The Gilded Old Lady

I spent my early years in Iowa, but not in Des Moines, so when news broke that the historic Younkers department store building had been destroyed by fire on March 29, 2014, I was saddened by the loss, but felt no personal connection to the building.

The Younkers building, more than a century old, closed in 2005 and was under renovation as a multipurpose building – residences on the upper floors and retail space on the bottom. No cause for the fire has been determined and the building was a total loss.

My cousin Karen felt the loss personally and wrote down a few of her memories and posted them to Facebook. She has kindly given me permission to share them here.

Before we get to Karen’s piece, I thought this video would be a nice introduction because it portrays the same sense of loss and provides a glimpse into the building of the past. If my understanding is correct, the video was made by a husband and wife who met while working at Younkers. I believe they are the giver and receiver of the gift later in the video – and have the chandelier from the tearoom in their store.


May the Gilded Old Lady Rise From The Ashes

By: Karen Lonsdale

Younkers skywalkWhen I worked downtown at the Capital Square, I would walk the skywalk with Jennifer, one of my best friends. We chattered like schoolgirls. We shared confidences, giggled and laughed, and sometimes cried although we were in our fifties. But when we reached the Younkers building, I nearly always looked up from watching where we were going to peruse the blacked out windows, remembering what was, imagining what is, and pondering what could be.

The “what was” was an elegant but old-fashioned lady of gilt with accents of red, blue, green, crystal…whatever season it might be. I could see the elevator with the seasoned old man who asked what floor we wanted. And there was that half-floor, the mezzanine. Did it provide an opportunity to shop for shoes? I don’t remember, but just that I always seemed to land on it when I was looking for the floor above or below.

One of my most poignant memories of my mother, now gone five years, involves the downtown Younkers store. When I was around twenty, she bought me a burgundy, velour, drop-waist dress in an upper-floor woman’s department. I was so excited for several reasons. Not only was it beautiful, it was a size smaller than I had been wearing, and it was a Liz Claiborne! My first designer dress! I wore that dress for years and never wore it out. And every time I put it on , I thought of Younkers downtown and Mom.

I liked to shop at the downtown Younkers store at Christmas for all of my gifts. I could find anything from the smallest nic nacs to unusual men’s ties to things I could not identify. I would amble around in the basement looking at and touching men’s items, household goods, and…stop! What did I find? Pastries! Gooey, delectable, flakey goodies. And of course I had to stop for that. And that brings to mind my favorite part of the downtown store. The tearoom.

Younkers TearoomI think my mother introduced me to the tearoom way before I was able to go by myself. And after I married and began shopping alone, I would head for the tearoom for the lettuce salad with cucumbers. No matter what dressing I had, it had the flavor of cucumbers which I still look for and crave whenever I eat a garden salad. I was so disappointed when the Merle Hay Mall Younkers store was built without a tearoom, especially after the downtown store tearoom had been closed.

The “what is” was sad. I tried to look between the blackout papers someone had applied to the inside of old lady’s windows on the skywalk, but the crack was just too small. So what I saw in my mind was the gilded lady draped in darkness. It was hard to visualize the racks of multi-colored clothes missing, the gold-toned tube that carried the money from the departments’s stations to finance and back to the clerk gone, the dings that were a part of the living Younkers silent, the display counters gone or broken. It was not possible that my memories—and those of others, I was sure—were blocked from sight, to be hidden from us.

Younkers chandelierFriday, March 28, 2014 the “could bes” that I voiced to Jennifer were coming true. I had fantasized that, “Someone should renovate this, make boutiques and stores on the main floor and apartments above.” Someone had purchased the old lady and was starting renovations. I was glad. I was excited, hoping someday to go to the boutiques and to maybe see pictures of the condominiums. But at midnight, March 29, 2014 a fire, already blazing stories high, was reported in the old, gilded lady. The icon was ablaze. And we rose six hours later to learn the old lady was gone, a total loss, unsalvageable.

And so the memories will live in my mind, but I can never again visit the old lady to make my mind dance to these memories. I am sad, and I am heartsick. My one hope regarding this grand old dame is that she rise out of the ashes stronger and, hopefully, looking much as she did in her early years.

If you have any memories of the old Younkers building in Des Moines, please share them in the comments or send me an email!

Family Recipe Friday: Karla’s Pumpkin Spice Muffins

My sister Karla spent a week with me after I got out of the hospital from having a stem cell transplant. She took great care of me – she made these muffins! Easy and just what the doctor ordered. She even made a second batch and we were able to save a couple of small bags in the freezer for later. Unfortunately, they are all gone now. :(

Karla says she makes these a lot when she needs to bring something to a breakfast or church because they are easy and people like them. And she always eats a few cinnamon chips while making them because they are really good.

I almost forgot to ask her to take a picture.

Karla's muffins

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Spice cake mix
3 eggs
can pumpkin
bag cinnamon chips

Mix all ingredients together and bake according to package directions. The muffins above are mini-muffins, so the bake time was a little shorter.

Easy peasy.

Those Awesome Socks!

DSCN3355If you read my most recent post, The Power of Symbols, you got a glimpse of some pretty awesome socks. And they have a story to go with their colorful awesomeness.

My sister Karla started sending me a little something in the mail every week once I was diagnosed with cancer. If it wasn’t every week, it was darn close! Anyway, I’d get a card and a little something in the mail – two of the bracelets in the previous post, for example. Or maybe a Halloween necklace or a ring that lights up for Valentine’s Day, or a sample-size lotion … or socks.

On Oct 18, 2013 I wrote the following on my Caring Bridge page:

Chemo # 3 Recap Part 1 – getting dressed

It took me a while to get ready yesterday morning as I stood in my closet trying to figure out what to wear. Trying to fit all of my criteria was a little daunting. Who knew I would be spending time debating my attire? Not at the top of the list when you think about cancer treatment, huh?

Things to consider:
* The nurses want you to wear a shirt with buttons so that they can access your port.
* You want to be comfortable. I would be sitting in the chemo chair for 3 hours and prior to that, I’d be there for labs and to see the doctor. A little over 5 hours total. Yes! I want to be comfortable.

My additional vanity considerations:
* I have a limited number of scarves and hats. Of the comfortable shirts with buttons, very few look good with my available headwear.
* I wanted to wear my “Filibuster Lymphoma” shoes (yes – they match Wendy’s). They are so colorful that matching shirt, headwear, and shoes became an additional burden.
* Karla sent me some socks to wear on chemo day to keep my feet warm. This was the 1st day for long pants and thus the 1st day I could wear these special socks that miraculously match my shoes. They must be worn.

Chemo attire

Chemo attire

In the end, I was satisfied with my outfit. White shirt, black jeans, white scarf with orangey/red print – far enough away from shoes that they could go together, Fillibuster shoes, Karla socks. To accessorize, I added the wristbands of encouragement that family have sent.

I didn’t know until I received the little green bracelet that green is the “color” for lymphatic cancers, so I was pleased that my shoes and socks both matched my cancer as well.

Now for stories about my clothes as the day played out …

When I was having my vitals taken before seeing the doc, I told the nurse I had had a hard time getting dressed – finding a shirt with buttons and headwear to match. She said the funniest thing she had seen was a man who always wears pocket t-shirts. His solution was to cut a hole in his t-shirt so he could keep wearing what he always wears.

The 2nd thing about my clothes: I hadn’t been hooked up long, when the nurse in the adjoining “station” came over to me and said “I couldn’t help noticing how well your socks match your shoes.” Her good friend has the same shoes and she wanted to get her the socks. Social media to the rescue. I had posted the picture included here on Facebook and tagged Karla, so I asked her where she got the socks (she is in Louisiana). She got them at a Hallmark store. Don’t know if the nurse will be able to find them here, but I got an answer for her.  

It is better to feel good than to look good, but it’s even better to do both! (With apologies to Billy Crystal)

And now for the rest of the story…

We are going to call the nurse who liked my socks Karen, because it could be her name but maybe it isn’t. Karen was never my nurse, so between that fact and chemo brain I am going to excuse myself from not remembering.

Karla sent another pair of socks and said they were for the nurse who liked mine because I always said how wonderful the nurses are. Now these socks were not just like mine because the store was out of those, but they were still pretty awesome socks. So the next time I had an appointment, even though it wasn’t a chemo day, I went to the infusion room and found Karen and gave her the socks. She was thrilled and gave me a big hug and told me to thank my sister. Karen said she might just have to keep those socks for herself.

I wore my filibuster shoes and my awesome socks every time I went for chemo. And every time Karen saw my bright orangey-raspberryish shoes and matching socks resting up high as I leaned back in the recliner, she would pat my feet and say “Hi” when she walked by. I asked if she kept the socks or gave them to her friend and she smiled sheepishly and said that she kept them.

Karla spent a week with me when I was released from the hospital after my stem cell transplant. I needed a bag of fluids one day, so we had to go to the infusion room. Once again, Karen was not my nurse – and I wasn’t wearing my filibuster shoes so I was afraid Karen wouldn’t see me. I asked my nurse to get her for me and I got to introduce Karen to the awesome sock giver – Karla, who also got a big hug.

And that’s the story of the awesome socks.