I had asked all their parents if I could take them to see the Macy's windows at the City Creek shopping mall. A friend of mine was one of a half dozen people invited to decorate giant round Styrofoam ornaments with candy and I had watched the progress of her "art" for weeks on Facebook. I thought it would be fun to share it with the eight-, nine- and eleven-year-old.
They were a little grumpy when I picked them up. They wanted to know exactly where we were headed. I might have been grumpy too. My work had kept me up late the night before and Sunday afternoon is really the only time I have to re-charge. I wanted to spend time together but it was feeling forced. They piled into the backseat and we headed downtown.
I drove to the newest mall, filled with the highest-end stores (in this state anyway) and saw a parking valet in a tiny booth. A parking valet at a mall? I explained we were only looking for Macy's special windows and could we just run up and see them and return to the great parking space there in the front? He explained the mall was closed. And we were welcome to leave the car there, if we wanted to see if the windows visible on the front side of the mall, in front of the locked gates.
I was still stuck on his words, "The mall is closed on Sunday." I had a flash, remembering my youth, where most everything was closed on Sunday -- malls and restaurants and gas stations and grocery stores. It was a forced day of rest. And it wasn't all bad.
We parked there and piled out into the blustery cold. I still hadn't explained why the windows I wanted to show them were special. I mean, what if they weren't very special?
Sadly, the windows visible to us were ordinary, showing off fashionable clothes. The kids ran around the waterfall space and giggled about the Santa, lantern-shaped, empty house. I was the only one terribly disappointed. Then the nine-year-old, Tyler said, "You know Oma, I think this store goes all the way through to the next street. Maybe the windows you want to see are there." We piled back into the car and thanked the very cold but cheerful valet.
We parked around the corner from the old ZCMI store on Main Street. It was bitter, bitter cold. We ran down the block and found the storefronts, and what to our wondering eyes should appear but windows filled with giant ornaments, all covered in candy of all shapes and sizes and flavors. A giant beehive. The head of a nutcracker. A world with a train track circling it. A ball of white tastiness. There were no other children or adults there on this windy afternoon and so we forgot the cold and took pictures of the windows and pressed our faces up to the glass to see the bees hiding around the hive with their licorice wings. The Santa with the beard of candy canes. The Mouse King on the back side of the nutcracker with the blue -- what -- skittles face?
We imagined what it would be like to live on that candy planet. Do you shave a candy-cane beard? If you could take off the nutcracker's hat, would there be candy hair underneath?
We were there 15 minutes at the most. Then we hop-scotched our way back to the car and to find a place to have a snack and talk about their plans for the holidays. None of us mentioned Connecticut. I had no idea what their parents had shared with them exactly, and they didn't bring anything up. Yet there were so many things I wanted to say. Safety plans and sadness plans and who to call in an emergency. But their parents had somehow communicated that something awful had happened but they were safe and loved and the world is full of people who, when something bad happens, come to help. This day, with a closed mall and bitter cold and us safe inside a cafe giggling some more over food shapes and things we could imagine together, it was enough. Enough to be loving each other. I felt safe in their love. I hope they felt safe in mine.
By the time I returned the last child he was fast asleep in the backseat. A rosy-cheeked deep sleep that comes from being worn out and warm and safe. His father lifted him out of the backseat and the whipping cold woke him up ... just a bit, until he was buckled in another warm car and lulled back to sleep.
Driving up the canyon I was filled with gratitude for the afternoon that had turned out so well. And for the chance to spend some simple time with the most precious parts of my world. In Connecticut, I knew, it was another day of broken hearts. As the snow starting falling softly on my windshield, the radio wordlessly played a holiday song and tears starting streaming down my checks as I filled in the words, "Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace..."
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.