Holiday Herald: Yuletide cheer was missing one year, and so was the car

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After I graduated from St. Mary's School on Lockhart and Pressley streets on Pittsburgh's North Side, my mom and I moved to Millvale. Having sung in the boys choir at St. Mary Church (now the Priory), I continued singing there in the men's choir.

On Christmas Eve 1960, my mom's friend, Carl, drove the three of us to Midnight Mass. Before leaving, however, he and Mom consumed a fair portion of beer.

It had snowed all day and night. Carl dropped us off at the front doors around 11:20 since I had to be in the choir loft for Christmas carols at 11:30.

"I'll park the car," he said. "It shouldn't be hard getting a close spot."

After the Mass, they were waiting for me in front of the church. It was still snowing heavily and their heads were white from standing outside for several minutes.

"Where did you park?" my mom asked Carl. "Did you get a good space like you thought?"

"I parked right around the corner on the school side of Pressley. I was wrong; there were more cars than I thought." We walked a short distance to the end of Nash Street. As we turned the bend, all cars looked identical -- white! Snow covered them completely.

"Holy hell! I cleaned the entire car off when I parked," Carl said. "That's why I missed the beginning of 'Adeste Fidelis.' I parked right past the school's side door."

We trudged through eight inches of the white stuff and reached the car. Carl wiped his face and the side window. "Hell! This isn't mine." We searched all parked cars in the vicinity, but couldn't locate Carl's. Churchgoers approached, glanced at us, started their engines, cleaned off the windows and drove away. After 10 minutes, most cars on our side were gone.

"Carl, are you sure this is where you parked?" Mom asked, shivering. "Remember, you had a lot of beers in you when you got here."

"For God's sake, Annie, I ought to know where I parked my damned car. I'm not that drunk; I got us here, didn't I?"

"Watch your language," she replied tartly. "Remember, it's Christmas Eve."

While Mom waited, Carl and I searched every car on the church end of lengthy Pressley and still couldn't find the Chevy.

He said, "Billy, let's check the school side once more. You take this side and I'll take the other. There's only about a half-dozen cars left on each side." We observed every remaining vehicle and did not find it. We sloshed back toward Mom, who was glacial on the corner.

"I don't know where the hell it could be," he whispered to me.

"There you go again," Mom said. "You know how much I hate swear words. And on Christmas Eve yet! I'm freezing just standing here in this blizzard listenin' to you cuss. Look at me. I look like a snowman. Do you suppose you parked on Lockhart instead of Pressley?"

"Maybe somebody stole it, Carl," I interjected.

"Stole it?" he said. "On Christmas Eve? Jesus, Billy, I would certainly hope not. Not on Christmas!"

"Carl, maybe he's right. Maybe somebody did steal it. Watch your tongue. How many times do I have to tell you? Especially on Christmas."

We went inside the church to get warm and consider alternatives. Mr. Markl, the choirmaster, was leaving when we entered. Carl told him of our predicament, and he phoned the police from the priest's rectory.

They arrived and checked all the cars one more time. Mr. Markl, a very nice man, drove Mom and me home.

Two days after Christmas, Carl visited.

"Sorry I didn't see you the last two days," he said. "You're not going to believe this, but Billy was right. Someone did steal my car ... on Christmas Eve!

"Can you believe that? I picked it up at the pound today on 31st Street. I couldn't go sooner, because they were closed Christmas. I had to miss work to get it. It cost me almost 50 bucks to get my own car. Do you believe that? Someone steals your car and you gotta pay to get it back. Don't that take the cake?"

intelligencer

Bill McKinley of West Deer, a retired administrator for United States Steel and Carnegie Pension Fund, can be reached at sanibill@consolidated.net. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Holiday Herald" submissions about best (or worst) holiday experiences, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published December 7, 2012 5:00 AM


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