As we head into a winter holiday season that promises to be like no other in our lifetimes, we are being given a choice: we can see this as a time of masks and social distancing rules and restrictions or as a time of opportunities to get creative while playing it safe with our celebrations. Maybe it’s time to revisit some activities we enjoyed as children that were cheap or even free and that stayed with many of us as memories that have lasted a lifetime.
For one, I remember when my dad would pile us all into the family car for a leisurely evening drive around town to see the lights and displays that people put up around their houses. Christmas trees stood in many picture windows, while outside shrubbery would be decked with multi-colored strands of lights. Every year there was something new to see. Parents and children alike; we all loved the adventure. These days you can see whole light shows moving across the fronts of houses. For a challenge, maybe you could look for a “Major Award Leg Lamp” in somebody’s window. (Try to catch “A Christmas Story” on television this year.) Gasoline is relatively cheap this holiday season, so this can be an inexpensive family activity. And the homeowner/artists will be proud you drove by to see their work.
Another memory many of us have is of experiencing the joys of window shopping. Times have changed, of course, and store windows are fewer and farther apart, but who wouldn’t like to return the days of bundling up and heading downtown for a few hours of dreaming in front of a well-designed store window. This was always a fun holiday outing and, without their knowing it, it taught kids a lot of lessons like delayed gratification and planning ahead. Kids would discover things to ask Santa for, and some would get ideas for giving to others. And those trips often gave parents an idea of what the kids wanted to find under the tree.
The ultimate in window shopping here in Fort Wayne was, of course, the displays at Wolf and Dessauer’s. Jim and Kathie Barron write in their book, Wolf and Dessauer: Where Fort Wayne Shopped, “We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard stories of … standing outside on those cold November nights waiting with delighted anticipation for the unveiling of the window displays. Whole families stood outside in the cold, two or three rows deep. Sometimes the wait lasted hours, but this was one time when no one grumbled and everyone waited with good cheer despite the cold.”
Those windows were utterly enchanting, winter scenes with animal and human figures skating and sledding in sparkling snow or opening packages under tinseled trees. The Winter Wonderland windows were designed by artist Walter Tharp, Jr, a graduate of the Fort Wayne Art Institute and the first Black window dresser of Wolf & Dessauer.
Since it might be hard to duplicate that experience these days, we can still follow the recommendations of the CDC during this time of COVID-19 and get outside. Yes, it’s cold but that’s what hats and coats and gloves are for. Walk around your neighborhood or on one of the trails in Waynedale or Foster Park. The great outdoors is the safest place to be these days, and maybe you’ll be making some new memories for yourself and your family.