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What If?

by Richard H. Liddell

Hugh Beaton Elementary School, Grade 8, 1958-59, Windsor, Ontario. Richard Liddell is bottom row left, Audrey Stewart is 2nd row right.

In the summer I received this e.mail: I’m trying to locate Richard Liddell, who wrote the article entitled “The Christmas Dance” (December 2002, The TIMES.) Do I have the right person? Beth Reidy

Thinking I was perhaps about to be sued for something I had written, I sheepishly replied:

Beth, you have located the author of “The Christmas Dance.” Unfortunately, the last name Reidy does not ring any bells in my cobwebbed brain cells.

She replied: My mom was Audrey Stewart. A neighbour came across your article in The TIMES [Audrey was featured in the story]. I was so touched by what you wrote. My mom died when I was nine, and a lot of my memories are limited to everyday things. People who knew her always say what a great person she was, but I never had a real sense of her until I read your story. I want to let you know what you did for me, and that I will treasure that story always as a reminder of what a special lady my mom was. Thank you again, Beth Reidy

Wow! There are times as I am writing my “cute” stories that I wonder if anyone really cares. I have led a charmed life with few adversities and so my stories lack the depth, power and passion of fellow TIMES writer, Tom Paré. Beth’s response validated all those moments and I guess even my simple stories do have merit.

With Beth and her sister, Brenda’s permission, here is another story about their mother.

A special friend

The dictionary had Audrey in mind when it defined “cute.”Short and tiny with a head of jet black, curly hair and eyes dark as a gypsy whose smile was at times mischievous. She didn’t beat around the bush and forced her friends to get to the point. I was one of those friends. I wasn’t cute. I was a geek. My greatest asset was my pocket protector, which soaked up large quantities of ink from the cartridge in my PaperMate pen.

Audrey loved to fight. Being the tiniest person in our class made this interesting. I remember one baseball game in the boy’s schoolyard at Hugh Beaton Public School when there was a close call at first base. Audrey said she was safe. Max, the biggest kid in the school, declared her “out.” Audrey attacked. At first Max laughed, then shouted, “Hey, that really hurts!” We had to pull them apart.

Sometimes Audrey and I liked to swear, but never in front of adults. I had read my first swear word on the urinal in the boy’s change room at Hugh Beaton and asked my mom what it meant. She carefully explained all the swear words she knew except for two and asked me not to use them, even with my friends. I let her down almost immediately. Audrey let her mom down too. When Audrey swore I would laugh. Somehow those words coming from that petite frame just seemed incongruous and as I laughed, she would get upset and the words became louder until she too would start to giggle.

I was the fastest boy and she was the fastest girl sprinter in our public school. Because of her tiny size Audrey probably ran twice as many strides as the others but she usually broke the tape at the other end. Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales cartoons will give you some idea of her footwork.

We were on the Safety Patrol and in grade eight, I became the captain and Audrey, moved to my previous post at Kildare. As captain, I was supposed to visit each post at least once weekly but every morning I would arrive at Kildare and spend the entire time with Audrey, as I did at noon and after school.

We loved music and I would bring my transistor radio to our corner and we’d listen to CKLW play the hits. Audrey was so upset the day when Richie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly died when their plane crashed. Each of those artists were hot and had current hits in the Top Ten.

(One hot, spring Saturday years later, when I was trying to study in residence at college, someone cranked up Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.” A few people shouted, “turn it off!” but most countered with, “turn it up!” I thought of Audrey and “the day the music died.”)

Audrey loved to dance. She had an amazing hop style. Her daughter Beth confirmed this love when she revealed to me that when she and her sister took tap lessons as children, Audrey took them too.

In my story, “The Christmas Dance,” there is a moment when Audrey was the only person who would dance with me at the Safety Patrol Dance after I had put my foot in my mouth and completely embarrassed myself and two of my friends. She made me forget my bumbling stupidity.

Turning point

Neither one of us had a date for the grade eight graduation so went together. It wasn’t really a date, but I have to admit that Audrey liked to slow dance really close and to a disgusting pubescent teenager like myself, that was just fine. As we danced to Sonny James sing “Young Love,” she placed her head on my chest and as I slowly closed my eyes, I could feel those beautiful curls on my cheek.

When I said goodnight that night at her home, Audrey told me she was not going to Walkerville next year but to the High School of Commerce. I was surprised but told her we would still see a lot of each other, but she probably knew differently. Indeed, the next year, new friends at high school replaced the old.

After graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College, I worked for a short time at Brack Animal Hospital on Howard Avenue. Audrey appeared one day with Nuisance, her Siamese cat. Her beauty and size were the same and after a few awkward moments, it was like old times.

I moved to Ajax to set up my own animal hospital, returning to Windsor a few years later for a Walkerville reunion. There I learned from Audrey’s brother, that she had died.

Audrey and I never kissed or hugged or held hands except on the dance floor but I now wonder “what if?” What if she had gone to Walkerville? Would our friendship have progressed?

What I do know is that for the brief time Audrey and I were close friends and in each life, close friends (and a good pocket protector), are our most important asset. I miss her.

Beth and Brenda: I’m sorry you didn’t have the chance to know your mom longer. In the vernacular of the 1950’s, she would have been so neat to have grown up with.

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