SMELL AND MEMORIES
Funny how a smell can instantly flood the mind with memories.
Yesterday, while I stood on a subway platform, I smelled an odor of oil, grease and grinding metal. I have never smelled it before on the subway, but smelled it a lot when I was a kid.
Dad worked for Gray Tools. It was at Lansdowne Avenue and Dupont Street, in Toronto, not too far from where we lived. (Gray Tools has since moved to Brampton, Ontario.) Dad would walk to work.
I often met Dad after school when he was walking home from work. I would always see him in the distance walking west on Dupont Street under the bridge between Lansdowne and Symington. I would run towards him.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
I would leap just before I got to him, and he would catch me and swing me around and around and around. The we would walk home together holding hands.
I also went to his work to see him in the summer when there was no school. I would go into the side entrance near his work station. That is when I would smell the oil, grease and grinding metal. If there were safety rules about children and non-workers being in the factory, then they were never enforced. I never heard of anyone getting hurt.
One time I walked in and Dad wasn’t at his work station. I saw a man walking by.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you know where I can find Mr. Chic Johnston?”
(I always got a thrill saying Dad’s name when I didn’t have to worry about getting in trouble for saying it.)
The man looked at me and shouted, “I CAN’T HEAR A WORD YOU’RE SAYING, SON, I’M STONE DEAF.” And he walked away.
Dad returned to his work station a short time later. I did not know what “stone deaf” meant so I asked him.
“Oh that’s Deafy,” said Dad. I don’t know his real name. Everyone calls him Deafy. Stone deaf means that he is completely deaf.”
Being stone deaf made sense because I had never seen a stone with ears.
That was decades before political correctness. Political correctness would not allow Deafy to be called Deafy today.
I admired Mr. Alex Gray, the founder and owner. He hired people with disabilities, women and minorities at a time when it was not popular to do so. Dad had applied for several jobs before working at Gray’s, and did not get hired because he was black. One place even told him so. Mr. Gray did not care about race, gender or disabilities. His attitude was, “If you can do the job, then you got the job.” He was ahead of his time.
So, all this went through my mind on the subway platform after I smelled oil, grease and grinding metal.