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Christmas 1956 - A Lasting Gift

by Richard Hughes Liddell

From Issue#20- December-January 2001-01

When I was a kid, our alleys were dungeons and Dragons." They were ideal for playing cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers. On Christmas mornings they were the perfect place to burn Christmas giftwrap and boxes. In 1961 I burned all of the above, along with a ten-dollar bill given to me by my Aunt Helen.

In the summer, we collected butterflies, ladybugs and grasshoppers, picked raspberries from Mr. Calhoun’s garden and apples from the Bondy’s tree. It was a place to sit and talk to your dog, or to be alone and cry if your world had momentarily fallen apart, or to listen for the shrill horn of the sheeny man as he steered his horse and wagon along in pursuit of old junk and rags.

The alley marked the 55-yard line in our football scrimmages between two vacant lots and was ‘home-run’ territory for our baseball games. It was a place to play basketball by the hour with John Mahon and Brian McCabe and Bill Millar.

I live in suburbia now; there is not an alley to be found in this vast urban sprawl. The subdivision developers decided that alleys create a massive land waste and therefore are no longer including them in their postage-stamp-sized lots.

On one particular day in 1956, December 22 to be exact, the alley provided me with a convenient way to leave my street without any of my friends spotting me wearing my galoshes. I was taking man’s best friend, Frisky, out for his nightly walk; because of the snow, Mom had forced me to put those hated rubber monstrosities on over my shoes.

Exiting the alley, Frisky and I crossed Kildare Road stopping on the boulevard, which divided it.

These wonderful grass and tree covered areas running down the middle of Ypres and Kildare Road were possibly a romantic idea brought back from France by some Windsor soldier. But to the kids in the area, they were much more.

They were where children congregated to play before the street lights came on; where high school kids met after dark to talk, laugh, and discuss the problems of the day.

There was one stretch of grass under a maple tree on Ypres that had the texture of plush carpet. Often, I would remove my shoes and socks to feel that wonderful sensation between my toes, thinking that someday, when I own a home, I’ll transplant some of this grass to my own backyard. My beautiful patch of grass is no more, but no matter. If I close my eyes and think back, I can still feel that wonderful carpet between my toes.

Part way through our walk, Frisky let out a low growl, her normal warning that strangers were near. I looked around, but saw nothing in the stillness except for the marvellous falling snow. Large, white, wet flakes slowly descended from the heavens and the serenity of the moment seemed to hold the world in slow motion.

Frisky’s second warning broke the spell. "What’s the matter, girl?" I inquired, at the same time beginning to discern what was stimulating her. The distant sounds of music teased my ears and then quickly faded. We continued walking while the sweet sounds wafted toward us.

Progressing up Somme Road towards Memorial park, the music grew stronger. We crossed Chilver, Windermere and Lincoln and it grew closer still. Frisky tugged hard on the leash as we arrived at Gladstone. The snow was starting to really come down and a warm wind had churned things up, but there was no doubt we were near the source of music.

The park lay before us. I squinted north toward Ypres but could see nothing. As I turned south, the driving snow parted and my "Pied Piper" came into view. Ahead under the glow of a street lamp, stood a Salvation Army band with carollers crooning "O Holy Night; O, Night Divine!"

Frisky and I followed the chorus for over an hour that night and several of my friends joined in when they too heard the music. At one point I looked down at my feet and realized that I had been standing with my friends with those ugly galoshes on. Then I noticed Don Brown and Allan Chapman wearing similar boots!

The snow was over six inches deep by then and I hated to admit it, but once again, my mother was right!

‘Fall on your knees

Oh hear the angel voices

O night divine

O night when Christ was born!

O night, O Holy Night, O Night Divine!’



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