Downtown Boston Christmas StarBy Robert Gillis

Sent to Mom Christmas, 2005
And published in the Boston City Paper 11/2011

I thought I would share a letter I wrote to my Mom on Christmas a few years back. I emailed it to her this morning and she loved these wonderful memories, and I thought it would bring a smile to the readers during this Christmas month.

Dear Mom,

Over twenty-five years ago, you, Theresa and I would make our annual Christmas shopping trip into Boston an extremely enjoyable day. We didn’t own a car and this was in the pre-mall days, so this trip to the city was a big deal for us. We rode the bus to the T station, and took the red line to the station that was simply called “Washington” back then. As the rackety and antique Hawley street escalator made its wonderful “clack clack clack” noise, I thought about the $35 bulging in my wallet and how rich I felt. I’d saved for weeks for this day.

We stepped off the escalator into the cold December afternoon, and we heard the familiar ringing of the Salvation Army bells. I smiled again. Boston! Christmas time! We’d be so excited that we could barely contain ourselves. Our first stop was always Arch Street Church, to go to confession (“Bless me father, I took the name of the Lord in vain twice”) and then we’d light candles and say prayers.

From there we’d head to the store that used to be called Jordan Marsh. The store was always mobbed, and it was very exiting to be flooded with all the scents from the perfume counters and the visual explosion of Christmas in every direction. We’d get on the escalator and head upstairs to the Enchanted Village, and then head upstairs to see Santa.

At the mature age of 11, I was already “in the know” about who was really delivering the Christmas presents, but at age 8, Theresa still got her picture taken. I’ve often reflected about what a joyful period it was when Theresa believed and I didn’t — it really made the holiday more special.

After Theresa got her picture taken, we’d begin our shopping. We’d head to Woolworth’s, Grants and Kresgees, and I remember the roar of the heating air vents as they blasted us with warm air as we entered each store. We’d go in separate directions, buying little presents for each member of the family. By dinnertime, the bags were already heavy and we were starved. We usually had dinner at the Kresgees basement cafeteria — it might not have been the best restaurant in town, but it sure felt like it to us. Our hamburger fries and drink (and chocolate pudding) were more than enough to make us happy.

After dinner, we’d start our shopping again, and by around 8:00 we were done. We’d head back to Grants and pick up some Spanish peanuts, and then walk over to Boston Common to see the Christmas lights. It was cold out, but seeing all those beautiful colors hanging from the trees was well worth the discomfort. We might even take the trolley to Prudential Center to see that famous Christmas tree. Ablaze with over 15,000 multi-colored lights, it was (and still is) quite a sight.

After the subway and bus ride home, we’d find that Dad had made us some of his terrific homemade fried rice, and then it was time to wrap! Although we still had two weeks until Christmas, both Theresa and I made sure that we carefully wrapped our purchases that night. The day wouldn’t be complete until this was done.

I’m so grateful to you for the many years you took us into Boston. Back in the leaner days when money was tight and trips to McDonalds were special, that one day meant more to us than any other day leading up to the Christmas Holiday. Sure, it was a much simpler time, yet I think back to those shopping trips and realize that it was a day that flooded all five senses with Christmas. It was a day of joy — so much joy that I thought I’d explode.

You always made Theresa and me so much a part of the Christmas season — we could decorate any way we liked, you taught us the importance of the Nativity set Memere gave you 9that you still display every year), and I remember the special treats like the raspberry candy, peanuts and M&Ms; you put out every year.

I remember your Christmas dinners. I remember the joy we felt sitting with you and Dad opening presents.

I remember it all, and I am so grateful for all of it.

Thank you, thank you. Merry Christmas Mom. I cherish my Christmas memories with you.

Love, Bobby

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