My Dad had a really interested array of friends. Some were close, some golfing buddies, some neighbours, and one very special friend from the RCAF, who served with him in Iceland on bombing raids at sea.
Uncle Billy was the special friend. After the war, he lived in Vancouver; Billy came to visit his mom and my Dad in Montreal once or twice a year. Dad always told me that “Uncle Billy is too smart to get married”. On another occasion, he told me that Uncle Billy lives “the life of Riley”; he assumed, correctly, that I knew what he meant. Billy called my Dad “Moose” because Dad was tall and had a large frame. When Uncle Billy came over, he and Dad would sit at the dining room table, smoking a lot, laughing even more, and drinking albeit never too much. Uncle Billy would always ask my Dad “what type of fertiliser are you feeding him, Phil, for Christ sake? He’ll become a big Moose like you!” Uncle Billy Cohen died of cancer. And I am even taller than was Dad.
At the golf club, the locker next to my Dad’s was occupied by a guy called Puggy. My Dad always referred to Puggy as “poor old Puggy”. The reasons changed but the nickname didn’t. Puggy was an ex-boxer-hence the name. My Dad claimed that getting hit is “no fucking way to make a living”. Puggy lost many a golf game to my Dad. Poor old Puggy. Then, Puggy died, departing the world with the same nickname. Dad and Puggy were not good friends, but they always greeted one another cordially when they met at the locker-“how the fuck are you, Phil?”
Dad worked with a guy named Martin. Martin weighed about 400 pounds and always had a bag of muffins with him, or even, believe it or not, a squished muffin in his pocket. His worst sin was making long distance phone calls from my Dad’s desk to his ex-wives. Dad would scowl at him and Martin would offer Dad a muffin. Dad was a straight-in-your face guy-he would tell Martin that “I don’t eat muffins, nor should you, adding his “for Christ’s sake, what’s wrong with you Martin.”
Mildred did a lot of business with my Dad. While she had a Jewish last name, she was a Roman Catholic. Every year, Mildred would invite my Dad to bring me and my siblings to her home on Queen Mary Road (av de Reine Marie) to celebrate Christmas. We always got a lovely gift. Mildred and Dad would laugh a whole lot and smoke as well as cough. Mildred had a really mean cough. Upon arriving home, Dad would insist that I write a thank you note and mail it “now”. “Address her as Auntie Mildred”.
On the way home, Dad would always explain that ones’ last name does not indicate religion. “We have a Henderson in our synagogue and Weiss (Mildred’s name) is as Jewish as they come”, another one of Dad’s expressions. Funny about this Henderson guy, by the way. Dad rarely went to synagogue.
We shared back yards with Uncle Sonny, the two back yards separated by shrubs. He was a butcher and a skier. A man of few words with a beautiful wife (Auntie Rozie) and a winter home in St-Jerome, where we would often spend weekends. It’s funny that Uncle Sonny never talked too much, but I still think of him, and all of my Dad’s friends, more and more.
Dad and his friends lived in the world so well documented by Mordechai Richler. Dad and his cronies, Leonard Cohen and William Shatner are, for me, real characters. I miss them all. Yet at age 16, my life changed and I would never be one of them.