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broodings from the burrow

December 10, 2021

virtual advent tour 2021: day 10
posted by soe 6:00 am

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Today, we have another post from my mom, about the downtown Christmas shopping experience:

I grew up in southern Connecticut, so, as a kid, we had to travel in from the country to New Haven to shop. It was always a treat when we could go just to shop rather than to pick up needed parts for my father’s garage. And Christmas was just plain special with all the street decorations along and above the streets as well as on the New Haven Green.

There were two special department stores at that time, but the one that was most special was Shartenberg’s. It had an intriguing start when you parked your car. The parking garage adjacent to or part of Shartenberg’s was an automated elevator for you car. (Like the Carvana tv ads.) They would drive it in and up it would go to an empty slot. Mum would stop to let me watch the first couple of times, till she finally said you already know where it’s going! Nonetheless, still fascinating to see in the ’50s.

We would then go in the back door of the store into the lunch room. In those days, you looked to see who was almost done and you would stand behind the stool of that person. We always hoped to find a couple to get two stools, otherwise I would sit and mum would stand behind the person next to me. An added push perhaps? This was normal to do and no one thought twice of it. Imagine that today, someone hovering over your shoulder? Anyway, I would always get jello (red) with whipped cream … always a treat as jello was pure sugar, and never allowed at home.

Then we would go into the main part of the store. This was one of the tallest buildings in New Haven at the time … six floors with each floor devoted to different departments. After what seemed like forever we were allowed to the top floor … in that creaking elevator with the attendant opening and closing the gates till you got to … The Toy Department!!!!!!! (I’m sure the threat of being good was offered up beforehand so mum could get her shopping done.)

The top floor was always the beat up looking one that looked like half was used for storage the rest of the year, but at Christmas it expanded and became a Christmas wonderland. In one section was Santa, just as you see in the old Christmas movies with the lines meandering through the toy aisles. But there were two other special parts that you silently kept trying to get mum to move faster to get to for she still had toys to buy to send home to England. I’m sure there was a lot of jiggling that had nothing to do with the ladies room!!!! They had a “fishing pond” filled with wrapped presents tied with a ring. I’m sure mum had to pay for it, but I never noticed. You had a fishing pole … in those days a stick with a string and hook … and you fished for a present. I have absolutely no memory of any of these prizes, it was the joy of the hunt! But I do have a vague memory of being pushed aside one year by my brother when he wanted what I was after. Hmmmm.

And then … they had the train. I had never seen anything like this before. It didn’t go far, just in an odd meandering shaped oval around a fake ice rink as it was confined to a corner of the floor, but it had a Santa’s helper conducting and the individual cars to sit in. I remember anxiously waiting in line and then handing over my paper ticket. (Must have had one of those tickets for the fishing pond as well!) It didn’t get any better for a little kid. The rest of the year it sat behind a partition of some kind only to come back out every Christmas. You would try to catch of glimpse of it other times of the year, but that made it all the more exciting when you went and it was finally open once again.

Thanks, again, Mum! This sounds like such fun!

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