Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Fight, the Escape, and the Policeman

We were living at 2246 Gallagher Ave in Winnipeg. We had just moved in and I was about fourteen years old. We lived in a two-story house and the neighborhood was a melting pot, but mostly Caucasian. We had one black fellow in our high school, which was a fair sized school.

I began to get acquainted with the surroundings and the people. Down on the corner was the grocery store run by Joe and Oscar Kantor, with help from their mother. They had a butcher shop and grocery store and delivered groceries in the area. They were always pleasant to their customers and were kind and thoughtful in many ways. Grandma Kantor would cook up something every once in a while and call me over to take it home.

Next door to our house were Arthur Stubel and a couple of blocks away, his cousin Oscar Loeffler. They were great guys and we became life long friends, although our paths have not crossed much these past few years.

Around the corner was a movie theatre and some other stores in an area known as Weston.

The homes were close together and the streets were narrow. So that was the environment, which was quite pleasant, but things at home were another story.

Mom and dad were fighting constantly and more than once I left the house because the language and the bickering were rubbing me raw and I just had to remove myself from it.

Dad was ignorant, without any schooling, and refused to learn. Mom had a sharp tongue and worked my Dad over in spades. Over the years the two of them fought and it was never pleasant.

I remember Mom throwing a knife at my Dad, which stuck in the door and gave us all a fright. Another time he was complaining about the food. Mom was serving spaghetti again, to make the money last, and he mouthed off about it. She walked over to the stove, picked up the pot of spaghetti, and dumped it all over him. That was funny but then they got a little rough so all of us kids ran for cover.

The fighting was always over money and Dad’s unwillingness to learn to read and write. He was a construction worker and it sometimes was lean pickings when the work was not steady. Our family was poorer than church mice.

Mom kept a low profile with the neighbors. They all liked her but she was another story at home. I understood why but it didn’t help much.

The police were called to our house a couple of times. One of the times I had made sure my brothers and sisters were OK. I knew when to leave and when not to leave. This time the cops were there and I was totally embarrassed. I felt insecure and my frustration grew.

I took off. I walked for about fifteen minutes, staying close to home, but walking through the neighborhood.

My mind was full of resentment for what was happening and I had a burning desire to just leave and never look back. Of course I didn’t, but it would not have taken much more for me to bolt.

As I was walking, two policemen who had been at our house and calmed things down, stopped their car along side the street and motioned me over. My face was taut and my eyes were riveted on them, as I did not know what to expect.

The police officer nearest the window said: “It has been a hard night, hasn’t it son?”

I nodded and he continued: “Been taking a lot of walks when the fighting is going on at home have you?” I nodded again.

He then said: “This will be hard for you to understand now, but I want you to know that you can make things better in the future. For now, though you are stuck, you must adjust your attitude to not take this personally and remember that none of this is your fault. What is happening is unfortunate, but it will pass and someday you will be the one who will make a home and, if you’re smart, you will remember what not to do and to do what is best for your family then. In the meantime, you are a fine kid. We have been over to your home several times and noticed you kids are frightened but always respectful and, considering what you have had to put up with, you are all doing OK. We will do what we can to keep a lid on things. You’re in a neighborhood that is relatively safe but see that you don’t stray too far on your walks.”

I looked at him and said: “Thanks, I needed that.” I turned away so he would not see the tears in my eyes.

I never forgot that kindness and no one could ever persuade me, after that, to make an unkind remark about the police force -- at least in our area. I never knew his name but I can still hear the words that had such a calming effect on me.

Strangers who reach out, officers who take a second step to help, and neighbors caring, made the experience more tolerable.

Art Stubel and Oscar Loeffler, my new friends, also made the journey much more tolerable. They were good Christian guys and made allowances for me that I never forgot

As the saying goes: I got by with a little help from my friends.


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