I loved going with Mum and my brother on the tram to the city to do our Christmas shopping. We would be dressed in our best clothes. Mum even wore gloves.
First we caught the ferry across the river at Hill End to reach the tram terminus. This was the worst part of the journey for my mother. She was prone to travel sickness and always felt ill as the ferry chugged its way from one side of the river to the other. My brother and I were totally unsympathetic. Our minds were on the great adventure ahead of us.
The tram would be packed with people standing in the aisles holding on to the dangling hand straps. As we rattled along I liked to collect smells. I know that’s weird but it’s what I did. I noticed stuff like that. I liked to close my eyes and try to figure out where we were just by the smells. There were the flowery scents (it wasn’t called perfume back then) worn by the ladies, the interesting spicy smells as we travelled past the Indian grocery store, the body odour of the large sweaty gentleman standing beside me, the peppermint smell of the chewing gum Mum gave us so that we wouldn’t talk too much and the ‘man’ smell of the conductor collecting the tickets. I later learned this was a combination of beer and cigarette tobacco but at the time I associated it with men because my father and my uncles all had that smell about them.
Once in the city, we would head for the windows of Allan and Stark’s department store which were always decorated for Christmas with animated scenes. We side-stepped our way along the pavement, from one window to the next, eyes wide with delight. Sometimes, if we were really good, Dad would take us to see the windows at night …magical!
Inside the stores, Christmas music played and one store even had strolling carollers. I remember my view of things being obscured by the crowds of people all intent on completing their Christmas gift shopping in the shortest time possible. Luckily Mum had a firm grip on our hands so that we didn’t get swept away by the torrent of humanity. These days I can’t stand being in crowds of people. I feel like they are going to trample all over me – a suppressed memory of childhood Christmas shopping perhaps.
We would battle our way to Santa’s chair and wait in line to sit on his knee and recite our list of wishes. My brother was a tad wary of Santa and had to be restrained from tugging his beard. Santa usually handed out boiled lollies to good children who managed to sit amiably on his knee, without peeing or throwing up on him. It was all very exciting and, now that I think of it, Santa’s chair was always very close to the restrooms. Hmmm.
The best part of the day, other than Santa, was having lunch at The Shingle Inn. Oh, the smells in that place!! It was pure heaven to me. I can still smell the raisin toast. Yum.
Then it was off to the tram stop for the journey home. My brother would be tired, grumpy and complaining about having to keep his shoes on. I would be counting what was left of my pocket money to see if I had enough to buy some sweets at the ferry shop. Mum would be loaded with shopping bags and doing one final check of her list to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anyone. She still had another ferry trip to get through with one irritable child and one extremely talkative one.
Once home, we were ordered to lie down for a while and have a rest. I think that was more for Mum’s benefit than ours. I remember lying on my bed re-running the day in my head and munching my lollies. I just knew that Santa was going to bring me that whatever it was I had asked for. I was already planning the fun I was going to have banning my brother from touching or even coming close to my treasured new (with that great ‘new’ smell) possession. Ah, yes, I loved it all.