A blizzard a blur a whirl of cash registers and make-up girls and transactions and credit cards and debt and Walnut and rich, milky, minty chocolates.
A tide of shoppers milling pushing washing wailing. A trail of coffee dripping from a waste cart leading into a back room as a woman on a walkie talkie called for backup and cleanup.
Mailboxes for letters to Santa. Rich, creamy chocolates.
Crystal on shelves near escalators. Boxes of minty candies.
Goddamn, I love Marshall Field’s.
It’s Macy’s now, of course. It’s Macy’s just like Santa isn’t real, like the cheery bell-ringers are from a group not so keen on the gays and like all the other moments of Christmas childhood joy are sopped away by the paper towel of age, experience and quilted softness.
But it’s still Marshall Field’s to me.
In my Northern Illinois childhood, Chicago wasn’t a place where people lived and breathed. It was a theme park that only came alive when my parents and I wanted to see Cubs games, the Field Museum, Ed Debevic’s or other tourist destinations.
In winter, it was Marshall Field’s.
Marshall Field’s in winter was the downtown department store where we would dip by during winter trips to participate in the commerce, watch the famous window displays and of course buy some Frango mint chocolates.
Frango mints are, well, chocolate. Pretty good chocolate magnified into magic by memory, nostalgia and how much my late maternal grandfather loved them. They’re chocolate I eat at Christmas the same way a candy cane is a breath mint.
A bustle, a slew of commerce waited in Macy’s when adult I showed up, a few years older and a few grandfathers short of when I first fell in love with Marshall Field’s at Christmas.
The famous window displays outside, that once-marvelous Wonka-level clockwork, was now a few tick-tocks on one side of the building. I later confirmed the decline with my father in case childhood holiday memories had done to the windows what it did to pretty good chocolate and bell-ringers not so keen on the gays.
I called my dad, who agreed that the displays had gone downhill, but opted to soften my phrase of “quantifiably crappier” with “simpler, less complicated.”
It’s still what it was at the store on State and Randolph. There are still big clocks on the corners, commerce inside. It’s still a store where people dine in the Walnut Room and send letters to Santa, maybe even visit the big guy himself.
If the name changes and the windows get lamer, that’s the the passage of time happening there, another tick tick tick inexorably a spin around the face of the Marshall Field’s clock.
I mentioned this to the girl. She gave that shrug and wry smile she does.
“At least you got your candy,” she said.