I’m a great fan of window displays. Part of it, I suppose, comes from growing up poor. As a kid, I never felt “poor”. We were a family that budgeted with a rather austere strictness. Sometimes, especially at the end of the month, there wasn’t much on the table. We hardly ever took family vacations and, if we did, we drove. I think I was in college before I set foot on an airplane for the first time. Many of my clothes were home made. And there weren’t a lot of “extras”. Still, we never, ever went hungry. We laughed and entertained ourselves. I had pets, which I loved. Heck, I even had a horse! I still don’t know how my parents managed to swing that one, but I am certain it involved some sort of work exchange to pay for the hay and feed. This was just the way things were. It was life. As a kid, I didn’t question it or wonder about it. I just lived in that moment, accepting the state of my family and my little corner of the world.
It never occurred to me to hate others who had more than I did. It never occurred to me that I had less than many of the people around me. I didn’t realize there were kids out there who got everything they wanted handed to them, who didn’t have to work and save to earn their privileges and special treats. Or, maybe, I did realize it but didn’t dwell on it. I had to work for things, and, if something was important enough, it was work well spent. Besides, a little hard work never hurt anyone, and, sometimes, it goes a long way toward building character.
As an adult, I look back on my childhood and realize: Yep, we were poor. Not with a feeling of anger or regret. I do regret things about my childhood — lots of things. But growing up poor isn’t one of them. It’s just a fact, neither good nor bad, like the knowledge that, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, the sun is going to come up tomorrow morning.
Early on, I learned dreaming was free. My physical existence was grounded in the here-and-now, hemmed in by the expectations of others and the very real fact that there was no extra money for adventures or new experiences. But my mind was free. I could travel anywhere or do anything at all in my imagination. There were no borders or limits — just me and whatever I could think up. If I could dream it, I could do it.
Window shopping was a favorite activity in our family. All those things, just out there on display. It was fun to peer into each store window and see all the items offered for sale, each one displayed in a way calculated to lure us inside … each one, perhaps, opening up the longing for things that might be, if our world was a little bit different, a little bit more than what it was. Maybe, there were things we wanted enough to scrimp and save: a sacrifice, yes, but worth the reward awaiting us at the end of the ordeal. More often, there would be items that were neat. Things that would create hours of fun in our possession, and yet, not desired enough to make the sacrifice required to claim them for our own.
For me, window shopping offered an entirely different experience. I still remember peering into each store window, watching the play of light and the way the reflections bounced around. It all seemed to turn the ordinary into something better … something “more”. It felt as if I was the one lucky traveler from our world who had been invited into a new and enchanting universe — a place where anything was possible. And like that proverbial traveler in a strange land, I loved standing there, my face and hands pressed up against the glass, staring in at this tiny glimpse of a world just out of reach. It was fun to imagine myself sitting down to tea in a quaint, cozy cottage, or playing board games with a group of stuffed animals come to life, or traveling the globe until my passport was filled with stamps and my luggage filled with destination stickers to show everywhere I had been. But, like the traveler I pretended to be, I wasn’t invited to stay. The make believe world was lovely for a visit, but real life always called me back.
I haven’t outgrown my love of window displays. And, yes, even as an adult, I find myself drawn toward them. I pause, letting myself settle into their make-believe world, and feel my real-life cares and worries slip away. It’s only for a short while — a little refresher. And then, I continue on my way, leaving only my hand prints behind on the glass. One small reminder that, once upon a time, I was there, if only for a bit. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to come again … one day soon.