When Harry died, I was six years old. How can I ever be expected to forget a grandfather who taught me the love of words?
In his bedroom (he slept alone and was totally estranged from my grandmother) Harry had a huge Webster’s’ dictionary in a glass case. I would come into his room, sit on his lap and he would read the dictionary to me for hours on end in his British accent.
Harry was deaf, so when I repeated the words he read to me, he did not hear what I was saying.
My Dad claimed that Harry was not deaf, merely that he had “checked out” of listening to everyone talk. Harry claimed to have lost his hearing in the British army, yet there is no record of Harry ever having been in the army. As a matter of fact, there is no record of Harry’s birth, and he was born in England, where good records are kept. Some rumors are that he and his two brothers were plucked out of an orphanage and given the name Foreman, or Frohman, or Fireman.
Harry owned a gym on the fourth floor of the Medical Arts Building in Montreal on the corner of Sherbrooke, where Cote des Neiges becomes Rue Guy. I used to go there Saturday mornings and watch him train boxers. Strangely, I remember the phone number of the gym-Fitzroy 4022.
Harry’s brother and my Uncle, Al Foreman, was a boxing champion both in England and Canada. I remember my Dad telling me. “you don’t wanna fuck around with Uncle Al, or even Papa Harry, to be on the safe side”.
Outside of Papa Harry’s apartment on Decarie corner of Queen Mary there was a Lowney’s (chocolate) billboard, in red. The letters would light up one by one- L O W N E Y S- and then one word- Lowneys.
Papa Harry “never had a pot to piss in”, said my Dad. Yet the less money he had, the more clothes he bought. And he used to parade up and down Sherbrook street with many, many many of his girlfriends. There was one special girlfriend I never met, but I do know that it was a major love affair that lasted many years.
Papa Harry spent many years in Egypt, and told me many stories of the desert, especially about a nomad named Sookie. Harry was to teach me a bit of Arabic. He also read me a story about a gun battle between Sir Sholton Knot and Sir Knoltan Shot. Papa Harry explained to me that the shot Snot shot shot Knot, so “Knot was shot and Shot was not, notwithstanding”
He died when I was five or six. (Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.) A heart attack got him “in one fell swoop”.
“He was a most peculiar man”. And I do believe he was not deaf.
From wikipedia Édifice Medical Arts