We had been standing in line for ages that December day, a long snake of chattering children, mothers, and grandmothers, slowly inching up through the department store's levels. My gloved hand was clutched in my mother's, she and I standing silently together in this cheerful crowd of well-dressed humanity.
This was my mother's and my first experience taking part in a long-standing Southern Christmas Tradition.
We were going to ride The Pink Pig at Rich's Department Store in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
For southern children at that time, this was a well-loved ritual: dressing in one's Sunday best and flocking downtown in droves with family and friends to Rich's flagship department store so the children could ride the Pink Pig.
The Pink Pig was a monorail which rode through and above Santa's Workshop, around the giant Christmas tree in a loop that went outside on the rooftop, showing a view of the other downtown buildings.
The pièce de résistance for all on this yearly occasion was the luncheon in the store's Magnolia Room, not only for the good food but as an opportunity to See and Be Seen. For children, a sticker saying, "I rode The Pink Pig" was quite the status symbol in area elementary schools.
As my mother and I waited, I wasn't exactly sure what I was waiting for. I hadn't seen any pictures of the Pink Pig and I wasn't the type to ask. The only part of the Pink Pig experience I knew about was that sticker worn proudly by any child who'd ridden.
When my family had moved to Atlanta the year before, I'd noticed these stickers sprouting on coats all throughout December, at school (and in our neighborhood.) They spread through the classrooms like a singular measle on each child - a much-coveted pink spot it was...and this year I would have one too. Maybe then this new world of tight-knit Southerners would feel friendlier.
Finally, our turn came to step up with the crowd to the ride's platform -- the excitement was palpable. The Pink Pig would be here any moment.
I, who'd spent most of my young life reading and dreaming, secretly hoped my fantasy of a flying pig with wings, who would land gracefully in front of me and take me on a soaring tour of Santa's workshop, would be true. I'd just turned seven and knew it was unlikely. But maybe....
I didn't notice the steel monorail above my head. I couldn't see much of anything at all except coat fabric on all sides, as I was shorter than many in that crowd of children.
Suddenly the crowd shifted as we heard the ride's approach. These were not the sounds of wings, I thought, slightly disappointedly.
I got my first glimpse of the longed-for Pink Pig...
...and burst into tears.
What I saw was a painted metal pig head coming towards me...towing cages for children!
There were disturbed looks coming from the mothers at my tears, but I couldn't quell the rising panic that I was going to be put into that small space, the door would shut, and then the Pink Pig would take us children all away.
My mother, with my gloved hand in firm grip, gave me a shake. "Don't cry." A familiar refrain. This was hissed with the accompanying scary face. I stopped.
Everyone raced - and I was pushed - to get on board the monorail. The doors were shut and locked, and the Pink Pig lurched away to fly above Santa's workshop with its cargo of happy children.
Add white gloves, a navy-blue wool jumper with white Peter Pan-collared shirt to the child below, a tear-streaked face and a tightened grip, and this might have been me.
I had that much fun.
After the ride, as we trooped back down the stairs toward The Magnolia Room for lunch, my mother remarked, "Well, that could've gone better, but we'll enjoy lunch." She always enjoyed lunch.
As we were seated in The Magnolia Room - that crowded, over-heated, noisy room - I automatically took off my gloves and pulled the linen napkin onto my lap under the heavy white also-linen tablecloth.
I felt a little queasy from the heat and all of the tension...and immediately threw up on the table. There were many horrified gasps from all directions, with several Sunday-best-dressed children being yanked out of the way.
"I hate The Pink Pig!" I managed to wail. This brought on the worst looks of all.
It was going to take a little more time for us to fit in.
Photos courtesy of, from the top:
1 -- chrisqueen.wordpress.com
(There is a much happier story at #1...actually everyone's Pink Pig memory seems to be happier than mine)
2 -- next-stop-decatur-ga.blogspot.com
3 -- normsradio.com
4 -- christyhulsey.wordpress.com
DECEMBER 15, 2010 10:08PM