Going out into the unknown, the Lebanese Peddler’s in Charlottetown, By Elsie Richard

Lebanese Peddler’s Accounts.

We never really knew where he (the peddler) came from; for example, that he was Lebanese. I never knew that till years later. He was described as a Syrian…. I remember a discussion one night as to whether a Lebanese was a Jew or not–and this was not any prejudiced discussion. It was you know, just a matter of interest; and that was a mystery which, as far as I can recollect, was never fathomed in our time. We never really settled that.

I can see him coming yet with the box hanging down in front here and the bag on his back. One balances the other…I have a picture in my mind. Poor old fellow, stooped pretty well, you know, I mean, just how would you put it? Like a tree that bends with the wind…It looked natural for him to be coming along there with the shoulders down. You know, you have a kind of warm feeling for the old fellow in your heart, to think that he would have the guts to go out with a load like that. Start out of Charlottetown–I mean, you know, he was going out into the unknown. I don’t know that many people who would do that today walking. I never heard anybody speak unkindly of him, not Tommy Michael. My memories of Tommy were all good.

Tom Michael came here regular. And that was an event. He had what seems to me now–I would give anything to have a picture of this to show you what it was really like–but to me looking back in my mind’s eye–he had this enormous pack that, oh, unfolded would be the area of the kitchen floor. I know that wasn’t so because he, the man, had to pack it up and carry it. But to my eyes it was–it was enormous. And there were all sorts of things: combs, brushes, needles, ointments–you name it, and he had it.

Joe Mayme was a short, stocky man who walked the roads. He carried two huge square leather packs , one in front and one on his back–to balance him. He, like most of them, had his own customers and places to stay overnight. He did not call at our home. Stories he told about his homeland I heard from my school friends at whose houses he slept. The peddler who called at our house was Tom Zaib. He was usually called “Tom the Arab”. He was a small dark-skinned man. More white showed in his eye.

I can ever recall seeing in anyone else’s before or since. A look in our direction terrified us as children. He dislike both dogs and children. He made that fact known clear. If Dick, our dog, barked at him as he landed (Zaib was a wagon peddler), he came into the house with angry words. My brother and I hid when we saw him coming–but usually within ear-shot. If we didn’t manage to get out of the kitchen, we got under the table or behind an open door. He carried clothing such as shirts, sweaters, underwear, pants, socks, and braces for men.

For women he had clothing also, such as sweaters, stockings, underwear, and sewing materials such as flannelette were available. Small household items that included pins, needles, tape, scissors, and thimbles he sold too. Salves, liniment, cold cures, and tonics he supplied too. Also, he had a few toys and children’s clothing in his pack. When he came you had to buy something or other.

 If you didn’t he would be cross and he would let you know it. One time he came to out place after spending time in hospital. He came in pretending to be talking to himself and saying, “Tom died. Tom went to hell. Hell full of doctors and lawyers. No room for Tom, Tom had to come back for another while.” Why he was tolerated I never questioned. I expect his “bark” which terrified us as children, wasn’t so bad in the mind of adults–who understood him and his problems. They likely looked upon him as an honest man who was trying hard to make a living under more difficult condition than they themselves were experiencing.

My father said when he had that horse and buggy , he was going through the country, and it was getting pretty late in Rustico. He said my god! I have to put my horse up somewhere. So he came to this French place, Doucette and his wife. They said, “No room, No room.” Pop said, “I’m staying whether you want me or not”, and he drove right into the barn with the horse. And from that day on, that’s all he ever had to do and the old fellow would see him coming. He would open up the gate, pop would drive right in, and he would stay there for the night. And when Sunday came, if he would happen to be away, pop would say “You go to church and I’ll get the meal”. Pop would cook and do everything and he had not trouble after that.

Each one turned him down until finally, he came to another home. They said, “Yes, you can stay here.” They stalled the horse for him. He stayed there overnight….The next day was Sunday….So he went to church and you know the way it is in the country, the people all gather in the churchyard after the service talking….They were talking about the sermon, and Dad says, “Yes, it was a wonderful service…especially where he said, “If a stranger comes to your door–don’t keep him!” Well, he found that after that he never had any trouble on the road. Every house wanted to put him up over night.

Well, half way up the road, we’d generally land there about noon hour. And there was a little old man and three sons lived there alone. They’re all related on the road anyway. We’d go in this time of year, in fall. They’d strip off their summer clothes right there, and pop would pass those heavy overalls, great Derry jumbo-knit coat sweaters, each ,fleece-lined shirts, fleece-lined underwear, pure wool or whatever they wanted. They’d made the complete change right there.

Question: Would they wait for your father to come?
Answer: Oh yes! And then we’d do it all over again, with the light weight clothes, in the spring.
Question: Just one set of clothes?
Answer: Each son would have a complete outfit, and the old man.
Question: Was he able to pay with cash?
Answer: Oh yes, he always had paid cash. He always had a roll on him.

                         – Elsie Richard. 97 Years Old.

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