A grandpa remembers New Year’s Eve

When I was 10 on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t leave the house. I sat in the padded chair facing the gothic speaker grill of the table-model Rogers Majestic radio, my favourite thing in all the world. I thought about the wonderful year just ending.
I remembered the musty smell of seasoned boards that Harry and I had nailed to the windows of the old farm house. I recalled the 25 mile per hour drive to the station in the neighbour’s ’28 Chevy. I could almost feel the starting jolt of the Alliance-to-Edmonton local as it wheezed and puffed out of the station. Clear pictures of abandoned prairie farms, followed by never-ending forests, rocks, and lakes rotated through my mind with more clarity than a magic-lantern show.
Then came London, Ontario, and a city school, and this old house now ours, and especially our radio where I could enter into great adventures with Jack Armstrong, All American Boy, and Captain Midnight.
When I was 10 on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t leave the house so I continued my thought journey through the months just past. In memory, I walked down streets gaping at the Forest City’s trees: trees so fat I couldn’t reach around them, and so tall squirrels crossed the street on leafy bridges. My eyes bugged out to see buses that stopped at every corner; milk and bread wagons pulled by horses going door-to-door, stopping and starting without any commands; and huge blocks of ice delivered right to our ice-box. And electricity to run our lights and toaster and radio. And a toilet inside the house.
On most days the sound of powerful engines would draw me outside to watch Mosquito fighter-bombers overhead. I’d even run out at the lesser sound of a Harvard or Anson. But not on New Year’s Eve when Mom explained that I couldn’t leave the house.
When I was 10 on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t leave the house. So I sat by the radio waiting for my favourite shows to begin and thought about the things that had happened that year, 1943. Now that we lived in London, I didn’t have to ride the van for two hours to get to school; I could run through the alley, across High Street, down Tecumseh Avenue, and be there in five minutes. That part I liked, but I found it difficult in class. In this big city school I had to pay attention to the teacher all the time because we had only one grade in the room, and everything the teacher said she meant for me. In Alberta we had three grades in the room so I listened only one third of the time.
When I was 10 on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t leave the house. For weeks in school I’d heard plans for a New Year’s party. The kids would have it in the rumpus room at Brad’s house, a big brick mansion near the school. They schemed and talked, and I got excited because I’d never attended a party. I’d never seen a rumpus room. What would I wear? Would girls come to the party? What would we do? They handed out invitations, but not to me. It seems they didn’t want to invite country bumpkins. I cried, but I didn’t let them see me. Mom said, "Don’t worry; you couldn’t have gone in any case, because you can’t leave the house on New Year’s Eve."
When I was ten on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t leave the house because I had the mumps.

Ray Wiseman