Christmas in Evanston Pt1
December 8, 1951
Downtown Evanston was packed with Christmas shoppers.
Looking for vacant parking spaces, cars crawled along Chicago Avenue; finding none they turned east or west onto the smaller side streets.
The jingling of bells in the hands of Salvation Army Santa’s, though a part of the season, constantly reminded the throngs of shoppers that there was a much poorer life beyond the confines of this wealthy—Northwestern College—college town.
Snowflakes fell from a darkly-leaden sky, but as there was no wind they fell straight, and as the temperature was above freezing the snow stuck to nothing but did give a definite white-coated promise that added to the festive, seasonal atmosphere.
They had driven the five miles to go shopping in Evanston because it was close by and also because Myra wanted to get out of the house and into the crowds for a dose of Christmas season fervor, but they carried few packages because she found shopping in the department and specialty stores that lined both sides of the street, “Just a little too rich for my blood.”
“Know what I’d like?”
Standing in front of a Marshall Field window, Myra, Walter and Mitchell watched an animated display depicting Santa on his sleigh snapping a whip above the heads of his troop of reindeer led by the newly born Rudolph, thanks to Gene Autry’s recently popular recording of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.”
Looking at her husband’s reflection in the window, “Let’s see if I can guess.” Myra said not unkindly. “You’d like a cup of coffee.”
Turning to her, “Jesus, Myra,” Walter said seriously, “sometimes you scare the living bejabbers out of me. That’s exactly what I want! How in the hell would you know that?”
Patting his cheek, “Walt, I know you better than you know yourself.”
Shuddering at the thought, “Yeah, maybe you do.”
He didn’t want coffee but, “Yeah, a hot fudge sundae sounds pretty good.” Pointing across the street, “Walgreens got a good fountain.” Knowing she liked malted milk, Mitchell looked at his mother. “And they make great malts.”
Shrugging his shoulders, “Coffee’s coffee.” Walter said.
“I haven’t had a malt in years. Okay, it’s okay with me.”
They waited for the traffic light to change, crossed Chicago Avenue and, once inside, went to the rear of the large drugstore, waited until three adjacent stools became available, then sat on the long side of the L-shaped counter with Walter between his wife and son.
A skinny, frizzy-haired waitress standing on the opposite side of the counter with a pencil poised over a small, green pad asked, “What can I get you folks?”
“Just coffee, black.”
“Vanilla malt, please.”
Removing his jacket, laying it across his lap, “I’ll have a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream, please.”
Wearing his usual, Mitchell wore Levi’s and a sport short opened two buttons down that revealed his chest hair and mezuzah. His shirtsleeves, rolled twice, showed the watch he had received for his Bar Mitzvah on his left wrist and a large-linked, silver I.D. bracelet on his right. On his feet were the ever-present, dirty white-buck shoes.
Within minutes, “Here you go,” their orders came.
The couple sitting kitty-corner vacated their stools and two women sat down.
The movement caused Mitchell to move his rapt attention from the hot fudge sundae to the lady and girl… The long-handled spoon pausing mid-way to his mouth, a blob of fudge dropping onto the cherry- and nut-topped mound of whipped cream, the sundae before him instantly forgotten because then, at that precise moment, Mitchell Lipensky fell totally, completely, in love.
Having a clear complexion, her hair impeccably coiffured, wearing an expensive-looking white wool coat with a beige fur collar over a pink, knit dress, the lady was beautiful. But…
Oh, God! The girl!
The girl! Obviously the lady’s daughter, the girl immediately reminded Mitchell of the only movie star he’d ever had a crush on: Elizabeth Taylor. In Mitchell’s eyes, positively beautiful, the girl was sixteen, possibly seventeen, and as if knowing who she so strongly resembled, the girl’s hair was cut short and styled in ringlets, as was Elizabeth’s in her new movie, A Place in the Sun. Her eyebrows were thick and arched and, Damn, she even had a small mole on her left cheek. Okay, so Elizabeth Taylor’s mole is on her right cheek. But so what! From where he sat could see that she didn’t have Elizabeth’s violet eyes, but the girl’s were a beautiful, light brown. Her leather coat open, the white fur collar was pulled up, somewhat framing her face. Beneath the coat she wore a powder blue, cashmere sweater, and there was a fine gold chain with a small, diamond studded Star of David about her neck.
As he stared at her, the girl’s face turned in his direction and she looked at him.
Their eyes locking and holding, the boy and girl looked at each other for an eternity that lasted three seconds, then, hastily, each looked away.
Swallowing, nudging Walter, “Dad,” whispering, “see those two women across from us? She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. I’ve got to meet her!” Telling his father, subconsciously, to make him do it, to keep himself from backing out.
If he were alone, most probably he’d have finished his sundae and with a long backward glance left the store. But now, with his father at his side, Mitchell felt compelled, first, because he was absolutely desperate to meet the girl, and also, since he had said he would, to prove to his father and himself that he could.
Putting his cup down, Walter looked at the two women, then at his son, and remembering his own youth, centuries ago, so it seemed, “If I were you, I’d sure try,” he said, then added, “Good luck, kiddo.”
Not allowing himself time to think, standing, committed, he placed his jacket on the stool and, without the slightest idea of what he was going to say, walked around the counter.
To be continued
©December 2, 2012 / Mark M Lichterman
A “Becoming” Excerpt.
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