As the holiday season arrives, I want to do you a favor.
The favor of taking you by your most sentimental hand and walking you down Chicago's great street State Street when it was still an amazing, awesome, astonishing midway of childhood desires. When exactly was that...? Exactly the last time you and I took the time to stroll it like a child.
My very first time was in the dark days of the Great Depression. Looking back now from the Great Recession, I remember it more vividly than I do this very morning. It began as a long, noisy ride with Mom on Chicago's Lake Street L train....inhabited with all sorts of tall, heavily-dressed people sternly reading their newspapers...feeling the tug of her hand when someone called out "State & Wabash" ....then being led down the bustling station stairs to a large gray building marked Marshal Fields. [I understand something from New York City called a Macy's has since usurped that grand old store].
The air was crisp, the crowds thick, and the place rang with bells, chimes and carols. I could only see it from down about Mom's waistline, but it felt like some magical crash of sights, sounds and smells unlike anything I had known before. It quickly grew louder as we turned a corner and -- then! -- State Street itself. A long wondrous blaze of ornamented street lamps, store fronts, clanging streetcars, shoving adults, fat red Santas tinkling their bells, angelic choirs from loudspeakers somewhere. If this was heaven, Father Cunningham hadn't been misleading us.
Mom efficiently took me by my little gloved hand to gawk at each of those celebrated Marshall Field window displays. They looked out on State Street, which in turned looked in at them. At age eight I had witnessed the excitement of giant coal trucks, horse-drawn milk wagons, screaming ambulances, and Dad's splendid new 1937 Dodge sedan. But nothing quite like this. Nor, did it seem to me, did any of the other oohing and awing kids at the end of their mother's hands.
Animated Victorian living room scenes with slippered children gathering around ornamented trees...Jolly Old St Nick squeezing down wreathed chimneys...puppy dogs and kitty cats and winking elves by what seemed like hundreds...oh and all those incredible dinner feasts around which the families would gather...plus of course the Nativity Scene reminding adults and kids alike what this whole day was supposed to be all about.
I remember instantly deciding I never wanted to leave. Very much like my own children the first time they walked Disney's dazzling Main Street. But leave we eventually did. Not only State Street but also that delicious fourth-floor toy department inside. It seemed to me it held all the toys in all the towns in all the world!
I've since learned all those toys are actually in big-box warehouse stores like ToysRus where they have now turned in their credentials as Christmas magic for their new status as boxed-and-ready stuff. Sometime I miss being eight. I think maybe sometime you do too.
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