My father was so gracious, so forgiving and tolerant, that he would not be at all pleased about my writing and publishing this piece. No member of my family can testify to this, nor would they. They are all given to silence and privacy. If they saw or heard anything, they would not tell. But I must, at long last, tell the truth about what my father endured for thirty-seven years. What I witnessed as his helpless daughter and his co-worker for decades. My Pop would never have said a word. I have waited a long time to lift this from my heart.
My Uncle Sam Feldman was the owner of Metropolitan News at 1248 Peel Street in Montreal. Decades before the chain stores appeared in Montreal, Metro was the first international newspaper store in Montreal and it was known around the world. Uncle Sam died on April 13, 2011. Now I can speak.
Uncle Sam owned Metropolitan News, but my father, George Rubin was the brains, the chief labourer and the personality who brought people back to the store from near and far day after day, year after year.
Uncle Sam would appear at the store suddenly, on the run, lay down some orders and disappear again. He was smart and, no doubt, he changed all our lives by bringing us into the business in the mid-1940's. He provided jobs for so many members of the family for so many years. For this I am sincerely grateful.
But Uncle Sam had a captive staff. Our labour kept that store running day and night in all kinds of weather. Our incomes were low but good enough for my father to sustain a modest home in NDG. But we froze in winter and sweated all year round working at Metro. The work was hard and the pressure was high. The real reward was being at the heart of the city meeting people from all over the world every day. Metropolitan News was my alma mater.
Working at Metro would have been pretty nearly perfect if it were not for the fear I always had of Uncle Sam, because when he did come into the store, he talked to my father - not as his brother-in-law, not as his store manager, not as a fellow gentleman - but as if my father were his liveried servant. It hurt me deeply. Generations have passed and it still hurts me.
I have not written about this before so as not to hurt Sam, but now he is gone and the truth must be told. All the money in the world could not assuage the pain I have always felt because of the way Uncle Sam treated my father - for thirty-seven years. Sam was not slow to insult my father openly in front of the staff and customers.
My father endured it all with incredible grace, I never heard him talk back or argue and he never complained about it in my hearing. My father just worked - day and night - winter and summer.
My grandfather, Sam's father, also worked winter and summer, serving newspapers through the open window onto Peel Street, even in below zero weather. I am glad Uncle Sam gave his father a job, but how could he have allowed his own aged father to work in such difficult circumstances when he could have afforded to pay him a salary to sit by a pool in Florida? I can't get past these images.
Sam was aloof, distant. It seemed his mind was always somewhere else even while his body was present. He never used foul language. He could cut you down politely, if he deigned to speak to you at all. I don't recall if I ever heard a kind word from him. Perhaps, once, a long time ago. I believe he wanted to be a good man, but I also have reason to believe he was afraid, always afraid of intimacy with outsiders - that was anyone other than his wife and his own children.
When I was a very young teen just starting to work at the store, Sam told me not to get friendly with the staff. I didn't obey. I was stubborn and naive and I always liked to talk to people and, as a result I did get into some near-miss situations which might have turned out badly, but didn't.
I once asked Uncle Sam if I might write an article about Metropolitan News. He forbid me. He didn't want anyone taking an interest in his business. When the National Film Board wanted to do some filming in the store, my father had to persuade Sam to allow them in for a few minutes. The result is in an NFB film called, MONTREAL BY NIGHT.
There is one thing I want to say about my Uncle Sam that reveals a different aspect of his character. It is the story of the Beswick Horse.
In addition to newspapers and magazines from around the world, Sam created a new department at Metro. He brought in English bone china cups and saucers and Irish linens. At the time, this was innovative in Montreal. And more members of the family were brought in to serve these gift items - including my mother and my grandmother, Sam's mother.
And there was a Beswick bone china horse on the shelf. I fell in love with it. I have always loved horses and that fine china horse enchanted me. I asked my father if I might buy it. Pop said I would have to ask Sam. And because I longed for the Beswick Horse with such intensity, I screwed up my courage one day and asked Sam's permission to buy the Beswick Horse. He did not give me an answer, but he said he would think about it.
When I came into the store the next day, Pop told me that Sam had refused. He would not sell me the Beswick Horse. My heart sank. I was a young girl, perhaps fifteen, and such things hit hard when your heart's desire is torn away from you. But, wait. Pop said, "Sam doesn't want you to have that horse. It's a work horse. But he is giving you another one - as a gift.".
And he did. Sam gave me a tall, chestnut, Beswick fine bone china thoroughbred racing horse. What a gift !
What did it mean? Sam loved horses too. He loved hockey and he loved horses. His life was filled with horse racing and gambling and he understood the love of horses. And he wanted his niece to have the finest Beswick Horse - the kind of horse that meant so much to him.
And that is the only time I can remember when Uncle Sam showed me his heart.
What happened to my Beswick Horse? Like so many things in my life, it was taken from me - broken in storage many years later. I received the insurance money but - as with all my treasures stolen by my niece, Dawn McSweeney, in 1996 - nothing can replace objects imbued with precious memories.
Nothing can replace the Beswick Horse Uncle Sam gave me. But the very thought of it tempers my memories of who my Uncle Sam was. My grandmother loved him so much. She doted on him and he on her. I try to think of that love, and for her sake, I wish I were able to forgive him for what he did to my father. Half a century has passed and it still hurts.
How different would my father's life had been if Sam had treated him well? How often did my father suffer in silence, and smile and just walk away? He endured the injuries for thirty-seven years until, one day, he just couldn't take that last insult - and he resigned. Without a pension.
There were good times and there were bad times. What if ? If Uncle Sam had treated my father kindly and with respect, how different would I be today? Very different. The whole course of my life would have been different. Better. I would have been a better person. I am forever working at it.
This is justice for my father. He would not have wanted it and he would not approve. But it is justice for a man who would not, who could not defend himself. And Uncle Sam? This is what he most feared - being exposed. Strangely enough, I find I am feeling sorry for him. Poor man. He was afraid all the time. But now it is over.