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Christmas memories, malls, toys

 

Christmas memories hit you in the face like a giant snowball this time of year.

From the kindergarten Christmas play at Snow Rogers Elementary School where I starred as a tiny elf with pointy green shoes that jingled and a floppy hat in the cafegymatorium, to the visits to my Uncle David and Aunt Gayle’s where the sounds of “Away in a Manager” could be heard from the living room amid laughter of children from the den, the memories are fond.

It is tough getting old, especially when memories of the “good ole’ days” come storming back.

My age may have finally caught up to me. Not only do I tire earlier in the evenings and can’t do some of the “foolish” activities of yesteryear, but my maturity is becoming visible. In fact, in this year’s family Christmas card photos, my weight gain is noticeable. However, the silver flashes of gray hair are emphasized by the sunlight and occasional camera flash. Trust me, it’s noticeable.

Nevertheless, one memory that has come to mind this year was the many weekends spent shopping with my mother at historic Western Hills Mall in Fairfield, Ala. The mall opened in 1969 as the second in Birmingham, under the development of Aronov Realty. Loveman’s of Alabama, which became Pizitz in 1980, was one of its original anchor stores. Pizitz later became McRae’s, then Parisian. J.C. Penney was the other major store, with Yeilding’s and F.W. Woolworth Company as the other major tenants. The Yeilding’s space was later occupied by Goody’s Family Clothing.

As the years past and the mall aged, many of its customers began shopping at newer malls such as Century Plaza, which opened in 1975, and The Galleria — a large upscale, super-regional shopping mall in Hoover, Ala., which opened its doors in 1986. As I got older, I shopped at both malls, and even worked at Century Plaza. However, my memories were always of the frosty winter days shopping for Christmas presents at Western Hills Mall.

You may or may not be familiar with all of the anchor stores the historic mall opened with, but they bring back so many memories. While talking to my Mom earlier this week, she filled me in that one of the reasons she frequented the smaller mall was because of her memories of shopping at Woolworth as a child and eating at the store’s lunch counter. That, in my opinion, is definitely a memory to cherish. I envision soda fountains, hamburgers, mugs and floats.

By the time I came along in the late ’70s, Woolworth was making its exit at the mall. I’m not sure if the store was still open during my first visits to the mall, but my first memories don’t include the popular discount department store, which originated as a five-and-dime store in 1878.

My fondest memories of the mall are visiting K-B Toys, which enjoyed a nearly 90-year history, and running up and down the aisles picking toys for my Christmas wish list.

One year, Santa brought me the Alvin & the Chipmunks characters that I had to have. Just last Christmas, my four siblings and I searched the attic our parents’ house to find any of our old toys. The plush rodents were still intact waiting to be freed from a dust-covered cardboard box, along with many of my other toys such as MASK and He-Man figures.

However, one of the most uncharacteristic toys my mother bought her “baby boy” at Western Hills Mall was the Astronaut Cabbage Patch Kid. Yes, I had a baby doll; I admit it.

My sister, Jennifer, and I are closest in age and she loved playing school with her dolls. I thought it would be cool to have a “student” in her class, so I begged my Mom for the spaceflight doll equipped with helmet, air pack and gloves. To my surprise — once home — I carefully opened the box, took the doll from the box and moved its helmet. It was a girl.

Needless to say, all of Jennifer’s Cabbage Patch Kids are now safely tucked away in a hope chest. Elizabeth the Astronaut took one small step into the chest with them.