Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Story

Never a Christmas morning ,
Never the old year ends ,
But someone thinks of someone,
Old times ,old places,old friends

I first began to produce audio Christmas cards for family and friends in 2000 and little did I realize that I would still be doing it seven years on. In year one I was finally able to realize a dream of some long standing by bringing such a project to fruition. I also noted that although daunting ,the task was made somewhat easier by the fact that some of the music and recitations were done by friends of mine. One of those friends was a gentleman named John Arpin.

John was pixie –like in stature but a giant in the music industry. He was an internationally acclaimed pianist ,arranger and composer who played in upscale clubs and concert halls---- solo, and with symphony orchestras. John was so good he once won a silver medal against 45 of the best ragtime piano players in the world at an international competition in Japan.

I first met John when he was playing in the lounge of the very upscale Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. I was looking for a pianist to play app 5 hrs per night for three nights in a hospitality suite I was responsible for organizing. A friend said he knew just the person and so off to the Arms where my friend Grant introduced me to John. I laid out my proposal to John and very soon We agreed on a fee and he became our official Vanier Cup pianist.

After year one John said that he really enjoyed himself and if I wanted him back next year I should give him some advance notice so that he could arrange his schedule to accommodate and so he did for seven years running. During those seven years there was not once where John said “no” when someone asked “do you know this one??? I admired John’s virtuosity and his quick wit and we very soon became good friends. I seldom missed going to where he was playing in Toronto when I was there on my businesss trips and we stayed in touch even after I had retired.

In my intro to the 2003 card I reminisced how my namesake Uncle ,John, turned around a Christmas disappointment for me and made me very proud to show my wooden rifle stock, from an Army Surplus Store, to my friends the day after Christmas saying it might have been from the real rifle my Uncle had carried for five years during the Second World War. I had received the rifle stock as a Christmas gift in lieu of a Red Ryder bee bee gun that I had asked for.

My Uncle John was a member of the Royal Montreal Regiment , and was active in the liberation of France, Belgium, Holland,the Scheldt Estuary and was wounded in the fight for control of the Leopold Canal. He was President of the RMR Branch # 14 Legion and was for 25 yrs a volunteer at the Ste. Anne de Bellevue Vets Hospital. Like John Arpin my uncle was little guy with a quick wit and ready laugh and he was tough,both physically and mentally. In early September this year he called two of his daughters to say that he was not feeling well and wanted to go to the hospital. When my cousins arrived at his house prepared to drive him he said alright lets go and proceeded to drive himself and his daughters from Delson,on the South Shore to the Mtl General Hospital despite what must have been some severe pain.

Unfortunately I will not be able to talk to each of them this year and wish them Merry Christmas because they both have passed away , My Uncle in Sept and John Arpin in November. I will miss them both profoundly but my grieving is over and I know that both of them would want it that way. My uncle was 85 and the other John was 71, and they both lived life to the fullest in the knowledge that life was finite, so live it while ye may.

I shall remember them knowing that my life was better for having them in it, my uncle for 61 yrs and Arpin for 26 years. I will listen to Arpin’s Christmas CD and include a couple of cuts on this years card . I will take a look at a photo of my uncle visiting his brother’s grave in Holland, two years ago, and a picture of him and my father as young vibrant men with big smiles. I will remember how Uncle John loved and celebrated Christmas each year because --,I think,-- he wanted to make up for the 5 christmas’ he had spent overseas, away from his family in Canada from 1940 to 1945.

I will remember John Arpin one December, at the Windsor Arms Hotel wearing a Santa Claus hat , playing and singing Christmas songs —he looked less like the big guy and more like one of his elves. I will remember my uncle taking my brother Jim and I along with his family on their vacation to the Cumberland cottages in New York State in 1952, the summer that my dad died, and I will remember his handshake, like a vise even at age 85 due in large part to a lifetime of work at Stelco . I recently showed my son Sean a picture of my Dad and Uncle John as young men, and Sean said look at the arms on him (John).

I will remember both Johns this Christmas with much fondness and I will celebrate their having left this earth a better place because of their life and contributions. And if history is any measure, then I know that they will both be looking down at their respective families ,Arpin at the keyboard ,my uncle,standing at the piano, singing along, and both with a cold barley sandwich as they would have-- had they met each other this side of the Big Gates.

I will celebrate this Christmas as joyously as I have in past years secure in the knowledge that they both would heartily approve. And so from our house to yours we wish you Merry Christmas ,Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas .

Thanks John McC.

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