My Father’s Store and Other Stories by Mary Ann Lichacz-Karwatsky (Book Review)
My Father’s Store and Other Stories – Stories of the immigrant experience to North America over the past 175 years – no matter what country of origin these newcomers arrived from – are always fascinating and inspiring. Basically, it’s leaving one’s homeland to escape hardship or oppression, and arrive either in the U.S. or Canada for a new life. And through hard work, determination and conquering many obstacles, that dream of a better life in a new place becomes a reality.
That’s the case with Mary Ann Lichacz-Karawatsky, a retired guidance counsellor with the EMSB (English Montreal School Board) and mother of CTV News Montreal co-anchor Paul Karwatsky. Her father Wasyl “Bill” Lichacz came to Canada from his native Ukraine in 1928, when he was only nine years old. Not knowing how to speak neither English nor French upon his arrival, “Bill” made a go for himself in his new home of Montreal, married a French Canadian girl from Pointe St. Charles and in 1946, bought a grocery store on 12th Avenue in the burgeoning North East End Montreal suburb of Rosemount.
This combination grocery and general store was typical of the mom & pop corner stores that dotted a lot of Montreal neighbourhoods before the era of strip malls and big box stores. It not only sold grocery essentials, but also school supplies, comic books, sewing supplies, candy, soda pop, beer and a wide selection of meats, cold cuts and baked goods that gave European immigrant residents of the area a taste of their homeland.
That grocery store in that Rosemount neighbourhood is the focal point of Karwatsky’s recently published book My Father’s Store. It’s a collection of autobiographical stories in which she takes a fond look back at how her parents ran the store (and how she spent much of her spare time when she was younger helping out when there were a rush of customers), and the personal touch that they gave to their faithful customers that helped to make the Lichacz Grocery the go-to place to get much needed groceries or other types of goods for individuals and families.
However, her father’s store is not the only focus of this collection. Karwatsky also offers reminiscences of growing up in a developing Montreal suburb during the 50s and 60s, where a trip on the beige Beaubien MTC trolley bus to St. Hubert Street for a shopping trip was a day’s outing, or the nearby Blue Bird Café was a favorite hangout of bikers and biker gangs, or how one can be too well prepared for an upcoming Debate Club tournament at Holy Names High School.
As well, Karwatsky deviates from the store to tell about her own life, first as a globetrotting McGill student (especially her escapades in Spain and Tangier during the early 70s, which she was inspired by James A. Michener’s novel The Drifters), and some of the interesting cases she dealt with during her lengthy career as a high school guidance counsellor (including a “stand off” with four teenage boys with an alleged drug problem, whose only goal was to graduate from high school without any trouble).
The stories in this book are well crafted and well written, and offers a fond look back at life in a Montreal suburb that evolved from farm land to residential neighbourhood, and what living the post World War II Canadian dream was like as seen through the comings and goings at Mary Ann Lichacz-Karwatsky’s father’s Rosemont corner grocery store.