a peek inside the fishbowl

22 Dec, 2006

Eulogy for a neighbour

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro

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, 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.


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5 Responses to "Eulogy for a neighbour"

1 | Lex

December 22nd, 2006 at 12:18 pm

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That is so sad. All of it. Well, okay, not the part about the Hot Latte from a friend, and Andy’s soft spot for Sarah. Those are things to hold on to and share. Because those are the things that bring the light.
May tomorrow be a little brighter than today.

2 | Tanya Scott

December 22nd, 2006 at 12:18 pm

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Hi Andrea,

Through grades 6, 7, and 8 while I attended Broadview PS my friends and I would walk past his store before and after school. At the time, the bell jingled overhead as you opened the door to enter, the counter held countless jars of penny candy and the racks contained a multitude of chips, chocolate bars and sugary snacks. Our gang all gave him a hard time – his moniker was around even then; we would taunt him mercilessly and as he chased us out, often with a broom waving menacingly in hand, he would yell “You! You get out of my store. Never come back!” banning us, for the day. We would repeat this routine for those years, each and every day. During the warmer months, it became the meeting place for the neighbourhood kids and their popsicle treats, often spending an hour or two hanging out in front by the steps.

Though he had a brusque manner, a kind heart shone through. Regardless of how he had been treated, he always offered sanctuary within the store and defended the kid(s) against others when the group(s) became unruly.

I share in the sorrow for Andy’s passing. I smile with the fond childhood memories.

3 | BeachMama

December 24th, 2006 at 5:03 pm

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Andrea, You did a good job with your Eulogy. Although I don’t think I have ever met Andy. I feel as though I knew him through your words. There are not enough Andy’s out there willing to take a chance and open a little store. The world was a better place because he was in it.

4 | a peek inside the fish bowl

December 27th, 2006 at 12:14 am

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[...] The Christmas holiday started with a death and a funeral. Not a great beginning, least of all for the family of the person who passed away.There was a wake on Friday, we didn’t go to that. The funeral was scheduled for the next morning. Mark wondered whether we should take the girls, but there was no question in my mind. We had to go, we all had to go. Andy was part of all of our lives, but especially the girls. Emma and Sarah had known him their whole lives. [...]

5 | a peek inside the fish bowl

December 26th, 2007 at 7:16 pm

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[...] I don’t do it very often, but last week I was reading back in my archives for this time last year. I’d temporarily forgotten we were going through something similar last year too. [...]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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