In Own Backyard….Celebrating the present, remembering the pastThis week I celebrated my birthday. My office staff treated me to a taco buffet, frosted zucchini bread and even a bouquet of flowers.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
This week I celebrated my birthday. My office staff treated me to a taco buffet, frosted zucchini bread and even a bouquet of flowers. They posted giant posters all over the office with a photo of me with Santa from last Christmas (with Santa cropped out) and wishing me a happy birthday. As a result, several of the visitors to our office that day wished me a happy birthday and tried to guess my age (“Let’s see, you must be 39 this year, right?” Wink. Wink.).
I received numerous congratulatory messages on Facebook (one from a girl I graduated from high school with and haven’t seen or heard from since!), as well as a full-length rendition of the happy birthday song on my voice mail from my daughter on the East Coast.
All of this birthday hoopla was a pretty big high for me, especially since I long ago stopped thinking of birthdays as anything other than a family get together.
Birthdays at my age are interesting in other ways as well. When we had our family birthday celebration over the weekend, we found ourselves spending a lot of time looking back and talking about things in our lives that have come and gone – pets, hairstyles, boyfriends, canoe trips and Dayton’s.
I recalled how, when I was a little girl growing up in a small town in northern Minnesota, probably the biggest adventure of my life was to go to downtown Minneapolis to visit Dayton’s or one of the other grand old department stores there. It was the first time I’d ever ridden an escalator, and it held equal parts of fascination and horror for me. While I loved riding it, I dreaded the moment I would have to step off at the end where the moving steps flattened out and disappeared under the floor. I thought that if I failed to step off at just the right moment, my feet would surely be shredded at the end of the escalator!
My sister reminisced over how she remembers riding the elevator which, at that time, had a live operator who wore white gloves. As you stepped on to the elevator, the operator would formally request, “What floor, please?” and then push the appropriate button. As you got off, the operator would warn, “Watch your step, please.”
Another cause for fascination were the pneumatic tubes and/or containers propelled along wires by a catapult used by big stores such as Dayton’s, Donaldson’s and Powers to convey a customer’s payment to the business office. I remember looking on in awe as the tube buzzed overhead and whisked out of sight and then waiting excitedly for its imminent return and the enclosed change we had coming to us.
Dayton’s 18-foot ceilings were graced with crystal chandeliers, and there was a Baby Grand piano right in the center of the store that was often played by guest musicians (that’s how Minnesota-based entertainer Lorie Line first got her start!).
For me, going to those big department stores was less about shopping and more about the adventure of it all.
My mother recalled the time that, as a young bride when my dad was away overseas, she worked at the Powers department store in downtown Minneapolis one Christmas in the lingerie department. While she really liked the work, she said, the air in the store was so dry in the wintertime that every time she went to ring up a purchase on the big metal cash register, she’d get a horrendous shock. She decided not to stay on after the holiday season was over!
My own recollection of the Powers store was the enclosed lobby, where they would pipe in the scent of some trendy fragrance they were promoting that week. A sign would read something like, “The fragrance in the air today is L’Air du Temps.” The idea was that it would subtly persuade customers to head straight to the fragrance department to pick up a bottle of exotic scent.
Of course, there was simply nothing like those big department stores at Christmastime, we recalled, with their animated window displays and the magic of Dayton’s eighth floor auditorium…. In those days, there was no Hollidazzle parade, no rapid-fire visits to the neighborhood malls to see Santa. Christmas in the big city meant a trip downtown to watch the Cratchit family hoist Tiny Tim to their shoulders, or Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing in the Land of the Sweets, or “The Night Before Christmas” played out in full animation in the department stores’ picture windows.
It was fun to look back on those old memories – kind of a pleasant rite of passage when celebrating a birthday.
And even today, every once in a while, I dream I’m endlessly riding the escalator at Dayton’s, trying to find my way out....