My Dad’s mother always held court with her new husband Larry and together they had a small two bedroom apartment at Dawes & Danforth Roads in Toronto. They would decorate the place with blue and red dazzling aluminum wreaths and baubles and frilly bells and bows like some Dr. Seuss cartoon come to life. But, it wasn’t until the blinding chrome aluminum Christmas tree came out that we knew it was truly Christmas with The Vernons.
It was the Christmas of ’73 when the entire extended family was all able to return to their homestead for the first time since the early 1960s. It was a rare occasion that my Dad’s sister and her daughter were able to fly in from California to complete a Vernon reunion that included six brothers/sisters, their respective spouses and no less than nine cousins in attendance. Did I mention it was a two bedroom apartment?
The women helped Gran cook the meal. The men stood on the balcony and smoked/drank, attempted to assemble toys from the instructions supplied and/or take the kiddie brood out to the park for ice-skating and tobogganing.
Grandma Vernon's Xmas 1966Then the time would come for dinner to be served. The children sat at tables in the kitchen or in the living room using TV trays while the adults sat at a massive mahogany dining room table. It was adorned with candles and a crocheted table cloth handmade by Gran. The table required a centre leaf to expand it for accommodating the size of our clan.
Montreal has always been fertile ground for DJ’s, but Sheldon Kagan took it to the next level of business and entrepreneurship. As a testament to this I caught up with the 61 year old DJ/promoter/producer between gigs to talk about his forty-five years in the music business and his dreams for the future.
SK: I am in between parties. This is my 5th day straight of events. MW: Sheldon when did the music hit you? SK: I was 15 years old living with my parents in the Snowdon, Cote des Niege area, listening to radio and at that time there was a radio announcer named Dave Boxer on the air.
I was fascinated by him and the music he was playing. I spent all my free time, when not in school, listening to his radio shows Monday to Friday 7-11pm. I became infatuated. He had this contest to win records, shirts and tickets to meet the Beatles and Rolling Stones. I entered and, for all those years, I was the number one contest winner. Even all these years later I can tell you that the contest line number was 279 4568, 276-261.
All my life, all I ever wanted was a dog. Unfortunately my older sister was severely allergic to dogs. One day after school, I passed by the local groomers on my way home. They had a new litter of party-coloured toy poodles in the front window. I noticed the runt; the smallest dog I had ever seen. She was snow white, with black ears and a black mask around her eyes. I named her Bandit. She stole my heart. I stayed until the shop closed that night, and every night thereafter.
I told my parents about her. I explained poodles had fur very close to the texture and composition of humans and people with dog allergies couldn’t be allergic to a poodle. Maybe they could come down to the shop and meet her. They did, and once they even brought my sister along. The answer of course, was still no. While Bandit’s brothers and sisters were finding homes, my having a dog was still out of the question.
The day finally arrived when I was told, someone had bought her. Bandit was going to be given away as a ‘present’ to a ‘family who would love her very much.’ My only dog in the whole world, was sold – for money - to people I did not know. I would never see her again.
Christmas eve my parents took my brother, sister and I to the groomers for my last visit to say goodbye. Bandit did not know we would never see each other again. My parents took us out for dinner after. I could not eat. I cried myself to sleep that night, the longest night of my life on the worst Christmas eve in the world.
The “rat a tat tat” stuck out in my mind and the story was so different from other Christmas carols. What got me was when he was summoned by the Magi to the nativity where, without a gift for the infant Jesus (as he was so poor) he played his drum for him with the Virgin Mary’s approval, remembering "I played my best for Him" and "He smiled at me". This got me hooked as a child as I related to the whole scene of the little boy trying to do his best with the limited things he had access to. In this case his drum.
"The Little Drummer Boy" (originally known as "Carol of the Drum") was written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennecott Davis in 1941. It was first recorded in 1955 by the Von Trapp Family Singers (Sound of Music fame) and further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. This version was re-released successfully for several years and the song has been recorded many times including Stevie Wonder - 1967, Jimi Hendrix - 1969 and the great duet of “Peace on Earth and Little Drummer Boy - 1977 by Bing Crosby with David Bowie.
My memories of Christmas are filled with family, love and music. Growing up in Montreal, a white Christmas was pretty much a lock. Montreal winters were snowy, cold and long. As kids we didn’t notice because we all enjoyed outdoor activities, tobogganing, playing hockey and pleasure skating. Pleasure skating was actually a great and affordable Friday night date for young people. You could pick up your favourite girl, take her to the local rink or pond and skate away the evening, ending it with a hot chocolate and a kiss, if you were lucky.