I remember the age when a child could sit in the front seat, and do so without a belt or harness. The December of my first-grade was one such time. On this particular day, the presence of snow clouds threw a steel grey over the late afternoon, and I welcomed staying in the warm car while my mom joined other last-minute shoppers.
Lowrie’s drug, Winn’s dime store, and Wallace Dry Goods crowded along the block-long commercial district. Although only a town of two thousand, holidays and Saturdays were busy, with schoolboys buying dime-store candy and curlered girls browsing the LP’s. In years to come, I would shop at White’s Auto for bicycles and The Bee Hive for fashion, but on this day, I sat content on the bench seat of our Dodge sedan, staring at the display window of Ball’s Department Store.
Balls’ entrance was the most unique of any business along Berkshire Street. Built with an angled pane of glass from the street to their front door, shoppers could stand underneath a sturdy triangular awning to peer at the detailed display. Today, I would do the same from my vantage point in the car.
Behind the large display window, mannequins clothed in Christmas finery held toys and gifts next to a stylish aluminum tree. A thin carpeting of glitter-sprinkled cotton represented newly-fallen snow, and a motorized color wheel rotated washes of tinted light upon the entire scene.
As straggling shoppers broke my reverie, snow began falling in that slow magical way, where singular bits float in a circular motion until melting on contact. Mama had left the car running for warmth, but I rolled down the window to catch flakes on my tongue and smell the cold, crisp air. The chill felt good for a few moments, so I inhaled deeply, stimulating my lungs with the moisture of crystalized fog. Someone in town burned wood in their fireplace, and I was aware of the sting of mesquite in my nostrils.
Thoroughly chilled, I upped the window and the heater, wishing I had the blanket Mama kept in the trunk. Turning to the radio, I was delighted to find a station featuring “all-Christmas until the 25th.” As the melody mingled with snowflakes, Bing Crosby’s familiar words came alive before my eyes.
City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style
In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas.
There was a feeling to this “city” Christmas, a new one that I’d never known before. Raised on a farm, all of my other December memories included only family and prairie grass, not the lights and shoppers before me. The mixture of bustling passer-by’s, gentle snowfall, and multicolored twinkle slowly melted into my soul like my grandmother’s peppermint, sweetening each subsequent awareness.
Strings of streetlights, even stop lights blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Christmas came to me from all senses that evening in music, memories, and mindfulness. Although I never heard the chime of a single bell, my heart took home the melody of a wordless carol. It was through the window of a 1958 Dodge that I first realized Christmas to be contentment of heart rather than contents of a gift.
As I reminisce over that December long ago, I’m warmed by the words of Laura Ingalls Wilder, “We are better throughout the year for having in spirit, become a child again at Christmas time.” Let’s breathe a prayer of thankfulness and allow the music and the memories to take us there again.