A belated Christmas gift in Pouch Cove
CBC makes good on a misstep made decades ago, during a yuletide broadcast
This is a story about a little girl, a radio program, and a Christmas gift that took a long time to find its way home.
And, it has a happy ending.
Let me tell you how all this came about.
One of the unexpected pleasures of presenting archival sound recordings on Radio Noon each week is when a listener lets me know he or she has a personal connection to the story.
"That was my grandfather. I haven't heard his voice in years."
"That was my mother. She died last year. It was bittersweet to hear her voice, but I'm so glad I heard it again."
Or, "That was me. I didn't know you still had that."
Sometimes, comments like these lead to yet another story worth telling. This is one of them.
Christmas at ...
Over the past couple decades, CBC Radio has featured excerpts — sometimes full rebroadcasts — from a series of programs in the Archives called "Christmas at..." Baie Verte or Winterton or Fogo Island or one of about a dozen or so communities.
This series was the brainchild of W.F. (Bill) Galgay, CBC Radio's first station manager in the province. In fact, Galgay hosted the first program in the series and several more besides.
The idea was to get CBC Radio into rural parts of the province — places that normally didn't receive any coverage unless it was strictly news-related — to involve some of these small communities in CBC's Christmas programming.
In November and December, reporters, producers and sound technicians would descend upon a place, record church services, school concerts, house parties, and seek out some of the old-timers or "characters" in the community to give the program its flavour.
The half-hour show would be broadcast on Christmas Day and then repeated on Boxing Day.
The series began in 1950 and over the next 15 years, featured Christmas celebrations in communities throughout the province.
The first program in the series took listeners to Pouch Cove, just outside St. John's. Click here to hear the full program.
Schoolchildren sang songs in the Christmas concert, including a rousing version of Jingle Bells with bell accompaniment.
"C is for Christmas and also for cheer," recited one Kindergarten student. "H is for happiness straight through the year," chanted another, and so on they continued with their Christmas greetings.
After the concert, their parents kicked up their heels at a square dance in the fishermen's hall, the floor buckling and heaving. A floor beam cracked, but that "only made the floor more springy" said one of the dancers.
On Christmas Eve and the following day, people attended church services.
And finally, on Christmas Day, the program dropped in on fisherman Harold Bragg and his family. The highlight was when Joyce, the youngest of eight children, opened her presents of a pair of fur-lined boots, a sweater, and a music box.
Revisiting Christmas at Pouch Cove, 2005
In December 2005, Radio Noon hosted a Christmas sale and live broadcast from what is now the Suncor Energy Fluvarium. The Women's Institute had a table next to the CBC table.
I began chatting with one of the ladies at the WI table about the work I did in the archives, when she said she'd been recorded by CBC at Christmas many years ago.
I couldn't believe my ears. It was Joyce Bragg, now Joyce Manning, of Torbay. She well remembered that Christmas at Pouch Cove, even though she'd only been 11 years old.
Radio Noon host Anne Budgell invited her to drop by the studio a couple days later to talk about her memories of that Christmas more than 50 years earlier. Joyce remembered the CBC reporter coming to her home in early December to record her family. She certainly remembered those fur-lined boots.
And she had a revelation to make.
"[CBC reporter] Dick O'Brien said, 'We have a music box here, Joyce,' and he said, 'You have to pretend that this music box is yours — that Santa brought it," she said. [Click here to listen to Anne's full interview with Joyce.]
Manning added that back then, she didn't get many toys for Christmas. Her gifts were more practical. But she was grateful for what she did receive.
"So the music box, that was all fake?" exclaimed Anne.
"I said, 'Oh gosh, I've got a music box.' And he took it and put it back in the box when he was finished. And I was disappointed because I thought I was going to get it," laughed Joyce.
Fast-forward to this Christmas
That didn't sit well with Anne Budgell in 2005. And it didn't sit well with me in 2012 either. So a couple weeks ago, my colleague Vik Adhopia and I visited Joyce Manning at her home in Torbay. [Click on the video above to see Vik's report.]
In my bag, a brightly-wrapped Christmas gift that was long overdue.
It contained a music box. Not the one she'd played all those years ago, but a replacement. A gold-coloured plaque affixed to the box reads:
To Joyce from CBC 2012 / 1950 Christmas at Pouch Cove
"That's a long wait," she laughed. "You're not going to take it back, are you?"
No Joyce, it's yours to keep.
It's for Christmas at ... last.