CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Memories of Christmases long ago Part Three

Submitted: December 14, 2016

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Submitted: December 14, 2016

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CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Part three:

For the few short years that I was a pre-schooler, my father worked in the heart of Downtown Rockford at a store called Camera Craft on West State Street. State Street in Rockford was also US Highway 20 and it ran the whole width of the city from East to West, but the best part of that whole street was the few blocks adjacent to the Rock River and running to the west. Across the State Street Bridge, which spanned a hundred yards or so across the Rock River, was East State Street. 
It could have been another country altogether. 
We only went there when passing through for any number of reasons. One of which was to catch US Highway 51 north back to the suburb of Loves Park where we lived.

Camera Craft was across from the State Theater in the first block from the river and just a few steps to the east was Hickey's restaurant where my mother would take us to meet my father for lunch when he was working as a clerk in the bustling camera store. Hickey's seemed to be very busy every time we went, but I would eventually get my banana split from the soda bar or a hamburger with a buttery toasted bun and dill pickle slices with plenty of ketchup, that was so good it ensured I would want to come back again and again and soon. We had department stores, Carson Pirie Scott, and Co., Rockford Dry Goods, and J. C. Penny in a four-clock stretch with Sears three bocks north and Woolworth and Kress just around the corner for the five and dime stores. We had two jewelry stores, Comay's Jewelry ( where years later they would sell Beatles records in the very back and they would see a lot of me ) and Gruno Jewelers. 

Gruno had a beautiful daughter, but that's another story for another day.

Osco Drugs, at the corner of North Main and State was the end of our Miracle Mile the way I remember it. Great memories to grow up with. Even if my father hadn't worked downtown, we woud have still spent a lot of time there. It was where you went to shop.

There were no malls. 

A few outdoor shopping centers here and there like our well-loved Meadow Mart in Loves Park. Ten to twelve stores tops, all in a straight line and all with a door onto the shared parking area.

But downtown Rockford was where you went to really shop! All day long every day ( except Sunday ) and into the early evening cars choked the eight square block area of the heart of downtown.
And Christmas shopping was the best shopping of the whole year! The downtown streets were lit up with holiday lights and every store window had some kind of slow-moving toys as attention-getters with a Santa and his workshop on a bed of cotton snow. There were elves and trains and Christmas gift ideas everywhere you looked. And all the best-loved Christmas music filled the air inside and out. 

It seemed to me that J.C. Penney topped them all every year. They had a lot of windows in front that went all the way down to the sidewalk where kids could look and find magic tucked down in every corner. There were life-sized reindeer and a life-sized Santa in his workshop with some elves and gifts everywhere. The store had what seemed like dozens of pairs of heavy glass doors that opened with a "WHOOSH!" of warm air that blew up from a steel grate in the floor. It warmed you as it warmed all the air between the outside doors and another set of glass doors on the inside of the entryway. I like to go through those doors on a cold shopping day. I liked to stay standing there, but I was always rushed along eventually.

Inside the store was a bright busy place with people and interesting stuff everywhere, but what struck you instantly were the awesome thirty foot ceilings. The store had a huge main floor and a third floor that was a place you only rarely saw. Small furniture and household items like lamps and hampers and ashcans that stood in your living room and when you pushed a button, the butts and ashes fell down into the cylinder under the ashtray top. I liked to empty the ash trays, but I found out that you first had to make sure that nothing was smoldering in there.

The Main Floor and the third floor were connected by a long stairway ( another reason why we didn't go up there as much ). There was a small elevator, too and that stopped on all the floors, including the floor in between the Main Floor and the Third Floor, which was called the Mezzanine Level.

There were stores like this in every downtown everywhere and in the early fifties, these Mezzanine floors were where the store offices were. You youngsters won't remember this, but it used to be that when you bought anything, the clerk wrote your purchase down in a ticket book at the counter and then clipped the paperwork and your cash to a clip on a wire and the whole thing was whisked up to the Mezzanine where they made change and then clipped it back on the wire and sent it back with your receipt. Some places did this with air-powered tubes like at the drive-up at your bank. It kept all the cash in one place and the whole system was a wonder to a young boy who wanted to know about everything.

Gift-wrapping was free and everyone used this service.

Then it was back out through the Whoosh doors and into the cold and crowds and the cars and the bus fumes and the wonder of downtown Rockford at Christmastime. Years later I would ride those big buses alone from Loves Park to go to my orthodontist appointments on the top floor of the tallest building in Rockford, the Rockford Trust Building next to Osco's.

Across the street and around the corner from Penney's was Kress & Co. It was dime store that was old even then, with rutted squeaking old wooden floors and lights hanging on long cords from another high ceiling. This place was MADE for kids like me! There were toys galore that were in bins and on counters and shelves that I could reach! Baseballs and gloves, cap guns and holsters just like Roy Rogers had and Hop-along Cassidy. Erector sets and board games and jackknives. Modeling clay and Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist dolls and in another part of the store I didn't much care for, there were Betsy Wetsy Dolls and play make-up and toy vacuum cleaners. 

I didn't beg for that stuff, but one year, I did ask Santa for and did receive an Easy-Bake Oven and I loved it. I think I made some brownies.

There was a glass display case and counter the whole width of the store up front that featured every kind of candy you could think of and then even more. They would measure you out a quarter pound of peanut clusters or pepperment sticks just so you could have two or three to eat on the way to the next store. Christmas shopping could be wonderful.

Sometimes we would ask for hamsters and rabbits and that took us to whole 'nother part of town.

Merry Christmas

BBB


© Copyright 2017 Brian Beebe. All rights reserved.

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