Tea, Anyone?

Today’s Des Moines Register’s front page story headline: REBUILDING YOUNKERS.

When I was growing up in Des Moines, Younkers was the place. It was a department store. The ultimate place for clothing, dry goods, furnishings, window dressings—and about everything else upscale.

It was the landmark. If you wanted to catch a bus to the Southside, you stood at the bus stop on 7th and Locust or Walnut. The huge Younkers’ windows were on the corner of 7th & Walnut which attracted massive crowds this time of year with their Christmas display of moving trains, mobiles and sometimes real people.

Between my sister Phyllis and my wife Carole we had a child every year for five years. Carole and I were babysitting Jeff, Jill and Rob. One of us must have had a lapse of sanity. We decided to go downtown Des Moines. I cannot think of one good reason to do that. Maybe Younkers had a live animal thing going on in their windows.

There we were in front of Younkers—a person almost had to have an American Express Platinum Card to even stand there. Get the picture. Phyllis’ three, our two and Carole was carrying some unknown kid in her arms. A lady stopped in front of us, counted the kids—all pre-schoolers, looked at Carole with a sympathetic look and then looked at me, shook her head and said something like, “You’re disgusting.”

Younkers expanded. We have one in our town. Younkers began in 1856 in Keokuk, Iowa. The company purchased and was purchased by Saks, Brandeis, H. C. Prange, Carson Pirie Scott, Proffitts and today is operated by Bon-Ton Stores.

Younkers has been devastated by fires. In 1978 the anchor store at Iowa’s first indoor mall was destroyed by fire in which eleven lives were lost. In March of this year the infamous downtown store mysteriously was destroyed by fire.

Ask any native Des Moines resident of a certain age their memory of the downtown Younkers store and undoubtedly they will mention The Tea Room. It was Class! Women wore white gloves to eat lunch there. I recall eating their trademark sandwich which you had to have graduated from cuisine class to even order it. Pinky fingers had to be held at a certain angle when eating.

The headline announced today that the Younkers’ building will be rebuilt, renamed and will house condos. The secondary headline is that the Tea Room will also be rebuilt. I was sitting in McDonalds reading the newspaper. Ironic. Nothing is so far removed from the way people eat and the restaurants we frequent than thinking about The Younkers’ Tea Room while eating at McDonalds. (Actually, I was drinking a White Chocolate Latte with an extended pinky—the cup was sticky!)

Will white gloves be required? The first Iowa escalator was built in Younkers. I remember the elevators were operated by a live person who announced the “Mezzanine.”

Who eats at a “Tea Room,” these days? I wonder if any of that stair-step tribe that was with us that day on 7th and Walnut has ever been to a Tea Room. Most of them (I don’t know about the baby in Carole’s arms.) are fairly sophisticated and have visited some upper crust places around the world.

I am overwhelmed today by the different world we live in as contrasted to the world we encountered when going to the Younker Tea Room was a big deal. I don’t shop often at Younkers. Yesterday, as I was checking out at Wal-Mart (!) I had time to read the magazines. If I never have to think through the current Bruce Jenner crisis again, it will be soon enough. Does anyone remember that he graduated from an Iowa Christian college? If we never have to discuss a Kardashian self-exposure or try to explain to children why  a centerfold is on a magazine cover or why guys wear their jeans around their knees in -40o wind chill, maybe…. Get a grip, Dean! You’re edging toward sarcasm and crudeness. Too late!

I wonder if I will ever again listen to a President speak to the nation and not think how disgustingly cynical it sounds? And how facts have been adapted to fit personal political plans?  Where is John Quincy Adams when we need him? He may have been strange, but his integrity and servant’s heart were admirable. I have been vacillating between who on the prospective nominee list comes close to integrity, godliness, wisdom and have enough street smarts on one hand and wondering if there will be a nation in place to bother to have a presidential vote in ‘16.

I have gone from OMG! To “Oh, my God, how do we get 2 Chronicles 7:14 right?”

Tea, anyone?

©2014 D. Dean Benton, http://www.bentonministries.com/

Writer, wonderer, quester

1 thought on “Tea, Anyone?

  1. Waterloo had Black’s department store if I remember the name right … anyhow, a very nice store with a lovely tea room. My mother and law and I ate there a few times, and sometimes there was a fashion show going on with models showing some of the store’s clothing. We wore white gloves and hats for many of our outings. When planning to go somewhere, we would ask if it was hat and gloves, or hose and heels, but never did we wear pants instead of skirts. We had “dressy” outfits, school clothes, play clothes, etc. Taking care of the clothes with the washing and ironing or dry cleaning made us pretty careful to take them off and hang them up, and of course, we wore aprons!!

    Even church is hardly an occasion to “dress up” anymore. Too bad.

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