Nothing beat the hustle and bustle of St Lawrence Street in Montreal.
It was where all the immigrants would shop. The Poles , the Jews, the Ukrainians , the Greeks, the French etc...
It was a tradition, for my Dad and I, to go there every Christmas.
The street would darken early and the snow would begin to fall,
so rather than take the car we would go by bus.
It was an adventure we'd both enjoy.
First we'd stop at the Montreal Forum and walk down St Catherine Street all the way down to Place Des Arts where it would meet up with St Lawrence and then we'd go up St Lawrence and begin our spree.
The reason we did this was because St Catherine Street was also very exciting.
It was always full of people shopping at the Morgans, Eatons and Simpsons. They all had Christmas window displays and people would surround these windows to look at Santa's city of elves, trains, angels, acrobats and deer and compare notes as to who put up the best display for Christmas.
The kids especially were excited cause all the toys in the window beckoned them to come in and tell the store Santa what they wanted for Christmas.
In the street by the Forum, a window on the second floor of an establishement with red curtains, had a dancing sillouette. Every year we'd go and every year she would be dancing in that window. So we learned to look for it.
There was a Harveys across the street, that made the best burgers on charcoal.
By it's door a hobo lingered trying to keep himself warm. The Harveys guy would feed him and give him hot coffee .....gratis.
So we'd start with the red window, then walk by the Hobo, then stop and at gaze at the beautiful window displays and then briskly keep walking towards Place de Arts.
That was one of the most beautiful buildings in those days.
Sometimes we'd stop at Dunns for a pastrami sandwich and sometimes we'd wait and go to Moishe's .
They had the best smoked meat sandwiches made fresh from a roast turning vertically.
People knew their ingredients in those days.
And customers ALWAYS came back.
You always knew when you hit St Lawrence Street because the smells of sausages, kolbassas, fish, bagels, pastrami, knishes, all mixed up , in the street air. They'd cook them outside and sell them to people who got hungry from the smells.
My Dad went into each store, bought all kind of cheeses, caviar, Schmatlz herring (the best herring in the world, fat, juicy, full of milk and roe)
Everything we bought we had to bargain for and watch to make sure the guy didn't cheat us especially when weighing the fish.
No matter how much my Dad bargained and watched, we'd come home and find the guy cheated us on the weight lol So next time we'd come back and tell him you cheated us and bargain again and he'd cheat us again .lol
At first my Dad got mad when he got home but then it became very funny because the fish store man had ingenuity and my Dad was a good sport. He had to learn to get smarter. Sooner or later the guy would run out of tricks he could pull and he'd catch him.lol
Everytime we'd come home with our bags, the first thing we'd do is weigh the fish. lol
The cheese knishes, bagels, poppy knishes, and bread store, was soo packed with people .
We would join them because you can't go home without some of these heavenly, aromatic, hot, scrumptious delicacies
There was nothing to compare the taste to. Even today, I hate buying bagels because they are plainly and simply... not bagels. If you want good bagels you need to go to New York or Florida.
Schmaltz herring you still see advertised in Chicago. I am not sure if they still have them in Montreal.
Sometimes I'd say to my Dad, I think by the time it's our turn, nothing will be left and He'd say, that will never happen and sure enough as soon as a tray would empty they'd bring a new fresh batch of whatever, right out of the oven.
St Lawrence street was the only place to buy the best smoked bacon. You didn't have to cook it to eat it and it would just melt in your mouth.
We'd buy 4 bags full of things and then head on home as happy as could be.
My Mom would greet us at the door and she'd be happy to see what we bought.
The caviar was big ,round, red and full.
Our hunger for it, put it first on our list to try. We'd take some rye bread, spread butter on it and cover it with roe and ummmm, close your eyes..... and savor a taste of paradise.
As you bit into the bread, the salty eggs would explode under your teeth.
St Lawrence street also had a beautiful old street woman, who would checking out all the garbage bins.
I felt sorry for her but she looked spooked all the time so no one talked to her.
Eventually she landed in the papers because the owner of the apartment she rented threw her out and she stayed under the balcony at night not being able to get in.
Sleeping outside in the cold was not for her and she became ill. They tried to find relatives but there were none and so they took her away somewhere where she would be safe.
You go to the same places, you see the same people, you know all their characters and mannerisms. You know who will cheat you and who won't . You knew who would count how many brown shopping bags you took and argue with you if you took one too many.
People were both frugal and charitable, smart, and proud of what they did.
It made for wonderful experiences you'd want to repeat over and over and over again.
Good or bad.....it was home.
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