Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas Story, Part One


The Christmas story I'm about to tell you took place a long time ago, way back in 1972. In many ways it seemed like the world was divided into two groups: cool people who said things like Groovy, and uncool people who got excited about things like Tupperware. My parents were 29, and couldn't quite decide which group they were in. I was 4, and couldn't decide which group was better, or which one I wanted to join someday.

The TV shows catered to both groups. There was The Mod Squad and Bewitched, M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show, I Dream Of Jeannie and The Waltons and All In The Family.

And the music. There were songs on the radio I only half understood but loved to sing along with anyway. Carly Simon sang about how Anticipation was making her wait. Kansas was singing about A Horse With No Name. There was a Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress and Saturday In The Park and Rocketman and Brandy who was a fine girl and Bill Withers sang Lean On Me when you're not strong.

Nixon was in the White House and there was a war going on called Vietnam. We lived in Seattle and there was a group called The Black Panthers active on the west coast and in Seattle itself. They were, to me, mysterious and cool and ready to be a surprise every second, except no one seemed sure how. They wore uniforms and berets and would have marching drills and were trying to get programs together where all kids, rich or poor, could see the doctor and get hot lunches.

It was Christmastime and my mom announced she and I were going to the Bon. This was her nickname for The Bob Marche, a large department store downtown. Whenever she said store names they always sounded personal, like clubs where she was a member. Fredericks was Frederick and Nelson. Fredericks, The Bon, and Nordstrom were my mother's big three.

Shopping at a grocery store or a regular store was no big deal but shopping at one of these stores was always a fancy event. We'd get dressed up and my mom would take extra time on her hair and lipstick. After she buttoned up my coat, she'd tell me to pick out a Christmas pin to wear. There were 7 or 8 of them in her jewelry box, bells and trees and candy canes, all with sparkly colored stones, all purchased at The Bon on previous trips. I'd pick one and she'd pin it on my coat and I'd feel grown up and fancy all day.

And so we went to The Bon, and there were happy people hurrying all over, all of them dressed up, just like us. There were decorated Christmas trees with shining stars on top and thick red and gold bows tied in the branches. Everywhere you looked it was shiny and sparkling, like in that place it would be Christmas forever.

Because it was not serious shopping and was instead a kind of social shopping, my mother was in no rush. She'd look at this and that and would make friendly chit chat with the sales ladies and my job was to stand next to her and not touch anything. My mom was good at her shopping and I was good at the standing. 

Except it was hard to stand still. I much preferred to run around all crazy, so to have to be so good for so long was no fun. I recall thinking that since I had watched my mom shopping so many times that I knew all about how to do it.

And so, while my mother stood at the glove counter, trying on different pairs and making conversation while I stood, quietly, by her side, I decided to do some shopping all by myself, just like a big lady.

I walked off, into the crowds of people, and when my mother stopped to look for me, I was gone.

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