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sherrill-big.jpgA Sixties Christmas; Westend Style

by Sherrill Tucker

Growing up a Westender, the activities surrounding the Holidays were probably the same as anywhere else but in our little university community they felt very special. 

We loved playing outdoors back then- not parked in front of a television/computer screen like a lot of kids today.

My family lived steps away from some of the best sledding hills in the city and we couldn't wait for the Christmas vacation to haunt them. Our favourite was the big slope leading down to the Detroit River near the foot of Sunset. This run was particularly exciting due to the proximity of a certain park bench. You had to lie flat on your back to allow your sled to zip under it and stop as close to the edge of the river as possible. I only remember one kid hitting it, JT, but he had a thick head so it didn't seem to bother him.

The sports field behind Shore Acres (Atkinson pool on Riverside Drive West) was flooded by the City each winter to produce a wonderful skating rink. We would spend hours there playing hockey, crack-the-whip and chasing each other at breakneck speed.

In the evenings we would organize caroling walkabouts. We'd stroll up and down the snow-covered streets singing our hearts out in the hope of being offered mugs of hot chocolate or freshly baked Christmas cookies. Even the boys joined us. There was lots of laughing, making of snow angels and snowball fights. These nights culminated in walking each other home and making plans for what we'd do the next day.

Janisse's Toy and Hobby Shop was THE gathering place to make our wish lists. I remember my parents saying they were on their way to Janisse's to see Santa so we'd better behave while they were gone.

Tom's Shoe Bar was where our family would shop for our Christmas shoes, compliments of our great-uncle Whit who bought them for all his nieces and nephews. My most beloved were a gold glittery pair of Mary Janes with sparkly buckles.

The vacant lot next to Tucker Electric on Wyandotte (in the middle of the block between Randolph & Rankin) was where the neighbours would go to pick out their Christmas trees, under jiggly strings of glaring lightbulbs.

My sisters and I would wander around Bird Hardware for (what felt like) hours searching for the perfect gifts for Mum and Dad. I still remember the creaks and groans of the old hardwood floors as we tramped up and down the aisles. (We loved to run our hands through the galvanized garbage cans full of grass seed in the spring).

Patterson's (forerunner of Big V and Shoppers Drug Mart) was our next destination. We'd visit their perfume counter to pick up a little something for Mum if Bird Hardware didn't have what we wanted. Next was Philip Flowers' greenhouse where we would go just to see the goldfish pond surrounded by red poinsettias.

Our favourite stop by far was Scott's Confectionery. There was a low soda bar surrounded by vinyl-covered chrome swivel stools where we'd order milk shakes or sodas. The glass-fronted candy counters were taller than us and seemed to overflow with an assortment of penny candies (that actually cost only a penny). We would've stood there staring for hours but Mr. Scott always seemed to be in a hurry so we'd make our choices quickly.

My most memorable and embarrassing Christmas morning was the year I went downstairs before everyone else and swiped what I wanted from my brother and sisters' piles to add to mine. Needless to say, I didn't get to play with my toys that day.

The worst Christmas memory for me was the year our grade two teacher at Prince of Wales, Mrs. Buller told our class that we were old enough to know that there was no such thing as Santa. All our parents were in an uproar and I don't remember her being around the next year.

Why is it that when we're kids the Holidays can't come quickly enough yet as adults it seems to creep up on us before we're ready? Sometimes I wish I were a kid again so I could feel that magic one more time.

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