Sometimes, the good old days were just that: good. Doctors made home visits — a blessing when the weather was frightful and you had a temperature of 102. In the good old days, when the thermometer hit triple digits, a kid like me could grab shards from the back of an ice truck, then walk home from school slurping the frozen liquid as it melted down both arms. By the time I’d crashed through the front of my house, my blouse could be so wet, it would stick to my chest like cellophane wrap.
What I miss about the good old days is weekend shopping with my mother at the department store. The elevator always stopped on the floor with the fancy dresses. We hadn’t much money, but browsing was free. I remember how I petted the chiffon skirts as if they were race horses.
Our next stop was the five-and-dime. Mom liked to try on new lipsticks and sample rouges. She didn’t need much gilding. She was Heddy Lamarr’s mirror image. On the street, people would sometimes stop and look twice to make sure she wasn’t the movie star.
Late afternoon found us in line for a picture show. Mom paid 25 cents for her ticket and a dime for me. We didn’t buy cokes or popcorn, but we had a good time. Afterward, buoyed by an adventure or a love story with a happy ending, we’d head for a cafeteria where food was plentiful and cheap. At the age of 8, I never imagined mom and I were poor. Those Saturdays felt glamorous to me.
Today, people don’t dress to shop like they did when I was a kid. They don’t stop in front of display windows on summer days, talking to friends while their offspring stand slumped beside them, shifting from one foot to another, bored. Nowadays, people make purchases on their computers or smart phones.
I understand the convenience of technology, but buying a sweater by hitting the enter button strikes me as lonely. Shopping and sharing seem to go hand-in-hand, like cherry flavoring in a coke. I remember the way my mother would slip on one of those chiffon skirts if a clerk wasn’t looking and twirl. How we laughed, delighted with ourselves. Of course, we were respectful of the price tag and always returned the garment to its rightful place. If we were imposters, trying on designer dresses, the fact never dampened our enthusiasm.
I’m baffled that retail stores struggle to compete with the internet. When it comes to a shopping experience, nothing competes with bricks-and-mortar. What’s happened to our imaginations? Have we forgotten Breakfast at Tiffany’s and afternoons where, with a cup of coffee and a donut, a pauper could stare down glittering aisles and dream?