Every year before Christmas my mother took us on the bus to downtown Minneapolis where I stared at people’s legs. Small as I was, I felt surrounded by legs on the sidewalk along Nicolett Avenue, clutching my mother’s hand glove to glove as she guided me through the shifting leg forest.
I saw everything from the adult waists down, careful to avoid large, squishing feet and the gray puddles with bergs of slush. Wool slacks, pressed polyester, nylons draped with long skirts, canvas pants above thick brown work shoes stained by water and ridges of salt. Daring high heels even on the slick concrete, dress shoes preserved in rubber protectors, knee-length boots, black galoshes with zippers and clips.
Sometimes I held hands with one of my sisters, my other hand tethered to my mother, a family lifeline. Our trip downtown was the perfect holiday, especially when she sprung me from school.
One of our primary destinations was Santa’s lap, though we tried to see everything, tracking through the three big department stores–Dayton’s, Power’s and Donaldson’s.
My mother held a special love for Dayton’s because she once worked there, developing a friendship with her coworker Marceda who raved about her brother Jack recently home from the war. Marceda set up the date that eventually led to my parents’ marriage and four kids.
My uncle Wally, my mother’s brother, worked at Power’s where he helped decorate the Christmas window displays. We always tried to see him when we passed through the store. The Donaldson’s Santa was our favorite or maybe it was the caterpillar-like train that circled the ceiling, even more fun than the wooden escalators.
One of the stores had a candy cane workshop where we fashioned hooks in the cut segments as they cooled, bringing any uneaten creations home as souvenirs. For lunch we sat on booster seats at Woolworth’s.
My father met us after dark some years so we could see the store windows lit up with colored lights, and Power’s was our first stop. Bright garlands with tinsel and gaudy medallions hung across the streets and smaller wreathes and sashes wound around the lamp posts. Driving home we twisted and squeezed each other in the back seat hoping for a glimpse of the Foshay Tower decorated for the season.
The old Minneapolis stores are long gone as are most pre-big box and pre-Amazon local merchants, though Dayton’s ghost lives on as Target. The Foshay Tower, remodeled into a hotel, still stands even if it’s dwarfed by newer skyscrapers.
Here is a great website with some photos of old Minneapolis: http://www.lileks.com/mpls/gone.html
Several of the poems in The Poet’s Garage arise from my childhood in Minneapolis, though I haven’t been back there in years. Maybe a trip is in order or a new poem about legs.