Mother was tough shopper

By Bob Huber: Local Columnist

My mother was the epitome of rough, tough Nebraska stinginess, but she always made a special trip to Denver just before Christmas to show me the holiday decorations. On these trips she also bought pigs’ feet. Besides being cheap, they provided hours of winter fun for the family as we searched for meat.

Of the two experiences, holiday commercial finery was more important than pig’s feet, because Denver at Christmas was a bustling, magical city — Baghdad on the Platte — with elaborate displays in the windows of all downtown stores. We traveled there each year, not by suburban streetcar, but on magic carpet.

On the ride into the city I could barely control my anxiety, not to mention my bladder. We would soon be standing outside the stores in a raging blizzard, watching puppet shows, miniature railroads, elaborate nativity scenes, and more mechanical, talking toys than were ever made in the factories at the North Pole. But Mom insisted we buy our pigs’ feet first, no matter that I was all a-twitter and almost wetting my pants. So we walked first through the snow to the meat market and stuffed pigs’ feet into canvas shopping bags, each one weighing 10 pounds. Only then did we plod uptown to the breathtaking land of Christmas window displays.

We always spent a couple of hours viewing the yuletide exhibits and buying some gifts at Woolworth’s alongside other shivering shoppers. Mostly I recall the splendor of the window arrays and my cold feet. Everything was painfully wonderful.

Finally we departed the fairyland, stomping through snow again, this time toward the tramway terminal and our ride back home. That was when we had to cross 16th Street in the heart of the busy shopping section, our arms full of pigs’ feet and gifts. Electric streetcars ruled Denver in those days, moving up and down the windy concrete valleys, clanging bells and making shoppers dash out of the way to keep from being smooshed. Motormen were undisputed monarchs of those streets.

On this particular occasion one of those rolling potentates took an ornery notion to clang his bell just as my mother struggled across the street in front of his car. The sudden clanging made her jump and drop a package, which she stooped to retrieve. The motorman clanged his bell again and grinned evilly. When my father heard about it, he said, “If that guy had known your mother, he wouldn’t have done that.”

My mother straightened her back, leaving the package on the ground, and glared up at the motorman. When he grinned again and clanged the bell some more, she slowly dropped her other packages, all but one, and placed a foot on the streetcar’s cow catcher. She just stood there, hefting a 10-pound bag of pigs’ feet, daring the motorman to do something about it.

Do I have to relate how my mother ignored all manner of threats from the motorman until a crowd gathered, cheering her on, and the police were summoned?

When you were 10 years old, did you ever stand on a cold city street corner hoping your mother would stop embarrassing you while all around you people yelled insults at the motorman and pelted the streetcar with snowballs?

Only a last-ditch effort by police saved the day. The motorman was forced to step down from his throne and under armed guard gathered up my mother’s packages and escorted her apologetically to the curb. The crowd cheered. That night when I told my father what happened, he said, “The police blew it. They should have made that motorman take the pigs’ feet home and eat them.”

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.