I grew up in New York City during World War II sharing only the minor inconveniences of my fellow Americans. My job was to pull down the blackout shades at night so that the Nazis, Japs, or Italians wouldn’t bomb us. Sure, our family had food and gas rationing and there was no room for a victory garden on our sooty windowsills, but buses, subways, and taxis took us anywhere we needed to go.
We mostly walked. During those pre-mall days, on weekends my friends and I walked 40 blocks down Fifth Avenue, making a stop at Hamburger Heaven for lunch. Next, telling ourselves we were way too old, we’d stop to check out the amazing toys at F.A.O. Schwartz. We’d move on down Fifth to the department stores, Best & Co. Wanamakers, and Lord & Taylor. Somehow I remember that the main attraction at these stores was the Shoe Department where we’d line up to check the bones of our feet under the X-Ray machines, while being studiously avoided by the retail clerks.
Our mothers made sure we were properly dressed. Especially for The Easter Parade We always wore hats and gloves for our promenades down Fifth Avenue.
How fortunate I was to enjoy the education, culture, and infinite variety of the nation’s largest city. We left when I was 15, but I treasure my childhood memories.
When our daughters were 11 and 7 in 1969 and we lived in a small Pennsylvania town, their father took them to New York’s Lincoln Center. I hoped they’d also have time for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Broadway play, and maybe a stroll down Fifth Avenue. I made sure they were dressed properly in their hats, gloves, and black patent leather Mary Jane shoes.
“Mom, you are so out of it,” they wailed as they reached home and climbed out of the car. “We were the only people in the entire city who weren’t wearing jeans and sweatshirts.”
I’m well aware that I’m an anachronism to my children— even more to my grandchildren. But if my granddaughters make it to the Big Apple any time soon, I wonder if their parents will insist that proper attire mandates that they be clad in ripped jeans and sweatshirts with holes.