Sunday, December 23, 2012

Eleven Pipers Piping

When we were very young my father's office was in Philadelphia and one evening in December was always set aside for us to drive into the city from our suburban south Jersey home to meet him after work and tour the department store windows on Market Street. Gimbels, Wannamakers, Strawbridge and Clothier, and Lits filled their windows with amazing holiday scenes populated by animated dolls who skated and caroled and danced and wrote letters to Santa and opened their tiny packages under their miniature trees.

Afterward, we would go into Lits and ride the escalator upstairs to the Christmas section where they had an entire colonial village with even more spectacle and animation, and the red velvet ropes lining the way led right to the main event, a visit with Santa. A shy child, I never really liked having to talk to such an intimidating soul, but an obedient child as well, I always did it anyway. I felt better with my brother and sister by my side-- I don't think they really liked it either and so feeling protective of them gave me something to focus on other than my own discomfort.

One year, just beyond Santa, they had a shopping area for kids only. The idea was that we could buy gifts to surprise our parents. The place was stocked with inexpensive little things that any generic mom or dad might like. To my memory, this was my first independent shopping experience and I remember struggling with wanting to get things that I liked rather than things I thought my dad might like. I ended up buying him a cool yellow mini-flashlight that I really, really liked.

I don't remember what I bought my mom, but I do know what my little sister chose. It was an upright black and white vinyl fish stuffed with sawdust. About 8 inches tall, it had big red lips and was a dead ringer for Charlie Tuna without the beret and glasses. The minute she saw it, my sister was sure that our mom would love it, and nothing my brother or I could say would convince her otherwise. At four, she already had a shopping mind of her own.

Maybe she was right. That fish sat on my mom's dresser, right next to the Infant of Prague, for years. I wonder what those two talked about, anyway.

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