We were shopping in Devil’s Lake this weekend and the store already had Christmas decorations out. Not even Halloween yet — they still have an aisle for candy and pumpkins. And then aisle after aisle with tinsel draped down from the ceiling and sparkling balls and lights and signs saying “Early Christmas deals” or something. I’m glad my kids are grown and old. I wonder how much stuff people have to buy now.
When we were young, my grandmother used to kind of tut-tut over all the presents we got, which was hardly nothing compared to what you had to give your kids when mine were young. She told stories of how, when they first came to the Dakotas, Christmas might be a little candy and a toy made by her Pa, or some ribbons to put in her dress or her hair. Well, times change don’t they. She remembered the days, after they got settled and they had their land mostly plowed and they had a house made out of wood, they build two grand new stores right on Main. One was the Boston Store, and one was the Chicago Store. When I was little the Boston Store was the plumbing store, same as today, with someone upstairs, a real estate agent or something. I wondered why the plumber’s building said “Boston Store.” The Chicago Store was where the furniture store was, but when I was a girl they had a fire and the top of the building caved in and so the brick where it had said ‘Chicago Store 1901’ isn’t there anymore. And now it’s just a vacant lot full of weeds. But my grandmother said when they used to come into town on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, the streets would be getting dark but the windows of the Chicago Store and the Boston Store would be brightly lit and full of things, a doll, a toy train set, Christmas tinsel. And she would imagine what it would be like to live in town and have things like that, like they had in Chicago and Boston. She thought living in town must be like Chicago and Boston. And then her father told her, No, those were big cities, where things in windows and houses were fancy but the streets were crowded and dirty and people could hardly afford those things. Much better to live out on the prairie where the air was clean and a family could live healthy and right.
She told me that for a long time growing up she dreamed about going away to Chicago or Boston. But then she met Erik Looysen, he was my grandfather, and they started their own farm, and she never did. Not even when she had moved off the farm and into town in Newcastle, when Newcastle was still a town. She said, “Sometimes you get older and you realize you don’t need to do things like that any more.”
I thought of her this weekend, looking down those long aisles of bright red and pine green decorations and things in big boxes. I hope my daughters aren’t out shopping in those aisles already. Sometimes you get older and you realize you don’t need to do things like that any more.