I wrote this originally a year ago. It was part of a five part series called ‘The Napkin’s Odyssey’. I quite liked the tale that I developed. If you like this then please do go back and read the others. Thanks.
I set out on my annual Christmas shopping trek seeking those items that would just scream someone’s name at me. There was quite a bit of foot traffic on this Saturday afternoon along Granville Street. It’s always good to see the hustle and bustle this time of year as I made my way slowly along the corridor plotting my course and plan of action.
This is one the main shopping drags in downtown Vancouver. Today, as is typical this time of year, the sky is overcast and a wet snow has begun to fall. I had been checking to see if any interesting little shops had materialized over the last year. Unfortunately there were none at this juncture of my quest.
With all the health issues I had faced recently I found myself feeling a little fatigued and decided to find a bench to call home for a few moments.
I sat down across from the old Eaton’s store. Next year Granville will look very different no doubt. An American store, Nordstrom’s had purchased the property that was opposite me and it was now being renovated and slated to open sometime next year.
The old Eaton’s store, considered one of the ugliest stores.
It was once described as an unending urinal wall.
So much has changed over all the years from frequenting this area of the city. I gazed up the street. The Bay looked very much the same on the outside, however, the interior has undergone many renovations over the years and continues to do so.
There used to be an old man that had built this weird conglomerate of instruments and he would sit outside The Bay, right on the corner of Granville and Georgia St. and play a variety of melodies. From the time I was a young girl to somewhere in my mid 20’s he was there every Christmas.
I would go down to shop and always looked for him. The contraption he played was drums, keyboard, accordion, spoons, symbols, a horn, tambourine, etc. All were rigged and connected somehow, and with each note played they combined to make a hauntingly beautiful sound.
I would hear it when I got off the bus drifting down the Granville Street corridor.
The Bay Downtown Vancouver…Then & Now
The old guy wore a beat up Santa hat. He was whiskered and a little rough around the edges but the smile and light that danced in his eyes could melt the bitterest of colds.
I always gave him a five dollar bill. Might not sound like much but in those days it was.
He was still there for the first year of my daughter’s birth but the year after he was gone and I never did see him again.
I sat smiling thinking back to times past. Looking down toward the south end of Granville I could still recall the neon signs that used to grace the corridor. Vancouver was a relatively gritty city in appearance back in the day. Even so, she’s always had a charm and beauty that cannot be beat and still does.
The White Lunch Café was located a few blocks down. I would go there for breakfast from time to time. Coffee was ten cents a cup with as many refills as you wanted. Cinemas, theatres and stores peppered the street back then. There was quite an outrage when the price of coffee was boosted to a quarter for a cup.
Robson Street was a kitschy place at the time inhabited by artists, fortunetellers, belly dancers and cool little shops and restaurants.
I had my tea leaves read by a woman, who in hind sight, was a little scary. She would stare into the cup, then stare at me, stare into the cup then stare back at me. Her eyes fluttered closed and she moaned plaintively whilst rolling her head about. Then the eyes popped open and she unloaded a host of information that made absolutely no sense but she assured me in time, it would. Whatever was disclosed to me that day was soon forgotten.
Closing my eyes for a moment I just let the memories dance to the surface.
I always went down to Woodward’s. They had the best Santa Land and the best Christmas displays in their windows by far! It was the 6th floor that was transformed into a magical place for children each year.
The last Woodward’s Santa Land I attended was in 1987 when my daughter was four years old. Woodward’s would later close down forever in 1993 . Eaton’s suffered the same fate unfortunately.
And as I sat watching the busy shoppers, I wasn’t saddened, not really. Change occurs all the time. It never ceases. That I have been afforded so many rich memories is what matters most. And you know, it never is about the gifts that I have received that springs to mind. It never has been. Always it is a sound, a place, a smell, a touch, a smile, etc. Some sensation arrests my attention and I find myself propelled into this beautiful, magical spirit we all share.
Of course, as adults, we all know that a man in red suit cannot possibly circumnavigate the globe in a huge red sleigh distributing toys to every child on this planet, yet we propagate the myth.
Perhaps because it makes us feel good. There is a certain innocence and magic to it I suppose. That desire to just believe.
My eye caught an elderly woman shuffling up the street with her walker leading the way. Little clips had been attached to hold her shopping bags. I admired her ingenuity. She wore a brown and white woolen weave coat that fell to mid-calf. A brown felt beret with a broach of a penguin pinned to it adorned her perfectly coiffed grey hair.
She had the kind of eyes that were like liquid honey and a mischievous smile that graced her lips. I watched as she made her way up the street. A stately little gal and I pondered the stories she could tell. She was close to me now and she caught my gaze. The smile deepened as did mine.
“Merry Christmas” I offered with a nod.
“And to you, child!” she replied softly. There was a hint of an accent to her voice from a lifetime ago. I couldn’t say from where.
A few more glances and I stood. Time to get back to the task at hand of finding the elusive perfect gift.
A snowflake landed on my nose as I stood and I laughed. Looking up, I watched as the wet snow transitioned into the big fat flakes. I was delighted that I’d left the car at home.
As I headed south along Granville St., the lonely refrain of a saxophone rang out. The first few chords of ‘White Christmas’ echoed on the buildings and for whatever reason, I came close to tears.
Over the course of my 54 years there have been a lot of bad Christmas’ in the mix, along with some very lonely ones as well. Now I simply focused on letting those that I love know how I feel and try to help a few of those in need as well.
I quickened my step now as the snow was really starting to come down.