The heat in the store is unbearable. My face is red, sweat pours down my forehead, and my hands feel clammy. I can hardly hold the cutlery when serving customers. Six days a week of drudgery, monotony. And my ankles are swollen from standing on my feet all day. When I arrive home, I undress and collapse on my bed. I’m even too tired to eat. My life consists of work, sleep, and then work again. The noise and dust of the buses deprive me of enjoying my newspaper. But the winter months are the worst. Then I shiver.
My wife Lil is a homebody. She hates to travel. She needs the comfort and security of our small, three-room apartment. She is a slave to her routine of rising at 6:00 a.m., dusting the furniture, mopping the floors, making breakfast for our family, then relaxing on the couch in the living room. After lunch, I take her shopping for groceries. She cooks supper, washes the dishes and cleans the kitchen floor. At 10:00 p.m., she takes a bath, then goes to sleep. The next day, her routine starts over again. It never varies. On Saturday, she meets some friends at Zeller’s. On Sunday, her mother, Bubby Bobtze, and her unmarried sister Jennie, visit us. When they come I stay in my bedroom and listen to the radio.
My life would be different if my sister Rose hadn’t introduced me to Lil. As a youngster I drove my parents crazy by taking apart radios, clocks, and toys. I loved the feel of those mechanical pieces. I dreamed of becoming a radio mechanic. I would have my own shop. I wouldn’t have a boss constantly looking over my shoulder, criticizing my salesmanship and lowering my pay. My store would be filled with battery testers and vintage radios, capacitors, resistors, dials, knobs, connectors, tubes and lamps. I’d sell and repair radios and phonographs. I’d charge a fee my customers could afford, offer them coffee and cookies, and invite them to sit in comfortable chairs to chat or read the newspapers while they waited from me to repair their appliances. I’d always ask about their health and their families.
Let me go back a little. My parents and I left China in the 1930’s and arrived in Montreal before WW II. I carried with me my dream of opening a radio shop. I figured I’d marry and have a family before I opened my shop, so I married Lil and we had two daughters. It was time for me to realize my goal. However, I didn’t have the cash to start a business. I asked my brother Norman to lend me $300, but he refused. At that point, my ambition crumbled. Since I had to feed my family, I became a salesman at Pascal’s Hardware Store at Craig and Bleury.
But all was not lost. I saved enough money to buy a tester and some parts. I began to repair the radios of friends and relatives at home on the weekends if I wasn’t exhausted. I set up my workshop in the kitchen between mealtimes. Then I stored the equipment under my bed. This solution was far from what I’d imagined, but it was a labour of love. Neighbours began to flock to our apartment on Park and Bernard. There was nothing I couldn’t fix. If I didn’t have the proper parts, I improvised with nails, screws, sticks and glue. Besides radios and phonographs, customers brought me toasters, toaster ovens and mechanical toys.
I remember a ten-year-old girl who, with tears in her eyes, brought me Amanda, her walking doll. The wires attaching Amanda’s legs to her torso had split in half. The doll could no longer walk. The little girl watched while I carefully pulled the wires and legs from her doll’s torso and then re-attached them. The child’s eyes sparkled with joy and she smiled as she and Amanda walked to the neighbouring apartment. As I watched them go down the hall, I felt a moment’s relief from what seemed like the emptiness of my life.