Wednesday, December 05, 2007

a la recherche du temps perdu

The photo is of the intersection of 8th & Market Streets in the sleepy little burg of Wilmington, Delaware, sometime prior to 1959, which is when they took down the last of the overhead electric trolley lines. I missed the electric trollies because they didn't belch out diesel fumes and they were quiet, unlike their replacements.

The picture was taken near the holidays because the Christmas lights are up, hanging from the lamposts all along Market.

My mom worked in that Kresge's on the corner, before I was born. She worked behind the lunch counter. When I was little my aunt would sometimes take me there for a soda treat. This was back when they actually drew the Coca-Cola syrup from a fountain pump and mixed it with the requisite amount of fizzy soda to make a real fountain Coke. They were far better than bottled Cokes.

Way off in the distance, on the upper right-hand side of the picture, you can see the top of the Hotel DuPont, at 11th & Market.

Market Street was turned into a pedestrian mall in the 70's which killed off what little remained of downtown. To this day they keep trying new ideas to revive downtown, but nothing seems to work because they can't restore the one thing that is irreplaceable.... the era. I grew up in Wilmington in post-war America. Things were good. Jobs were pretty plentiful. There was always meat and vegetables and potatoes on the table. Nobody (it seemed) went hungry. Everybody had a job and was buying a car or a house or a "hi-fi" or a tv in those days. Appliances flew off dealer floors. You could buy things "on installment" in those pre-credit card days. TV sets were as much pieces of furniture as they were something you watched. They had to "match the decor" of your living room.

Bargains were still to be had at places like Wanamaker's or Strawbridge's or (for the real bargain hunters) Wilmington Dry Goods.

And around Christmas time Market Street got transformed.

I have never forgotten the year I wanted a toy so badly I could taste it. I kept asking and asking if "Santa was going to bring it" and I got shot down every time. It was some sort of "Astro-Lander" thing that had lots of flashing lights and a side door that opened so a lunar rover could be lowered to the ground and then it would run around. Look, don't knock it. It was the cat's ass when I was a kid.

Anyway, on a snowy December night, I left my grandmother shopping at the Wilmington Dry and started walking up Market Street, through the crowds (I was all of 9 or so). Suddenly I stopped. There, in the window of a novelty store or drug store or something was the toy of my dreams. I RAN back down the street, slipping on the snow-covered sidewalks, to tell my Nana that I'd just saved Santa a lot of hard work and that I'd found it myself.

That good woman just sighed. I knew right then, in that brief moment, the truth about Christmas and Santa. Selfishly, I clung to the illusion, resolved to hang onto it long enough to get my wish.

Nana was not a rich woman, you see. And this toy was not cheap, probably more than $10 (1959) dollars.

But that present was under the tree come Christmas morning.

Of all the toys I got in my childhood, from American Flyer trains to Erector Sets, I have never forgotten that one because for the first time in my life I knew just how much someone who loved me was willing to sacrifice in order to give me a few, brief moments of happiness.

My Nana passed away in 1968, a few months before I entered the Navy. I was 19.

She may have been a drunk. Her alcoholism probably consummed a lot of my childhood and made me the co-dependent ACOA I am today. But when push came to shove, my Nana loved me.

And I loved her.


Bev Sykes said...

That's even better than "A Christmas Story." Even brought a tear to my eye. Lovely memory.

Alan/Libdrone said...

mmmmm. but what was the toy?

bozoette said...

I love this story! We had a Kresge's in our town -- I loved sitting at the lunch counter and drinking ice cream sodas!

Aerten said...

Oooh! Kresge's! I remember the one up the street from us.

Christmas memories... Marshall Field's on State Street in Chicago. Their window displays were spectacular, and their ginormous tree rising through the middle of the store was a sight to behold. Ah, and lunch with Grandma in their restaurant!

Ain't nuthin' even CLOSE to being that spiffy in Smalbany.

JoyZeeBoy said...

(baby, taking a bow)

THANK YOU ALL! I had no idea that memory would be so popular (or jog so many memories).

I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. It's still one of my warmest, fuzziest memories of childhood and my late grandmother.