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Jordan Marsh, circa 1958

Dec 11, 2022 | Feature stories | 0 comments

Every Thanksgiving, my family traveled from northern Maine to Milton, Massachusetts, where my father’s mother and sister lived. It was a seven-hour drive from Millinocket, a very long seven hours if you were one of three kids in the back of a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air. I sat next to a cracked-open window with my coat over my head. This allowed me to avoid both my older brother’s breathing and my father’s cigarette smoke. Periodically, my mother would ask if I was still alive. “Yes,” I’d mumble. Howard Johnson was our first pit stop. For me it was one of the highlights of the trip. We’d hit the restrooms, then order a sandwich. For my mother, HoJo’s food was within her budget for the trip, particularly the stuff on the kid’s menu. We were always treated to their famous ice cream, which boasted 28 flavors, butter pecan being my personal favorite.

Boston glowed as we approached it. Neon lighted billboards lined the highway going into the city. I especially remember the Hilltop Steakhouse with a giant cactus holding up the sign. The closer we got to the city, the quieter we were expected to be. It was a fairly familiar route for Dad, but we still got lost occasionally. One year it happened late at night, and as he tried to get us to the right road we happened to pass the Bunker Hill Memorial. It didn’t matter to him that it was 11pm; much to my mother’s chagrin, he pulled the car to the curb. For him, this was an occasion to bring history to life for his kids. After walking us around the monument, he read the brass plaque to us. It wasn’t long before a policeman arrived in a cruiser and asked Dad what we were doing. After he explained that we were lost, the officer had us pile back into the car and follow him.

A half-hour later we walked into Gram’s kitchen just as her cuckoo clock struck mid-night. The dog started barking, the parakeet squawked; Gram gave a big sigh of relief that we’d made it. After giving Dad a heartfelt hug, she handed him a beer before sweeping us into her arms. My mother was exhausted, and asked Gram where were we would be sleeping. In under thirty minutes, Mom had my brothers and me washed up and ready for bed. Gram was delighted to tuck each of us in.

The next morning, Dad asked us if we’d like to go into the city to see Santa’s Village at the Jordan Marsh department store. I had no idea what this was all about, but being a kid, I said yes of course and joined my cousins, Susan and Robin, who were jumping up and down gleefully. My older brother, Peter, pretended he wasn’t really interested in going. I knew better. There was no way he’d give up an opportunity to go into the city. My grandmother took control. Every child was given a one-dollar bill to put in their shoe. She also pinned a carefully folded envelope on our jackets with our name and her phone number written inside it. This was in case we got lost. You certainly would want to do that today!

This was the first of many visits to Gram’s house during which we went into the city. We took the subway, a new experience for me. There were people reading the newspaper or sleeping in their seats, while others stood holding onto straps above. I didn’t want to miss anything, so I just kept staring wide-eyed as we whizzed along. Once we were on the street again, I was in awe of the apartment buildings, trying to imagine how many people could live in a building that size. We passed one that was in the process of being torn down, but behind it were the beginnings of a tall, new building. Dad told us it was going to be the Prudential Building and, when completed, would become the tallest building in the city.

Finally, we arrived at our station. Mom held my hand tightly as we walked to our destination. Suddenly there it was: Jordan Marsh. It was huge, with beautiful arched windows and Santa greeting us above a sign that said Toyland. Talk about excited! Mom gave me a smile and squeezed my hand. “Now stay close. This is a big store for a little girl like you to get lost in!” There were many new experiences that day: an escalator, an elevator, and fancy bathrooms with an attendant. I was afraid of the elevator. I thought it might break and we’d crash, but it didn’t, and when the doors opened, we all stepped out into a magical place.

Magic was happening before my eyes. There was a furniture store, a bakery, and a room with a fireplace: an entire village of miniature shops. We took our time walking through it. My cousin, Susan, wrested her hand away from her mother and proceded to act as tour guide. With grandiose gestures she announced each display, pointing out what she liked best about it. The rest of us tried to stay together as a group, which was difficult amid the crowds of other visitors. At the very end of the Christmas Village was Santa with his two helpers. We joined a long line of kids eagerly awaiting their turn to talk to him. Santa had a kind voice and gave a jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho” as he placed each child on his lap. When it was finally my turn, I told Santa I wanted a bride dolI for Christmas. Peter asked for a chemistry set, cousin Susan asked for a radio and my cousin Robin didn’t ask him for anything, telling him she’d be happy with whatever he chose. One of his helpers gave each of us a lollipop, which we eargerly popped into our mouths. Then it was down the escalator, out the door and back on the subway. My mother finally let go of my hand and gave my father a big smile, which he returned with a thumb’s up. I fell asleep on the way back to Gram’s house, as did Gram.

Candace Guerette
Topsham, Maine


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