ringers on the street corners downtown at Christmastime. But they didn’t just ring bells. They actually had musical instruments and played Christmas carols. My mom used to say that sometimes their lips would stick to their trombones or trumpets because it was so cold outside. So every time I passed by them after that, I’d stare at their lips, wondering if they had any skin left on them.

When I got older, Christmas shopping always seemed to involve driving to 10 different towns and spending so much money on gas, I no longer could afford to buy Christmas gifts. This was due to countless elusive searches for impossible-to-find items on people’s Christmas wish-lists.

Both my mother and my mother-in-law seemed to have a knack for sending me on the proverbial wild-goose chase.  I began to suspect they did it on purpose, solely to test both my patience and persistence…or maybe just to drive me crazy.

“Oh, I’d like a nice pink robe,” my mother-in-law answered matter-of-factly one year when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas.

A pink robe sounded simple enough to me – a quick and easy gift.

“But it has to be soft flannel, snap up the front, have three-quarter length sleeves, and be mid-calf length,” she then added. “Oh, and nothing belted, and I want it to have pockets to keep my tissues in.”

I can remember spending an entire day driving from store to store in search of that robe. I found ankle-length pink ones, knee-length pink ones, zip-up ones, button-up ones, long-sleeved ones and belted ones, none of which had pockets. And then, after 30 stores and 150 gallons of gas later, I finally found the perfect robe…but it was yellow.   By then, I was so desperate, I was ready to hire a seamstress to make the darned robe…or have her dye the yellow one pink.

Believe me, nowadays, finding that robe would be simple. I’d just grab my laptop and enter all of the specifics into “search,” and the computer would do all of the searching for me while I sat comfortably on the sofa and sipped hot tea.

Sure, Christmas shopping might be a whole lot simpler nowadays. But to be honest, I don’t think it’s nearly as much fun.

And I really do miss the hot chocolate at Woolworth’s.


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