The newspaper article was just a notice of a building being razed in a nearby city, but it instantly threw me back into another era in the late 1960's, holding hands with my grandmother on one side and my great-grandmother on the other.
I was no more than four years old, but the memory is still fragrant to me. That building housed a women's wear store. In its heyday in the 40's, 50's, and 60's, that store drew shoppers from all over South Texas with fine fashion, a view that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico, and personal service that has become as extinct as the dinosaurs.
The women in my family were champion shoppers (still are) and loved beautiful clothing (still do). Both my grandmothers and most of my great-grandmothers made trips to this store to find frocks for special occasions, to save big at the semi-annual sales, and to enjoy being cosseted in the on site beauty shop.
This was a time when women dressed nicely to go clothes shopping. That included me on this trip. I wore a Sunday dress and Sunday shoes. I can recall not being entirely sure we weren't going to church with the way I was dressed, but I reveled in being with Grandma and GiGi (great grandma) for the whole day. My brother had just been born, so they took me for a day on the town. (I wrote about GiGi in her younger days and the time she stared down Pancho Villa in this post: The Day Pancho Villa Came to Town)
I can still close my eyes and retrieve the sweet aromas of the perfume and and lotion they wore.
When we left the car and walked across the parking lot, each squeezed one of my hands, walking at my pace. That feeling of security is part of my foundation still.
The entryway of the store was fronted with floor to ceiling windows, showcasing the glory of the bayfront. A saleswoman greeted us and told us in a melodious voice what each department was featuring. The bottom floor displayed accessories: gloves, hats, and jewelry. The shininess of that jewelry made me catch my breath. It seemed to me more dazzling than even the sun bouncing off the waves in the bay just across the street from us.
We rode an escalator to the second floor, where dresses of every color, size, and style imaginable took residence. I had never seen so many. As Grandma and GiGi carefully looked at selections brought to them by attentive sales ladies, I pushed myself through racks of dresses, enjoying the feel of the fabric rushing past my face as I journeyed deeper. Gigi's hand touched my arm and I swam my way back to the open.
We climbed a spiral staircase that looked to me like it would be an ideal piece of playground equipment to jump on and slide down. We cleared the final step and into the third floor, awash in yellow. The yellow walls safeguarded tables of a gentle brown, which were covered in pale yellow tablecloths and set with delicate lemon colored lace napkins. The chairs were cloaked in coordinating covers of the softest yellow.
I was glad when Grandma asked me if I wanted a Coke. We didn't have soda often, so I felt especially privileged to have this time with these women I loved AND get to enjoy a Coke. They laughed and joked as we seated ourselves. A waitress dressed in a crisp white dress and little cap came to take our order. A small, raised stage in the center of the room made me wonder if someone was going to sing to us.
Instead, models wearing the newest styles entered singly, holding out their arms and turning at the end of the stage so we could get a full view. At the end, everyone clapped as the young women exited the room. Salesladies came table to table to take orders for any of the dresses. I do not remember if either Grandma or Gigi ordered anything, but I did feel like such a grown-up when the saleslady asked me with a smile, "And you, young lady? Did you see anything you'd like to order?"
They took me on a foray through the girls' department, rooting through layers of dresses to find just the ones for me to try on. I felt like royalty as I tried each one on and twirled in front of the three-fronted mirrors. The one we all agreed on together and that they then bought for me that day is one I kept for years, even when my closet was well filled with teenager clothes.
The hats, gloves, and styles in that store are relics of the past, living on only in memories or perhaps in an odd closet or two. Likewise, Grandma and Gigi are gone now, though still vibrant in my heart.
I'd like to step inside that building one more time, climb up to the third floor and maybe do a twirl on that little stage. Its demolition will wipe out all possibilities of that, but the important things that building housed are dynamically alive still.