Christmas Memories —  Shopping at the 5&10

Christmas memories — shopping at the 5&10. Do you remember the first time you went shopping for Christmas gifts on your own? Where were you? At the mall? A big box store? When I was a kid, the place to go was Kress’s 5&10. They had everything you could want — a tie tack in the shape of a moose, a tobacco pipe shaped like a lion’s head, rhinestone beads, Midnight in Paris perfume. If you were looking to buy the awesome-est gifts ever, you were sure to find them there.

Childhood Memories of Shopping On My Own

I was eight the first time Mama let me take the two-mile bus ride to downtown Prichard all by myself — times were different then. We had more freedom — the freedom of safety. On the ride, I kept jumping up and down on my seat, too excited to sit still.

Prichard, Alabama was a one-street town. It started at the First Methodist Church where there was a manger scene — with real sheep. And it ended at the Western Auto store. When you got there, you made the built-in U-turn and went back. But for me, that street didn’t seem all that short. It was packed with all the thrills of Christmas from the fountain with red and green water at the library to the reindeer pulling a sleigh with Santa Claus waving from the top of the Western Auto building.

My destination was in the middle — where there were the bakery and Kress’s five and ten cent store.

Christmas Memories — What Does Christmas Smell Like to You?

Do certain scents bring back Christmas memories and put you in the Christmas spirit? Balsom? Eggnog rich with nutmeg? Chestnuts roasting? Pumpkin pie? For me it’s gingerbread.

When the bus stopped in front of Kress’s, I jumped off and into the warm spicy smell. It was coming from the bakery where ten-inch-tall gingerbread men with raisin eyes were baking in the oven. Nothing since has ever smelled so much like Christmas. But gingerbread men would wait till later because I had important shopping to do.

Christmas Shopping — When seven dollars was a fortune

I had an enormous amount of money to spend — seven dollars and thirty-five cents. What amounted to a fortune when you were a kid? Maybe your fortune was seventeen dollars or seventy. But seven dollars and thirty-five cents bought a lot of treasures then.

A million choices – from watches to wigs and girdles to goldfish

Kress’s was the best store for buying presents – even better than the stores in Mobile. You could get lost in the rows and rows of counters, racks, and shelves. And they were all piled high with everything anybody could want, from watches to wigs and from girdles to goldfish.

I walked in and went right past the soda fountain — another Christmas memory because it was where Grandma bought my first Sundae. After just a quick glance, I marched past the toy land too. I was on a mission.

Christmas Memories — Beads, Boxes, Earbobs, and Broaches

I headed to the jewelry counter. It overflowed with the makings of christmas memories — beads, boxes, earbobs, and broaches. I looked at a shiny gold satin box with a necklace of big sparkly red rhinestones. It was like something a movie star would wear, I thought, but it cost nearly four dollars. I wouldn’t have enough left for the other presents, and Mama didn’t like real sparkly necklaces anyway.

I kept looking — fancy mirrors, little glass boxes, embroidered handkerchiefs. I liked the  handkerchiefs, but Mama used Kleenex.

Pop Beads!

Then I saw a display of the prettiest beads — pink and blue and yellow and purple. I picked up a strand. They broke! I stood there holding the broken beads and trying not to cry. I wished I could run away but a saleslady saw me and came over. But she wasn’t mad. She laughed.

“They’re not broken. They’re pop beads,” she said. “Brand new. They pop open so your mama can change them to fit what she’s wearing. Look. You pop open a long necklace and make a shorter necklace and bracelet to match.”

Wow! Pop beads. Was there ever anything neater? I bought the pink ones. They would go with Mama’s Sunday dress.

I didn’t have to go far to find a gift Grandma would love. It was right next to the pop beads — a pin. It was a tiny pink rhinestone rose with a green stem and it was in a shiny gold frame — like a picture. I got that and a box of her favorite Lilac Talcum Powder too.

Christmas Memories of Tie Tacks and Hobos  

Next, on to the men’s counter — watches, fountain pens, and fancy pipes. Tie tacks in all kinds of shapes went around on a revolving stand. I had almost decided on a tie tack shaped like a blue boat with a red sail when I saw it — the best gift ever — a little statue of a hobo. He had a red nose, pink cheeks, a bowed mouth, a cigar, and a black top hat. Daddy would love it.

But it was broken — not bad broken — just a small hole in his stomach. I figured that was why he only cost fifteen cents. But I had enough money. I could buy a good one.

I asked the saleslady if she had one that wasn’t broken. She laughed too. “It’s not broken. It’s an ashtray. The hole is where you put the lit cigarette and he blows smoke out of his mouth.”

Wow! I couldn’t wait till Christmas. Daddy was going to laugh and laugh. And he’d show it off to Uncle Stanley and everybody.

Elegant Gifts for the Old Ladies on Petain Street

All my shopping done, so I wandered around the store. Kress’s really did have everything. They even had real cut crystal vases. And they were only a dime apiece. Right next to them was a rack with plastic roses in every color. That gave me an idea — gifts for the three old ladies who lived alone on Petain Street. Wouldn’t they be surprised to get a present?  I had eighty-three cents left over. I could buy the vases and a rose for each one, and I’d still have enough for the gingerbread man and the bus home.

I don’t remember ever feeling prouder that I did on the bus ride home. Hugging my packages and my gingerbread man, I was even more giddy that I’d been on the trip in. But I couldn’t jump up and down because an old lady got on and sat next to me.

Christmas Memories & The Joy of Giving

That was the Christmas I learned the the meaning of the joy of giving. Mama loved her pop beads. She said she’d wanted some ever since she saw Mrs. Reeves wearing hers at church. Grandma said her pin was the prettiest one ever and she pinned it right on her bathrobe. The old ladies on Petain Street told me I was the sweetest girl and hugged me and gave me pie.

But Daddy’s hobo was the hit of the day. He showed it to Uncle Stanley and everybody just like I knew he would. And he kept it on his dresser for years. My first shopping trip gave me an unforgetable Christmas.

What are your favorite Christmas Memories?

My Christmas memories — shopping at the 5&10, gingerbread men, pop beads, plastic roses in crystal vases, and hobos that blew smoke. What are your favorite Christmas memories? The first time you went Christmas shopping on you own? And the gifts you chose? A tie tack in the shape of a moose? Really? A leaky fountain pen? Midnight in Paris perfume? A tobacco pipe shaped like a lion’s head? One best thing about being a kid was you were sure your gifts were the awesome-est. And on Christmas you found out — they were!

Merry Christmas! And merry Christmas shopping!




December 4, 2023