Christmas is just 10 days away. It’s funny how time goes by so quickly when we grow older. For a child, 10 days is an eternity. St. Nick’s arrival seems like it will never get here.
I can’t recall all of my earliest moments of Christmas. But I knew I was getting a little older when my mother suggested that Christmas is also about giving. She reminded me that it is better to give than receive.
Well, I knew she was right, of course. But I guess there was the part of me that liked that receiving part. When you are very young, Christmas leaves you in a euphoric state. Little kids receive the gifts and are excited about the prospects the big day brings. Parents are delighted to see their kids excited when they are opening their presents for Christmas.
But that one year my mother suggested that maybe I should buy some gifts sticks out in my mind. My older sister was already buying little gifts for my parents and siblings. So, I got in the spirit of things. The main obstacle was money.
The weather could play a large role in having additional money to purchase gifts. A heavy snowfall like we have been experiencing this December could be lucrative. I would grab a shovel and ask neighbors if they needed their sidewalks cleared of snow. The majority of residents would say yes. During the 1960s, we had more stay-at-home moms. In many cases, those moms could not work because they had several small children to take care of. The dads were usually still out working. That seemed to be the majority of residents I would shovel snow for.
My mother realized my dilemma. She would suggest chores I could perform that she would pay me for so that I could go Christmas shopping. During my early years, I lived in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood at 100th and Michigan Avenue. I think the first time I actually went shopping was at a Ben Franklin store that was east on 103rd Street. I recall that I purchased a small doll for my younger sister and a large pink cup for my mother. I just felt they were going to be thrilled when they opened their presents.
Well, let’s put it this way. It’s a good thing that Santa Claus makes house calls. I imagine my mother got a chuckle out of that.
While living in Roseland, my father would often drive us to 111th and Michigan Avenue, where the main stores were all located for shopping. We would drive into the Gately’s Peoples Store parking lot in the back. Large crowds of shoppers can be seen walking up and down Michigan Avenue. The parking lot was on several floors. I remember seemingly going in circles before my father found a parking place
Gately’s was great in that it was a family-owned operation that had several floors and a variety of goods. I recall the toys were at the bottom level and I spent a lot of time down there. My mother would often look over my shoulder and ask if I liked something. Amazingly, those gifts were often under our Christmas tree.
But a trip to Gately’s provided opportunity for all of us to do some shopping. I could buy some little gifts for my parents and my brothers and sisters in one trip. A trip to Gately’s might also mean that our parents would buy us some popcorn. I always remember the popcorn machine at Gately’s. They had a dinette as well.
Even after we moved to Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood, we still would occasionally go to Gately’s. But a lot of our Christmas shopping was now done at the Evergreen Plaza. We actually went there a couple of times when we lived in Roseland. I recall being there once with the snow coming down and looking at the long series of retail shops and restaurants. I remember my mom telling me that they were going to put a roof on it. I thought that was amazing. In 1966, they did just that.
The Plaza allowed for plenty of opportunities for shopping because there were so many stores. Many times I would go with my sister, taking the bus from 95th and Throop to 95th and Western. At that point, I had more money over the holidays. I would continue to shovel snow and sometimes receive a couple of bucks for pushing drivers out of snow drifts.
The presents I bought were of a higher quality, too. But I don’t always remember the presents. I just remember having a good time. Those days of Christmas shopping at Gately’s and the Evergreen Plaza were a special time.
Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.