Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mother's Day memories of Bullock's

5/6/09 Chatterbox “Memories of Mother’s Day” Betty Kaiser Every year as Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself leafing through old photo albums and remembering what was, is and will never be again. The images of a lifetime that began in stark black and white trigger memories of people, places and traditions that are long gone. I am, however, deeply grateful for the ways in which they enriched my life. As you may know, I grew up in Los Angeles. This magnificent city and surrounding area is well known for its casual lifestyle and for being on the cutting edge of west coast business and culture. Being so large, it is less known for the local family and cultural traditions that shaped our lives in the mid 20th century. One of those traditions was an annual Mother’s Day tea in downtown Los Angeles. As a young girl, I eagerly looked forward to this extravagant girly-girl weekend of dressing up, shopping, lunch at a tea room, church with family and friends and … more dining out. It’s hard to describe what a big deal Mother’s Day was back in the 1950s. It was not just a pull on your jeans, go to the mall, browse the shops and grab a burger lunch experience with mom. Of course, we didn’t wear jeans and there were no malls, shopping centers or fast food joints … but we did make cards and purchase gifts at the dime store! Before shopping centers, Angelinos drove downtown and shopped in stores like Bullock’s department store. Located at seventh and Broadway, it was one of the city’s grandest stores. A towering building of magnificent architecture, it was all drama and art deco. Movie stars were a common sight as they arrived in chauffeured cars to shop for furs, jewelry, leather gloves or luggage. The rest of us parked our cars in nearby lots with attendants and walked around trying not to gawk like country bumpkins. The high ceilings, sparkling lights, beautiful people and racks of pricey clothes were mesmerizing to impressionable youngsters. A new dress or skirt and sweater from the store was a big event in our household. Much of what we wore was homemade by my grandmother who loved to sew. Our shopping expeditions were limited to the beginning of the school year and in the springtime. The Mother’s Day luncheon and tea at Bullock’s Tea Room was a sort of coming of age for young girls. The fifth floor dining room with its elegant décor, floral wallpaper, gilt framed mirrors and white tablecloths was the social hub of the city. Every day, but especially in May, the store would fill up with mothers and daughters and groups of ladies dressed in hats, furs and gloves. First they would shop and then patiently stand in line for lunch or tea. My sister and I eagerly looked forward to the annual ladies only Sat. luncheon. We would dress in our best outfits complimented by little white gloves and patent leather Mary Jane shoes. And we were always on our best behavior as the waitresses in pink aprons served us from the menu or we chose from the buffet. The celebration continued at home on Sunday. We girls dressed in our best outfits with gloves, hats and shiny shoes. Dad, grandpa and brother Jim all wore suits, shirts and ties. We pinned orchid corsages on mother and grandmother’s dresses and off we went to Sunday school church and brunch. In those days, our entire family rarely went out to eat. Pricey dinner houses were about the only places available. But Mother’s Day was different. Mom and grandmother got to choose the restaurant and we were all treated royally. Especially if we got to order a Shirley Temple drink with our meal. There are no recorded photos of those memorable Mother’s Day shopping excursions, luncheons, meals and tea times but they are forever etched on my heart and in the family annals. My mother died in 2004 at the age of 94. Bullock’s Department Stores and Tea Rooms closed in 1993. At the end of her life she was still talking about the wonderful memories that she and her mother (my grandmother) made while sipping tea with us girls a long, long time ago on memorable Mother’s Days. Love combined with tradition anchors a family. Life’s celebrations are important and some should become traditions. Just remember whom you’re celebrating. If you do, I guarantee that you’ll also be making memories that will last forever. Finally, whatever you and your mom and family do this Mother’s Day — don’t forget the camera! Someday, like me, you’ll be glad that you did, when you’re leafing through the pages of the times of your life. Happy Mother’s Day ladies! P.S. Next week we’ll discuss prices, expound on the menu and share a few recipes from Bullock’s tea room in Cook’s Corner. Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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