Revisiting the Park: Holiday happenings

Richard Carl Lehman

In my earliest memory of Christmas, nothing was ever expected of me other than to hold the ribbons while Mom created bows on decorative packages.

We had just drawn names at J. J. McGilvra, so some schoolmates and I met to do some shopping. World War II was over, and things were looking up. Tin was back and the latest material (plastic) replaced the compressed sawdust toy soldiers we used for years. A gift not to exceed one dollar was going to take quite a bit of creativity. Shopping was a no-brainer at Bill and Ada’s 10 cent store, between the Quality Café (now the Attic) and the Red Onion. There was, of course, the hardware store and Ken Lindley’s drug store chock full of gift possibilities. Madison Park was brightened with lights on the businesses and strung all through the trees with music playing over several loudspeakers.

There were contests every year for the best-decorated house. The Didriksons’ placed a huge colorful display of Santa, his sleigh, and reindeer on their roof with a spotlight shining on it and usually won. A real Santa made an appearance at the tennis courts, for which long lines of little ones formed and unbelievably a few of his reindeer also showed up. Santa sat on his throne with the little ones on his lap and music played throughout the area. My friends and I were a bit beyond lap-sitting and were more interested in his helpers.


Around our teen years, Christmas prompted more thought as some of us had advanced to the going steady stage. Shopping was more fun as a group effort, so we boarded the number 11 Madison bus to town and wandered the stores. The trains in the store windows, the colorful decorations, the smell of Christmas trees, and gawking at the tall models selling perfumes kept us entertained, but the best part was riding the new escalators.

We dared each other to ride the escalator with no feet touching down, suspended just by our hands. Another amazing feat was to balance on one leg not using hands on the ride up for as long as possible. One friend topped all feats by riding on his behind with arms and legs stretched high. At the top of the ride the unforgiving moving staircase ripped into his jeans along with a large chunk of his hindquarters. After the screeching subsided, we all ran to the restroom to check for damage. Underneath the torn jeans and briefs was a long zigzag hickey that ran from cheek to cheek. That ended escalator Olympics and after a bit we all laughed at the unpleasant incident.

We wandered along under all the bright lights and responded to the friendly hellos and warm smiles. A few of the businesses offered cookie and cider samples; hence, we visited those places frequently during our shopping spree. The streets were so alive at the late hour of 6 p.m.; usually everything was closed and dark, not a soul in sight. Pubs beckoned to us with frivolity. We stood on tiptoes to see why everyone was laughing so loud. A few holidays down the road of life, we figured all that out.

One could tell there was something magical about Christmas in these places, so a few years later we lifted a schooner of beer and sang along to a happy Christmas song playing on the jukebox. Sometimes a friend offered a drink from a bottle carefully hidden in a brown paper bag (usually whiskey) to prevent frostbite. It always meant good camaraderie and that is truly what Madison Park is all about. Christmas in this warm fuzzy place has always been memorable and enchanting.


As adults, we would call each other midweek to meet downtown at Rossellini’s 410, a watering hole for singles. Here we put an adult spin to holiday shopping and other entrapments. The guys swapped stories of new acquaintances in loud voices creating the forever-single macho image — trying hard not to pound chests and yell like our cavemen predecessors.  

One friend boasted of having two mainstays in the same social set without either of them knowing of the other. Not a good idea but he lucked out. He met a guy who had acquired some sweater sets that had “fallen from a train boxcar.” He purchased two sets: one blue, one pink; both stylized with a beaded design popular then. After wrapping them both, my friend promptly forgot which sweater went to whom. The smooth operator that he was, he pulled it off and kept the two happy and away from each other — that is, until New Years’ Eve. The single group threw a big soirée, and everyone came dressed to the nines, including the two long lean attractive ladies in their fashion-of-the-day sweater sets.  

I found a moment to separately compliment them and their sweaters. Everyone was happy except for the donator of the sweater gifts. His face looked about a quart low on color, probably concerned about the pink and blue sweaters being too close for comfort. At some point someone commented about the one gal’s sweater looking like no other except for another one in a different color with ironically the same beaded design. More and more party goers began noticing the coincidence as well. The perpetrator tried to remain invisible as we gave him support, but our words of wisdom were all but drowned out by laughter. Value of lesson learned: do not buy identical gifts for special people at Christmas.  


Three others and I rented a houseboat where the Washington Tower now stands. Men are not usually inclined to go shopping and now at Christmas the challenge was particularly daunting. One dark and cold, semi-snowy rainy evening I plunked three dimes into the meter for three hours downtown. Music was playing and people were smiling as they traipsed through the slush. I was officially in a good mood — shopping would be a snap!

The picture windows at Frederick and Nelson with the colorful larger-than-life train running on a large track, the decorations, all the toys and the ambiance were mesmerizing. The famous doormen were assisting various people from limousines. Doing my part, I held a door open for a lady with her umbrella. She went through the first set of doors and shook the excess water from her bumbershoot but, unexpectedly, I saw a bright flash. One of the metal rods struck me just above my left eye. Usually, the ends are covered with plastic caps, but not this one.

Leaning against the wall, almost knocked down, I watched her walk away in oblivion. The doorman gave me a piece of linen with F&N on it (I kept it for years). That little purple hole kind of set me back but I laughed it off even though it was obvious I had suffered a shopping wound. People nearby were concerned but I smiled and said, “Happy Holidays!”

I do not remember following through on this shopping experience as I needed some Rx at Rosellini's down the street. I knew the bar crew (Seattle was so small then) and asked for a Band-Aid, coffee, and a cognac. So now I had a fat eye starting to bruise but when anyone asked, I said, “You should have seen the other guy!”