A Tribute to the life of Maurice Mersereau, known to some as Mod to others as Squeak and yet to others as Moe.
CHARLIE MERSEREAU’S WOOD SHOP
It was a challenge at times living in Mount Dinky (Mt. Dennis). As young boys, my older brother Alex and I were often mocked and laughed at by the Protestants in the neighbourhood. As Catholics we were outnumbered by them ten to one. It wasn’t until our proficiency at sports and street fighting became known that we were truly accepted. In the earliest times, on Victoria Boulevard life had its lessons, we would have been quite young, seven and eight or thereabouts, how old are you in grades one and two? It isn’t something you think about ever. Well I guess you don’t unless you are a teacher or mother or father or coach.
A laneway ran between Victoria Boulevard and Ray Avenue called Bartonville Avenue east, we just called it the Laneway. That’s where Charlie Mersereau and Old Jimmy had their woodworking shop. The carpentry shop was located in the rickety garage that faced the back lane we played ball in. The garage was part of but separate from the brick triplex Charlie and his family lived in which fronted on Ray Avenue. The garage also acted as the carpenters lounge and social club from time to time, when things were slow. There was a full pull up garage door and a side entrance where Jimmy and Charlie would come and go during the day, I’d often see the two of them holding stubby brown India Pale Ale (IPA) beer bottles and warming their hands by an old oil burner stove that kept the space warm. Now and then Charlie’s older brother Gordon would drop by the garage to get advice, to share a six pack. Gordon was in the home repairs business acquiring clients through an insurance man he knew. A pair of worn and wobbly wooden kitchen chairs provided seating for the clubhouse . Charlie was the father of my friends Vern and Mod, the family, along with the boys mother Hilda and sister Caroline moved to Toronto from St John New Brunswick, Hilda would not tolerate any drinking or cussing in their third floor flat as she was quite religious.
Charlie and Old Jim got a contract to build a pair of custom book cabinets for a lawyer who practiced up the street in an office located beside the Baptist Church. He must have been of some importance as his name was displayed on a square brass plaque that was mounted at the entrance to his office. The lawyer lived with his wife in a swell home in the Avenue Road and Lawrence area. The two carpenters drove to the large two storey house in Old Jims creaky station wagon and measured the wall the cabinets were to be installed on. At the lumber store they bought the best materials, thick mahogany veneered sheets of real plywood three quarters of an inch thick. The trim was also mahogany, the finishing nails were dark brown, the colour of the stain was a rich dark colour. It was a large undertaking and the men worked on it for a couple of weeks. Everything else stopped as the men applied their combined skills to the task, they used finely sharpened chisels to imbed the shelving track so the shelves could be adjusted. Each step was carefully discussed before being undertaken. By watching the two craftsmen I gained some knowledge of the various techniques a carpenter uses to achieve their goal. At last the final product was stained then finished with a protective coat of clear urethane and left to dry. The bookcases were fit for the grand home.
A couple of problems stood in the way of delivery and installation of the handsome pair of cases. When the men opened the side garage door to get them out it was discovered that the bookcases were much to large to fit through the doorway. The steel garage door itself was barricaded in by boxes of tools, table saws a jig cutter, a large planer and an overhead mitre saw. As well there were cases of empty beer bottles lying between the heaps of sawdust. Somewhat perplexed Charlie tinkered with the pencil that rested in his right ear lobe, when he got anxious Charlie would squint a bit through his dark framed eye glasses and I thought his black hair stood on end. He scratched his cheek bone and stared at Jim who wore a sloppy red plaid flannel shirt his tongue stuck out a bit the way a dogs tongue sticks out when it has been running, it rested on his bottom dentures there was not a top plate. Then Jim twiddled with the pencil that was stored along with an assortment of carpenters aids, a steel six inch ruler a compass and some pens held in a plastic pen caddy that fit in the work shirt pocket, it created the image of a professional. Eventually the men partially disassembled the cases which solved the problem. While resolving the issue a beer was drank to help the thinking process. There was an audible sigh of relief and a feeling of accomplishment when the book cases were loaded.
The next step was to transport the cases to the home. For this I was required to furnish my black Dodge half ton truck to deliver the finished product. On Sunday morning a day late due to the size setback we carefully wrapped the two cases, now in four sections in old moving blankets. The gents paid me a fair wage for my efforts. The delivery and installation went well and the older distinguished woman at the home who reminded me of the ‘Old Lady’ in the Babar books was quite pleased.
I don’t know why they called Mod Mod, his real name is Maurice, he was four or five years younger than Vern and I was a year or so older than Mod, so that makes Vern the oldest by a couple of years or so. They were both excellent pool players, we shot upstairs at Glenvalley Bowling and Billiards run by John Shura a swarthy Hungarian who wore those black rimmed glasses as thick as coke bottles that were fashionable at the time. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Lets go back five or so years.
Beside Charlie and Jim’s shop there was a car dealership run by wise guys, everyone said it was a front, Sal was in the joint (jail) for something and the older brother Vince who wore tinted glasses and a snazzy fedora and looked shifty ran the used car dealership. Well dressed men were always coming and going, having hushed conversations in the tiny used car office, they never stayed long, just long enough for a cup of coffee then they’d take off in their sharp polished two door cars. Cars were a status back then, I guess they still are.
Before the car guys bought the property and paved the lot, the Floods lived there and it was rumoured that for a quarter the Flood girl would play with your dinky. She wore those black rubber boots with the red trimmed toes the tops rolled down an inch or so. At times when a bunch of us kids would go walking down the tracks and past the new factories on Ray Avenue we’d end up like always playing at the creek, Black Creek. The water wasn’t ever black, but I used to hear adults say it was polluted and us kids, we didn’t know what that meant.
Once over by the old Tuberculosis hospital on Buttonwood Ave. I saw a blood like substance oozing from a rusting pipe buried in the hill below the many stately pre war hospital buildings and well that looked polluted. Then one time I was down there below the hospital, playing pirates, building rafts near the Humber River, in a pond after a hard rain and I saw a bunch of surgical stuff, leftovers from surgery or something, the package had broken and this stuff was strewn all over the hillside, there were no guts or nothing, just blood and guck, and I took a stick and swished it around, it smelled, and I knew, that was pollution.
Freds Lunch is an exerpt from the original title which is The Old Neighburhood, this is Mod playing pinball, back in the late 50s early 60s…
At the top of Rutherford, on the other side of Weston Rd the west side, there was a restaurant called Fred’s Lunch where Fred, his wife Mabel who had dyed dark red hair and their son Fred Jr. and daughter Gina served up real greasy food in a country and western setting with wooden booths and a jukebox with songs from the fifties that hadn’t been changed in years, an old Marty Robbins song played over and over lamenting the streets of El Paso. Near the entrance there was a handful of dirty leatherette topped chrome stools that were wobbly and squeaked when they spun and towards the back of the building a row of wooden booths with built in coat hooks lined the wall and there was an opening where the food could be placed by the cook who had just gotten out of jail and he was wearing a stained white apron, a cigarette with a half inch of ash dangled from his mouth. Mabel would pick up the oblong french fry plates yellowed from age at the opening and serve them to customers, the place was never busy.
The odd time mom (Gisele) would send me there to pick up a box of fish and chips for dinner and the food was terrible. If it wasn’t for Gina looking so pretty with her mane of golden hair I would never have gone, ever. Fred Jr. could have been the character they created Woody from in a Disney cartoon, his body was long and elastic looking, I never saw him without a cowboy hat, tan ornately tooled cowboy boots and a leather belt with a large buckle that had a miniature steer head engraved on it. The engraving on the belt buckle looked a lot like the set of Bulls horns that were mounted on the wall above the kitchen serving window, along with a sign that read, ‘Hamburgers 30 cents’ beside the hamburger sign there was an inexpensively framed picture of a debutante from the waist up enjoying a bottle of coca cola that had been supplied by the pop company.
In the corner of the dimly lit place in the area that led to the washrooms on the right hand side there were a couple of pinball machines where a young kid seemed to be always present, enthusiastically pressing the side buttons and flippers anxiously watching the heavy chrome ball as it spun its way past various bonuses noting when the ‘free game’ sign was on as the ball caromed from side to side towards an eventual sewer, at which point the big machine would almost grunt and rumble and there would be a boys faint sigh and a lowered head when the score tallied to the sound and the kid would grin when the ‘free game’ sign flashed and flashed, you could almost hear the carney like voice shout out, “we got a winnah”.
I later found out that Fred and Hazel owned the new plaza at Lawrence and Keele, well at least the land the plaza was built on. It was kinda like having Dale Evans and Roy Rogers in the neighbourhood, cause that’s how they dressed, like cowboys and cowgirls. Once a year there was a parade in the area, probably a Canada Day Parade and from the back of Fred’s Lunch, out of a low slung garage all these life size western figurines would emerge on a flat bed wagon attached to a bright red Massey farm tractor. Then, a big Palomino horse cautiously stepped out of a one horse trailer with Gina sitting on a beautifully tooled brown leather saddle with ornate silvery accents. More parade stuff would appear from inside the storage area, there was that unmistakable smell of fresh dropped horse turds and then the group of them, the entire family would proceed north down Weston Rd past Dutch Johns Suncrisp Fish and Chips shop, past Bannerman’s American Motors Rambler and Jeep dealership then turn right at Jane Street past Helen’s Variety and slowly travel over the new Jane Street bridge which had just been built to the big plaza, where the parade was to begin, plazas were new back then.