Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Through the eyes of a child

I want to share a memory I have of a special time in my life as a child. I wish I had pictures, but I will do my best to paint one with words.
In a youngster’s eyes everything is, larger, brighter, and more magical than it is in an adult’s eyes. You know what I am talking about, think about things you saw when you were a kid, and how they look now, what happened to the magic, why is everything smaller and not so colorful?

Collinson and Cunningham, a large department store, in Palmerston North, New Zealand, was a very special business to visit during the Christmas season, as there was someone every child wanted to see at Christmas, in Collinson and Cunningham's at this time of year.

I remember, walking through the store past all the wooden glass fronted counters displaying merchandise, to the very rear of the building and standing in line outside a wooden swing gate, with my Mum, along with many other parents and kids. We were all waiting to descend the wooden stairs which led down to Santa’s cave. I recall the feeling of apprehension, and at the same time excitement as the gate swung closed behind us as we started down the steps.

As the crowd moved slowly down the worn, shoe smoothed, wooden stairs, into the dimness of a single file corridor, lit with a few lights here and there, the tension built. Some kids were wide eyed, and silent, gripping their parent’s hands. These were the kids who had not been down the steps before and were not sure what they were about to encounter on reaching the bottom. Other kids were and jumping up and down in their excitement knowing what lay ahead.

We wound our way slowly through the twists and turns of the narrow corridor, every so often, coming across a window enclosing a Christmas winter scene. After standing, noses pressed to the glass, and seeing everything there was to see, we shuffled on some more. It seemed to me, at this young age, that the dimmly lit corridor went on for miles, BUT, all of a sudden, we came around a bend, and there, sitting in a recess on a huge wooden chair, was Santa.
OHHH ! there he was, it really was Santa, greeting all the kids and handing each one a gift from a huge sack sitting on the floor beside his chair. Santa also gave all of us, Mums and Dads included, a candy cane and sent us on our way, with the usual belly laugh, Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas.

Moving along, with gifts clutched tightly in small hands, we moved out of the corridor into what I call a cavern. I have since learned it was part of the store’s basement. The floor was littered with gift wrapping as kids undid their gifts. Some of the children were far too excited to worry about placing the wrappings in the garbage cans, gosh there were things to do, there was no time to look for the garbage cans. The sound of laughter, children running here and there, parents trying to keep up with their excited children is photographed in my memory.

Where to look, which direction to take first? Our mother did not let us run wild, we kinda had to stick close by her, I have the feeling she was afraid of losing us in the crowd.

There was a HUGE train track set up along one side. The kind of a setup a model train enthusiast would have. In fact, upon reflection, I am sure it was the model train society who came by to set up this wonderful display. Miniature houses, trees, train stations, a river with real water and a waterfall with colored lights behind. Just about everything you can imagine.

The story of Santa’s workshop was displayed in fenced bays around the other three sides of the cavern. Each display, and it was all animated, told the story of preparations for the Christmas season. Elves were making toys, wrapping toys, filling the gift sacks and loading Santa’s sleigh. It was all quite fabulous. There were other animated scenes as well, but I do not remember the themes.

Then there were lines of children waiting for a ride on, what we called, a merry-go-round. To try and describe what it looked like is rather difficult, but here goes.

Picture something, which looks rather like a very large all metal wagon wheel pivoting about three feet above the floor. It has about twelve spokes. And on the outer edge where each spoke joined the rim, is a metal chair/seat. There was nothing fancy about the merry-go-round, we all sat in the metal seats, enclosed by a safety bar, and every second person had foot pedals to keep the merry-go-round moving after being push started by a couple of helpers. The pedals were something like you see on rental paddleboats found at some lake resorts. Anyhow, if you were lucky to get a seat with pedals, you would pedal for all you were worth until the helpers applied the brakes. To this day I wonder if we did indeed keep the merry-go-round moving just by pedal power, or if it was actually electrically driven and the pedals were just for our entertainment. The ride was never as long as I thought it should be, Sighhhhhh!

Sadly, like many things, Collinson and Cunningham is not there any more. Gone are the old wooden stairs, the air presure driven system of delivering money through tubes around the building, (kind of like the system banks use now in the drive-through, only on a very large scale) Gone is Santa's cave, all replaced by steel and glass. But my memory of a magical place is still intact.

Ahhh! The imagination, and memory of a childhood past, a wondrous thing indeed.

Graphic from http://www.magiclanterngraphics.com/santasworkshop.GIF


Anonymous said...

Keewee this is a great story, I can almost see everything you described. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Craft Tea Lady said...

I remember something along these lines, but it was at the downtown Portland Oregon Nordstrom. I loved going to see that! Thanks for the story and the trip down memory lane. I needed that today.


Anonymous said...

Hi Keewee
Great story. Your really a great storyteller. Brings back memories in most of us.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the children of today have such a magical place. I certainly don't know of one.

Annette said...

I have just revisited my childhood home of Palmerston North which I left 34 years ago. One of my strongest memories of my time there was the Santas grotto- truly magical - as was my childhood growing up there. Wonderful memories - lovely to hear yours and remind me.

Maureen said...

My husband grew up in the Palmerston North area and loved your memories. He also loved Santas grotto - especially the train. He remembers a little aircraft that flew around as well. Thanks

Unknown said...

I grew up in Ashhurst and along with the Kiwi on top of the PDC store, this is my favourite memory... You described it so well and so vividly that the only thing I could add was the red line from the door to the Grotto that we used to drag out mum along... Thank you for reminding me of such a wonderful place

Unknown said...

Hi. Santa's Cave is still going strong in Palmerston North! In 2018 we celebrate 100 years of Santa's Cave - which is now preserved at Te Manawa, the city's museum.
I'm currently trying to gather memories, stories and photos for next year's 100th celebrations.
If you are willing to share your stories, would love to hear.

Unknown said...

Hello, this is a bit of a random request, but I am writing a feature for the Manawatu Standard on Palmerston North's Santa's Cave and I stumbled across your blog. I would love to use a little of this if you wouldn't mind. You paint a lovely picture.
Regards, Carly Thomas

Unknown said...

Jennifer AKA Keewee - My name is also Jennifer, I resonate with those memories precisely but I have lived in Palmerston all my life and would have known the cave in the late 40's/early 50's. I worked in Collinson and Cunninghames on Friday night and school holiday job, in my early teenage years. It was then that I learnt that the cave was really part of the stock storage area and the reason there was a barricade erected on the footpath in King street every year was because there was a large iron plate that sat in the footpath and was lifted up during the day to provide fresh air to the cave.