Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2003
It came upon a midnight clear . . .
A lawyer's act of compassion turned a mother and child toward a new life path and happiness
By PAT McDONALD
Special to the WCR
Rocky Mountain House
Each of us can remember a Christmas that seems to stand out and tug at our very souls. Mine happened several years ago when I was a struggling and inexperienced young lawyer, still unsure of my future journey.
It was Christmas Eve 1961 and my wife and I were looking forward to attending midnight Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary. Going with us would be our one-year old daughter Carolyn, born the year before in December.
A telephone call
It was around 10 p.m. when the phone rang. My wife answered hoping it was our parents calling from Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
"It's the police station."
I took the phone and was informed by a young police constable friend of mine that I should come down and meet with a young girl who had just been arrested. I meekly protested but realized that it was unusual for the police to call and was assured that, "you should listen to this."
When I arrived at the old police station in downtown Calgary I was ushered into a cell by a matron where a young girl of 16 was crying on the edge of a cell bunk. Snuggled on the bed all wrapped up was a tiny baby girl of very few months.
The young mother, a runaway from a southern Alberta town, had been struggling to make ends meet. Her little amount of cash had depleted and she found herself desperate on a Christmas Eve in Calgary, deciding to sell her services - something she had never done nor even thought about until that evening.
The very first person she approached was the young constable going off duty and in his street clothes. To compound his amazement, the young mother had her baby daughter with her.
So started the chain of events that brought me to the police station on that long ago Christmas Eve.
The cells were empty when I arrived. She related that she had run away several months before, frightened to tell her parents she had become pregnant. She had no previous record and was not known at all to the police. The look in her terrified eyes told me everything.
I asked her if she would like me now to contact her mom and dad but she was afraid that they would be ashamed of her and would not want to talk to her. I phoned a Crown prosecutor friend who, after being told the circumstances, phoned a mutual friend, a police magistrate. In the meantime I called her parents. They were overwhelmed with emotion that their daughter had been located. I also explained that they were now grandparents.
When the prosecutor and magistrate arrived it was decided, the arresting officer concurring, that justice would not be served by having this young mother enter the processes of the criminal courts. A makeshift court was convened and charges were withdrawn.
The young mother and child were placed into my custody to deliver to her parents. A bus was leaving for her hometown around midnight and we all decided to accompany her and her young daughter to the bus depot. She had no money so each of us chipped in to gather enough money for her ticket. We got her safely on board.
As the young mother gave each of us a hug, and climbed the steps of the Greyhound, it was difficult not to muster tears.
I hurried off to get my wife and young daughter to attend midnight Mass. We would be late for this celebration of another young mother and her newborn child.
A letter explains
Many years later, a letter tracked me down:
"Dear Mr. McDonald, you may not remember me, but I have never forgotten you or those other kind men who helped me so many Christmases ago. I was the young mother you put on the bus with my young daughter sending me back to my parents and a whole new life. . . .
"I know that I can never repay you but I want you to know what your acts of kindness did. I am happily married now, a practising nurse, with four lovely children.
"I was so afraid that Christmas Eve. I don't know what fate placed me in your hands that evening and I shudder now to think what could have happened to my life and that of my daughter if I had not been arrested that evening.
"Thank you for the greatest Christmas gift I ever received."