I have a love for shopping that is akin to idol worship. And since I don’t bowl, ski or ballroom dance (Now that I’m reading this-it’s no wonder I’m jiggly), I feel entitled to dive into every clearance display within 20 miles of my house. On this Cyber Monday I pay tribute to the woman who could change a department store excursion into an adventure.
The shops in poor neighborhoods are as dark and sparse as the homes that abut them. Going shopping meant to travel long and far by bus. My mother was, by nature a happy person, making our bus ride to Hoyt Street like the monorail at Disney World; a place to build our expectations of fun. She’d often chat with other passengers (a practice I didn’t inherit). Sweet faced with soft brown eyes and jet black hair, she was an appealing bus-mate. I’d often fall asleep on her lap while she and a stranger talked and laughed till one of them rang for her stop.
Entering Mom’s favorite department store after Thanksgiving turned both of us into Cinderellas; poor as church mice but ready to dance at the ball. We weren’t shoppers in the true meaning of the word since Mom’s budget didn’t include wardrobes from A&S, but we were devoted fans. In the Fragrance and Cosmetic Departments on the street level, I’d breathe in the mingled scents of expensive perfumes, while Mom sampled lipstick and powder testers. Glass counters wound around the main floor delighting us as we flowed with other holiday shoppers at our free buffet for the senses.
The third floor, also called the Fashion Floor had an upscale section where mom admired clothing from afar and warned me not to touch. The Rose Room, as it was called, was only one of the enticing department names that included The Regency and The Town and Country Shops. We were from gray and dusty New Lots, Brooklyn, yet there we were -eating in The Garden Room Restaurant as if we too lived in town or better yet in the country.
After lunching on hot roast sandwiches, piled high with beef slices over mashed potatoes draped with russet gravy that flowed just short of the rim of our plates, we’d head for the most magical of magical places- The Merrie Christmas Shoppe. There, seated on a red velvet throne, was Santa who assured me if I was good, he’d bring me a Ginny doll with black patent shoes and auburn hair just like mine.
Our last stop was the custard stand at the basement escalators where young women in crisp white uniforms sold frozen custard in tall glasses with long silvery spoons. The stand was made famous last summer by the NY Daily News’ Voice of the People Page. What started as one voicer’s memory of the creamy dessert topped with chocolate or strawberry sauce, swelled into a group reminiscence that lasted for months.
Over the years, my mother and I fought and made up, agreed and disagreed on some of my decisions and even more often on hers, but we loved shopping together even when her failing heart meant short trips with long lunches. I’d clear a place for her at a sturdy display bench and bring blouses and sweaters for her to peruse. Eventually, shopping with Mom wasn’t fun anymore. One day, racing through Lord and Taylor’s Misses department and worrying for her safety as she waited alone at the far end of the store, I decided to call it quits. I found her, as usual, chatting; this time with two elderly sisters who smiled as I approached. “Your mother told us you’re her personal shopper. She’s a very lucky woman,” they cooed to me. How difficult it must have been for Mom to lose her one simple pleasure, yet she made the most of our excursions.
I wonder how present-day Cyber Monday shoppers will reminisce about the thrill of apps and taps. Without frozen custard eaten with silvery spoons and no Moms nor magic, will they long for the good old days of free shipping and brown cardboard boxes left at the door?