Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Wishes and Memories of days gone by..

Hi Marty,

(1)For any of you subscribers that are interested the Paul Reid Christmas show will be broadcast Dec 24th 6-9 pm and Dec 25th 5-8 pm. The website address is www.cjad.com.

(2) I know that it is a little early but I want to congratulate you and say thank you for the four years that the southbros blog has been in operation-- It doesn't seem that long ago since that original phone conversation but then the old homily -- time flies when you're having fun-- was never more apt.

(3) Attached is a copy of a christmas story which I used a couple of years ago for the audio Christmas card that I produce to send to family and a few friends.

(4) And last but not least, following the lead of my good buddy Winston Swinwood, I want to wish you,your family, and each and everyone of your subscribers a very Merry Christmas (x3), a family and friend-filled holiday season and a prosperous and healthy 2010. JMcC

As I begin to prepare for the Christmas season each year my thoughts occasionally stray to an event that had a significant impact on my life even though it happened some 56 years ago.

My Dad was killed in a traffic accident in 1952 and although she tried to keep all four of us McConachie brothers together at our home on Murray Ave my mother was just not able to manage it financially.

Finally in 1953 the two youngest boys (Keith and Ken) went to stay at a child’s home in Rosemere which was run by the Order of the Eastern Star and Jim and I became residents of Weredale House in Montreal.

To this day I still get the odd question as to what it was like in “The Home”. First off , our integration was relatively smooth because of three friends from Greenfield Park who had become residents of Weredale the year before although I didn’t know it until Jim and I had checked in.

Herbie Simons and brothers Gerald and Ralph Robertson who were foster children and lived with the Saunders family on Parker Ave, with a year under their belts made sure that we learned the ropes while letting it be known that Jim and I were under their protective wing.

While the reason for our situation including the fact that we were only able to visit our mother and relatives on weekends only was not the best possible , life itself on the inside was not as bad as some might envision. Although much more regimented than life had been in Greenfield Park, if one were to work within the system, there were a number of opportunities for advancement and self-improvement.

As a personal example I soon became a Patrol leader in the scout troop that was in place there, I was selected to be a hut leader for the first two years at our summer camp and successively a Counsellor –in –training and then Counsellor the following two seasons respectively.

During the winter, I was also chosen to be a monitor on duty at the front desk once a week in the main office after regular business hours. Of particular note was that one of our duties as monitor was to go up Atwater Ave to the Montreal Forum to get the early

(bulldog) edition of the Montreal Gazette( which hit the streets at approximately 9:00 pm) for the head man at the Home.Fortunately or unfortunately I was on duty the night of the infamous Richard Riot and although I was not able to get the paper I did have a bird’s eye view of that memorable event.

But I digress. Normally our weekend free time ran roughly from 12:30 to 8:30 pm each Saturday and Sunday but on Christmas Day we were allowed to leave as soon as we had had breakfast. Our first two Christmases in Weredale were perhaps the most difficult as my mother was working as a waitress and we did not get to see her until app 2:00 in the afternoon. Fortunately most of our relatives lived in Pointe St Charles , a short 20 min bus ride from The Home and so we were able to be with extended family until our mother got off work and we could celebrate Christmas with her.

For the remaining two Christmases that I was at Weredale we continued to visit the relatives but spent less time there and then headed off to the South Shore where my mother had returned to the family home. I have always been one to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty and so while there were many rules and regulations including the threat of being sent to the infamous boys farm at Shawbridge in the Laurentians( a much tougher place than Weredale) if we got out of line, there were, in hindsight, some benefits as well.

Two such come to mind quite readily. The first was the fact that most of us residents were fortunate to have two Christmases each year. One with our family and one sponsored by Weredale. On the Sunday before Christmas after compulsory Chapel service, Santa Claus appeared on stage in the main auditorium and everyone of the residents received a few gifts , usually very practical pieces of clothing, socks, pyjamas, a vest sweater with a diamond pattern etc and some candy, usually red and white striped candy canes, and for the younger residents, a toy of some sort..

The other positive event was the annual Christmas dinner at the Venerable Mount Royal Hotel. Both the Montreal and Westmount Rotary Clubs were sponsors of Weredale. In the summer they would each show up at our summer camp on separate occasions with a multitude of prizes for the winners of field and water sport competitions organized for that day.

In the winter we would be their guests for Christmas dinner. The Christmas dinner for us was a grand affair and immediately after school on the special day we got all dressed up in our best bib and tucker and were taken by Uncle Harry’s School bus from the corner of Dorchester and Atwater to the Mount Royal on Peel Street.

There we had the full treatment of appetizer, tomato juice , Turkey dinner with all the trimmings and apple pie and ice cream for dessert. The real benefit however was the special training we would receive each year in preparation for the big day. Again, following chapel service on the two Sundays preceding the dinner downtown , Mrs. Craig, the Head Lady at the home responsible for all health, food,clothing and Laundry operations would take us through all of the proper rules of etiquette for such a grand night.

She was determined that despite our situation there would be no reason for us to be ignorant of which fork to use for each part of the meal ,which side our bread plate and water glass were on, what to do with the napkin etc.

We were taught all the rules and then were required to practice at our regular Sunday roast beef dinner until we would know our way around the table as correctly as any one of our Rotarian hosts. As I sit here writing this greeting I can visualize Mrs. Craig ,hair tightly curled , not a strand out of place, in her crisp starched nurses’ uniform taking us through, in her Scottish brogue, the list of table do’s and don’ts 50 plus years ago.

I obviously didn’t realize way back then ,that those important lessons would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life but at some very special occasions that I attended over the years I have thought of and been truly grateful to a tiny gracious lady who taught me that regardless of one’s situation there was no reason whatsoever for her Weredale Boys, as she called us, to be bereft of good manners and proper etiquette.

And so, not a Christmas dinner goes by that I do not, in my mind’s eye, raise my glass to Mrs. Craig and wish her Merry Christmas in sincere appreciation of what she taught us and likewise from our house to yours I wish you Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas , Merry Christmas and as Mrs. Craig would admonish “ Mind your manners”.

Thanks John McC.

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