You might wonder why I didn’t use Grand Falls- Windsor and Newfoundland Labrador in my title. Well the time I am writing about is before the birth of those cumbersome names . So when I speak of Grand Falls I am referring only to the part of the existing town that starts at The Exploits River and stretches north to the area of Greenwood Ave and possibly another street or two beyond.
It was traditional that every year around Christmas time the entire population of the elementary school would get a special treat. There would be one afternoon when there were no classes. Instead we’d pile on our jackets , mittens and boots and walk two by two towards the downtown part of the community. We were invited to go to a matinee at the theatre on High Street, compliments of Charlie Edwards the owner and town deputy mayor. It was a special treat for and my sister and me as movies were off limits to us. How fascinating to enter the semi lit theatre ! At the front on a low stage stood a large tree cloaked in bright coloured lights and long tinsel streamers. The tree would flash a blue colour one instan tand a green the next. A n enormous red velvet curtain in the background accentuated the festive decor. You don’t see curtains in front of screens these days but there is something special about that moment when they part and the projector kicks in to present the antics of Tweety bird and the Roadrunner.And there is little that can match the delightful hum of childrens voices filling a theatre on a school day. And to think the teachers agreed to let us miss classes to do this! As a child it never occurred to me that they would enjoy the break too. I had to become a teacher myself before that realization came to me.
High street was the main street in the town and there you would find the Royal Stores, the Co-op store, the Bay or Bowrings , the drug store, Alteens jewellers, the town hall and the post office. There were a couple of restaurants , a bake shop, candy store and building supplies store. Our school was on the same street too until they built newer ones uptown when we got into junior high grades. But the street itself was interesting. It was very wide and at one end there was an island with a stone cone shaped “dummie” in the centre. On the top of the “dummie was a light or beacon. I don’t know if it ever lit up. My memory fails me. Beyond this round about there used to be a hotel and just across from it was a park. Today there is a bank there. But I remember the park and its benches. At Christmas the town erected a massive Christmas tree which really was many trees fastened to a frame. That tree must have been about 30 or 40 feet high and when it was lit up it was very impressive.
And there was also the Christmas concert. When I was in primary school in the mid 50’s the concerts were held in the Town Hall which if you visit the town now, houses the municipal offices. The building looks the same outside but when you enter you see nothing of the auditorium , stage and wings that I remember from my childhood. All concerts were held there as well as the Kiwanis Music festival. I remember little about my stage appearances but there are little snippets. For example I remember a little pony on wheels when we were in Kindergarten. One of the boys in my class , Christopher, rolled it out onto the stage while he sang , I may be little , I may be small Giddyap giddyap boys It doesn’t bother me at all Gidyap giddyap boys My pony is my bronco he’s my pride and joy and even though I’m little I’m a real cow boy so giddyyap giddyyap giddyyap giddyyap giddyyap giddyyap boys giddyyap giddyyap giddyyap giddyyap g i d d y Y A P BOYS!
It is almost sixty years later and I still remember that song. I sang it to my children when they were young as I bounced them up and down on my legs. Today my two year old grand daughter is the cowboy and when we get to the end of the song she takes a deep breath and shouts BOYS.
My own part in this production was a breeze. And I mean I starred as a Breeze. Sound strange? I always have to explain that one. I was a breeze , You know. A gentle wind. North south east or west . I’m not sure which one. My costume was made entirely from crepe paper . It was a pink tunic with long strips of paper hanging from the waist and shoulders so they would flutter as if a breeze were moving them. I remember my mother’s reaction when I told her I was a breeze in the school play. I can imagine she was at her wits end as to what the costume would be. And if I remember correctly Mrs. Ivany another parent eased my mothers burden and made the costumes as her daughter was a breeze too. I don’t remember if I spoke in the play. But it didn’t matter because my mom and dad were as proud as peacocks to see my debut and I was just as proud to be giving it.
That was a fabulous experience for all of us as it still is for many children today . But one activity that you rarely see today is choral speech. We did it as part of the choir practise but it seems to have lost its attraction these days. It was good for our memories and exposed us to some poems that I remember still for example John Masefield’s Sea Fever and another unknown ( to me) poet’s , Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore . I don’t believe the Christmas concert restricted itself to only Christmas items as the concerts are inclined to do today. But my memory may be taking in many different experiences and combining them. But all in all the concerts were special in our community.
I don’t recall the lengthy build up to Christmas that there is today. The shopping was generally restricted to The Eaton’s and Sears Catalogue. And we had our parents well versed in what not to buy and what to buy. Usually there would be one main item of interest. I recall wanting a doll. I had told my mother and she did her best to get it for me but unfortunately that one sold out before she could order it so I got a replacement . It was just as good as the one I’d wanted so I was happy. A week or so before Christmas Eve I would spend searching through closets , under the beds and in drawers to see if I could find the presents. Some times I had success but as I grew older I lost the desire to know and preferred the surprise on Christmas morning.
Christmas Eve I remember especially for the visit from the Salvation Army band. They would cover the streets of the town and stop under various light poles and play Christmas Carols. I really enjoyed that and it is one of my most pleasant memories. I didn’t know then but I think now that they did this to raise money . Someone would always come and knock on the door . I thought they did it just to wish us a merry Christmas but now I think it was probably to solicit a donation. Nonetheless the memory is special to me. It epitomized the spirit of Christmas .
And I wanted to believe in Santa even when I had reached the age of 11 or 12 where reason prevailed. But I clung to the hope that it was all real and almost convinced myself that I could hear the reindeer and Santa land on my roof. When I was very young I actually crept down the stairs to a turn where I could peek over the rail and gain a view of the fireplace. It was my hope to catch the jolly old man at his deliveries.
We hung stockings. We were lucky enough to have a red brick fireplace which resembled the ones we saw in the magazines and story books of the day. And the grout was actually white. Today it would be challenging to find a fireplace like that. And our stockings were not fancy or elaborate. They were usually just our ordinary everyday stocking. And if we were really optimistic we would hang a long stocking, the kind that required garters or suspenders , and let them dangle from the mantle to the hearth.
In the morning the stockings held very simple things like fruit, chocolate or books of lifesavers. Those lifesavers were really neat. Toys were meant for under the tree and whatever we received we were happy with .
The next day we spent visiting our friends to see what gifts Santa had brought them. And of course we ate chips, chocolates and drank soft drinks like there was no tomorrow. And during the following days every family member got to see every relative which was quite a lot of visiting in the days where uncles and aunts were numerous. An average sized family when our parents were young was five or six children. So we were blessed with at least ten to twelve aunts and uncles and their spouses. Then counting in their children you would have over seventy close relatives. That was a lot of people to buy gifts for. But generally gift giving was for the children and from children to parentsand grand parents.
When my own children were young they had two aunts and uncles , three cousins and three grandparents. Ours was a small family but not unusual. And that size is even more common today.
And Christmas and snow just went together. You could count on it. Icicles clung to the roofs. And when television came to our town in the late 50’s we watched Shirley Temple movies. Before that we ran home from school to listen to the radio and the series Jonathan Thomas and Christmas on the Moon. It was all so exciting , so uncomplicated and short. We didn’t celebrate for three months. At the most it was two weeks. And then everything went back to normal till the next Christmas.