How many times did you visit the mall this week? This month? Or this year? This week with Christmas fast approaching, I could not help but remember a Christmas from my childhood. When I was 6 maybe 7 years old, I remember that we started an annual tradition. Dad's day off was Tuesday, my favorite day of the week. I think it still is...anyway. He and Mom came to our school in Washington, Michigan and picked us up after school let out for the day. There would be no long bus ride home today. They had a surprise for us. We piled into the station wagon and headed to the city. We sat in the back seat with our eyes glued to the windows. We lived in rural Macomb County. It was farm country so a trip to the city was a "big deal" for the country kids.
As we drove from one small town to the next, we saw wonderful holiday lights and decorations. Stores with their windows all decorated for Christmas. We drove past grocery stores, drug stores, schools, churches, factories, hospitals and some buildings that were so big I did not know what they were. The closer we got to the city, we saw more and more stores, more and more lights and decorations. The towns got closer together and eventually it seemed as if it was one BIG city. There were no empty farm fields, just houses, stores, parking lots and other big building one after another for as far as you could see.
We kept asking where we were going but Mom and Dad would just say "you'll see." She told us to think about what you want for Christmas. What do you want Santa to bring? It began to snow which made the moment even more magical, more like Christmas to me. I don't remember being concerned about the snow or riding/driving in it, like I am sometimes today. Fear is a learned behavior, don’t you just wish that you could unlearn it sometimes...
Eventually we turned into a large parking area which seemed full of parked cars. It did not seem like there would be room for us! Dad drove up and down the lanes looking for a place to park. It seemed as if it took forever to find one and three little voices kept asking, ”Where are we? Where are we? Where are we?”…”put your hat’s on, get your gloves”, is all Mom would tell us. We will get out of the car soon. And that is just what we did. “You gotta hold my hand now!”, we were told.
Soon we walked into a large building. We walked down a walk way and into a Christmas Wonderland. And there he was, it was Santa Claus! I was so scared, hiding behind my mother’s leg. I could hardly believe it was him. There was a long line of children with their parents waiting to see him. I had never seen him in person before. “ What would I say”, I thought. He was so big and I was so small. “Do I have to sit on his lap”, I asked. “Only if you want to,” Mom replied. As the line inched closer and closer to him, my heart raced and I did not know what to do.
Soon it was our turn, Pam got right up there like she was not afraid and told him what she wanted. Then Sue’s turn. She seemed timid but told Santa what she wanted. When it was my turn, I froze and stared. I touched the pant leg of his suit and it was soft as velvet. He spoke and tried to get me to come closer, “climb right up here on my lap” and I just could not do it. When he asked what I wanted, I could not speak. (now you all know the real me…who can’t be quiet…right?) He asked if I wanted a doll and I nodded my head yes, eyes as big as saucers and my mouth hanging open. I was in such awe and time stood still.
As we were leaving, Pam said, “ how come you didn’t tell him what you wanted?” but all I could say was, “I did not know”. We hurried back to the car. I did not know how Dad could find it with all the other cars in the parking lot. We made our way through the parking lot and back onto the busy roadway. It was a short distance later and Dad turned into another parking lot. When we asked Mom where we were going she said, “to get some dinner.” I thought that is odd, we never go “get dinner”, you make it. As we got out of the car, I could smell dinner! We entered the front door and it looked much like a place that I had seen on TV. They sat us at a round table with a vinyl bench which wrapped all the way around the table. It was one big seat that we all could sit in at once. I remember having the best fried chicken in the world last night. I thought I was in heaven. As we left, I asked “what’s the name of this place” … “Howard Johnsons”, my Mom replied.
This was the beginning of a tradition which we did annually…the first week of December on Tuesday evening. We would go to the mall / shopping center once a year....
I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas full of great memories old and new!