In the year of my early youth when my father was charged with bringing me to the Emporium rooftop for an afternoon of Santa photos and Christmas rides, he bundled me into a series of sweaters and scarves so tight that I began to sweat while riding the 5 Fulton. By the time we reached Market street, I began to bounce in the foam green leather seats of the old MUNI bus until we got off at the Powell stop.
“We go here first because Santa Claus is at lunch,” said my father, who folded his gloved leather hand around my mittens. I skipped next to him, trying my best to keep up with his longer legged pace as we walked through aisles of ties, men’s slacks, shirts and past mannequins of Christmas sweaters and green mufflers. He seemed to touch every stitch of expensive fabric, then would hustle me into the dressing room with him as he would try on clothes that would end up in a small heap in a corner.
“Can we look at toys?,” I asked.
There were so many on display scattered throughout the store, venturing away from the toy section to show off a selection of Christmas Barbie clothes, board games,, troll dolls, Lucky Locketts, boxes of different Colorforms, Hot Wheel tracks and stuffed animals. I was allowed one toy for Christmas, and I had my eye on the Fun Flower Thingmaker to create multicolored plastic flower shapes that would blend in with my hippie neighborhood.
“No,” my father replied. “The toy department is closed today.”
He grabbed my hand and brought me to the men’s shoe department. My father let go of my hand to bend different makes of shoes, testing the leather for durability and style.
He was always a clothes horse, dressing in smart suits and a hat whenever he went to watch a kung fu movie. When meeting with friends, he would select a knit vest to go over a well-tailored shirt. He chose his clothes well, one of his bachelor vices he refused to give up, even as our family seemed to eat nightly budget meals of warmed tofu and rice.
As the afternoon grew darker, deeper into purple skies and low level street lamps, my father pulled me onto the escalator to the Emporium rooftop, the fantasy Christmas world for any child. Santa would reign atop a king’s throne, and his elves would guide children for their photos and a gift grab bag. The centerpiece of Santa’s room was an ice skating showcase the size of a boxing ring, where a pretty girl would skate in circles like an icy ballerina.
My mother, sister and I would always sit at the rink watching the little ice show before we made our way upstairs to the rooftop rides of colorfully illuminated bright Christmas lights. All of us bundled in winter knits would giggle as we hopped from one slow spinning ride ride to the next, punching our fingers against plastic car horns and hoping one day to grow up to enjoy the giant slide. I was willing to sit patiently through my father’s shopping expedition in exchange for an afternoon of rides, a grab bag present and a photo with Santa.
Instead, my father hustled me straight to the elves and waited for me to come through the line with the grab bag before making a beeline for the escalators.
I glanced up at my father as he looked ahead. This was only our first great father/daughter excursion, and each one was filled with awkward moments where I was pushed into stores, made to wait in chairs and hauled into men’s toilets. He was never one to raise his voice, but the only conversations between us was about wrestling or Godzilla. Even then, I could only participate as a small child whose universe with her father was formed around sitting on a couch and watching television.
The outside world was not for us. Even that was okay. When you’re a small child, just about anything is okay so long as it with daddy.