Say the word “Christmastime” and most people think of manger scenes and jingle bells, the glow of colored lights and the flutter of angels’ wings. But at the great Marshall Field & Company, Chicago’s premier department store, Christmastime meant all that and more, along with enough crowds, clanging, and clatter to shatter a sales clerk’s nerves. I know this because that clerk was me.
I can’t remember now what the problem was, that early December afternoon back in the ’20s– some shortcoming involving a woolen bed jacket, I believe. As the customer ranted, my brain fogged over. My only thought was that her flushed face made nearly a precise match to the holly berries nestled in the evergreen garland festooning the shelf right behind her head. Normally our supervisor, Mrs. Cross, would step in and smooth things over—no customer would leave her section dissatisfied!— but Ladies’ Nightwear was as hectic as Union Station at rush hour and she was directing traffic over by the emerald silk hostess gowns, clear on the other side of the department.
I understand this short story is an introduction to author Jennifer Lamont Leo’s series of novels set in the 1920s. It hooked me.
The story is straightforward and simple, both in plot and themes, as it’s reasonable to expect from such short work, but what really hooked me were the characters and the setting.
I worked in a department store at Christmastime myself many years ago in Dublin, and I immediately recognised the atmosphere. The hectic, frantic pace of the day, the strain, but also the excitement. The story immediately came to life for me.
Then the voice. Marjory (who – I understand – is the main character of the stories too) tells the story in the first person with a verve and an immediately endearing freshness. She’s a nice girl too, and I had no trouble identifying with her.
This is a fantastic introduction to a series, an enjoyable story in its own right and a lovely Christmas read. No better time to read it!
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What a great setting for the story, Sarah! There is just something about that department store context, isn’t there? And it sounds like an interesting look at the times, too. Glad you enjoyed it.
Well, you certainly have the opportunity to see a variety of humanity in departmet stores 😉
Jennifer has written two novels connected to thist short story. I’m planning to read both.