Around & About: Month For Memories

When I recall my youth growing up in what we called Carleton, now a portion of Saint John West, glimpses of December activities flash into my mind more than those of any month of the year. And of all the memories I have, those that centre around St George’s Church, La Tour and New Albert Schools are most vivid.
In Grade four at La Tour, I conceived the idea that I would make a free standing decoration for every window of the classroom. Old La Tour was built in 1904, so it had huge windows and deep window ledges. I had bit off more than I could chew, and one day, I stayed long after the teacher had left to do the project. I worked away in the silence of the school and about 4:30pm, as it was starting to get dark, the principal, Miss Rowley walked into room, and ordered me to go home. I was so disappointed; I never finished the window sill decorating.
However, in Grade six, the same Miss Rowley was my class teacher, and announced she had purchased colored chalk, and anyone who wanted to do a Christmas theme drawing on the blackboard could stay after school and do it. So, I did that and my picture was of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.
Of course the influence in my choice was the annual Christmas Pageant at St. George’s which my father often wrote and directed, a basic retelling of the Christmas story. He’d arrange for every class of the Sunday School to do a part – Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage across the desert, shepherds in the fields, no room at the inn, angels in the skies. Dad would arrange for Shirley Jobe to have some musical interludes using singers or players she was training at her nearby Duke Street home, or use the church’s own Junior Choir. I was part of that, so I’d slip back and forth from narrator to angelic chorister. Dad had his brother Barney make a stage that fit between the pews and the chancel for all of this to happen on. It was a made- at-the-port installation, and got ricketier and ricketier each year as it dried out, and screw holes got bigger and looser. It was so noisy when the shepherds and wise men assembled, that you could not hear their voices over the snaps and groans of the staging. It didn’t matter at all… parents and grandparents knew the story, and the kids got to know it too.
In Grade seven, I switched over to New Albert and my teacher was Mrs. Blinkhorn. She encouraged the chalkboard drawings, but the new thing was that she allowed us to paint scenes on the window panels using water paints. I did one, an image of Santa, and she was happy with the result so she encouraged me to do a sketch for the school newspaper, “The Globe.” That was my first published work, and made me realize I had something I could do that was worth sharing, and Christmas storytelling, in one form or another, continues to be a joy to this day.