We were urchins, wandering the streets of our suburb in Montreal, much like the characters in a Dickensian novel. The world as we knew it was small and unforgiving. We stayed in "our" territory, already conquered.
What we didn't realize then and only became apparent decades later, was that we were being given the best education about work ethics available, free of charge.
The Perrette convenience store at the top of our street was owned by a family from China. The store was so clean your throat would burn from the smell of bleach as you entered. The family was very formal and didn't waste time in idle talk with kids from the neighbourhood. You made your purchase, you left, then they scrubbed every shelf you had touched. I don't know when they went home. The family spent their time together, despite constant interruptions from the bells on the sparkling front door.
The nearby garage was the same. The father worked while his sons were in school and they got busy helping him right after getting off the bus, taking only a few moments to change into their coveralls. The garage was always open for business. No request was too small, (or too late at night!) This was about making a living but also about helping neighbours when needed.
Ah, but Beehive Bakery!!! THAT was such a magical place that when I dream of it now, I wake up with a smile on my face. It was a small, no; a TINY Greek bakery, with one glass counter at the front of the shop, a wooden work counter and all of the industrial equipment was crammed into the small space in the back. The owner was, there is no other word, a genius. Regretfully, I don't remember his name, but am still able to see his face in my memory. He worked twelve to fourteen hour days, producing every loaf, cake and treat himself.
He would gruffly offer us day old bagels to help our money stretch. (There were NEVER any day old bagels: he sold out every day. He let us keep our pride while ensuring we were fed.)
And if we were SILENT, (not joking here: that was his demand), we could stay and watch him work, decorating cakes. Now, this event was more than roses made from buttercream; this was watching someone practicing their vocation.
A Bible was propped open on one side and he took a deep breath as he gently squeezed the icing bag. The cake, shaped like the Good Book itself, was for a Confirmation and he was copying the writing on the page, WORD FOR WORD. On a cake. In icing.
These were my neighbours, giving me the life lessons I needed with no lectures, only examples. This former urchin, now artist, is beyond grateful.
Thank you for spending this time with me,