Monday, November 29, 2010

Nostalgia for Days of Yore....

I think that, when the holidays are upon us, it's inevitable that we look backwards in time to Christmases that have come before.

Or, at least, for me it is.

It's hard not to, really. It starts with the brochures, I think. This year, the Toys R Us Toybook came quite early and it's been at my parents' house where my nephews and nieces can leaf through it and decide what they'd like to add to their Christmas list. I leafed through the book and many other brochures this past weekend. It's amazing to see the toys that are popular now and compare them to the toys that were popular in my childhood.

Some of them are the same. Strawberry Shortcake has made a comeback, Cabbage Patch Kids are still around and Calico Critters bear a striking resemblance to the Sylvanian Families of my youth (and of which my younger sister was a collector). Heroes like Batman and Spiderman never really go out of style.

Yet there are new toys as well- Bratz, Monster High, LaLaLoopsy and other weirdly named dolls seem to be in vogue. Toy Story 3 is everywhere although those toys are actually Disneyfied versions of mine and even the generation before's youth.

It's not just the toys that are different. It's the world, really. Now's the time when, if I had a child, I'd be saying, "When I was a child..." and telling the stories of having to walk through snow and rain over the miles to get to school. Actually, I did have to walk a mile to school in the snow, thank you very much. It was freezing especially when you had to wear a school uniform that required a skirt.

But the world is different now. It was different in my youth from the generations that had come before me. It's constantly evolving. The places I notice it this time of year is in the stores.

When I was a child in England, there were toy shops. There were butcher's shops, a greengrocer, a fish market. There were bakeries and post-offices where you had to go to get stamps. To go shopping was an event. I'd wait patiently for my mother to order her merchandise from the vendors. The butcher's shop, for example, smelled of sawdust that masked the odor of meat. Behind thick strips of hanging plastic in a doorway, we could see the racks of meat hanging, waiting to be cut to order. In the greengrocers, the scents of apples and oranges, of onions and leeks and cabbage would blend together and I'd wait while my mother bought her potatoes and whatever else she needed. In the newsagents, they'd sell sweets and snacks, newspapers and soft drinks. We'd go there to pick up our weekly comics. That was my favourite shop because I had a sweet tooth and I'd spend my 10p of pocket money on 'little sweets' from the penny county counter.

What I'm getting at is that the world isn't like that anymore. The stores of my childhood are gone. They've been boarded up or replaced by cellular phone stores. If you want meat, you go to one of the mega-marts that are everywhere. The same goes for bread, for produce, for sweets.

It's the same in England as it is in the States. Here, you buy toys at Walmart or Target or K-Mart. Sure, Toys R Us is there but that's a megamart of a different kind. It's not a little toy shop with hand carved puppets, deluxe softtoys or collector-quality trainsets. It's a store full of what's popular. They sell FAO Schwarz toys in there now which makes me sad because I think FAO Schwarz is almost gone from the face of the world. That was a toy shop to see. I went to the New York Store which I think is still there and it's just something else. Even as an adult, I felt like I could be a kid in there again.

Speciality stores have become a novelty nowadays, oddities that are fun to peruse but more expensive to buy from because they have more overhead than the big chains. It's like in the movie, "You've Got Mail," in which Meg Ryan's delightful little children's book store is overshadowed and overpowered by the big chain bookstore.

I'm as guilty as the next person for helping this happen. I mean if I see something in a specialty store or catalog, the first thing I do is go to or other website to see if I can get it for less.

It's just the way of the world. It's economy and convenience. It's not wrong it's just...a little sad that this is what's happenend. Sure, we can blame Walmart but it's not all their fault. They wouldn't succeed with out us, the consumers who are eager for low prices with less hassle. Of course, personally speaking, these days I almost always find Walmart to be a hassle but the point remains.

It's just sad to look back and look upon a world that's lost the personality of individual stores and given way to 'all-in-one' types of places. It's hardest, I think, at Christmas because shopping is such a part of the experience. Nowadays, it's entirely possible to get all your shopping done in one store if you're careful.

Me, I like to spread the shopping around. This is probably why I enjoy spending time shopping online. The digital stores have become our speciality stores. I don't know if that's a scary thing or something that's just plain interesting to contemplate. I'm going to have to think on that.

In the meantime, I'll continue to look back through my rose-tinted glasses on past Christmases where Christmas shopping meant getting to look round the expanded toy sections of each department store and, as a special treat, to go visit Father Christmas in one of them. While I enjoy the scrimmage and chaos of early-morning Black Friday shopping, I like the idea of spending a day shopping. It means going to more than one store to get the shopping done and even though the stores carry much of the same products, it still feels different in each one.

I suppose that's the closest we can come nowadays to the forgotten days of speciality stores where each store sold lots of types of the same thing. I miss that, in some ways but it's quicker these days to shop and get the job done in one or two stores.

I suppose it's all a trade off. The world has moved on and we've moved with it.

But sometimes, wouldn't it be nice if time could stand still for a while?

Happy Tuesday!

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