May all your problems be mall ones
Monday, February 11, 2019 at 01:44PM
Jennifer

I'm fifth from the left, wearing the black velvet coat. Outside Rich's, Perimeter Mall, Atlanta, Christmas 1977 or '78.

Oh hey. Today I am moved to explore a certain topic to which my consciousness has been raised by two things: my last post, and a post on Shorpy.

As to Shorpy, let’s just say I’m addicted. Not a day goes by. Maybe this type of thing is not for everyone, but as far as I’m concerned, a site with nothing but commentary-free (except for the awesome Shorpy-community comments and Dave’s occasional acerbic-sarcastic corrections on grammar, spelling, usage, and general knowledge) historic pictures with clever titles is, to me, catnip with a side of Junior Mints.

As to the mall part, I could write a ream on how much — and why — I detest shopping malls. 

To illustrate, let me assure you that as a rarely-broken rule, nowadays I decline to go near a mall except to buy makeup at Dillard's when Lancôme and Clinique are in gift. And even then I take pains not to come within sight of the interior mall part; the soles of my shoes touch only the shiny floor of the anchor store. 

The reason is that for the year between college and marriage, I was a salesgirl at Evans, a dress shop at Southlake Mall in Merrillville, Indiana (the "Chicagoland" area). My territory was the coat department.

(It’s the very store — and department — where I bought the black velvet coat. Only, that was a whole year before I became an employee.)

Much like this year's Chicago weather in the news, and as I have previously outlined here, the winter of '78-'79 was bitterly brutal even by the rigorous standards of what’s colloquially and affectionately known as "da region" by dese, dem, and dose guys.

I rode to work with my roommate, Leah -- she being, of the two of us, the only one with transportation -- because she worked in another store in the same mall. Only, we had anything BUT the same schedule. Work it out: I was stuck in the stale recycled air for hours either before or after my shift, wandering, with nothing to do. 

Unless my adored fiancé could come and get me, of course -- but as a teacher and basketball coach, he worked long and odd hours too. We couldn’t even get officially engaged until the season concluded.

(There’s more than corn in Indiana; there’s hoops, and in the Hoosier State, it's more than a game. It's a religion.)

Looking back I wonder why, during my long lull times, I didn’t simply sit on a bench and read a book. Or write one. Or people-watch. Or shop — I love shopping. 

(Or at least, I used to. Now I point and click, and that suits me just fine. Going out among people is becoming more and more of a chore. I could easily become a recluse. What am I saying? I’m semi-reclusive as it is. Ask anyone. Ah. Subject for another day.)

But how many Orange Juliuses can one person drink? How many times can one cruise around the fashion displays at Casual Corner before putting something on layaway? How many engravable items can one consider buying from Things Remembered?

(Actually, I did buy TG an engraved letter opener from Things Remembered for Christmas that year. Forty-plus years later, it's as shiny as when he removed it from its box and said, that's nice. And it's still used on a daily basis to open our mail.)

I think during that winter before my June wedding, I may have been distracted by love-sickness. It’s a distinct possibility. There’s also the fact that, dressed for work in an elegant shop and with a hard bench to sit on, I found it difficult to relax enough to enjoy a book. Maybe I just wasn’t being very bright. Or chose the wrong book. We will never know.

Be all of that as it may, that did it for me as far as shopping malls go (and I wish all of them would): after the experience of a winter confined to a large space full of strangers and no windows, the smells and sounds of a mall almost instantly bring about a case of the fantods. 

On Shorpy, however, yesterday over early-morning coffee, I studied this post, featuring a photo of the first-ever actual shopping mall as we know them today. And I let it speak to me. 

I admit that I'm drawn to the concept of a mall — stores, restaurants, good lighting, climate control, mood music, a fountain here and there — and as far as that goes, Southdale Center looks to have been a fine one (actually it is still in existence and operational). 

There was a time when, as a kid, I would have loved going to a place featuring floor-to-ceiling birdcages full of parakeets. A store like Woolworth's, with a lunch counter (next to coffee shop, two of the most delicious words in the English language when spoken together), would've been a huge draw too.

Hamburger and fries, with a real milkshake? Yes please. 

But with no mall needed, I still remember the smell that greeted your nose when you walked, holding to the hand of your mother, into a downtown Sears Roebuck store in the ‘60s, before downtowns as serious shopping destinations faded to memories and the ghosts they rode in on.

The aroma emanated from the candy and nut counter, and it seemed to me that it pervaded every corner of Sears Roebuck. 

It was sugared warmth trapped in a display case under lights meant to induce drooling, sweaty palms, impulsive pointing, and pleading eyes — the kind that made your mother relent after the initial we’ll see and reach for her change purse.  

It was pecans snuggled with caramel under blankets of chocolate. It was plump cherries and snowy coconut and sugar-frosted jelly fruit slices and soft peppermint taffy and peanut butter fudge and almonds robed in exquisite pastel shells. It was decadence and playfulness and wish fulfillment of the intensely treat-centric variety.

What floated out from the candy and nut counter at Sears Roebuck was a presence as much as it was a scent and I can smell it in my mind to this day. No mall could ever match that fragrance.

Well, wait. There are those pretzels as big as bicycle wheels. And the cinnamon rolls as big as your head. Okay forget it.

So at one time prior to 1978, it’s possible that Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, would have held a strong allure for me. Except it’s in Minnesota, which in winter is even colder than Illinois, so if I’d had a choice, I would’ve passed on it for that qualifying detail alone.

Nevertheless, you can see from the picture above that on at least one occasion I did go to a mall voluntarily with my mother and some of her friends from church. From pictures taken on the same day as this one, I know that we had a festive lunch at the Magnolia Room in Rich's department store, which anchored the Perimeter Mall in Atlanta.

I've no memory of why we would have done that. 

Nor do I recall why I'm whispering in my mother's ear as the picture was snapped, but most likely I'm suggesting that when this lively party breaks up, let's you and me find someplace to get a snack.

Hastening to my conclusion, I'd like to tell a small story that, technically, is not mine to tell -- it was contained in one of the comments by a member of the aforementioned Shorpy community, on the post about Southdale Center.

And it struck a chord with me because of the similarity to a story that is mine to tell, and which I in fact did tell, in this post on this web site, in 2008.

Both stories involve parakeets and children.

While I like to think my story is humorous enough in its own right, the Shorpy commenter's tale is funnier -- not least because it wasn't intended to be.

Said commenter told of being a small child -- the youngest of four -- growing up on a farm in Minnesota in the 1950s when Southdale Center opened to great fanfare.

Since the family lived an hour's drive from Edina, and Mom didn't relish driving on the freeway, there were exactly two excursions per year to the mall. Once every six months, they'd plan the trip and drive to the big city and spend the day at Southdale. They'd buy new shoes and eat cheeseburgers and admire the parakeets.

It was a big deal.

One year, the children persuaded their mother to buy one of the parakeets, with all the gear that went along with it. The parakeet lived for years, but eventually died. As they do. On the next scheduled visit to Southdale, the family chose a replacement bird and purchased it.

Except, this second budgie perished on the way home. When, back at the farm, they opened its little paper traveling carton, all they had was a parakeet corpse.

What would you have done? Driven immediately back to Southdale Center -- or if not immediately, at least by the next day?

Hashtag me too.

But that's not what happened. Mother-from-Minnesota, practical farm wife who disliked that long drive, wasted no time fussing or fuming. Instead, she popped the dead parakeet into the freezer, along with the dated receipt for its purchase.

And six months later, she presented a partially-thawed dead bird to a clerk at Southdale Center, and asked for, and received, yet another replacement bird.

The commenter does not reveal (may not remember) how long that third bird lived, from which I took that it enjoyed a normal life span -- or at least that it didn't buy the farm on the way to the farm.

If only every problem were so deftly and simply solved. When they open a mall selling that, I'll stifle my urge to panic and be there on opening day.

And that is mall all for now.

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Happy Monday :: Happy Valentine's Day Week

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