bought all his presents and had exactly two dollars left. He knew
just what he was going to do with that money. He asked me if I wanted
to go downtown with him on Christmas Eve and make a purchase.
decided to save the nickel bus fare each way and walk from Walkerville.
It was a beautiful evening: clear, snow on the ground, temperature
hovering around ten degrees Fahrenheit. Our shadows walked along
with us, first behind, then overtaking us and extending out in front
as we passed each yellowish street light.
reached the corner of Wyandotte and Ouellette where, in a field
on the northeast corner, a sign proclaimed that a bank would be
built there as a post-war project. We found the main street alive
with joyful last-minute shoppers.
turned north and walked along the eastside of Ouellette toward the
river. The wind was developing a bite and I adjusted the metal band
over my brown fur earmuffs, drawing them closer to the sides of
my head. My feet slipped on lumpy snow, hard-packed by hundreds
of shoppers' boots.
is this angel, anyway?" I asked.
Bartlet, Macdonald and Gow."
to Sandwich Street (Riverside Drive), I pulled my woolen jacket
up tighter around my throat and leaned into the wind. We passed
Meretsky and Gitlin Furniture, the Tea Garden Restaurant, John Webb
wartime shortages, shop windows displayed a tempting variety of
gifts "for her" and "for him", all competing for space with crossed
Union Jacks, signs exhorting us to "Buy British" and purchase Dominion
of Canada Victory Bonds, and others reminding us that "Loose Lips
approached the Fleetway Tunnel exit. Across the street was Liddy
and Taylor Men's Wear, the store where Clem and I spent some of
the dollars we earned, working Saturdays (for 40 cents per hour)
at the A&P on Ottawa Street, to outfit ourselves for the return
to school each fall.
were surprised to see the newsstand at the tunnel exit open so late
in the evening. The headlines were always the same in those days:
success and disasters for the Allied armed forces on land, at sea
and in the air, but inside, the comics were still there. War or
no war, Li'l Abrner was wrestling for a gun with the four-armed
Mr. Armstrong, Brick Bradford was championing the weak against the
strong, and Caps Stubbs remained the quintessence of boyhood.
that festive season, all the papers, including The Windsor Daily
Star and The Detroit Times were carrying Clement C. Moore's "The
Night Before Christmas". And, assuring eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon
that, yes, there is a Santa Claus, as they had done every year since
the editorial first appeared in the New York Sun in 1897.
snow began to fall, powdering our hair and eyelashes, tickling our
are you going to do with this angel, anyway," I asked.
it on the top of the tree, of course. It's a beautiful white
satin ornament with gold hair and all that. I'm going to put it
up there tonight when everyone's asleep - a kind of surprise for
my mother. She's been wanting one since the cat got the old one
last year. Top of the tree looks bare without an angel."
crossed Park Street, passing the Prince Edward Hotel. Through the
revolving doors and down the steps came a live angel in a white
satin evening gown; Persian lamb coat and dangling silver earrings.
Escort in black coat with velvet collar and fringed white silk scarf.
They tiptoed their way (she holding her gown up with one dainty
hand) over the icy sidewalk and into the waiting checkered cab.
was to be a New Year's Eve dance in the Prince Eddy ballroom. Matti
Holli's Orchestra. Three dollars per person. Clem and I would not
be there. If we could scrape up the price of admission, we'd likely
take our girlfriends ice skating at the arena "to the music of Ralph
Ford at the electric organ."
later we passed the Canada Building where Sid Tarleton and his St.
Mary's Church Boys' Choir had made their annual appearance at 9
a.m. that day, leading the building's tenants in singing Christmas
carols. An old tradition.
the street was the beautiful new building of Birks-Ellis-Ryri (successors
to McCreery's). We remembered the original McCreery's Jewellery
Store, located in the Prince Eddy.
stubby little Sandwich, Windsor and Amherstburg Railway Ford bus
crunched by, throwing dirty snow on our trouser legs. The Fords
were among the first buses purchased after the streetcars were junked
in this day's Star, signed by W.H. Furlong, K.C., chairman of the
S.W. & A., and F. X. Chauvin, vice-chairman, thanked Windsorites
for their patience. The buses were badly overloaded, what with wartime
workers and Christmas shoppers vying for standing room in the aisles.
Maybe they should have kept the old reliable streetcars.
passed Honey Dew Limited, which served the best orange drink in
town, and looked across Ouellette at the sparkling windows of old
established retailers such as Burton the Tailor, Esquire Men's Shop
and George W. Wilkinson Limited. (Four decades into the future,
these locations will be occupied by One Plus One Ladies' Wear, Jeanne
Bruce Limited Jewellers and Chateau 333 respectively,)
front of the five-story Wilkinson's store ("Wilkinson's Shoes Wear
like a Pig's Nose") stood a Salvation Army lass in her quaint bonnet
with the big ribbon. Her little hand bell sounded somehow shy, matching
her sad eyes.
idea. "Why don't you give your two dollars to the Sally Ann?" I
suggested. "It's Christmas Eve, you know."
Humbug!" replied Clem in his best Dickens' manner. "Charity begins
the Palace, Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross was playing.
Starring Frederic March, Claudette Colbert and Charles Laughton.
London Street (University), past Stuart Stores for Men, the Singer
Sewing Machine Store, C.R. Wickens and Son Tobacconist and Gift
shop, across Chatham Street, Wright's Butcher Shop, Grinnell's Music
Shop (piano's, sheet music, radios, records"), John A. Jackson Limited
Men's Wear, the Star Restaurant, across Pitt Street, past the Canada
Trust Company on the northeast corner.
we went by the C.H. Smith Company store, we saw a small boy standing
in front of Bartlet's, staring at something in the window. We recognized
him; we'd seen him many times selling his magazines to the drunks
coming out of The Ritz and B.A. Hotels at Ouellette and Sandwich.
He must have lived over one of the stores in those old run-down,
three-storey brick buildings on Sandwich. Not exactly Willistead
black hair. Big, staring brown eyes. He was looking at a black lace
shawl with a $5 ticket on it. A lot of money in those days.
pace slackened, reduced to a crawl, and came to a stop. Silence.
The boy turned as if to leave.
shawl, kid," said Clem.
pair of brown eyes looked at him innocently. A bit perplexed.
huh." A pause.
much money do you have?"
the artless eyes stared at Clem, taking him in, registering no emotion.
dollars, I thought. Three dollars earned the hard way. Long hours
after school on that pavement in front of the two hotels, just up
the hill from the old Detroit, Windsor and Belle Isle Ferry Company
dock. Long weeks, maybe months, of selling magazines at a profit
of two cents per sale. Always thinking about the black lace shawl.
I decided, is going to be interesting. I leaned back against a lamppost
to watch closely. "Think of that," I said. "He's two dollars short.
Now that's quite a coincidence."
gave me a why-don't-you-mind-your-own-damn-business look. Another
pause. Clem looking at the boy. Boy looking back, wondering what
was coming next. Me looking at Clem.
"Look, kid, take this two bucks and go in and buy the shawl and
don't ask any questions."
minute later we were looking into the store, watching the perfumed
saleslady wrapping the shawl in a Christmassy box. A pair of brown
eyes watching her every move. Five-dollar bills scrunched up in
a grubby hand resting on the sparkling glass counter.
minute later and he was out of the store, dashing around the corner
and heading west on Sandwich Street. He disappeared into a south
side doorway near Fifth Brothers Tailor Shop and the Taylor Furniture
thought a certain mother was going to be very happy on Christmas
turned back down Ouellette Avenue. In silence. We stopped at the
traffic light at Chatham. The snow was falling heavier now, coating
the scene in fresh holiday white. I looked sideways at Clem.
thought charity begins at home," I grinned.
can just shut up," he said.
I couldn't get over the feeling that Clem would not need his satin
angel. A far more substantial one would be shining down on him on