Christmas in the 40’s–A Memoir

 Christmas in the 40’s

 The Christmas season was full of music  and lights and ornaments, joy  to the world, and good cheer.  We participated in Christmas pageants in school–public school–, joyfully singing  Christmas carols.

Elgin was a destination shopping town-we not only had chain stores such as Sears and Penneys, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s, but well-stocked independent department stores: Joseph Spiess Co. on South Grove Ave., owned by local resident Joseph Spiess, and Ackemann’s on East Highland Ave., owned by, again, local residents, the Ackemann Brothers.   In addition, there were a myriad of locally owned small stores:  Wentworth’s for men’s clothing and Barnett’s  for women’s clothing, which catered to the high school crowd;  Pardi’s  fruit and candy store–my father made a weekly trip to buy burnt peanuts and peanut brittle; Mrs. Collins’ Book Store–yes, we had a book store; Leonard’s Record Store; Ettner’s Shoe Store, Kettner’s Flowers;  small restaurants, such as Blum’s, Esquire and the Black Hawk, to mention a few.

All the stores were decked out in lavish decorations; Christmas carols played non-stop.  The store windows were filled with models wearing expensive clothes and jewelry; toys were piled everywhere.   Remember window shopping?Santa held court in the basement toy department of the larger stores.  Santa also rang bells next to Salvation Army red kettles every few blocks.   The Salvation Army Santas were Santa’s helpers–not the real Santa–just to be clear.

In spite of it being war time–gasoline, shoes, meat, and sugar were rationed, while other things were impossible to buy, such as the metal hooks with which to hang ornaments on the Christmas tree.  But toys and other goodies were still being manufactured–we never felt deprived.

A huge Christmas tree decorated Fountain Square (which had neither a fountain nor was it square) at the center of downtown Elgin.  All the city buses, which ran every 20 minutes, stopped there.  Because of the efficient transportation system, one did not have to drive the 1 1/2 mlles downtown to shop; one could take the bus and the stores would deliver your packages the next day.

I drove through downtown Elgin yesterday.  Shops and restaurants were open, but no Fountain Square Christmas Tree–only some wreaths hanging on the light posts.

Last week I drove to the Barnes & Noble Book Store in the Spring Hill Mall in Dundee, 5 miles away, and bought 7 books and a puzzle for my grandchildren.  Then yesterday I drove to the Otter Creek shopping center on the far west side of Elgin, a distance of 3 1/2 miles, to pick up a prescription from Target and some LED tea lights (made in China).

Is it ironic or tragic that the shopping center is named after the creek it  destroyed?

Both stores that I visited were located in huge, bleak, virtually empty parking lots that are far larger than the buildings they serve.



Otter Creek Shopping Center2

Otter Creek Shopping Center

Elgin has a population of 100,000+ and this is the best we can do?

Our neighborhoods are festive with lights and decorations–why are our shopping areas and public spaces so barren?

I don’t think there is a “war on Christmas”.  I think there is a war on the exciting sights and sounds of Christmas–a fear of offending someone?  — a war on festivity, a war on grace and beauty, a war on the environment–having to drive long distances to shop and all the ground that is covered by massive parking lots that are only filled one day a year.


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