I stepped into a mall during the holiday season. Not just any mall, but THE mall of my youth. This particular mall quite literally makes an appearance in the telling of my birth story (more on that later), so when I say it’s the mall of my youth, I truly mean my ENTIRE childhood.
There were other malls in the county, but Lakeforest was closest and it had everything we needed. White Flint felt small and fancy. Montgomery Mall was too expensive and far away. Lakeforest was just right for us.
The mall is dying.
Three of the anchor stores have closed. Many shops are empty. Even Starbucks abandoned their post.
I was struck by a wave of nostalgia mixed with sadness as I walked through the mall and still found Santa in the center, sitting on his chair and posing for photos. That’s the spot where I took my first photo with Santa, and my siblings did as well.
I haven’t been a regular shopper at the mall in years, so I’m a contributor to the decline of such establishments, but I found myself mourning the end of the kind of memories I made in that building. Many people see malls as monuments to consumerism, but those walls created a social space that we no longer possess. The gathering areas in the center of the mall and in the corners by the anchor stores became places for people to chat and hang out while their kids had safe places to deplete their rambunctious energy. Most of my memories are not about money spent, or things purchased, but about people and quality time in that space.
I haven’t created new memories there in quite some time, but I’ll miss being able to walk through and reminisce – to point out those memories to people who are new to my life. So, I’m going to share some of them with you now.
Let’s start at the very beginning:
The day of my birth: Mom went into labor. My Aunt was working at the mall, and Grandma called to say she’d be there in 10 minutes so they could get to the hospital before I was born. 90 minutes later, Grandma finally pulled up to get my Aunt who was frantically wondering what had taken so long (this was before cell phones, kids). To this day, no one knows what Grandma did during that time. She called it the missing hour and a half for the rest of her life.
Other memories I cherish:
- Countless hours of playing in the middle of the mall with friends and kids I’d just met.
- Eating Jerry’s pizza after hours of playing.
- So many family photos at the Sears studio.
- My high school senior photos (also at Sears)
- Grandma’s illegal parking spot in the service lane at Sears – no one ever stopped her!
- Walking many, many laps around the mall with my mom when she was pregnant with all three of my siblings.
- Family dinners and celebrations at Chi-Chi’s.
- The clerks in the women’s department of Hecht’s knowing me by name because I walked my sister Amanda to the bathroom there so many times.
- Turning all the rain sticks in the Natural Wonders store at once to make the waterfall sound as loud as possible.
- Wandering through the music box store and always playing the ones from Phantom of the Opera.
- Shopping at Claire’s and KB Toys.
- Saving up all my money in 6th grade to buy one “cool” outfit at Limited Too.
- Being trusted to shop with my friends while my Mom was somewhere else in the mall.
- Buying cd’s.
- Getting an egg bagel toasted with cream cheese and a Mystic drink from Bagel Time.
- Sitting in the couch alcove under the staircases with a book and feeling like I’d found a hidden oasis.
- Tasting my first caramel macchiato – the real thing, not the Starbucks version.
I could write pages and pages of things I did in that mall. It was quite normal for our family, when I was growing up, to spend a day just being there. We always ran into people we knew.
I snapped a photo of Santa, knowing this is probably his last hurrah in Lakeforest…and mine as well. My mom asked if I wanted to wait in line and sit on his lap for old times’ sake, but I chose instead to capture an image of the center of the mall…and the place of so many memories.
We’re closing another decade. It’s hard to summarize all that’s happened in ten years except to say that things have changed – just like the mall. To call it a tumultuous decade would be fair, but that’s not the whole picture. I’ve experienced the deepest valleys accompanied by the most inexplicable joys. It’s been far from safe, but it’s been good.
Here’s to the twenties.