BAh! Humbug! Just got back from doing a bit of Christmas shopping. I know, some of you think it's a tad bit early, but since my family is spread out all over the nation, I have to have the gifts wrapped and ready to be sent out the first week of December. Anyway, while I was standing in line waiting for an incompetent clerk to scan the bar codes (Heaven help us if the scanner breaks!) of the customer in front of me, my thoughts went back to Christmas shopping of my childhood.....
The day after Thanksgiving marked the official beginning of the retail shopping season. Every little community of three-thousand or so people was self-contained in the days before Wal-Mart and Target. There were hardware and drug stores, jewelers, clothing shops, and butchers, mechanics, small little groceries and gift shops all owned by local citizens that we knew and respected. The crowning glory of the business district in my child's eyes was the five and dime, an emporium of all things wonderful.
When the Christmas toys arrived there, my friends and I would walk downtown to give it a good study. We examined all the dolls and debated which was the prettiest. Looked over the new sleds and books. Then we would walk up and down the aisles making a mental list of presents for family and friends. Would mother like that rhinestone brooch shaped like a candy cane? Or maybe that pretty little vase? It looks like grandma would be getting another pair of hand knit slippers this year again. Maybe the variegated yarn would look snazzy. The store held everything anyone's heart could desire. On and on we would debate and calculate how far our budget could stretch. Such joy and anticipation in the giving! People really did seem to have goodwill towards their fellow man back then. So unlike now days when everyone seems harried and grumpy. And the money being spent! If you ever want proof that money cannot buy happiness, have a good look at today's Christmas shoppers.
The following week, my mother would return with me to the store and I would show her the doll that my friends and I had scoped out. Hoping against hope that come Christmas morning she would be under the tree. Then we would go to the fabric department and my mother would select the fabric for our Christmas dresses. She was a master at making a pattern fit on selvedge pieces, sometimes it seemed she could make a formal gown out of a handkerchief! To this day I still remember those Christmas dresses. After her sewing needs were met, she stopped in front of the glass cased candy department. You have to understand that my mother was rather tight with a nickel. So tight that we said you could hear the buffalo squeal from her pinching it so tight, so it truly did seem like a Christmas miracle to us girls that she would actually buy some sweets. And what wonderful candy! Little chocolate stars, nougats with candy canes on them that could be stretched into funny shapes, cream filled drops, and my favorite seafoam, which squeaked when you bit it.
And then we'd make a trip downstate to the big department stores like J.L. Hudsons and Jacobsens (they had valet parking!). To us country kids, they seemed like the final word in sophistication. Just thinking about those good old days when clerks knew their stock and cared about the customers, is enough to send me into a nostalgia swoon. Trying to explain department stores to the younger generation is impossible. The invasion of big box and discount stores have ruined the entire shopping experience. Sometimes progress (if that's what it is) isn't a good thing. We even had a small department store in our little town. There were a few racks of clothing, but most things were held in boxes inside drawers. You would ask the clerk for a slip size 34 and she would pull out lovely little tissue lined boxes containing the desired apparel. First a cheap cotton one that would be too plain for a nun, then next a costly one festooned with crystal pleats and a silk rosebud at the top. She knew her customers, so it usually took only a few tries for her to come up with the perfectly pleasing one.
Speaking of department stores, I remember reading advise on how to decorate your Christmas tree from a department store window dresser ( remember the beautiful windows?) and used the tips for years. Now I use a pre-lit tree, much to my family's happiness, since I used to drive them crazy with the lights. Here's the tips:
How to trim a Christmas tree
Wrap the trunk in garland so the lights will reflect outward. Beginning at the bottom of the tree, wrap the lights from the back to the tip and back again from each branch. ( It will take a lot of lights, but does it ever make the tree glow!) Place the larger ornament closest to the trunk. When placing garland do not make the loops too even, it should look like icing dripping.
I used to follow all this advice and would get lots of compliments, but now I'm too lazy. I've even gone to a tabletop tree. Never thought I'd become one of those people. Always thought they were kind of Scrooge-like!
Whew! I made it through this entire rambling post without writing a recipe! Although I did consider writing the recipe for seafoam. Of course that might change tomorrow, as I just received my shipment of dates from ohnuts.com. They really do have the nicest dates, so much better than those woody, dried up ones I find in the grocery store. Also people are starting to return their Christmas tins with hints about they'd like to see them returned filled. So tomorrow I'll be in the kitchen baking away.