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1953 was an Interesting Year

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By Pat Mestern

Do you remember what you were doing on June 2, 1953? I can tell you that the day dawned sunny and warm. It was a Tuesday. It had to be an important date because Beatty Bros. Ltd had declared a holiday for its workers. Most stores were closed. School children across Canada had a holiday too. Red, white and blue bunting decorated many public buildings and the British Flag was prominently flown by municipalities and residents. I can't honestly remember that the town of Fergus pinned up much bunting, but the council at that time was not much for demonstrative displays of patriotism.

The day's events had been hipped in national and local papers for weeks. There were few Canadians, or people around the world for that matter, who didn't know that June 2nd, 1953 was the date chosen for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11, in Abby Church of St. Peter, Westminister. The public mood, as one newspaper wrote, was hysterical.

Under the organizational abilities, of Bernard Marmaduke FitzAlan Howard this was the first Coronation to be broadcast live to British subjects around the world. People were up early and tuned their radios to the CBC. Those fortunate enough to have televisions were glued to their set. Some, not trusting that the new-fangled contraption would deliver the goods, had both radio and television on so that they wouldn't miss anything.

The event that closed the country down for one day was so unusual that dad bought a television set for the occasion. It was a boxy used model with a rounded screen and neat set of rabbit-ears that sat on the top. Even though, Dad had jerry-rigged an antenna of wire and coat hangers, reception at the best of times, was poor.

There were a few people in the neighborhood who didn't have a television set so the invitation went out to come watch ours. Because of the number that accepted the invitation, the television was taken outside and placed on small table by the back door where there was plenty of room. Two hours before broadcast, people began to arrive, wooden kitchen chairs in hand. They were going to be comfortable while viewing the ground-breaking event. As it became apparent that there were more neighbours showing up than anticipated, mother retreated to the house to make more sandwiches and Grandmother went to her basement to get a few more bottles of her special grape juice for a royal toast.

The pre-amble leading up the ceremony was interesting enough. Reception on the television was good, for a change. Several of the people recognized places in London that they had visited. As the Queen entered her carriage for the ride to Westminister, silence reigned. Despite the number of people, old and young, sitting around the television, there was hardly a sound other than traffic on Tower Street. Everyone concentrated on screen and hung onto every word spoken by the announcer, Richard Dimbley of the BBC . He had spent months researching British history and coronation trivia and was spouting all sorts of relevant and irrelevant facts.

Just as Queen entered the Abby, the screen went snowy. A blizzard raged on the round screen face like the best of any experienced in the great white north. You couldn't see a thing but electronic snow. Dad leaped to the fore and began adjusting his antenna. Nothing happened. He tried again by hanging the apparatus over the top of the back door. Still nothing happened. There was an audible groan went up from the assembly.

"There's nothing for it," dad said, "but to put someone on the roof with the antenna." As I was closest to the ladder, and was used to heights, he didn't have to think twice before ordering me to start climbing. Reluctantly, up I went, then leaned over the shed roof for the antenna apparatus he was holding. Up the hot shingles I went, sprouting wire coat hangers. From the chit-chat coming over the roof-line, it was apparent that the higher I got, the less snow fell down below.

I sat on the highest ridge and held my hands out in front of me. "No better," came the shout from below. So I stood and walked to the edge of the roof, overlooking the barn. There I put my antenna-sprouting hands over my head.

"Hold still," pop shouted. "Right there!" And so I did. While everyone down below continued to watch the coronation on a screen that had cleared nicely, the Human Antenna stood on the edge of the house roof with hands overhead, making like a hood ornament. To compensate for my not seeing the pageant, dad turned the television set way up so I could hear it. To make matters really interesting, a pet pigeon, who lived in a wooden open-doored cage down by the barn, decided that it was time to check things out. It flew across the yard and landed on my shoulder then proceeded to coo and peck my ear. Pigeon pie for that bird! I don't know how long I stood on the roof. I do know that the ceremony was lengthy and the prayers went on - and on - and on. When sandwiches, Queen Elizabeth cake and grape juice appeared, the antenna was quickly discarded.

Now, I have to tell you about Grandmother's grape juice. Her recipe was simple enough. Take a quart canning jar. Fill it one-half full of washed, purple concord grapes, skins on - seeds intact. Put ¾ cup of white sugar over the grapes in the jar. Pour boiling water over sugar and grapes until it flows over the side of the jar. Screw the canning lid down tight on the jar. Set the jar aside for one - two months. Drink the resultant juice diluted with water or ginger ale.

Whatever Grandmother did between the setting away and serving, some of her juice turned into very potent sweet grape wine. It was ambrosial and very addictive. Its potency crept up on the drinker. It's kick was unexpected It wasn't the first glass that did the trick; maybe not even the second.

There were several very staid older woman who watched the Coronation outside our back door. They were church-going, temperance ladies. What was the harm in some home-made grape juice, they thought as they took their third glass. Bad mistake! They went home, very happy folk. The best part of the day was the comment by one of these sweet women. Just before she tittered and tottered across the street, she patted me on the arm, and said "Don't worry dear. You didn't miss much - just a bunch of old farts running around in bathrobes and silly wigs." This from an English woman who wouldn't let a swear word past her lips!

As an aside, to celebrate the Coronation, all the town's schools and social organizations got together and put on a flashy pageant, complete with banners, songs and recitations. It was, if memory serves correctly, presented in the Fergus arena on St. George Street, site of the Fergus Curling Club. I was one of the students who represented the Catholic school. I carried a banner on a pole. For the life of me, I cannot remember what the banner portrayed. The arena was packed with people. Patriotic songs were sung. Miss Jane Craig was in charge of pulling the pageant together. She was good at that sort of thing. The event was not held on June 2 but close to the date. I do remember as I held the heavy banner aloft for what seemed like weeks, that there were striking similarities between actual Coronation and community celebration. The only thing missing was the pigeon.



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