Christmas Shopping "Downtown"

by Grace Lerant


It’s about three weeks or so before Christmas, and my mother and I take the bus to Newark, on our way downtown. We want to visit the big department stores in the heart of Newark. Beautiful Kresges, with it’s explosion of holiday enticements, a kaleidoscope of color and brilliance; Bamberger’s, full of the romance of the season as well; and Orbachs, a department store that was in effect a neat little cache of clothing, gift items and such. There was also the gentle, if oftentimes garish, cornucopia of bargains to be purchased at Klein’s on the Square. The last stop before catching the No. 13 bus home to Irvington were always McCrory’s and Woolworth’s 5 and 10 cent stores. Upon entering McCrory’s from the rear, you found yourself in its basement wherein the smell of chicken’s roasting and turning on spits inside a glass enclosure hit you squarely. Some people liked that aroma, I didn’t. After that, we went to Woolworth’s and always, always, my mother bought me the little heart-shaped bottle of Blue Waltz perfume. I remember once, when she was feeling particularly generous, she bought me the larger bottle. It was an unprecedented event I still remember.

But before pursuing the greater purchases to be made downtown, Mom and I stopped off at Rosenfeld’s Import Store on Springfield Avenue. Upon entering one was overwhelmed by the wonderful aromas of spices, teas and other produce from faraway countries. My mother baked the traditional Hungarian Kalacs, which was a golden aromatic yeast bread, and a yeast bread, rolled flat, jelly roll fashion, and filled with ground walnuts combined with sugar and raisins, poppy seeds and honey, and lekvar, the prune jam, well beloved by the true ethnic purists of Hungarian cuisine. All of these ingredients could be bought here. And there were the containers of dried mushrooms, which exuded an exotic musty aroma. We bought a pound or so of these, which my mother made into a savory soup, traditionally served on New Years Eve. There were also the crunchy Austrian bonbons. Small oblong pieces of hard candy filled with fruit flavored jams, and wrapped in blue and white paper, twisted at each end like a party popper. We mustn't forget paprika, sweet (rozsa, or rose), or the hot (csipos), which was also sold by the pound and scooped into paper bags.


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