There’s a crazy old guy that haunts the front of the Winnipeg Modern Brush Manufacturing Company building, like some kind of ghost of Winnipeg’s retail past. If you drive northwest from downtown, you’ll see him out front of 422 Notre Dame with his Garage Sale sign and all kinds of brooms and the like. I’ve worked in the area since 1987, and seen him many times. I’ve never stopped. I’m always in a hurry.
Last week I stopped.
It turns out the crazy old guy (like all crazy old guys) has a name. Alexander N. Syzek. (Here’s someone else’s photo of him.) Alexander’s father (whose name has dropped out of my head already - it’s also a good slavic name) started the Winnipeg Modern Brush Company in the early ’30s. His mother Mary (who must have been young when she married Ivan/Viktor) is still alive.
Me: This is a nice broom. How much is this one?
Alexander: Oh that is nice, isn’t it? That one is $40. Although I could let you have it for $35.
Me: Ah…What about that one? (I point to the cheapest-looking broom I can see - an old-fashioned corn broom. I had just bought a broom at Dollarama that morning for $1.25. I didn’t really need another one.)
Alexander: Oh that’s $20. I can let you have the one next to it for $15. It’s not quite as heavy duty.
Alexander: And here, have this calendar. It’s good for the next four years.
(Part of this is reproduced above.)
Me: Thanks. Is this your mother and father?
Alexander: No, it’s my mother and me. She’s in her nineties.
Me: Ah. How is she?
Alexander: She’s well. How’s your mother?
Me: She’s well too. Actually, it’s her birthday today. She’s **. (Sorry, my Mom reads this.)
Alexander: Today? Oh, let me get you something for her.
(He scuttled over to a worn bench, and selected a sturdy wooden scrub brush. The label from whatever company actually made it had been peeled off, and replaced by a Winnipeg Modern Brush Manufacturing Company label.)
Alexander: For your mother.
I gave it to her the next day. How he knew it was the perfect present for my mother (who was once described as a light housekeeper with the social flair) is beyond me.