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.


8 Responses to Christmas in the 40’s–A Memoir

  1. Suzanne Massion December 17, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    Boy, Pat, you hit the nail on several heads. I’m a newby to the area, having immigrated here in 1969 from Michigan. I had the good fortune of Living with Robert and Betty Muirhead who were both Audubon Society members. Grocery shopping was Jewel and Gromers on the west side. Getting to your huge parking lot comments, I remember something Marianne Nelson said once to me. When the impervious surface of a county reaches 20% or more, the deep aquifers that affect our water supply start to suffer. I keep looking at those huge asphalt parking lots, some next to closed big box stores. I think, what have we wrought? Sorry to be so pessimistic.

    • PatHill December 18, 2015 at 4:36 am #

      I hadn’t heard that about the aquifers. Has the County Board?

      • Suzanne Massion December 18, 2015 at 9:29 am #

        When Marianne was still here and part of the Fox Valley Land Foundation (The group eventually merged with The Conservation Foundation), She gave a presentation on private conservation easements. My memory says it was hosted by Mr. & Mrs. Aubrey Neville at their home. That comment about impervious surfaces and urban sprawl just stayed with me. It was part of her presentation to convince large landowners to donate property as conservation easements and keep open space in existence. Someone like Dick Young probably could have verified the fact. Don’t know of anyone at the county level who would be interested or knowledgeable.

        • Marianne Nelson December 18, 2015 at 11:17 am #

          Interesting that you remember that, and mention Dick Young. I remember him speaking about tests the county did to test water quality of runoff entering the Fox: they tested water running off large parking lot into Fox River, runoff from lawns, and runoff from natural area. Not only was there less runoff from natural areas, it was much cleaner because the plants had “strained” it. He was my inspiration! We worked with the city on a few industrial developments near Tyler Creek to put in swales with native vegetation to compensate for the large parking areas.z

          • Suzanne Massion December 20, 2015 at 11:15 am #

            Marianne, good to hear from you. We miss you and, of course, Dick Young. Some people are just hard to replace, like we could!

  2. Jody Stepnowski December 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    Well…in the past few years more and more of us are doing most of our shopping on-line. That can’t be helping.

    • PatHill December 18, 2015 at 4:08 am #

      You know I always buy all my books on line at Amazon, but I needed something in a hurry, so I drove up to Barnes & Nobel in Dundee and ended up buying 6 books and a puzzle for my grandchildren because the displays were so attractive. Once I got into the store, their marketing worked. But big, ugly, empty parking lots and buildings that go on forever are repelling to me.

  3. Jason December 19, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    I know what you mean about the parking lots. They are bleak, even when packed with cars. At least now some towns require some plantings and trees among the concrete.

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