Imagine a cold afternoon, in town. It’s a town so young that, if it were a human, it would not yet have taken its first steps- and already it’s bursting with 1,200 people, with shops and hotels and a school, with rutted frozen-mud streets and hastily-erected wood houses. It’s early December, and the cold and dark are closing in, but the shops are full of shining decorations, messages of good cheer, boxes of chocolates, advertisements for exotic delicacies like bananas, Japanese oranges, dates and figs, hauled from distant, sun-struck lands on puffing, belching steamships, then across the frozen Rockies on special heated rail cars.
Imagine, in the brand-new Opera House, a gaggle of fidgeting, sweaty kids, crammed onto a wooden stage barely big enough to hold them all, in a crowded hall that smells of damp wool and tobacco and smouldering coal.
Imagine the rosy faces of the families and friends, the hall filled to bursting with neighbours and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, the laugher and cheers and proud smiles and wet boots shuffling on the varnished board floors.
Imagine that you are one of the children onstage, say, eight years old, scratchy in your starched Sunday clothes, trying to remember the words to the song you have practiced for days, twisting your neck to find your Mom and Dad in the rows of chattering faces. You can just see them, over by the stove, Dad in his good suit, Mom holding your brother in her lap. The director walks out, and makes a short speech. Then, he lifts his hand, and all the eyes on the stage follow it like a magnet. The piano rolls out a few cheerful introductory chords. You open your mouth, and, by some miracle, the right words spring out. The concert begins.
They twirl flags and spin hoops and recite poems. The boys belt the popular song “Canucked ‘Em Through the Window” at the top of their lungs, with no style and no skill but lots and lots of enthusiasm. Dads and Moms and sisters and brothers and neighbours clap their hands and stomp their feet and sing along with the words. Outside, the mountains swallow up the sun, and in the darkening air the windows of the Opera House gleam with gaslight, like defiant little torches against the face of the night. The people inside sing as they have always sung, laugh as they have always laughed, louder and merrier and kinder to overcome everything they have overcome to be here, in Hosmer, on this day.
They sing of light in the darkness, and hope in place of fear.
For this town.