NOTES FROM NAPANOCH #18
“The Christmas I Saved Macy's”
by Joe Bevilacqua
The smell of cotton candy always makes me think of Christmas. It takes me back to the holiday season of 1964. I was three years old, Christmas shopping with my mom at Bamberger's department store in Newark, New Jersey.
The store was founded in 1893 by Louis Bamberger, and the building, which was erected in 1912, had a big clock on it. Unlike the sprawling malls of today, Bamberger's took up the entire building and sold everything from ladies underwear to model homes.
In 1929, Bamberger's was purchased by R.H. Macy Co. of New York City, but it wasn't until 1986 that the name was changed to Macy's when they went national.
Today, there are Macy's across the country, eight of them within driving distance of my home in Napanoch. The store in the Galleria Mall in Middletown only became a Macy's this year.
And you can thank me for it. That's right. The same year “The Beatles” invaded America, I saved Bamberger's, so if it were not for me, the Macy's we know today may not have existed.
My mom had brought me to downtown Newark so I could see my dad, who was a policeman, directing traffic, white gloves and all, at the intersection of Market and Halsey Streets, where Bamberger's was located. My black Buster Brown shoes lifted off the sidewalk, as we passed the animated outdoor window displays of Santa and his elves in their workshop, my mom clutching my hand and shoving me through the revolving door into a sea of legs scurrying frantically around me.
After a nondescript visit with Santa, my mom took me into a world I had before never seen—the ladies lounge. It was a handsome place with real wood paneling, glass ashtrays on ornate brass stands and leather chairs in which sat seven or eight Jackie Kennedy look-alikes, wearing pillbox hats, half-jackets and white gloves. They had all kicked off their spiked healed shoes and were rubbing their stockinged feet in between puffs of their cigarettes. A sea of smoke floated above.
My mom sat down, lit up a Marlboro and kicked off her spikes, as I occupied myself by sitting on the carpet and pretending all those shoes were racing cars.
Suddenly, I heard a woman scream. I looked up and saw flames coming out of one of the ashtray stands. The woman kicked over the stand and jumped up onto her leather chair. Now the carpet was on fire, too. All the woman screamed and jumped up.
“Somebody put it out!” urged one woman.
“I can't! I don't have my shoes on!” replied another.
“Me either!” added a third.
I actually do not remember what my mother was doing at this moment, but I do remember the woman who pointed to me as she suggested, “Get that kid to do it! He's got shoes on!”
I stood up and quickly stamped out the fire. To shouts of “Thank God” and sighs of relief, the women descended upon me, lifted me up and passed me around the room while they hugged and kissed me.
Then, the woman who had suggested my act of heroism picked me up, kissed my cheek and smiled.
Her makeup smelled just like a delicious cotton candy.
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