Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Yule tale a lesson for boys who peek

Story brings to life kids' worst horror

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A Christmas horror story.

That was the tale told beneath the snow-quilted rooftop and chimney-smoke tendrils of the Redekop household each Christmas.

Note: A regular Open Road will return next time.


Of course, we always had a nativity scene at our house that told the Christmas story just to look at it. Someone would invariably rearrange the figures for fun. Occasionally, one of my gun-totin' cowboy figures would wander into the stable to embellish the story a bit. This is a holdup! Hand over the baby!

No, the story told on snowy winter nights in our Kildonan Drive home, overlooking Fraser's Grove Park, was the chilling tale of the Epp boys.

We'd never met the Epp boys. We didn't want to. They would have been too psychologically scarred by events that Christmas.

Their parents had warned them. Why didn't they listen? As Christmas drew near, their parents warned the boys that whatever they did, they must not go into the parents' closet.

I'm not sure where Mr. and Mrs. Epp were at the time of the incident. Perhaps they were in the basement. Most likely, they had gone out. Parents left kids alone at a younger age back then.

When the parents returned, the boys were so caught up in playing with the toys in their parents' closet that they didn't even hear them. They were only roused from their rapture by the mighty roar of their father standing in the doorway.

The very next day, Mr. Epp returned all their presents to the store.

The boys were in a state of disbelief. Christmas morning arrived and there were no presents under the tree. The boys cried and cried. They cried all Christmas morning and all afternoon. Their eyes were bloodshot from crying so hard. (My dad seemed to relish telling this part of the story.) At some point, they probably wiped away the tears and vowed to hate their father for the rest of their lives. Then they cried some more. But parents were strict back then. Their father wouldn't give in. "He was tough," my dad would say. Beastly is a word we might use today. The boys received no presents that Christmas.

My brothers and I were wide-eyed to hear the story. Up to a certain age, there is no horror worse than not getting presents at Christmas, the greatest day of the year. My parents' closet, with its three sliding doors, could be seen at the end of a long hallway in our house. I erased any thoughts as quickly as they entered my head.

In retrospect, it was a sort of "Adam and Eve meet Christmas" story. The closet was "the tree," its contents "the apple," and the giftless Christmas the symbolic fall from Eden.

But this is not a made-up story. My dad went to school with the boys at Lord Kitchener School, now called John Pritchard School. At least one family member moved to the West Coast, I believe.

Today, I wonder how many families like ours heard their story and heard it on an annual basis. At our house, it became tradition. There was the Christmas tree, the nativity scene, the wreath on the door, cherry mousse, the story of the Epp boys, screwdrivers (my dad liked a vodka and orange juice on Christmas morning), and Lebkuchen (Christmas cookies).

That is, I wonder if the Epp family has any idea that their story went viral in the old-fashioned sense, told from family to family, handed down from generation to generation. (Of course, I have told the story as a parent, too.) Their family ended up doing a lot of good in the world in a backhanded kind of way. Their lesson was our lesson without paying so steep a price.

So to all you kids out there of a new generation, remember the haunting tale of the Epp boys. Temptation can be a frightful thing. Have yourself a merry, scary Christmas. Aoooooow!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2011 A14

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