Epworth Circle and surroundings, Niagara Falls. Feeling dizzy yet? GOOGLE EARTH

A January adventure best not repeated

Before the concert, John dropped me off at the auditorium door and went to park the car. ‘Twas the week before Christmas, when listeners were stirred by a concert of carols and rousing spirituals, sung in the Niagara Centre Academy auditorium, on Epworth Circle, in The Falls. Our children were home, nestled snug in their beds. We were snuggly too, but mostly because we were having a rare romantic and musical night out by ourselves.

“The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of mid-day” to the school below. Like a hub, the school grounds were surrounded by two circular streets, connected by short roads like spokes. Around this was the straight city grid. The oddly shaped city blocks surrounding the school just beg for people to get lost. But we didn’t get lost. Well, not really.

After the performance, the cold outside quickly brought us down from our musical high. People were streaming every which way to find their cars. John said he would get the van because of the drizzle and my wonky knee, but I insisted on going with him, not wanting him to get lost. Besides, walking in the dark with your loving hubby is good stuff. And, yes, he had memorized where he had left the van.

“Two blocks left on the circle and turn right. The van is parked a few houses down.”

We walked there, but no van.

“Must be three streets down then.”

No van.

“One more street over?”

No van. Soon we were back where we started—we thought! Were the two sides of the school mirror images of each other? Did we see the little striped brick outbuilding before, or are there two of them?

“Let’s go around once more and try to keep track of street names. Too bad our umbrellas and maps are in the car,” I said wearily. The streets were by now empty of concertgoers and their cars. They were empty of everybody and everything, except for the darkness and drizzle: forbidding, sinister and cold. The snuggly, romantic feeling had dried up.

“The van must be here. How could we miss it?” John groaned.

We frantically checked out a beige van with a crumpled bumper parked in a driveway—maybe some teenagers had taken our van for a joyride and left it there. No, not ours. The covered car on the side street—too small. The van without the Dodge star on the hood —maybe it had been knocked off. No, not ours. An inner prayer, “Oh God, please, please let us find the van!”

“I feel like we are just going in circles,” John said.

“Of course you do. We are! Let’s go around the outer circular road, just in case you forgot a corner.”

I felt a little righteous even though I was assigning a bit of blame. Around once. And around twice. An hour and a half of walking and peering down side streets left us cold, sore, wet, hurting, and discouraged. It was almost midnight. We had to face reality—the van must be stolen.

Wearily, we trudged to the main road and an all-night Blockbuster Video store, where we phoned the police. We also asked to use a washroom. “No!” So we had another walk down deserted streets to find an all-night donut shop with an available restroom and then back to the video store to await the police.

After a friendly policeman fruitlessly drove us around the area, he said, “Too bad. Someone stole it. Minivans and Hondas vanish swiftly. If thieves used your van for a smash-and-grab, just hope you don’t see it again, as it will be wrecked. Not a nice Christmas present. Nice to meet you folks, but too bad it had to be this way.”

“Just one of the perks for parents of a policeman,” another officer explained, as he gave us a courtesy drive home to Fenwick. There we mourned our plundered van and fell miserably into bed. The next day we’d begin looking for a replacement. We missed our van already. Our prayer changed to one for acceptance and patience.

A phone call jarred us awake at five a.m. The police had found the van! Undamaged!

By six-thirty, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, we were in The Falls, with a map, locating the street the policeman named. And there was our van: undamaged and waiting patiently for us. I wanted to give it a big hug. It had stayed in its place and it was innocent.

John was the guilty one. He had been disoriented by the turn-around he had made when he entered the first one-way-circle—the wrong way. He did go two blocks down and around the corner, just as he said, but went two blocks up a spoke, not around the circle. In doing so, he ended up on a one-block-long tiny, hidden, alley-like street that even the policeman hadn’t found when he drove us around.

“See,” said John, “I wasn’t wrong when I said two blocks and around the corner.” And they say women have to have the last word.

So what did we get out of the evening? A great concert with an unexpected adventure; our van back, albeit with a parking ticket; and both our prayers answered. A great Christmas present!