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The Christmas Dance

by Richard Hughes Liddell

Hugh Beaton Public School
December 18, 1958

My career as a disc jockey will start and end on this night with the uttering of my very first sentence.

Normally my shy nature would prevent my presence at the microphone, but this is the Hugh Beaton Safety Patrol Christmas Dance and the captain of this fine organization is none other than “yours truly.” I carefully reach into my radio bag of tricks and in a voice crackling between baritone and falsetto (puberty has struck!) scream, ”Okay, let’s start this dance off with a Snowball and since this record is called ‘Donna’ let’s have those two lovebirds, Donna Fenton and Reggie Moriarty, as our first couple.”

Suddenly there is a hush followed closely by a gasp.

“Liddell, you jerk!” someone shouts.

The disc starts to revolve and Richie Valens sings:

‘Oh Donna, oh Donna.

I had a girl, Donna was her name,

And if you saw her, you’d never be the same,

Oh I love my girl, Donna where can you be?”

I sheepishly observe that at this moment, this Donna, as in Fenton, would rather be anywhere else on earth than in the arms of Reggie and that feeling is reflected in Reggie’s eyes.

Today my family is constantly accusing me of never paying attention to daily personal events. Well it appears I had the same problem back in 1958, because three days prior to this dance, Reggie and Donna had a shouting match in the hallowed halls of Hugh Beaton thus dissolving their ‘going steady’. Everyone in the school – students, teachers, secretary, janitor, nurse – absolutely everyone knew about this except Richard Hughes Liddell.

This ostrich had removed his head from the sand just long enough to embarrass two of his friends, plus himself, and now I quickly relinquish the microphone to Mr. McCallum and rush away desperately seeking more sand into which to bury my head. Instead I find Joanne Norwood, one of the Safety Patrol lieutenants and a bubbly extrovert, to take over as disc jockey. Then I go into hiding.

There are two other events that I remember from that terrible dance. The first occurred after I left the stage. My friend Richard Blake was one of Santa Claus’ (played by Max Succee) helpers and I pleaded with him not to give me a gift and force me to return to the stage.

“Don’t worry Liddell,” Richard said, ”There isn’t a gift for you.” Great! The captain of the Safety Patrol at a Safety Patrol dance and no gift!

The second event: Audrey Stewart was the only girl who would dance with me after my blunder. “Way to go, Richard,” she chided me as we headed to the dance floor but away from listening ears she whispered, “Don’t worry, it was an honest mistake.”

‘The night was dark and the moon was yellow and the leaves came tumbling down.’

‘Stagger Lee’ is about to start and my life, because of Audrey’s comment, begins again.

Our Grade Eight class had a twenty-fifth reunion in 1984, and I was able to joke about what happened long ago with Donna, Reggie, Joanne, Max and Mr. McCallum. Unfortunately Richard and Audrey could not laugh with us. Cancer took Audrey -– that short, dark curly-haired friend of mine. After public school she went to Harry Guppy School of Commerce so our paths did not cross often, but I do remember her as a paradox. She could be tough and tomboyish and cute and friendly at the same time. I don’t suppose I will ever understand women and Audrey was no exception. I’m sorry she’s gone.

My friend Richard Blake was born on June 7, 1946, four days before me and ten days before the famous Windsor tornado. (King Richard the Lion Hearted was a great English crusade warrior, so Richard was a very popular name for post war babies.) We went through public school and high school together and were both in the orchestra and in cadets. After high school, Richard joined the Air Force. One summer, when I had returned from college, Mom told me he had died in a plane crash. I think of him often, particularly every June 7th.

Funny how simple events can shape and mold your future. Because of that fateful dance and because Reggie got hit by a car while I was captain of the Hugh Beaton Safety Patrol (thus causing the Elmer the Safety Elephant flag to be removed from the school for six months), a pall fell over my tenure as leader.

Since that time, I have never sought the leadership of anything. I am a great committee member, a spokesperson for a cause or someone who’s ready to help in a variety of endeavours but never a leader – it’s much too stressful!


 

 

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