I am alive and someone else is not.
I am sitting here in front of my sun lamp with a hot latte that was brought by my favourite person in the whole world. It is days before Christmas. The grass is green. The sun is breaking from behind the clouds. My family is healthy, we are all happy, yet at the same time, the same, beautiful, awful time, the world of a family down the street has changed irrevocably.
A father, a husband, died last night. Andy died. Andy died. Andy is dead. We are short one person around here. And I don’t even know his last name.
Andy has lived in Westboro for years, more than 30, perhaps. He was a neighborhood icon, a cornerstone. He owned Roosevelt Confectionary on the corner of Princeton and Roosevelt Ave. here in Westboro.
He’d been sick for some time. The illness was written on his face, his clothes sagged around him. They say it was stomach cancer.
He was a character. We called him “our own personal neighborhood watch program.” In the summer he sat out on the steps, watching everything go on around him. He was nosy too. It always made Mark and I laugh.
“So you got a new screen door?” He asked after the service truck pulled away. Or “You’re getting a new roof? How much you pay for that? Why don’t you do it yourself?”
It was Andy vs. some local teenagers. They had a thing. He growled at them. They shoplifted. All the candy bars were kept behind the counter for a reason. Andy was also the target of a lot of racism. Drunken teens from the neighborhood sometimes congregated on the corner in front of his house. In the wee hours we could hear them taunting him. They called him Pakie Jack even though he wasn’t from Pakistan. I think he was more annoyed by this than anything.
Mark remembers Andy’s daughter, then maybe eight or nine, standing on the front porch yelling at them as they ran down the street: “get the fuck out of here!” I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up with that.
There was vandalism too. Spray painting the siding, pumpkins lobbed at his door. I was never surprised to see a police car pulled up beside the store.
His wife worked behind the counter sometimes, as did his sister. Her English was good, and she and I chatted sometimes. I remember being in the store, waiting to pay for my milk while a young woman in front of me fumbled with her wallet. “I just broke up with my boyfriend” she explained, “and I don’t have any money.” The sister said it was okay, pay me some other time.
The store was always open at 7 a.m., closed at 10:00, ideal for our late night cravings and early morning milk run. But I don’t know how they managed, how could they made a living selling popsicles in the summer and the occasional bag of chips?
Andy had more than his share of crap to deal with. But he was kind, so kind to our family. He never failed to give Emma and Sarah a small candy – a chewy lizard or a gummy peach – when we were there. He had a soft spot for Sarah. She liked him and never failed to wave or say shout hello when we passed.
I often send the girls there to pick up emergency supplies when dinner is on the stove: a block of cheese, a tin of tomato sauce, a container of sour cream. Whoever was in the store always helped them find what they were looking for and sent them home with the correct change. I was, and am,Â grateful to live close to a neighborhood corner store. They’re a dying breed. What will happen to it now?
Last night I went for a walk, and on the way home I noticed a few extra cars in his driveway. Two men were talking on the step. They weren’t speaking English. I turned to look at them. They turned to look at me. I noticed there were Christmas lights in the window.
Isn’t that nice, I thought. Things must be okay in there. They put the Christmas lights up. Was I ever wrong.
Oh friends. I am so sad today.