Columns

A trip to the past with the kids

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They didn’t exactly press their noses against the glass, and they didn’t squeal like the tiny girl who danced in front of them when she spotted the sugar plum fairies, but our two younger sons pronounced the animatronic Christmas displays at the Davenport Grand Hotel “pretty cool.”

When the Downtown Spokane Partnership pulled together volunteers to restore some of the displays that once adorned the windows of The Crescent department store, I knew I wanted to see them again. Taking Sam, 19, and Zach, 24, with me was just a bonus.

It’s not often you get to revisit your childhood with your kids. To my delight, the displays haven’t lost any of their magic. My favorite elf roasting a marshmallow at the North Pole was back, as were the busy beaver family chopping wood.

While I fondly remember The Crescent Christmas windows of my childhood, I also have more recent Crescent memories.

I worked at the downtown department store and later the NorthTown store from 1986-89. I started as a waitress in the Grill restaurant downtown. Located on the sixth floor, adjacent to the larger tea room, the restaurant was once called the Men’s Grill. Its wood-paneled walls and black leather chairs harkened back to an era when business was conducted over gin martinis at noon, and the only women present were serving the drinks.

Five days a week, I’d park at what was then the Coliseum (for free!) and hop on a shuttle that dropped me off at The Crescent’s front doors. I think it cost me 30 cents each way.

My uniform was a form-fitting, zip-up black dress that hit several inches above the knee, topped by a short white apron. Kind of like a French maid outfit, but classier.

Derek and I were engaged at the time, and he still fondly recalls that uniform.

Though the men-only designation was dropped years before I worked there, the Grill was still a regular luncheon spot for city movers and shakers. In fact, the only time I was stiffed out of tips while working there was when I waited on the mayor and a table of city employees. That’s no way to get re-elected, folks.

My “regulars” included a trio of sharply-dressed older gentlemen, whose weekly liquid lunches were legendary.

I was 20, and had never even tasted a cocktail, but now I wonder how much work they got done later, after a lunch of two double martinis a piece – usually sparsely accompanied by bowls of chicken and rice soup, and plate of Lavosh (a type of flatbread or cracker).

They were kind men and great tippers. When they learned that after my wedding, I’d be transferring to retail sales and working at NorthTown, they were sad. They each left a $20 tip and notes wishing me well.

Speaking of my wedding, my employee discount came in handy. I purchased a designer gown on clearance and found the perfect veil, all for about $200.

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Years ago, I sold the dress when it became apparent that I wouldn’t have any daughters to hand it down to. But I kept the veil. Who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll have a daughter-in-law who wants to wear it.

Around the time I transferred to NorthTown, The Crescent became Frederick & Nelson. I ended up in the shoe department with a couple of old-timers who’d worked downtown in The Crescent’s heyday. I loved hearing their stories, and I put what they taught me about customer service into practice.

I must have learned well, because my commission that first year paid for Derek and me to go to Disneyland.

The final week of my department store career came the week before Christmas. Our first child was due New Year’s Eve. I could no longer see my own feet, let alone help elderly ladies try on shoes.

Almost 30 years later, standing outside the Davenport Grand with my sons, the past came to life again, along with the glittering Crescent Christmas window displays.

Magic and memories.

“Pretty cool,” indeed.

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Columns

Real? Fake? The great tree debate continues.

Dazzled, I gazed at the 7-foot pine trimmed with glittering lights that switched from colored to white with the flip of a switch.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” my husband enthused.

I prodded the prickly branches, testing their strength. In a surreal almost out-of-the-body moment, I heard my voice as if from a great distance.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I like it. I think I’m ready.”

Derek beamed. He’s been lobbying for an artificial tree for years, but the boys and I have been unwilling to compromise our Christmas cheer. They have fond memories of traipsing through deep snow out in Green Bluff to find the perfect fir. When they got too busy to devote a day to tree-fetching, they happily agreed to spend an hour with their dad at our neighborhood tree lot.

But when Zachary moves to Nashville this spring, we’ll lose our designated tree-picker. Zach has the gift of the perfect pick. From forest, to farm, to tree lot, he’s always been able to discover a symmetrically pleasing pine – one that’s just the right height and width, with branches that will bear heavier ornaments and no unsightly holes to hide.

Derek rushed to get a cart before I could change my mind. He didn’t rush fast enough. Thoughts of our third son gave me pause.

“Wait,” I said. “We should talk with the boys, first.”

Sighing, he put the cart back.

It was a good thing too, because Zach was horrified at the thought.

“This is probably my last Christmas at home,” he said. “You can get a fake tree when I leave.”

His younger brother sighed.

“Great. I’ll be the kid who gets to pull a tree out of a box every year,” Sam muttered.

I knew we’d made the right call when the three of them came home with a stunning natural beauty. Our home filled with the glorious smell of pine.

Then we heard a slurping noise.

“Thor!” Derek yelled. “Quit drinking the tree water!’

Thor is a connoisseur of fine water. Nevermind that he has an actual cat water fountain that continually splashes fresh water into his bowl. No, Thor prefers more exotic refreshment. The bathroom sink is his preferred source of liquid, until the Christmas tree arrives. Then he is obsessed with drinking pine-scented water from the tree stand.

At first, we were sure he would die from his unseemly addiction. We tried wrapping the bowl in foil, plastic wrap, etc. But no matter what method of prevention we used, Thor found a way to satisfy his thirst. It’s been five Christmases and he’s still here, so I guess it’s not a deadly habit. It’s just annoying.

After the tree was decorated, we plugged in the lights, turned off the house lights and sat down to enjoy its splendor. Then we heard a chewing sound.

“Who’s eating in the living room?” I asked.

We all looked at each other. No candy canes, no chips, no snacks, but still a steady munching sound filled the room.

“Milo!” Derek shouted. “Stop eating the tree!”

Sure enough our older cat seems to have developed a taste for tree. Maybe he needs more fiber in his diet.

Cat irritations aside, the next afternoon as I began my holiday baking, I filled my lungs with the wonderful scent of freshly cut tree.

“Take a deep breath,” I said to Derek. “A fake tree won’t smell like this.”

He shrugged. “So, we’ll put out a couple bowls of Pine Sol.”

Horrified, I said/shrieked, “Pine Sol is a disinfectant! It smells like hospitals or toilet bowls!”

Undaunted, Derek replied, “OK. Get a bunch of those pine tree car air fresheners. We can hang them from our tree.”

I refused to dignify this with a response, but as I worked in the kitchen rolling out sugar cookie dough, the words that escaped my tightly clamped lips sounded remarkably like the Old Man in the “Christmas Story” movie, as he battled a recalcitrant furnace.

When I pulled a batch of nicely-browned cookies from the oven, I called to Derek.

“Don’t these cookies smell divine?”

He followed his nose and snatched one off the cooling rack.

“Mmm …” he said as he munched. “There’s nothing like the smell or the taste of your homemade sugar cookies.”

I smiled.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying them. Next year, I think I’ll just buy some at the grocery store. After all, with just three of us home, why go to all the hassle.”

He choked on the cookie.

I handed him a glass of eggnog.

“I know store-bought cookies won’t taste the same, but I can buy a Christmas cookie scented candle.”

Warming to my theme, I continued, “And I’ll hang a few vanilla scented car air fresheners on the fake tree. Really, you won’t know the difference.”

Derek sighed and grabbed another cookie.

“So, are you thinking pine or Noble fir next year?” he asked.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval