I become attached to places. Some are easy to understand, like my grandmother’s house where we always had Christmas Eve dinner. I drive by it this time of year and reflect on those times, especially the coconut cake and home made custard she’d make for dessert. But other places, like my father’s office building, require some explanation. After all, what sort of kid forms an attachment to an office building?
The building was a high rise in downtown Memphis, and my father was there during a period of prosperity for our family. Most of the time we weren’t particularly prosperous, so I’m sure that has something to do with it. It was a rare, good period for us as a family, and the building stood as a symbol of those years. In fact, all of downtown Memphis reminds of me of those years, from 1966 to 1969. Memphis had a wonderful downtown with shopping and restaurants, a grand Christmas parade on Main and was the place to be.
Then, in the 1970’s, the population shifted eastward, Main Street was turned into a walking mall no one knew what to do with and downtown died.
But in the 60’s, things were so alive. Goldsmith’s downtown department store, another long standing place attachment, was full of shoppers and had the locally well-known Enchanted Forest. The Forest had snowmen, reindeer and penguins all living in a fantasy world of snow and igloos. It twisted and turned beneath a sparkling roof of ice and snow and ended with the line to Santa Claus.
Father’s building, at the time known as the First National Bank Building, was tall and silver and had its own version of the Enchanted Forest in the lobby. My dad took me one December day in his gold 1969 Chrysler New Yorker. I was probably seven years old and vividly remember its electric windows and fancy seats. This was real luxury, and I remember feeling much more important and regal in it than I’d felt in our previous car, a Plymouth Valiant.
Once inside the building, he took me over to the Christmas display and then up the elevator to the top floors so I could look out the windows. I was in awe. I thought I could see the whole world from there, despite the building only being 25 floors in height.
The car is long gone, and my father died last year. The building remains. They don’t do the Christmas display anymore, but every time I see that building my mind drifts back to that day when I thought my father and I were kings of the universe.
Place is important to us, because it plays a major role in defining who we are. The land, its flora and fauna and its culture all shape us. Our stories, traditions and little moments in time. It’s where our memories are made. Places serve as points of recall, of events that can be good or bad. I have some of both. Some places we want to remember. Others we’d soon forget.
I’ve always appreciated good architecture, buildings that are built so they can stand the test of time. I tend to believe most of our architecture today is loathsome, but not because of their modern design. I love the evolution of design. It’s the materials that bother me. These days, we build buildings to maximize profit, so developers put the cheapest materials they can find into a project. The problem is in twenty-five years time they will be uninviting, warped and crumbling eyesores.
Lucky for me, so many places of my youth remain. Goldsmith’s is gone, but the well crafted building that housed it remains and is renovated. Even my parents first apartment building in Midtown Memphis remains, because it was made of brick and quality materials. So does my mother’s childhood home, which was also my childhood home. They’ll all outlive me, as they should.
As for the memories, I suppose their lifespan depends on my ability as a storyteller. If I tell them well, perhaps my children will keep them alive for a few more decades. After that, it becomes a bit dicey. I remember stories my grandmother told me of her father, especially the one about the Bolesheviks stealing his cotton shipment in port. My children know that one. You should, too.
I’ll save it for another time.