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Monday, November 28, 2011


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  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.


  1. I so agree with you about the big box stores. I love shopping in the local shops. It was special and important. I wish our country could get back to that. Every time I go into Walmart, I want to cry. It is cheaper...and I know that's important to so many of us, but I'm so overwhelmed there, and I can't help thinking of all the small shops that were put out of business because of this store. I love homemade the best!

  2. This was a wonderful post! Now you have sent me into a Nostalgia Swoon!! The five and Dime sounds amazing! When I was a child there was still one Five and Dime left that my mother had grown up going to, and we bought all of our holiday things there, such treasures to look through, and picking out gifts was so simple and enjoyable. I remember in the mid 90's when they closed the Five and Dime, there were articles and news stories about it, because it was so historic for our city, I was sad I wouldn't be able to bring my children when they were old enough to remember. Boy, they used to have such amazing customer service at stores when I was younger, how nice it would be to have a sales clerk helping out in the clothing departments like they used to. We do have a little pharmacy in our town that has a feel of a smaller store, which we enjoy going to, and it reminds me a little bit of the old five and dime. Yum, Seafoam candy!

    I so enjoy reading your blog posts Jane, as well as all of the comments you write on my posts, and have given you a Liebster Blog Award you can check it out here:

  3. Hi Jane, I remember those days too, they couldn't have been that far away. To young people today though our stories must sound like Little House on the Prairie! :) Life has changed so much and I miss those stores so much. In our little neighborhood we had everything we could have wanted in one small four corner shopping center. Jan's women's store, Chasen's men store, Quigley's five and dime, Thrifty drug with a soda fountain in the back. A pet store with real happy, well taken care of puppies in the window! What a delight for a child.

    There was a Hardware store, a chinese take out, Bank of America and Uncle Al's Toy Corral. Oh the happy days spent in that little store! Uncle Al was a real man, not just a name. He was kind and funny and extremely patient when counting out bags of pennies the children carefully saved to purchase their new game or doll. The little bags of penny candy, each piece thoughtfully picked the way children do.

    In the same four corner shopping area we had a bowling alley, a little neighborhood movie theater that showed Saturday matinees every weekend for the children. All our needs were met two blocks from home and by people who knew our names and never failed to ask how your mother was whenever you walked into the store.

    A few years ago when I went home, the same four corner shopping center is there but all the little needful stores are gone instead filled by cellular phone stores, nail salons, and Subways. The grocery store got bigger and one whole side was taken out for a Home Depot. Sigh.

    Anyway, I too long for those days when everyone got dressed up to go to down. There is a lovely book that talks about this pace of life that I think you would really enjoy. It is called "Standing in the Rainbow" by Fannie Flagg. It is a gem and one of my most favorite books. Have a good day ahead Jane! Delisa :)

  4. I LOVED that trip down memory lane, Jane. I, too, remember "going downtown" both in the "big" city of St. Paul with the fancy window displays and the small Iowa towns where we also lived (we moved around a lot growing up.) It was such a special experience at Christmas. Thanks for the wonderful post!!

  5. Hi Courtney! I was listening to an economist the other day (I'm an economy junkie and read the IMF site everyday)and an expert said that one way our country could get out of its financial woes was to go back to local businesses like they did in the good old days. You just feel better about spending your money when you know the owner of the store and know the money is going back into the community. Sadly, I don't see this happening in the near future.

  6. Hi April! Thank you for the award! How very kind of you. We were fortunate enough to still have a Woolworths in town when the boys were little, so they got to have the experience of eating at the lunch counter, etc. It was a little seedy by then, but the older boys still remember it.

    Thanks for the book suggestion, Delisa! I love Fannie, so I'm sure I'd enjoy it. Yeah, it is a shame that all those nice stores have been replaced by phone stores and nail salons. Do we really need so many? I guess the closest we come to a five and dime is the dollar store, but they just sell cheap shoddy stuff, so it's not the same at all.

    Glad you enjoyed it Sandy! I wish there was a way to post the feeling of those times. There really was a sense of goodwill.

  7. Jane,
    I don't remember shopping too much -but some of the stores we did go are gone like the Yankee store did you have one- was it Walgreens that had the lunch counter? We loved it thanks for the memories.

  8. Hello Vickie, my dear friend! Are you enjoying our blustery weather today? Ha! Could hardly keep the car on the road, the wind was so strong. Never heard of the Yankee store. Do you know they still have an old timey soda fountain up here in Port Austin in what was the old drug store? If you ever want to go back in time, you'll have to come for a visit! Bet you're having fun with your little grandson. He's getting to the age when Christmas is truly magical. Should be fun!

  9. Jane,
    we now have snow if it stays for christmas! Cold and blustery for sure! Christmas is fun for sure. I need to visit Port Austin someday sounds like a neat town.

  10. I have never been blessed with this kind of shopping :) But I wasn't raised here, so the memories or old fashioned ways come from reading and seeing pictures.

    Thank you for sharing Jane!



  11. Hi Vickie! We just got a dusting. Now I remember the items I forgot at the store - ice for the steps and a new ice scraper!

    You are too young to have remembered the olden days anyway, Maria! LOL! And it was a blessing. We spent a lot less money back then. No shoving stuff in the cart because it's cheap. No ill-fitting clothes that just sit in the closet. Everything was bought with a purpose and intent in mind, after deliberating about it. So where are you from? I'm interested!

  12. You write well. You have me thinking of when I was a child and visited the 'Dime' store. What a treat! I remember the old department stores, and remember how employees dressed up?? Come to think of it, remember how teachers dressed up? They all wore dresses or skirts (well, at least the women did...)! Another person here has mentioned lunch counters, I know Woolworth's had one, don't know about Walgreens.

  13. Oh Jane, I just had to respond to this post. Thank you for the memories! I think of all of them each year at Christmas and so wish it could still be this way. Going down the street, popping in and out of each store. Stomping our feet to get the snow off our boots before entering and then wiping them on the rug because my mom said so..I still do that but rarely see anyone do that now. My favorite part though was the Christmas lights and decorations! The same ones every year. They were on the lamp posts and draped across the street..oh so beautiful, especially when it was snowing!
    Hope you are enjoying your company!

    1. Oh memories! :) There was such a feeling of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men that seems to be missing these days. Don't you wish you could go back in time for a day and re-live Christmas again?