Christmas Eve, 1991 By Scott Keeling One of the very few advantages to being unemployed is the flexibility of the

schedule. Which explains why it was that I woke up on Christmas Eve day at the crack of noon. Mustn’t be idle, though.... had to get busy. Some of the people who lived in the boarding house on Beverley Street would go to visit their families at Christmas time. Others wouldn’t. I had invited a bunch of folks who didn’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’t going to prepare itself, so I left my home across from the Art Gallery of Ontario on Dundas West – God, I loved that house – and headed off to Kensington Market to get the fixins for my Mom’s spaghetti sauce 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 had climbed up from its low of ten below to reach a balmy 5 below. It would hit zero before nightfall. The sky was cloudless, with no snow expected 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 that long to get the ingredients for the sauce, of course, but there’s nothing like the smell of fresh food brought in on the day. Strolling through the market, the aromas changed at every, meat, cheese, more cheese, olives and other produce. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can’t capture the orchestra of scents at the market. When I finally left the market for home, I stopped by the LCBO to pick up some beer and then home again to start tomorrow’s dinner. The boarding house on Beverley was great. There were seven residents, all of whom been hand-picked by the guy who collected the rent, Bill Reichman, and the feeling among the group was

outstanding. I started tomorrow’s dinner, put it on low heat and asked Lorraine, Steve’s girlfriend – Steve lived in the house – to stir it once in awhile, then headed out to the Black Bull, my favourite bar on Queen West. The Black Bull may very well be the oldest pub in Toronto. Somebody told me it goes back to 1840 or something like that. Didn’t really care much, though. Didn’t go there for the history. Three of my friends were at the Bull when I got there. There was Rudy, an old guy with a real grump on. All show, though, really. He never did no harm to anybody. And then there was Knox. Fiftysomething. A former South African military bank robber. Well, actually a former mercenary soldier who had worked for the government of South Africa at one point, apparently. According to the stories, he used to rob Rhodesian banks to raise funds to finance the military operations. Those two needed some beer for the holidays. Like ya do. And being as they were both shut-ins, it was the least I could do. Off to the liquor store again. The next guy you might have heard of. Hans Zander. A large German-born Canadian. He was a commercial artist who had won real, serious awards. He even wrote a book back in ’77...The Harmonica Man...maybe you read it. He was one of the Saturday afternoon pool players at the Bull. He asked me if I could sing hymns and Christmas carols. I told him I had done so in the past and could probably do so again. He invited me over to his

house for some Christmas cheer. I told him I could but said it would have 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 the neighbourhood, 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 Anglican church in Grange Park. It was kind of funny seeing all those folks there in their best suits and dresses and me in my finest Sunday-go-tomeeting leather and jeans. They didn’t notice me until we started singing. I thought they were going to faint when they saw me. It was great. When we finished singing, I borrowed a song book and song sheet and headed off to Hans’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 the ground floor and the basement to tenants, so we went up to a large room upstairs. It was a toss-up as to what was the eye-catcher in the room – the picnic table, Hans’s wife (beautiful, blonde, 20 years younger than he was) or the hospital bed with his mother in it. Hans’s mother had serious foot problems. Her feet were badly contorted and she couldn’t get around. The only picture in the room was a photograph of his father hanging on the wall above his mother’s bed. It was a photograph of Hans’s father, a good looking man in a black German captain’s uniform from the Second World War. As far as I know, it was a Gestapo uniform. Hans told me that his father had been killed by his bosses only 3 hours before the Russians had attacked Berlin in 1945. As far as I understand, he had had no choice but to join them. That was the only time that Hans ever mentioned him.

So we had a couple of drinks and then it was time to sing. Hans’s mother didn’t know a word of English and I didn’t know a word of German, so communication was limited to say the least. She sang soprano like she was in a church choir. That pure. I was singing tenor that day. I would start and she knew every song, but in German. It was beautiful. After 6 songs, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Hans’s mother, who was my partner in the carol singing, was starting to get tired. It was time to go. St. George the Martyr was on the route from Hans’s house to my own, so I dropped the song books into the church’s mail slot on my way home. When we got home, I stirred the pot on the simmering spaghetti sauce and hit the sack.


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