So where do I begin? It was 1963 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I was 15 years old attending Montreal High School and working after school at a dry cleaning store as a delivery boy. One afternoon on a cloudy, windy, rainy day I was given a delivery of two men’s suits and a ladies dress. I always liked the fresh smell of the clothes after they had been cleaned and steam pressed, covered with plastic and put on hangers. I flung them over my shoulder and started the fairly long walk up the steep hill to Sherbrooke and Atwater Streets. I was delivering to a very nice three-story walk up. Sure, they had an elevator but I was young and loved to walk up the marble steps and look at the ornamental stair decorations from the period when the building was Constructed, probably back in the 1920’s. The elevator was interesting too. It was the type that had a door with a little square window in it and when you opened the door, behind it was a sliding metal gate. I’d enter, close the gate and press the button to the third floor. It was a small elevator and could not hold too many people at once I’m sure.
I arrived at the third floor. I could hear the water swishing in my runners as I walked down the quiet hallway. You see, I was pretty wet from the pouring rain I’d walked through coming up the hill. As I approached the door where I was delivering the cleaning, I shifted the bags from my shoulder and then gently knocked at the door. An older man, somewhere in his sixties, appeared at the door with a very kind smile and twinkling eyes. Little did I know at this time that he was going to make a huge impact on my life? I could see past him as his wife came walking down the hallway and stood behind him. The front hall was adorned with a beautiful oriental carpet and at the foot of this runner was a huge clock, later to be called Big Ben by me. As the man reached out to take the clothing from me, he said something I will never forget. He said in a very soft and kind voice, boy you are soaking wet. He turned to the lady and said, Margaret, please bring this poor boy some towels so he can dry himself off. He immediately invited me in and asked me to join them for a bowl of hot soup that was prepared in the kitchen and ready to serve. My timing appeared to be excellent. Hot soup sounded so delicious to me.
I must have looked a sight to him and his lovely wife. I agreed to come in and dry off and have some hot soup. Well, to my amazement, I was welcomed into a beautiful living room full of antique furniture. Lovely oil paintings that adorned the walls. Off the living room was a very grand and ornate solid mahogany dining room suite. A sideboard with all these shiny silver things sitting on a tray as well as a big candlestick in the middle of the table with long white candles sticking from the holes. I had no idea at the time that I was looking at very expensive silverware and that I would take charge over it one day, not to own it, but to keep them shiny clean. Above the dining room table was a colorful reflection of crystal sparkling from where it hung suspended from a large circular brass holder. My mouth must have opened wide and my eyes probably the size of huge saucers as I stared at these wonderful things.
You see folks; I was from a poor family down at the very bottom of this hill. It was only an hour away yet we were worlds apart. There definitely was a class difference between these lovely folks and myself but you would never know it. They treated me so kindly, not only with their words but with their deeds. Inviting a total stranger into their suite and to share their lunch with me was beyond my wildest expectations. We had an immediate bond; I felt it strongly as I must have sighed a few times with happiness. I thanked them for their kindness and hospitality and told them I better get along now as the store Owner would be wondering where I had gotten to. The Mr. asked me if I would like to make some extra money on the weekends coming up to their place and doing chores that needed doing around their huge suite. The first big job would be cleaning all the silverware as well as cleaning the chandelier that hung above their dining room table. I told them I would talk it over with my mother and if she agreed then I would take a bus up on a Saturday morning and do this work.
The mister paid for the cleaning and gave me a dollar tip. I thanked them so much for the lunch and the drying off as well as the wonderful conversation and of course the generous tip. As I left I turned and caught from the corner of my eye the look from both of them as if they were saying, look at him, a young lad who is such a nice boy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had been fortunate to have a son like him to share with. I immediately got the feeling that this was going to be an experience of a lifetime for me and I skipped as I walked down the winding staircase and when I got to the first floor I slid down the brass railing. I held the dollar tip in my clenched hand as I rarely received such a huge tip. I usually got a quarter or at most fifty cents, so this dollar bill meant a lot to me and I was so excited to tell my mom. I shared with her what had happened that day after school at work and she was happy for me and told me son, remember there are kind people out there as well as bad ones. It looks like these people really liked and cared for you. She agreed to let me go back up the following Saturday, but of course I had to give her their telephone number so she could introduce herself as my mother and to make them aware of the times I had to return back down the hill to The Point.
My only means home was by bus and she didn’t want me to be catching too late a bus for fear of arriving home in the dark. My mother was a typical caring and loving mum and watched out for us. My head was spinning that night with thoughts of a couple of people who liked me and really showed me they did. Was this to become an adventure for me into meeting people who liked me and actually expressed kindness to me? I was use to yelling, screaming, brutality and watching abuse at my home. I felt as happy as I fell off to sleep exhausted from the day and the happiness of meeting such fine people. As I fell off to sleep that night, I’m sure pleasant thoughts went through my mind and pushed away the nightmares that I was used to having most nights from the bogey man either in my closet or under my bed.