Bencher's Diary: A bencher’s Christmas story

The following story was first published 27 years ago, and I have adapted it to the present. It is entirely the offspring of my imagination, but it is a happy tale and the circumstances could have been true. It is my gift to you with best wishes of the season.

Who says you can’t fall in love at the corner of Queen and Bay? It happened a month before last Christmas. I had just left another Convocation at Osgoode Hall, and I was in a dour mood.

I often say that my job as a bencher is an easy one. When considering any proposed policy, I look at it through the eyes of a sole practitioner, and I always ask myself what my colleagues in the trenches would think about the issue. That perspective has kept me grounded through all my bencher years, but I am not necessarily happy when I am one of the voices of dissent.

When I left Osgoode Hall that day my countenance was as grim as the facade of that venerable
building, for I had once again taken my accustomed lumps during a major debate. It was a typically dreary winter’s day, the sun vacationing in Florida with all other right-thinking Canadians, and the falling snow was turning to slush on the downtown streets.

Storming back to my office, oblivious to the other passers-by, I crossed the intersection of Queen and Bay only to collide head-on with what appeared to be two huge Christmas shopping bags perched atop two rather attractive legs. Gift-wrapped presents were scattered hither and yon, and I quickly set down my briefcase to make some attempt at remedying the damage I had done.

Over the years I’ve gradually reconciled myself to some of my personality quirks. In my university days, I was glumly winding my way back home after picking up an English essay with a rather dismal mark (the penalty for disagreeing with an arrogant professor), when I noticed my current heartthrob. It was then I first learned that romance and more worldly concerns could not coexist in my mind.

The ensuing years must have mellowed me, for as I was putting what I thought to be the last of the scattered gifts back in the shopping bags, I saw how pretty their owner was. I tendered my profuse apologies, but as I started to walk away, I heard an ominous crunch beneath my right foot and a mechanical voice slowly gasp, “I’m Donald Duck.”

“Well, Gary, my boy,” I said to myself, “you’ve done it now.” I looked up to see tears trickling from the pretty young woman’s eyes.

“I’ve only been divorced for a few months,” she said, “and my kids have been having a rough time. My youngest son has been after me for a talking duck. I searched high and low for that crazy toy, and that was the last one on the shelf.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, taking her name, address, and phone number. “One of my clients is a toy distributor and I’ll get you another.” Having regained my composure, I managed to ask, “By the way, was it bilingual?”

As I left my office early that afternoon, my secretary asked if she should tell any callers that I had gone back to Osgoode Hall. “Tell them whatever you want,” I told her, “just don’t say I’ve gone on a safari to hunt down a talking duck.”

My search was successful, and on Christmas Eve I dropped over to the young lady’s apartment with her son’s present. I had no ulterior motives, for while I had given up on singles events long ago, as they were more like meetings of Misfits Anonymous, I was not looking for a divorcee with two young children in tow.

I had no intention of having tranquil weekends of reading and writing disturbed by the patter of someone else’s children’s feet.

When she invited me in, I heard classical music on the stereo and noticed a bookshelf crammed with Thackeray, Dickens, and Somerset Maugham. I had an inkling then that I was in trouble.

Ensconced on the couch was a precocious young man of nine, who, under his mother’s tutelage, was better read than many professionals. And you should have seen the rhapsodic look on the four-year-old’s face when he opened the box containing his beloved talking duck.

Well, that young lady and I have been married half a year now, so if anyone ever tells you that you can’t fall in love at Queen and Bay, don’t believe them. In fact, one of my bencher colleagues fell in love at the corner of Queen and University, but that’s another story.

Gary Lloyd Gottlieb, a Toronto lawyer, is a Law Society of Upper Canada bencher, a Toronto sole practitioner. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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