Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thank You, Stanek's
Every Thanksgiving my family would drive to Spokane, WA for a feast with my Dad's family. When my grandma worked at the Ridpath Hotel, we would dress up and go downtown to dine at the long tables set especially for us, and I would eat the waldorf salad. Yes, I would. Then we'd go back to my grandma's house on the south hill for pie and games and football and fun with our cousins. Before leaving downtown, though, we would walk, without much fear, to look at the window displays at Nordstrom's and other stores going all out for Christmas. There was usually snow, which we seldom had in the Seattle area, or in SW WA where we lived later, so to me, Christmas started there, after Thanksgiving dinner, in downtown Spokane.
The next day, Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad would take us to Stanek's Floral. This is where O Tanenbaum comes in.
Outside the entry to this long, unassuming 60's style building were rows and rows of wreaths and fresh trees and red bows and yard decorations. The smell said, "Let us pull our cedar branches around you and you will be loved." Okay, they didn't say that, but I was 7 and that is how I felt. The jingle of the bell on the door meant Grandpa was holding it open for us and going inside was magic. Carols played boldly. Scents of pine and popcorn filled my nose. Past the poinsettias, which never held my attention, past the coolers of arrangements and the front counter, were trees.
Tree after tree after tree, elevated, decorated, each with its own theme, buckets of corresponding ornaments under its boughs. Flocked, firs, cedars, pines, white, spinning, thin, tall, small. Royal jeweled bangles with gold ribbons, sugared candies you knew were fake but somehow you were still tempted, manger themes with straw and birds and sheep and shepherds, musical instruments and scrolls of sheet music, woodland themes, toy themes, pink and white lace Victorian themes, Nutcracker, sports. I am remembering twenty, thirty trees, but I was 10, so maybe it seemed bigger than it was. My dad would scoop us out a paper bag of free popcorn and we would study, shop, to pick out the one ornament we wanted to get for the pixie name we had drawn.
Pixies were my family's Secret Santa tradition. All season long, we did secret acts, deeds, left mysterious notes and treats for the person's name we had drawn. A marshmallow snowman made with toothpicks and whole cloves left on a plate on a freshly made bed. A chocolate kiss in your socks. A shined mirror and a note stuck to it. A homemade nose-warmer for chilly walks to the mailbox.
And an ornament on Christmas morning.
You had to be secretive about buying it. It was good to have four adults around. My brother gave me a white glazed porcelain stocking I had admired out loud.
I still get all warm inside when I unwrap the tissue and hang it on the tree. I feel gratitude, not for things.
For my family. And Staneck's.
And I feel a little sad.
Because I went back to Stanek's with my oldest child when she was a year old. I wanted her eyes to light up and hear her little exclamations.
It had new owners... who watched me like a hawk, as if I were some stranger off the street, as I looked at the six trees they had up. There was no popcorn, and they kept asking me if they could help me. They no longer carried the graceful Fontanini nativity figures I had pored over as a girl. Finally, I shook my head, hoisted my little girl higher on my hip, and left. It was a sad drive home.
But I hear Guaraldi's O Tanenbaum. And it all comes back.