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Saturday, November 5, 2016

That Hallmark Feeling

A friend’s recent Facebook post reminded me of something I’d long forgotten about…  Hallmark stores.  While not a terribly exciting subject on the surface, his comment brought to mind a lot of happy memories.

Things have changed a lot since I made regular forays into the local Hallmark store with my mom.  We lived in Corvallis for much of the time and I can well remember the little shop that was set between the Payless drug store and Roth’s Market.  Payless itself is memorable for the small candy store just inside its front door.  They made the most delicious caramel corn throughout the day, pouring the hot, buttery caramel over piles of popcorn on a water-cooled metal table.  The candy maker would then use to large metal spatulas to mix the corn and caramel, letting it dry until crisp and then breaking it into pieces that would fit in the old-fashioned black and white boxes.  Trips to Hallmark usually included a box of caramel corn!

The card shop itself was memorable for many reasons.  One was the smell.  The scent of votive candles combined to give it a sweet floral smell in the spring and summer, and a spicy and piney one in the winter and fall.  My mother always bought candles at the Hallmark store, especially for the holidays.  The small votives and larger pillars that smelled like bayberry and pine, and the tall red and green and white tapers that would sit on our dining room table and mantle.  Perhaps even more than cards, when I think of Hallmark, I think of candles.

Hallmark was also the place for decorations and centerpieces for birthday parties and holidays.  Large envelopes filled with cardboard and paper sheets that needed to be cut and folded and assembled to create circus scenes, haunted houses, pilgrims and Nativity scenes, these decorations were often saved and used again, year after year. 

My mom is also a careful and thoughtful card buyer.  Now I appreciate the fact that she looks for just the right combination of sentiment and design but, as a child, it seemed to take and AWFULLY long time!  It must have been worthwhile, though, because I’ve saved virtually every card she ever bought for me.

My sister seems to have bought a lot of fun things for me at the Corvallis Hallmark store, too.  There was a tiny cloth Santa Clause doll and a tin Christmas tree that, when a little lever was pushed, would spin around and open to reveal a tiny Santa Clause in the middle.  And, perhaps most memorably, a pop-up book called “Christmas in Many Lands” that I bring out every year to this day, almost forty years later.

Hallmark also had a fine selection of seasonal paper plates and cups and napkins.  Generally, my mom brought out the silver and her Minton china for Thanksgiving and Christmas but, if we were really lucky, she’d decide to use what seemed to me like beautiful and exciting paper plates and napkins decorated with brightly colored turkeys and leaves or poinsettias and holly and pine boughs.  The napkins would coordinate in bright reds and greens and, sometimes, even a matching paper tablecloth would be purchased!

Finally, a large number of porcelain knickknacks and bibelots that have appeared on my mom’s mantel year after year, many of them from the same Hallmark store.  There’s the little blonde boy wearing red pajamas and a Santa hat that reminded her of me – a personal favorite as you can imagine.  And, there are the small Christmas tree candles – one a faded green, the other pink – that my grandfather lit one year, just to tease my mom who liked to use them over and over again (I think we like them even better for the blackened wicks and the story that goes with them so many decades later).  The very best, though, is the miniature Claus couple – Santa and the Mrs., that are placed facing each other, tiny red lips pressed together.   The shiny red of their clothes and the bright white of the furry trim has enchanted me for many Christmases.

I haven’t been to a Hallmark store in years, but I sometimes see their old products when I visit thrift stores and, often, I’m tempted to buy things that remind me of my childhood – usually things made at least a decade before I was born.  They may not be the height of style or modernity but, when it comes to such things, that’s how I prefer them.  Nostalgia and charm always beats shiny newness in my book.

Hallmark stores remind me of a time when 24-hour one-stop shopping wasn’t necessarily the goal.  A time when we visited unique and individual shops that specialized.  Of course, I still do that today, although it takes a little more effort, but I sometimes wonder if we’ll have the same affection for the things we buy today that we have for the things we acquired when we were small.


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