|Biff Bear. The LOVE of my life.|
|Christmas Morning, 1968|
Dressed for winter, I elbowed my way through the hard outer crust of the crowd of kids determined to make my way to the front of the pack. I dug my padded elbows deep into corduroyed knee caps and thighs causing bodies to grind and scrape against each other allowing me to pass through the tremors of all their constrained energy. Using my older brother as body armor by pushing him forward, and then pushing him aside, I finally made my way to the front. And there I stood, finally, before the altar of Santa’s Workshop as it appeared in the windows of The Atlas Five and Ten Store on lower Main Street in Fort Lee 1968.
The sidewalk-to-ceiling windows sparkled so brightly that at first all I could see was my own reflection staring back at me as the full moon began its slow ascent in the early evening sky behind me. Nestled between all of the toys were Santas who moved, Mrs. Clauses who nodded, and mechanical carolers holding their electric candlesticks in gloved hands while their singing mouths formed a perfectly round “O.” And then there were the toys. The toys. Nothing beat Sears’ Christmas Wish Book except the Christmas windows of The Atlas Five and Ten. Here, in all their three-dimensional glory, the toys danced before me on the stage of their display shelves. Some peered down from atop shelves, some dangled and twirled in mid-air, some sat upon the floor beckoning to all of us from behind the angular glass panes.
I pressed my nose as hard as I possibly could into cold translucent glass in an effort to visually inhale all of the toys at once. I succeeded only in crossing my eyes to the point that I started to get dizzy as all of the toys became a blur that burst into kaleidoscopic fragments of colors. My breath released clouds of fog that steamed the window with condensation. I used the wool of my red mittens that Grandma had knitted the winter before to clear a path for my eyes to see.
This moment didn’t just arrive. We had just arrived in this moment. You see, anticipation for the big reveal began right after Thanksgiving when all the kids in town began to stalk lower Main Street waiting for Mr. Feiler to begin his yearly ritual of covering the store windows with white sheets so that Santa’s Workshop could be created in secret. That was always the week that I wanted to move in with the Paolina’s who lived in an upstairs apartment adjacent to the Five and Ten. I had this fantasy that somehow there was a secret door in the floor of their apartment that would lead directly to the Five and Ten. I didn’t think that Mr. and Mrs. Paolina would have minded having an unschooled, but street-wise, three-year old bunk in with them for a week considering their daughters Patty and Barbara were my babysitters, but somehow I could never talk my parents into it.
Then it happened. While driving down Main Street to Grandma’s house one Sunday afternoon on the first of December, my heart stopped as our cavernous 1950-something black Chevy drove past the Five and Ten and I saw for myself the shrouds that draped the windows in secrecy. I wanted to jump from the moving car and run across Main Street to peer behind the curtains to get an early glimpse of Christmas. Instead, I had to suffer through Sunday dinner with about 50 relatives where I had to surreptitiously remove the pignoli nuts and raisins that Grandma shoved into her meatballs and hide them inside my socks until I could get a chance to get into the bathroom and flush them down the toilet. Yuck!
But now here I stood. Alone in a sea of kids; aware of nothing but the stale smell of steam rising from our mingled bodies and the toys. My eyes wandered up, down, and around the window before which I stood casting a visual blessing upon all that appeared before me. Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Colorforms, View Masters, Aurora Monster Models, Barbie and her swank blue vinyl carrying case, Remco’s Baby Glad & Sad, portable record players, and…and…there he was. At last I had found him. All brown and shiny staring only at me…For the very first time my heart pined…Biff Bear. I had to have him.
To be continued…
|Biff Bear. The LOVE of my life.|