Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Box of Mirrors

Back in the days when I was a kid and my mother “dressed” me up to go shopping for clothes, a store that we frequented was a department store called Bronson’s. Bronson’s was situated in the middle of Normandale, the first suburban mall built in our town. Normandale was a very modern open air mail with covered walkways, fountains, courtyards, and green spaces, and lovely shops filled with jewelry, clothes, toys, housewares, and all of the things one could want all within walking range of each other. It was a very “Mad Men” architectural setting of green ceramic tiles and great expanses of glass framed by thin shows of steel supported by large beams and arches of free form concrete. 

The largest of the shops was Loveman’s, the anchor department store that had the most of a bit of everything, and always had a several week long visit from Santa Claus each Christmas. The store had a huge front upstairs window facing the parking lot below, and there for all to watch, Santa would sit in his huge chair and greet each frightened child, hear their wishes as they tried to look past the fake beard to find the truth, smile for the photo, give them a lollipop, and send them on their way back to their adoring parents.

I bought my first make up there. Feeling very grown up, I bought my first boy friend a tiny bottle of Brut cologne there. There was a strategically placed counter of warmed choices of toasted nuts, cashews, peanuts, walnuts and pecans, all right by the escalators where every one had to ride to the second floor and back with the scent of these warmed nuts luring you towards them. If you succumbed to their call, these warm salty goodies were measured out with a small metal scoop and were put in small paper bags to carry around and enjoy while you shopped, or waited on your mom to do so. 

On the other side of the escalator the cabinet of goodies continued with sugary things of all sorts. It was the first place I encountered  cherry flavored spaghetti shaped strands of chewy strings with the consistency of gum drops but these you could eat inch by inch. They came in bundles wound together, a prize to work through for hours.  

In this modern mall, Normandale was host to Mel’s camera shop which was wallpapered with large photos of Ansel Adam’s Yosemite portfolio. Next to Mel’s, or maybe a few stores down was the fancy dress shop that my aunt liked, where models would model the dresses one liked to see, so that a lady could drink her tea and not have to try on a darned thing. Dress chosen, it was put in a lovely box and then carried home. There was a hardware shop further down with shovels, nails, and parts to fix this and that. Other shops included Zales, the jewelry store, The Record Store, which sold vinyl records and appliances, Woolworth's, a discount dime store, Toy Land, my favorite,   and many others that stayed for decades and others that came and went as retail tends to do.

Normandale’s being built was a beginning of the end of the urban retail, with its convenience and glamour, and it sparked the unleash-able, leap frog, suburban crawl of new modern neighborhoods with strip centers and other newer malls. Gradually the shops all followed these newer malls and Normandale was abandoned. It now stands as a sad symbol of changes that happen as fads rise, and then they fall. Loveman’s huge glass windows are broken and Santa no longer comes to visit. Bronson’s changed its name and moved to a fancy place out east and call themselves “The Name Dropper”. Normandale is a ghost world now of faded glory and only its memories remain alive.

But back to Bronson’s, back to when Normandale, and life in general, was in its glory days. 

There was a display case in Bronson’s, on the left side of the store as one entered, built of dark polished wood with a shadow box type opening on the top and drawers below. The shadow box was lit from inside and was fully lined with mirrors. When I stuck my head into the opening and looked to the right I saw an infinite number of my faces reflected there, and also a bit of the opposing reflection of the back of my head from the mirror on the other end. If I turned to the left, this infinite reflection was the same and try as I might I could never count how many of these repeating reflections there were.  My head, reflected there, always remained in the way of my seeing them all. It was a fascinating thing to me and I can still recall my amazement at this box of endless mirrors, having spent many of my mother’s shopping hours with my head stuck inside this infinity puzzle box. 

The magic and mystery of shopping, that surrounded this place called Normandale, back in the days of my child hood, was tied and linked to this amazing box of mirrors, and the visual memory of the box is as real to me now as it was then. It’s mystery provoked me to think in ways that had not occurred to me at that time, about infinity,  and also about perspective.  I could only see the magic of the box when I put my head in to see it, and I wondered what it did when I didn’t. Did the mirrors continue their magic without me?

When I began to think about things as a kid, I realized at one point being amazed to learn that my parents were once kids, and their grand parents too. I  thought that time simply began with my birth, and that all of the players in my life began then too. Myopia has its down falls and revelations and it was shocking to find that my birth did not start time.

Now I have begun to see my life from the present, to the days of my youth, and all of the events that passed before I was even here, each as single reflections in that box of mirrors, all lining up and all heading away from now, back into the infinity that came before me. I look the other way and see fuzzy glimpses of the future and see that they too line up as single reflections of possible days that will happen with infinity into that which hasn’t happened, yet. It is from my perspective that this time line runs, equally running in both directions. I am just in the middle of the magic box of mirrors, observing.

ps.  Happily, on Tuesday, this week, in the very early hours of the morning, our second grand daughter, Marilyn, was born, adding yet another happy and wonderful event to the time line we call our life.  She is a tiny and beautiful, and we all look forward to being a part of her journey from here.

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