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Christmas Eve 1991 by Scott Keeling

Christmas Eve 1991 by Scott Keeling

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Published by Derek Suchard

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Published by: Derek Suchard on Dec 30, 2012
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12/31/2012

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Christmas Eve, 1991By Scott KeelingOne of the very few advantages to being unemployed is theflexibility of the schedule. Which explains why it was that I woke upon Christmas Eve day at the crack of noon. Mustn’t be idle,though.... had to get busy. Some of the people who lived in theboarding house on Beverley Street would go to visit their families atChristmas time. Others wouldn’t. I had invited a bunch of folks whodidn’t have anywhere else to go to for Christmas dinner at my place.And I was responsible for the food.And what could be a more traditional Christmas dinner than, well,spaghetti with a home-made sauce? Exactly. And that sauce wasn’tgoing to prepare itself, so I left my home across from the Art Galleryof Ontario on Dundas West – God, I loved that house – and headedoff to Kensington Market to get the fixins for my Mom’s spaghettisauce recipe. She had taught it to me when I was living in Edmonton.More out of necessity than a raging desire to become a 5-star chef.We all had to cook when she went to work at the
UIC
.The day was crisp, with a light breeze, and the temperature hadclimbed up from its low of ten below to reach a balmy 5 below. Itwould hit zero before nightfall. The sky was cloudless, with no snowexpected at all today. Visibility had to be at least 12 miles or so.I spent a good part of the afternoon at the market. It didn’t take thatlong to get the ingredients for the sauce, of course, but there’snothing like the smell of fresh food brought in on the day. Strollingthrough the market, the aromas changed at every step...fish, meat,cheese, more cheese, olives and other produce. A picture may beworth a thousand words, but it can’t capture the orchestra of scents atthe market. When I finally left the market for home, I stopped by theLCBO to pick up some beer and then home again to start tomorrow’sdinner.The boarding house on Beverley was great. There were sevenresidents, all of whom been hand-picked by the guy who collectedthe rent, Bill Reichman, and the feeling among the group was
 
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outstanding. I started tomorrow’s dinner, put it on low heat and askedLorraine, Steve’s girlfriend –Steve lived in the house – tostir it once in awhile, thenheaded out to the Black Bull,my favourite bar on QueenWest. The Black Bull mayvery well be the oldest pub inToronto. Somebody told meit goes back to 1840 orsomething like that. Didn’treally care much, though. Didn’t go there for the history.Three of my friends were at the Bull when I got there. There wasRudy, an old guy with a real grump on. All show, though, really. Henever did no harm to anybody. And then there was Knox. Fifty-something. A former South African military bank robber. Well,actually a former mercenary soldier who had worked for thegovernment of South Africa at one point, apparently. According tothe stories, he used to rob Rhodesian banks to raise funds to financethe military operations.Those two needed some beer for the holidays. Like ya do. Andbeing as they were both shut-ins, it was the least I could do. Off tothe liquor store again.The next guy youmight have heard of.Hans Zander. A largeGerman-born Cana-dian. He was acommercial artistwho had won real,serious awards. Heeven wrote a book back in ’77...
The Harmonica Man
...maybe you read it. He wasone of the Saturday afternoon pool players at the Bull. He asked meif I could sing hymns and Christmas carols. I told him I had done soin the past and could probably do so again. He invited me over to his
 
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house for some Christmas cheer. I told him I could but said it wouldhave to be late. We agreed on 11 o’clock. I was thinking, ‘wow,that’s late for him. He’s in his fifties.’After I had met up with some other friends of mine in theneighbourhood, it was time to prepare for carols and hymns.To prepare for singing, I went to a 10 o’clock service at the St.George the Martyr Anglicanchurch in Grange Park. Itwas kind of funny seeing allthose folks there in their bestsuits and dresses and me inmy finest Sunday-go-to-meeting leather and jeans.They didn’t notice me untilwe started singing. I thoughtthey were going to faintwhen they saw me. It wasgreat. When we finishedsinging, I borrowed a song book and song sheet and headed off toHans’s place on Soho.Hans greeted me at the door of his 3-storey enfield home on Soho,only a couple of minutes from the Black Bull. He was renting theground floor and the basement to tenants, so we went up to a largeroom upstairs. It was a toss-up as to what was the eye-catcher in theroom – the picnic table, Hans’s wife (beautiful, blonde, 20 yearsyounger than he was) or the hospital bed with his mother in it.Hans’s mother had serious foot problems. Her feet were badlycontorted and she couldn’t get around. The only picture in the roomwas a photograph of his father hanging on the wall above hismother’s bed. It was a photograph of Hans’s father, a good lookingman in a black German captain’s uniform from the Second WorldWar. As far as I know, it was a Gestapo uniform. Hans told me thathis father had been killed
by his bosses
only 3 hours before theRussians had attacked Berlin in 1945. As far as I understand, he hadhad no choice but to join them. That was the only time that Hans evermentioned him.

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