Sunday, April 10, 2005

For Abie

A dear old next door neighbour in Altona

He's the bald one in middle the bottom..guy on far right is me dad..

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When I lived in Altona, we had a neighbor next door named Abie Zacharias, who lived alone in a huge old ramshackle house. Abie was a teacher until WW11 came along and enlisted in the army.

I didn't know him very well, until my dad bought a piece of property from him, and we build a house next door. After the war when Abie came home, his job was gone and he had a hard time getting work. He did odd jobs for the Municipality and the town. He started to drink, and was an alcoholic all his life from that point on. He was know around town for his eccentricity, drinking, his extremely good nature, and his intelligence. I know intelligence does not seem to fit the picture, but he was extremely "smart." The booze got in his way.

Abie was a voracious reader, and would, on his "good days" let me choose some books to read from his huge library upstairs. He knew I loved to read, and encouraged me keep reading. Getting to his library upstairs was at best "tricky," you would have to climb an incredibly steep set of stairs, which had some of the steps missing, and the rest in disrepair. Once up there, it was like going back in time 100 years. Shabby bookcases full of books lined every wall in the room. There were books in boxes, in paper cartons, and stacked 3 to 4 feet high in the corners. The room always smelled musty and of old paper. The lace curtains were yellow with age and torn, the windows filthy. Abie, was born in this house, and I am sure those were still his mother's curtains in the window. The first time I went up to the library, I was pretty scared, but I really wanted to see his books, so my mom came with me the first time. After that I couldn't wait for an invitation to borrow a book. I remember being so excited when he gave me a huge pile of his old teaching text books. I always "played" school with the neighour kids (and of course, because I am so damn bossy) I was always the teacher. So, now I had text books....and to top it off...all the answers were in the back of the book, because they were designed for teaching.

In school, I was a very average student, sometimes below average, and I took such delight in playing school and handing questions to my students....then look up the answers in the back of the book....and mark a nice big X..beside their wrong answers. I felt so dang smart!!! I mostly played with a family of 7 kids two doors down. They were DIRT poor, didn't have a father and were being raised on welfare by their mother. Because they were so poor, unkempt, and rowdy I always thought they were dumb. I felt so superior, because we lived in a new house and they lived in a shack. What a snob I was. Year's later after I moved to Winnipeg and was working at one of my bean counter jobs, they hired a new accountant, who had come highly recommended by another firm. We were introduced, and his name rang a bell, but I couldn't put my finger on it, until one day he mentioned Altona, and we got to talking ... and here this nice upstanding young man, was one of my "play school" pupils. Apparently all the other 6 kids were doing well and thriving. I really felt like such a fool. These were the kids we all made fun of, and laughed at in front and behind their backs. A good lesson was learned.

I digress..

Because Abie was a "binge" drinker, he would be sober for months...then fall off the wagon and we wouldn't see him for weeks. My dad always took care of him though. He would go over there to check on him after two or three days had lapsed and Abie was nowhere to be seen. All sorts of people could be seen coming and going from his house when he was on a spree. There was "Falkyadereck" a town drunk as well, who was missing a few marbles, and then old Jack and his wife Rosey used to show up and have the hugest fights after a few drinks...and also some very prestigious town officials used to come by, especially on a Sunday when the pub was closed, because Abie was also the town bootlegger. Then there also another man who was a regular, his name was Ben. Ben was a painter by trade, but suffered from what we now know as schizophrenia. In those days he was just called "Mental Ben". Ben would be in and out of the Selkirk Mental hospital for most of his life. He was always released when his condition stabilized and then he would come back to town, and pick up a few paint jobs. Once he had a few bucks in his pocket he started drinking too. I remember you had be careful talking to him about certain subjects, especially the Viet Nam that set him off...he would start yelling and screaming about VIETYETNAM as he called it. He was a character. I heard not too long after my parents moved to Winnipeg, that he had hung himself from a tree in his back yard. I was so sad. It's feels funny to write this, because it didn't even seem weird at the time, that is just how it was ... next door.

Abie lived on the left side of our house and on the right was another batchelor. His name was Bill Kehler a wonderful kind gentleman as you would want to meet. He was a straight up shooter, he had a beer or two, but was not like the others. He had a very good job at our Sunflower Seed Plant in town. He was in charge of the chemistry things that went on...he was very smart too...and smart enough not to drink like a pig. I will never forget the Christmas morning when my parents gave me a plush fussy gold sweater I had been dreaming and begging for.. and of course, I always got crafty stuff as well for xmas. This time is the the ole paint by number kit. First thing in the morning I put my new sweater on..over my jammers..and started to do shit like that at Christmas try everything at once..while stuffing your face with nuts and stuff. Well, as I was painting my masterpiece, I got a huge blob of red oil paint on my NEW sweater....and the first think mom says...that won't come's oil. I start to wail.....she is a dibbing and a dabbing at it...and it's only going further....AND THIS WAS THE SWEATER THAT WAS GOING TO MAKE GUYS THINK I WAS COOL!!...finally Dad thought of Bill next door, Dad always asked Abie and Bill in for a "schnerkle" as we called it then after our Xmas breakfast. He said just wait till Bill gets here and maybe he can get it out. I couldn't wait, I ran to Bill's house and asked him if he could get the paint out of my sweater. He asked me what had happened and I told him. So he said, go home and I will come over for the Xmas schnerkle and see what I come up with. And ya know, he came back with my brand new gold fuzzy fleecy sweater, with not a drop of paint on it...God luv em....I always did. Nuttin like a batchelor...

My mom would invite Abie for supper at least once a month, along with other older bachelors in the neighborhood that didn't have anyone in their lives. We used to great fish fry's and long conversations about how things when they were young. My brother and I would spend hours listening to them. Come to think of it, there sure were a lot of bachelors...hmmm maybe they were gay?? who knew...

You would always know when Abie was getting off a bender. He had a old brick firepit behind his house and he would cook himself a huge pot of Farmer Sausage Borscht. He would hang the pot on a hook and let er rip!! It always smelled so good, and he offered mom some everytime he would made it, but she always refused, because hmmmmm his kitchen wasn't too clean...Sometimes he would just bring over a small pot full, so she had to take it...I can't remember what she did with tho.

I remember when my parents sold our house in Altona and moved to Winnipeg. I came back home to help them move. When were all packed up and ready to go, Abie came over and wished us well, and I can still see him waving goodbye, looking so forlorn. We kept in touch with him over the years, I always sent him cards letting him know what I was reading, and by whom. He always liked to quiz me on the books I read....I still miss those conversations. After we moved he had the old house torn down, and sold the property and moved into a seniors centre. Not too much changed in his life, other than he could no longer make the long trek to the Liquor Store so he got an electric scooter and was able to navigate the town with ease. I got a call one day from my In Laws who still lived out there, and they said Abie had died. He was on his way home on his scooter and a car backed off a driveway and tipped him off his scooter. Apparently he wasn't badly hurt, but after two days in the hospital he died from the shock of the accident. I talked to a friend later who lives next door where the accident took place. She said Abie got up after the scooter tipped, and sat back down in it, and shakily lit a cigarette and then asked her if she had seen a small brown bag. She found the bag on the ground and gave it too him. He opened the bag and took out a bottle and had a long drink....and then the ambulance came.

Rest in peace old friend.

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