Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Christmas in My Old Home Town

In Mount Vernon, New York, that's what it was called.

The Avenue.

Fourth Avenue to be precise.  And, since I lived on Fifteenth Avenue, it was an eleven block walk to the major shopping area of my hometown.

Here it is decked out in Christmas glory.

Now there was an interesting quirk I must first mention about Mount Vernon's major consumer thoroughfare.  The commuter railroad cut a crevice right through the city.  On one side of the bridge over the train tracks, the street was Fourth Avenue.  North of the span, the very same road was called Gramatan Avenue. 

As a kid, I never understood this.  In reality, the Gramatan part of Fourth Avenue had a bunch of stores, but none that we frequented.  The only things that got our attention on Gramatan were the RKO Proctor's movie theater, Chicken Delight, and my orthodontist, Dr. Arthur Ashe Not the Tennis Player, who I've previously written about here.

But, I wildly digress...

Once Thanksgiving rolled around, it was time for Christmas shopping and my mom rarely deviated from Fourth Avenue's stores.  Back then, there was only one night a week where the stores stayed open for evening shopping.  That would be Thursday and, regardless of the weather, I would get dragged out for the walk down First Street and the treasures that could be found on Fourth Avenue.  On these excursions, I played a major role.

To carry the packages.

I remember the stores and their location like the back of my hand.  There was Fanny Farmer's Candy Store on the corner as soon as you turned onto Fourth.  That is, if I had not waylaid my mom into letting me stop at the Intown Newspaper shop to check out the latest Archie or Superman comic book.  If I wasn't that lucky, our first prolonged and, for me, boredom-inducing stop would be Bromley's Dress Shop.

I'd sit in the chair outside the dressing room area and wait for sleep and/or death to relieve me of my misery.  Mom would be in major "trying on" mode.

But, wait, aren't we supposed to be Christmas shopping?  Why are you trying on clothes when we are looking for a present for Aunt Ronnie?

"Be quiet.  And....don't tell your father."

This was torture without the benefit of a rack.

When it came to Bromley's, the Yuletide season for Mom was not just giving and receiving, it was also charging it and wearing it home yourself.

If we were lucky, the seemingly seven or eight hours we spent in Bromley's was balanced by a visit to Brodbeck's Record Store.  My mother was one of those odd ducks who listened to a lot of Top 40 radio and would go out to buy the 45 rpm platters herself.  I'd sometimes find a record album that I would want.  Holding it aloft, I would look to her.

Can I?

"It's too close to Christmas."

The answer I would hear for practically anything I wanted.  And, each year, the words would be uttered earlier and earlier.  I can swear I asked once for a toy in July and I heard the now-patented response. 

I know, I know.  It's too close to Christmas.

Further up the street would be Mount Vernon's version of a department store.  Genung's.  They were Macy's with less overhead and no Thanksgiving parade attached.  My mother would spend the most time on Thursday nights knocking off her Christmas list.  You had housewares, perfumes, and clothing for all ages.  This presented another annual problem.

My mother often needed to buy my Christmas clothing gifts there.  You know the like.  Underwear, socks, gloves, sweaters.  I knew what she was there for.  She knew that I knew what she was there for.  This was the most un-covert mission possible.  But, yet every year, we went through the drama one more time. 

"Okay, go over to the other side of the store for a while.  I need to look at some things here."

Uh-huh.  Like things for me?

So, almost like clockwork, I would wander around every department that didn't sell anything remotely looking like attire for an eight-year-old boy.   Bored through my skull, I would amble back to Mom.

"I'm not done yet.  Go away."

More staring at pots, pans, and pillow cases.


"I'm not done yet.  Go away."

When I really was at my wit's end, I'd start to play on the escalator that went to the second floor.  Up.  Down.  Up.  Then down again.   Eventually somebody would chase me.

Finished with her haul, my mother would dump all the packages in my arms.  So, I was carrying all these presents that I would have to feign both surprise and delight for on Christmas morning.  Even as a youngster, the absurdity of it all was not lost on me.

We'd then go across the street to the Fair, which was Mount Vernon's version of what is now Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  Lots of housewares and breakable glass stuff on tall shelves.  As I trailed my mother and stumbled around with packages like Jerry Lewis in "The Errand Boy," I needed the precision of a jeweler to avoid knocking anything over.

"Watch where you're going."

I can't, because it is impossible to see through these bags which are holding all my new socks and t-shirts.

When the acrobatics that were needed to navigate the Fair's aisles became too daunting, Mom would throw up her hands in disgust.

"I'll have to come back when you're not with me."

And when will that be?  So I can kneel on the floor and praise God.

There were other stops on our Thursday night tour.  H.L. Green's five and dime store.  There was a toy section that would get my attention. 

"No.  It's too close to Christmas."

We'd pass by my idea of nirvana.  Shipman's Toy Store.

I know, I know.  It's too close to Christmas.

We somehow and inexplicably could never skip a visit to Albert's Hosiery.  Everything and anything stockings.  What the heck were we doing in there?  Don't tell me that taupe pantyhose is going to wind up under Uncle Bob's Christmas tree?  Gee, who are you buying that for?

"Be quiet.  And...don't tell your father."

We'd make the block-long circuit up one side of Fourth Avenue and back down the other.   But, we would stick to the Avenue that nestled between First and Second Street.  If you went past Second Street, the quality of stores dropped to John's Bargain Basement level.  If I wonder where my adult elitism started, that may have been the kick-off point.  We didn't shop past Second Street.

Our last stop would be the Horn and Hardhart store, which sold all the Automat favorites in conveniently packaged containers that were easy to reheat.  That would be dinner.  My mother and I gravitated to their beef stew.  And, a personal favorite for me, was their rice pudding.  I would hold it up and look longingly at my mom.  Can I?  Or is it too close to Christmas?

"Now why would you ask a stupid question like that?  Put it in the basket."

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at Carlo's on Tuckahoe Road.

1 comment:

Leotalian said...

I felt like I was shopping with you. How oddly fun. Hey, you may want to replace home with own in the following
"where the stores stayed home for evening shopping"