Lessons from a Department Store

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When I was growing up, my mother, like so many other mothers, shopped at department stores. Our favorites were Cain-Sloan, Harvey’s, and Castner-Knott, all in downtown Nashville. I bought my first and probably my only Beatles record in the music department at Harvey’s. Mother bought the fur for my blue velvet Christmas dress in the fabric department. She bought my first whole Bible in the book department.

We shopped in the Cain-Sloan bargain basement for the few clothes Mother didn’t sew for me. One of the fingernails on my right hand has leaned just a little to the left since the day I smashed it in one of Cain-Sloan’s big entrance doors. I remember being whisked away to the store nurse for first aid. A childhood delight was watching the wonderland of mechanical toys in the display window at Christmastime.

macy's 1942 library of congress cropped
Macy’s Department Store in New York City During the Week Before Christmas, 1942, Courtesy the Library of Congress

I didn’t brave a shopping center or a mall or a big box store last Friday, but I did do one of my favorite Christmas traditions. I drove to Livingston about forty minutes away for a nostalgic shopping outing on its town square. Ray and I have driven through many dead or dying downtowns, but Livingston is doing something right. Their downtown is thriving.

I visited the three antique stores on the square, finding a $15 mirror to go in our new/old bathroom (Ray graciously hung it on Saturday. We are getting there!).

I also visited Livingston’s tiny downtown department store. How in the world do you keep an old-fashioned department store open on the square of a town of $4,000 people?  I have talked to the owner about that before. It’s a labor of love. Her parents owned it before her and she works hard to keep it going. She’s doing a good job.

The main attraction for me this time was grandchildren clothes. There were some amazing buys and some beautiful ones. While I (the only customer in the store) searched for items that were just right, I enjoyed the conversation going on behind the counter.

A middle-aged man chatted on and on with the 20-something young woman working as the store’s only clerk. They talked about the wonderful Thanksgiving celebration they had both attended the day before and about the games they had played.

I had a hard time deciding exactly what I wanted to purchase. While I pondered, the conversation continued. Occasionally they made a comment to me, and from time to time I asked the clerk a question. I began to wonder why this middle-aged gentleman was hanging around so long with this young woman.

When I was ready to stand at the counter, I came face-t0-face with the middle-aged man. He asked if I was purchasing for a grandchild. I answered yes and he told me about his. We grandparents do that. He told me about his children, too. That’s when I found out why he, a middle-aged man, was hanging around the young woman. He was her daddy. I thought how special it was for her daddy to visit her at work and to sit there on and on, keeping her company.

What a kind gentleman he was. He went on and on about how much he liked my purse and how much he liked its color. Purchases I made reminded him of a garment his wife had when they first got married! He talked about how much he liked it.

We asked each other how long we had been married. Ray and I are weeks away from being married forty years. If I remember right, the middle-aged man and his wife have been married thirty-four years. He told me about meeting her when he was 23 years old. He said, “I had just come back to the Lord.” He told God that he was ready to have a family and that he wanted Him to send the right girl. Two weeks later the kind gentleman met his future wife.

When I finished making my purchase, the clerk asked if I would like my purchases gift wrapped. When she assured me that it was free, I said, “Sure,” and that I would come back later to get them.

By the time I finished at the antique stores, crowds had gathered. People were drinking cider and getting free bags of popcorn. Livingston had been transformed for the first night of their annual Christmas in the Country celebration. When I walked into the department store, the clerk was getting off work and the owner was there. I retrieved my packages and said thank you to the owner for the homemade cookie she handed me.

Daddies keeping a daughter company at work . . . A daughter keeping her daddy’s business alive . . . These are some of the ways we say, “Thank you,” to the God Who made families.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
Psalm 103:13


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