There were no “Midnight Madness” sales in my youth. Thanksgiving went off at 1 p.m. sharp - as in the stuffing of the face — with a “second seating” anywhere between 4-6 p.m. in the Penn household, and “Miracle on 34th Street” (the Edmund Gwen classic, all other pretenders be darned) was on the tube by 8.
My mother typically worked the next day, so “Black Friday,” too, was not a term bandied about as the manicotti or the stuffing was being passed ‘round.
See, “Midnight Madness,” with every retailer from Target to Kohl’s to Macy’s and Best Buy, didn’t begin until 2011, so there quite literally was no “Midnight Madness.” Midnight slumber, that’s about it.
As for “Black Friday,” well, that dates back to the 1950s, and my mother seemingly didn’t want — or need — to get caught up in that chaos. For the most part anyway. She was a staunch Christmas-shopping-in-August person to begin with.
So, I wouldn’t get to see “Black Friday” up close and personal until 1997, when I was co-host on the KC101 morning show here in Connecticut, and we’d do our show live that day from the Connecticut Post Mall — now known to many as the Westfield Shopping Center. But, not our usual 6-10 a.m. Nope, we rolled in with our bellies still full to do the same four-hour shift, but from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., amongst the throngs of shoppers seeking deals.
Yet even then, in those precious late ’90s, “Black Friday” hadn’t reached the point of hysteria it’s known for now. There was diplomacy, decency and, yes, deals. The line was longer to get a picture with Santa Claus than it was to get into Macy’s.
Nowadays, the crowds are threefold, and the diplomacy and decency? Not so much. As for the deals — there are tons of those. But there is also “Small Business Saturday,” “Cyber Monday” and many other offshoots, so one is left to wonder how there can still be such crowds on “Black Friday” when there are so many other gimmicks to exploit.
Heck, this year Amazon began their “Black Friday” sales on Friday, Nov. 22, a full week before the actual one. Their deals run a full week and end “Black Friday” proper, the day after Thanksgiving. In addition, they have one-time deals to be snapped up on the actual holiday - one would imagine in between launching the lasagna into the oven or spooning cranberry sauce onto a serving dish - and, of course, on “Cyber Monday” proper.
My mom did brave the early morning hours of a “Black Friday” once I recall, when her four kids were older, the youngest (that’d be me) her only teenager left. She had to be in work by 9, but there were these rumors swirling amongst her empty nest-set that some stores would actually be opening at 6 a.m., which was several hours earlier than usual and something she clearly needed to confirm. She came off as intrigued.
Working in Milford at the time, she could have popped in to the nearby mall, or she could have just as easily hit the TJ Maxx in East Haven or the Branford Hill (for Caldor, or its successor, Kohl’s). Something makes me think Clinton Crossing might even be the running. I vividly recall the excitement when that previously wooded area of Clinton was transformed into a shopper’s dream, her rattling off the big name retailers that were announced to be a part of it while I likened it to a primetime soap opera and would walk around the house saying things like, “You don’t wanna wait? No one wants to wait ... at Clinton Crossing. This fall Wednesday nights won’t ever be the same ... ”
The tale she told that night at dinner was epic, though. Galvanized by the experience, she spoke rapid-fire, still in disbelief at what she’d witnessed. I vividly recall her incredulousness that as she approached the store she saw “all these people waiting in line. In the dark!”
She came off no differently than I probably did a dozen years earlier when talking about my conversation on Santa’s lap at the mall — her eyes wide and grin immense as she described the store worker who would let them in “lollygagging to the door with the keys out.” Certain the clerk was playing with the deal-seeking lot of them, my mother went on to say how everyone rushed in, banging in to one another, “elbows flying and hip-checking.”
“You had to see them,” was how she chose to punctuate the entire thing.
But what had she bought?
We asked knowing she couldn’t — or at the very least wouldn’t — say outright. After all, these were Christmas gifts we were talking about — Christmas morning mystery has to endure.
So we expected to get some sort of “a few things for this one” or “one thing for each of you” and maybe even “a few small things but a treasure for one of you.” (That’s what she’d call something she stumbled upon while shopping that struck her as a must-have for one of us, that spoke to a personal passion or hobby of ours: a treasure; there’d be only one given out per Christmas, and sometimes it was announced that she’d found no treasure at all that holiday season.)
Her answer, though, was unexpected. It was met with a stunned silence, albeit brief.
“I got myself a sweater.”