Sunday, March 13, 2016


Roger O'Mara and Gerry Murphy were two of the employees at Metropolitan News. I mention them here because we are approaching St. Patrick's Day and I think there is no one else on earth who remembers them and people who live and love and work and struggle should not disappear from memory.

Roger O'Mara was a poor young worker at Metro when I started working there at my father's side in 1947 when I was eleven years old. He was French speaking but he spoke English like any man of the working class. He was pleasant to me. I know he married years later and had a son. I don't know anything more about him. Except he mattered.

Gerry Murphy was a rusty haired young lad when he was brought to us by Harry Travers, a Justice of the Peace who worked with wayward youth. He could not have been 16, I think. I can still picture him in my mind's eye. He was thin and pale. But that's all I remember about Gerry Murphy. He is still a boy in my mind's eye. He should not be forgotten because he mattered.

And then there was Patrick Farney, an icon on Peel Street long before I was born.
I am wondering if I might be the last person on earth who remembers Patrick Farney. It seems silly, but I can't imagine who else would even think of him, let alone remember him. All the more reason for me to write this piece,
I was a young teenager and Paddy was in his seventies, like I am now. So anyone who knew him or even noticed him in passing is unlikely to be giving a thought to him in the 21st Century.
Paddy was a fixture on Peel Street in Montreal long before I came on the scene when I went to work at our family's newsstand, Metropolitan News Agency, at 1248 Peel at the corner of St. Catherine Street, in the mid-1940's.
I started working at The Store part time after school when I was about eleven. By the time I was fourteen, I had left school to work there full time upon the promise to my family that I would follow courses at Alexander Business College.
Paddy Farney was already an established employee at Metro. Anyone who knew Paddy, knew him as a newsie, usually standing on the street corner at Peel and St. Catherine with the latest, hot-off-the-press, ink still wet, Montreal Star and Gazette. He was our man on the street.
My grandfather, Israel Feldman, sold newspapers from all over the world from the store window open onto Peel Street winter and summer - in all kinds of weather. I sold papers and magazines, handled the cash register, sold fine linens and English Bone China, and did some of the office work - yes, as a teenager.
But this is just to give the reader the setting of the story about Paddy Farney. He was an "old man" to most of us - usually with a heavy salt and pepper stubble but never a real beard. He wore a long, navy blue coat in the cold weather. Paddy would often be seen holding up the hydro pole outside the store, dozing between tasks. And every St. Patrick's Day, he sported a generous sprig of shamrocks in his lapel.
Paddy sold papers and he could make change for a customer, but he would not take a two dollar bill. Why? My father told me that, at some time in the distant past, someone had slipped him a counterfeit. He never took another two dollar bill.
Paddy was mute. He could hear quite well I think because he seemed to understand everything we said, but he could hardly speak. We who knew him - especially my Pop, George Rubin, who was usually managing The Store - could make out what he was saying. When  upset, or frustrated or annoyed with some of my childish antics, Paddy would curse " Deedut Tite". We knew that was Jesus Christ.
Everyone on Peel Street knew Paddy - including the local policemen. In those days, the same policemen would be in the neighbourhood for years. They were part of our community. Everyone knew them by their first names, Kenny Campbell, Kenny Law.
But, somehow, some passing rookie saw Paddy during a night run, and assumed he was a vagrant and drunk, and took him off to the pokey. I can only imagine how frightened and upset Paddy must have been, unable to communicate with people who wouldn't listen, and with no rights to speak of in the 1940's. Has anything really changed in 2010?
Later, Paddy would tell the story to anyone who wanted to hear it. His night in jail. It is difficult for me to present his pronunciation, but here is the translation my father gave: "Beans, no salt. Coffee, no sugar." A call from the station to my father the next morning freed Paddy, but he never forgot.
How did Paddy come to be mute? He was not born with the handicap. But it was very much the central factor in his life. He was very poor. He was not able to take on most jobs. There were scant government benefits available to such people back then. In our store, he occasionally swept the floor, but mostly he just sold newspapers for us on the corner.
But how did he lose his speech?  Pop told me that the chauffeur for Mr. Strachan of  Strachan's Bakery had told him that he had known Paddy for decades. Way back when, there was a fire department on the site of what was later to be the Sun Life Building at Dominion Square. Paddy used to ride and take care of the fire wagon horses. At some point, he fell and thus, lost his normal speech. He didn't ride after that, but he would walk the horses and cool them and groom them when they came back from a fire all hot and foamy with sweat.
What else do I remember about Patrick Farney? He lived with his sister, a tough Irish cookie who didn't put up with any nonsense. Sometimes, Paddy would fail to show up for work. He was not a drinker. We never, ever saw him drunk. I am sure he had a reason for it, but he did not drink. But perhaps he would just oversleep or forget, so my Pop would phone his sister. Well, the way the story goes, she would take the iron frying pan to Paddy and he was on his way to work in a hurry. I never had the impression that there was really any violence there. I think it was a bit of a joke.
And now, a little story about my run in with Paddy Farney. I was standing behind the linens counter across the floor from the newspaper counter at Metro, so that customers facing my Pop had their backs toward me. I was still a kid and known for my mischief - such as untying the shoelaces of some of the young men who worked there while they were busy serving a customer at the counter.
One day, Paddy came in to pick up his papers and he was standing facing my Pop with his back toward the linens counter where I was stationed that day.
Paddy was really shocked when I came running out from behind the glass showcase and ripped his coat off his back, threw it on the dirty grey wooden floor and started stomping on it full force with my feet.
Paddy was an economical fellow. He lived very simply. I never saw him eating as I recall - he didn't seem to have many teeth - no Medicare coverage for dentists back then either - but I remember him having a coffee if someone would treat.
Paddy was careful with his money and he picked up cigarette butts from the street and put them in his pocket for later consumption. That fateful day, I saw smoke coming from Paddy's coat. That was when I pounced.
Paddy cursed like crazy as I jumped up and down on his coat. He was shocked and furious! I know he thought I was playing a trick on him, insulting him.
I don't know what everyone else in the store must have thought. I was focused. After a couple of minutes, while Paddy stood there stunned, I lifted his coat and showed him the burn hole in his left pocket. Another minute and ... ! The cursing stopped.
I'm glad I thought of Paddy today. I can't help wondering if anyone else remembers him. I don't think Paddy had any family but his sister, and probably no real friends. But he mattered.

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