Thursday, October 28, 2010


I have a feeling I've left out at least one of Alma's names. They trip so nimbly on the tongue and I love to say them - Alma Mia Petrides Dallaire Kotsos. Petrides was Alma's maiden name. The others were acquired through various marriages.
Alma Mia was the hat check lady at The Astor Lounge on St. Catherine Street West across from the T. Eaton's store in the early 1970's when my husband Cliff Carter was the resident pianist there.
But Alma Mia was more than a hat check. She had been in vaudeville for many years and she had performed daring acrobatic acts with members of her husband Ronny's family. Alma Mia was the star at the top of the pyramid.
Searching via Google, I came upon two references -
Starts Monday .The 4 Dallaire Bros. Alma Mia Ray Del Rio .
Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive - Dec 24, 1949
Starts Monday The 4 Dallaire Bros ALMA MIA RAY DEL RIO Master of Ceremonies.  Extra added attraction Pluto the Horse.
Alma Mia & Ronny D'Allaire - Quebec Obscure Duo - Photo - alma ...
One of the Dallaire Brothers' acts ( she spelled it without the apostrophe) involved bird calls performed with various whistles. I still have a paper whistle Alma gave me from her collection. I also have her embroidered vest and a black velvet shawl that her husband, Tony Kotsos, gave me after Alma died.
I am not a pack rat. I treasure special gifts - whether it is the twenty-five cent Pocket Book, Pinocchio, that my father read to me when I was a child,  or Alma's paper whistle, or the small silk scarf Alana gave me that had belonged to her mother, or the braided leather blackjack given to me by a customer who looked just like Robert Goulet, or the handcrafted silver necklace and earrings given to me by Rod Chapleau, another customer at The Astor who had just returned from an adventure in Africa.
It is not the material value of these gifts that I treasure. Money means nothing to me except as a means to buy food and medicine and pay rent. It is the spirit of each gift that is so precious to me. My niece, Dawn McSweeney, stole almost all of my personal treasures on October 7, 1996, including the blackjack, and my husband's Deputy Sheriff's badge and his trademark grey Stetson fedora, Cliff's rings and all my best jewellery, and our wedding portrait and much, much more.
But my malevolent niece could not steal the spirit of my belongings that remain vividly in my memory and in my heart. I am bound up in the spirit of my life's treasures by the memories and the love that lives in each one of them. In stealing my precious belongings, Dawn McSweeney attached herself to me and she cannot be free of me until she returns every single thing she stole. My spirit is in my treasures. Dawn McSweeney has a tiger by the tail and I will give her no peace - ever.
But now, back to Alma Mia: She was probably in her sixties back then in the early 1970's, but her spirit was vivacious, sparkling. She was Aunty Mame, gathering friends together for evenings of celebration at Papa Spiro's Restaurant on Mt. Royal East. She was a social butterfly and so much fun. One winter evening, my parents who hadn't gone out to dinner or a movie in decades actually came out to Papa Spiro's with Cliff and me for one of Alma's soirees.
Alma was solidly built but she always took great pains to look perfect. Her makeup was meticulous. Her hair was dyed pitch black and always slickly groomed. Her skirts and blouses always feminine and form fitting. She was a lady no smart man would mess with. She was charming but tough. No doubt she got her style from her mother who, in her late eighties and with seriously impaired eyesight, still insisted on stepping out to parties wearing a black velvet Spanish hat and dancing up a storm.
One evening, having danced with a particular gentleman for some time, Alma's mother came over to her and asked, " Tell me, was he good looking?". Her eyesight was impaired, but she was a woman with a vision for the future. Nearly ninety, she was still looking for a new husband.
When Alma started feeling ill, she was reluctant to acknowledge it. By the time she went for help, the cancer was advanced - and then the hospital delayed her treatment for weeks. The technicians marked her body for radiation and then postponed the treatments again and again. When I pressed her mightily to get after the doctor about the urgency of getting started, she said she was afraid that they would just give her a pill and she would die. She really believed it and she was really afraid. The delays continued until it was too late.
Just before her illness had become apparent, Alma and Tony had moved from their long time old upstairs flat in The Plateau to a nice little apartment in downtown Montreal and Alma had bought the pretty sofa she had wanted so much. Sadly, she was never going to enjoy it.
Tony gathered together Alma's wardrobe and hung everything on a rack. Then he invited Alma's friends to come and take home memories of his once vivacious wife.
I am so grateful for having known Alma Mia. She was fun. She was an inspiration, a cheer leader for a motley crew of senior nightclub patrons and aficionados of traditional jazz. I believe it was Alma's wish that her clothes be shared with her friends. Whenever I look at Alma's velvet shawl and her embroidered vest, when I touch them, I know she was real and so alive. I will always appreciate the memories of those grand Greek feasts we all enjoyed together at Papa Spiro's.

Phyllis Carter
The Sheba
October 28, 2010

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