When I was growing up, things seemed simpler. No TV, computers, or video games. In the wintertime, kids were actually forced, by Mom, to put on their warmest mitts, boots, hat and coat and head outdoors into the wind, cold and snow to experience life, both real and imaginary.
Part of the imaginary for me near Christmas was the much-anticipated trip to "Toy Town" – that magical place at the Simpsons department store where every toy imaginable could be seen and dreamed about. And, of course, Santa Claus was there too. Now I am not knocking Santa, but it was equally important for a kid to have the time in Toy Town to wander around dreaming of what you would do if all these great toys showed up under the tree on Christmas morning. Just think: trains, slot racing cars, tanks that moved and shot sparks, dolls with wardrobes, puzzles and so much more. What a world of fantasy. Ok, those were the dreamed-of toys in my memories; for the young, just think computers, game modules, etc. in place of those boring old toys.
Well let me tell you of one little boy of ten who, after a day of cold crisp fun with friends outdoors, went downtown Toronto, on Christmas Eve to get his father from work at Simpsons. The mood on the street was festive: work had finished and everyone was hustling home with presents tucked under their arms. The street was decorated for the season. There was the sound of talking and laughter and traffic. It was exciting.
I was dropped off at the rear of where my father worked, and pushed my way in, through big revolving doors, into the store. Everyone was rushing, anywhere, and everywhere. It was magical, and breath taking. I went up the many flights of escalators, to “the office" whereall was total confusion: phones were ringing, people were shouting, running, tripping. It was so different from the street. The happiness had not quite reached up here yet; everyone was intent on one aim. To get every single order out by midnight. No customer must be left out. No time for a ten-year-old here! My father waved, grabbed a young employee, whispered something, and went back to his tasks. I was politely, but firmly, grabbed and whisked from the confusion, back out the door of " the office".
By now, the store was closed. The rest of the building lay in almost total darkness. The escalators were stopped and silent. Down we went, walking down each inactive escalator, floor by floor until we were three floors below.
It was still dark on this floor. But down the aisle, far away, there was light. Lots of light. And music! And noise! We headed in that direction. The closer we got, the more exciting it became. The noise of trains in full steam, dolls crying, airplanes flying around pillars, blinking lights, movement everywhere. And above it all was the sound of Christmas carols.
I had walked into the fantasy of every kid in Toronto at Christmas: I was standing at the entry to Toy Town, with every toy running, every light shining, every sound blaring. And no one else in sight! It was all mine.
I walked by row on row of toys. They all seemed to possess the happiness I had found in the crowds out on the street. They were ready for the love of a child somewhere in the city that night. But Santa's throne was empty. “How was this going to happen?”, I thought.
Just then, out of the darkness came my answer. At least in my young mind. It was Santa's lead elf -- dressed as my father -- followed by his helpers with wooden carts scooping up last minute orders to be sent to waiting trucks and out to a lot more of Santa's helpers who would make sure the toys were under trees all over town by morning.
You see, my father ran Simpsons, that large department store where the motto was "satisfaction guaranteed". No ifs ands or buts. Every employee lived and breathed that motto. No customer was left out. At Christmas, that included some families that were not customers. Several of the delivery staff knew of people on their route who had very little. Each truck seemed to have a few parcels that could not be delivered or returned. They were kindly left on the doorsteps of those less fortunate.
That was the kind of place Simpsons was, and from time to time, you will see another business or person bringing that special Christmas magic to a customer or someone in need.
Merry Christmas to everyone. Enjoy your memories of this great time of year.