Saturday, December 24, 2016
The huge glass windows were fogging up as I tried to see through them, across the dark to Santa's home. We had just stood in the line. Me with both of my parents, no other siblings along for the ride. Highly unusual.
It was beautifully cold out there, and there were decorations on the lamp posts and lots of people walking about, laughing and chatting, in downtown Pekin.
We had come inside for a hot chocolate and my parents didn't seem happy. "You asked Santa for a what?"
Silence. "What's a skibob?"
"No. A Skip. Bo. My friend at school has one. She brought it for show and tell."
Its 1968. My parents went all out for Christmas. I was the first girl in the family. They probably had a lovely table and chairs set with a doll and tea set already waiting to place under the tree, but no Skip-bo.
I have moved on. Santa knows what I want and that was that.
My parents however now had a few days to find a toy that no one had in stock. It turns out it was very popular and they couldn't find it in town. I learned much later that my mother sent my father far and wide to find this toy.
And when I just searched for a picture of it I found out it is called a 'footsie'. So though I described the toy in detail, I clearly had the name wrong. I found a reference to one brand being a 'skipper', but what I heard in Mrs. King's show-and-tell circle, and was lucky enough to try out for myself on the playground at recess, was a skip-bo.
So here we are, a few days before Christmas, and my parents don't have the internet. And they are looking for a mis-named toy for me. I delight in this memory now. One that shows through generations we all just want to please one another. And the memory continues from that night.
So I saw something so beautiful that I had to have for my mother, while I spun on that soda fountain stool. It was a bath towel with a huge pink and red flower on the front. Kind of Georgia O'Keefe style. How to get my mom out of the store so I could buy it? I remember whispering to my father what I needed to do. I remember wanting to get that towel for my mother more than I wanted anything else.
My dad suggested my mom wait outside the store window where she couldn't see while we did our secret shopping. I faintly recall my mom not being super excited to wait out in the cold when she was snug with her cup of coffee in the steamy, warm store. But she did it. When I wound my way to the display and showed my dad what I had seen from across the store, he proceeded to show me other things we could get my mom. Bath soaps and curlers and socks. Nothing doing. I wanted that gaudy towel. Nothing else would be wonderful enough for my mother. My dad tried telling me it was more money than I had to spend. He tried showing me other towels even. This was it. I knew it. I then remember him giving me some cash, and showing me how to stand in line to pay. He stood nearby but wanted me to buy it myself. It was super-exciting. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure my (poor, cold) mother wasn't peeking through the window.
I took the sack they gave me, I unbuttoned my coat and put it inside. It crackled every step I took.
There is a picture somewhere of her opening this present and holding up the towel, and I was so proud at that moment. It was the highlight moment of my Christmas. I got my footsie from Santa, I took it to show and tell in January. Turns out when it is the fifth one someone brought in, it isn't as exciting. But watching my mother open that towel, that felt like Christmas.
And it still does. I love picking out gifts, I love wrapping, and I love watching the receiver open them. It is the childish thrill that never grows old for me. So far anyway. And Christmas 1968 is etched in my memory. I love the Christmas tune "Silver Bells" and it always reminds me of this slice of life. To me, Pekin was the city. Downtown was glamour. And surprising someone else was a lot more fun than standing in a long line to see Santa.