Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Salvation Army Kettle Drive and the Snow That Came to Stay

The Salvation Army Kettle Drive and the Snow That Came to Stay

Each year it's the same thing. In November, I resist digging out my winter clothes. I delay and delay until it's been minus zero for over a week, and then finally I relent and I open up the dreaded 'box'. This year, as I unearth my winter things, I notice the slightly musty smell of the wool, the coolness of the attic and the snow gently falling. All of this releases that valve of memory from previous winters in Northern Ontario. And suddenly, I see myself at sixteen in January, wandering into the “Famous Shoe Repair”on Simpson Street.

As teenagers, my best friend and I often promenaded along the sidewalks of Simpson Street frequenting 'The Ukrainian Book Store', 'The European Bakery' (with the most amazing poppy seed bread in the world), 'Cherry's Corner', 'Morrows' Pianos', 'The Venice Grill' and, of course 'The Famous Shoe Repair Shop'. I remember how Gerry, the shoemaker, hummed to himself while he worked and his fingers were permanently stained. I loved that Gerry named his shop “Famous” and that he took the time to chat with us. And even more wonderful that his shop doors remain open to this day, as does the European Bakery!

As I reminisce, I slowly dawn my winter clothes. I am about to volunteer for the Salvation Army kettle drive and realize I may be stationed outside or near a drafty doorway. As I gently ring the bells throughout the afternoon, I remember a line from a play by John Books‒“The snow that came to stay, fell this night.” I wonder if 'this night' will be the snow that comes to stay. As I watch the snow, dozens of people stop to talk with me. One woman tells me the story of losing her brother in an industrial accident just following the war. “He survived the war, only to die back here in Canada.” A woman drops a twenty into the kettle saying, “Salvation Army saved my life so many times. Literally. I don't mind giving. I don't mind.” I have no explanation for this surge of conversation with strangers, other than the fact that the Salvation Army makes our communities kinder, gentler places. And it's snowing. Perhaps snow is our common thread. And as the months of winter fly by, I discover that this November day was indeed “the snow that came to stay.”

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