Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Saying Goodbye to Gump's

Friends, my heart is heavy. I know there are other things going on in the world, but today I had a sad milestone, and it's weighing me down.

This morning, I did my last holiday shopping at Gump's. I went back, baby-free, to see what was left and to say goodbye.


I took one of the cardboard totes stacked at the front door, the kind you'd pack your things into if you'd just been told to clear your desk after a firing, and gently tried to persuade a beautiful, sculptural thing to fit into it.


Upstairs, I found a pair of ceramic flowers I had admired from the catalog, sitting lonely in a display case. I nestled them in, and looked through the art books selling for a mere $5 or $10 apiece.


As my time was running out, I made my way to the cash register. I talked with the lady helping me, and offered her my canvas shopping bags for the heavy haul back to the parking garage. She commented that I had done pretty well, and I agreed, though I was so unhappy with the circumstances. "Tell me about it," she said.


I had wrongly assumed that a lot of the folks staffing the rapidly-emptying store were from the liquidation company, but no. My associate, and her colleagues, were imparting their expertise on handmade carpets and fine crystal for a few more days. Their professionalism remained, even as the ship was sinking.


She came to my total, and took a breath before telling me. It was a fraction of what it should have been. I let her know that I didn't wish to find a bargain this way.


She said, "I hope you had a wonderful treasure hunt, and that you're taking some lovely memories of Gump's with you." I let her know about finding the ceramic flowers, a set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of poppies, and she smiled. "They were probably the ones we photographed for the catalog."


Tears sprang to my eyes. I remember finding Gump's as I wandered around San Francisco starry-eyed and young. The catalog followed me, and reminded me of grown-up things that could sparkle in my home, an aspirational image of refinement.


Later, I found out my Grandma received the same catalog, and I was surprised she knew about my secret treasure store here in the city. Some of the last gifts I sent her came from there, and I hope it delighted her to see the careful wrapping. I'm glad she didn't have to see the end of this chapter.


Whenever I was nearby, I would wander in and catch a glimpse of glittering jewelry. Every year, I came to shop the ornaments, buy some special Christmas cards, and hunt for books and gifts.


And so, eyes closed against stinging of tears, I completed my last Christmas pilgrimage.


I used to work in retail. One of my first jobs in that sector was in a store that was liquidating. I sold jewelry at similar counters. I feel the loss of those jobs, especially among the seasoned staffers who took such pride in their work. I would have been proud to work there.


And, evidently, the lady who rang me up and her assistant on packaging felt the same. They took such care to lovingly wrap everything for my way home, with twine and bubble wrap and professional attention. Just as if I had paid full price for it all.


The sales associate that helped let me take the cardboard tote, and let everyone know she had said I could. Her assistant found me a brand-new boxed number of one of my finds. One the way out, they wished me a merry Christmas.


I'm going to miss this place. One of my last treasures was a bunch of faceted rainbow moonstone strands, very fine, intended for a jeweler to create pieces sold under their brand. The stones should have been nearly $800, but instead were a mere $157... one dollar for every year Gump's had been in business.


I will make something beautiful out of them. But, today, I just held them and cried, and tried to let go of a place that meant something to me, that I shared with my grandmother, and which seems to belong to a dying world.

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