By Kelly Schloss
For my family, Christmas and the holiday season is a time to share and recount days past. This year, I’d like to do that in the form of an old cautionary tale of magical doors and a secret room. It is about the thrill of Christmas shopping with mom: discovery, fear, separation, reunion, and my very first elevator ride (that I can remember, anyway).
It all begins in the parking lot of a busy shopping mall during the Christmas season and walking past bell ringers in bright red aprons and dodging icy puddles on a chilly day at a Chicagoland mall. I was an over-exuberant 8 year old, already straining against holding my mom’s hand or latching on to the stroller of my younger sister. I had been enticed by the tale of shopping for Christmas gifts over Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce (yuck!), and mac and cheese, but had never experienced it for myself. As we moved closer to the entrance, I licked my lips with anticipation and strained to wedge myself in the door first.
As the door swung open, I was not disappointed. A world of wonder, tinseled in silver and gold, unfolded before me as I nimbly pushed my way ahead of the stroller to take it all in. I stood agog as my mother grabbed my hand with a firm, yet gentle jerk and said, “Hold my hand or hold on to the stroller, those are the rules. I don’t want you to get lost.” The tug-of-war with my mom’s hand had officially begun. But, I let her win as almost immediately all of the feeling remaining in my slight paw disappeared as every sense gathered up a stimulation which had not been experienced before.
My ears heard the call of “Merry Christmas!”and “Ho, ho, ho!” as it echoed from Santa’s workshop. I saw with my own eyes real (animatronic) elves laboring on the same toy train over and over, wicker reindeer just like you find at the North Pole, and an enormous button-eyed Teddy bear spinning endlessly on an over-sized wooden block. A blanket of white, puffy, fake snow filled the main intersection with a gigantic, brightly painted rocking horse at the center. The smell of yuletide roasted nuts and General Tso’s chicken wafted through the great hall from the food court nearby and everything was festooned in red and green ribbons from the tallest ceilings to the floor and there were more blinking lights than my eight-year-old eyes had ever seen in one place. People pushed and shoved, stuffed in overcoats and with packages and bags of all shapes and sizes in bright paper and trimmed in ribbons. All the while, trance-inducing Christmas music droned softly on in the background. I had reached an eight-year-old’s version of paradise.
I scarcely could take in all that was attacking my senses. I was in the throes of this exhilaration when I caught my first glimpse of the bright, gleaming, stainless steel elevator doors, gliding open just a few short feet away. I could not control the urges in my feet as I, in a daze of sensory overload pulled my hand from the firm grasp of my mother and bolted toward the now fully open elevator. I instinctively leaped to the middle of the car and turned around just in time to see the ashen face of my mom framed in the large door.
After seeing the look on her face I was dizzied, realizing the colossal blunder I had made. Momentarily, I lost any awareness of my surroundings as the next thing I remember was the swoosh of doors as they magically glided again, this time closed. It was as if some hypnotic spell had pulled me to the car in the first place and away from my mom and now I snapped out of my stupor just in time to see her lunge towards me as the doors closed. Now the reality, like those once magical doors, was closing in on the fantasy that I had been building. Those shiny hatchways became snarling jaws of entrapment separating me from my family.
As the elevator jerked and my knees buckled, questions began racing in my mind. “Where was I going?” “What had I done?”
There was no escape. I looked desperately around briefly for a friendly face, but there were no children at all and I only found the drawn faces of zombie-like shoppers that haunted the now ever-shrinking elevator. They too, I am sure, had once been lured to the siren’s song of Christmas shopping in their youth, but the shine was far off of that penny and now the drudgery of the event gave them an antidote to the thrill and euphoria I had been experiencing. The sight of Santa Claus, silver bells, and gold trim did not stir them in the slightest and the helpless, far off stare of an eight year old, verging on tears, didn’t either. I let loose with a loud wet sniffle (international language of distress for children) yet none of the weary passengers gave me a second look. I was on my own and separated from the warm hand of my mom. Where was she and how would I get back?
Then, I realized that there was a big glass wall in the elevator. Try as I might I strained to look over the rail in hopes of seeing my mom. But, alas, my efforts were to no avail as I was just too short, even on tippy-toes and the window did not face the right direction. I was trapped with people I did not know, going to a place I had never been and hope was slowly draining from me. Also, in the back my mind I began to wonder about the reception I would receive if I ever did find my way back from the enchanted closet I had be drawn to. Would I be missed and welcomed with open arms? Or sent home and put in time out; the worst possible punishment for wayward children? As I was in deep contemplation (or as deep as an eight year old can be) a friendly bell rang out and the doors slid open again. People pushed out and more people pushed in as I stood stupefied by the process. Before I could even make a motion or utter a single word, the doors abruptly closed again and the elevator took off with a jerk, this time downward.
As it jolted to a stop and the doors opened wide and I could see my mom waiting. She lunged forward, grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the elevator and to her tightly. The feeling of relief was overwhelming and the warmth of her love overcame the fear of retribution or the magical, mesmerizing elixir of the surroundings of the mall center court. Even though I was still at Woodfield Mall, the magic dissipated as tangible reality of that hug hit home.
Don’t worry, we did finish the shopping trip, but I have no idea what we bought. My hand never left the stroller the rest of the day and I did get “time out” when we got home, but the adventure in the elevator has never left me to this day.
So what are the lessons of this tale of Christmas past? There are many: One is to not let the enticements and shininess of the world blind you to the reality of life, even in the holiday season. Another lesson: a mother’s hug has a higher value than all the Black Friday sales combined. And, maybe, the lesson is to not feel silly about being mesmerized by an elevator as a child (they’re pretty wonder inspiring, even as an adult). Who knows? You might just end up working in the business one day.
Happy Holidays from everyone at Phoenix Modular Elevator.