Tacking on some ‘window dressing’

There are a lot of meanings and impressions when you use the phrase “window dressing.” The display of merchandise in a retail store window is probably not what comes to mind today.

A few decades ago, however, it was not uncommon to hear the phrase “window dressing” to describe something that might have been a little outlandish — another old phrase.

It was the act or an instance of making something appear deceptively attractive.

When I think about “window dressing,” my father comes to mind.

In the Depression days of the 1930s, my father had a job “decorating” store windows with crepe paper. It was the only way, in those days before mannequins, that store owners could attract the attention of those passing by.

In the little town of McAlester, Okla., one of the popular early “evenings out” was to load up the family and drive to the downtown business district and go “window shopping” or sit in the car and watch the people walking up and down the block.

McAlester had several national stores, such as JC Penney, Montgomery Wards and Kress, but, mostly, local merchants sold general merchandise.

Some of those trips included parking in front of a store and watching my dad in the window, pulling and stretching various colors of crepe paper into elaborate folds, flourishes and shapes. I am sure that dad had answered an ad in the local newspaper seeking “installers.” How he developed the skill other than on-the-job training, I never knew.

It was amazing how he could stretch and twist different colors sheets into attractive backgrounds. There were also paper flowers to enhance the windows.

He would work out the design the merchant wanted and then get to work, putting a handful of tiny black tacks in his mouth and methodically but swiftly moving the magnetic end of a hammer between his mouth and the surfaces where the decorations were going.

A normal two-window front would take about an hour to complete. I have no idea how much he would make on an installation, but probably no more than $5.

Asked what he did if he swallowed a tack, he said you were supposed to drink a lime soda.

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