Mikey and the Hanukkah Bush
by Judi McLeod
November 8 - December 2, 2000
Don't know what it is about the falling rain that takes me to the past. It's curious why my memories in the newspaper business go so far back, not to the days of the Toronto Sun, the Whig Standard in Kingston or the now defunct Brampton Daily Times. No, my brand of nostalgia takes me all the way back to my callow youth when I was working for Thomson Newspaper's Oshawa Daily Times.
The raft of indelible characters I met there is long gone out of my everyday life. But in my memory they not only live on, but also cross the stage of my memory at the same ages they were some 25 years ago.
There were a Felix Unger kind of sportswriter, Wally Donaldson, ace reporter Johnny Sturrup, the vivacious Idola Simpson, and "the two Mikeys", serious Mike Kolaschuk and irresistible but somewhat cynical Mikey Babad.
Back in those days a guy called John McLeod was the manager editor and I was a bursting-to-be-hotshot-investigative-reporter. McLeod took me on, but first made me do a one-year stint as "women's editor", a loathsome job which included covering strawberry teas and recipes.
If I close my eyes, I can still see the Time"s newsroom after deadline. John Sturrup (nicknamed Number One for reasons I cannot remember) is sitting by my desk in a chair meant for visitors, when McLeod happens along to chase him away. "You'll never amount to anything", the editor always admonished the bright young reporter. It's lunchtime and Idola Simpson, who writes up the obits, is powdering her nose. Universally known as "Granny", Idola a young-looking middle-aged matron seemed so much older than the rest of us. Hailing from Trois Riviere Quebec, she was full of life and the last person one would imagine as the obit writer. Newly separated after many years in an unhappy marriage, she was always fun to be with. With exquisite taste, but a somewhat ribald sense of humour, Idola lived to dance. I can still see her waltzing to her favourite tune, Maria Elaina with one of the reporters.
Careful about her work, she still made the odd blooper, and I can still remember the young doctor who came to tell off the "women's department" about the typos in his late father's obit. "My father didn't go away to be interned", he bellowed, "my father went away and is never coming back because he was unfortunately interred".
Knowing of my ambitions to be an investigative type, the male reporters had a lot of fun at my expense, especially Sturrup. He and another reporter used to telephone me prosing as recently widowed men who pretended to be nervous in preparing a dinner menu for poker chums. So sincere was my advice to them until they asked, "What kind of wine does one serve with the fish and chips?"
We frequented a local watering hole called "The Greeks" across the street from the Time's King Street offices. There we would sit griping about McLeod and the other editors. We had our own baseball team called "The Oshawa Good Times".
Of all my memories the one about Mikey Babad and the Hanukkah Bush stands out the most. It was Christmas time. John McLeod would give us our bonus and hand out token gifts from the annual employee's gift exchange. But to get either, we had to sit on his lap.
When we were making fun of the annual Christmas bash at the Greeks, Mikey Babad, who was more cynical than most told us he didn't think it was a bad idea at all. Growing up in the Jewish faith, he said he had always been after his mother for a Christmas tree during public school days. "Mikey, we don't do Christmas, we do Hanukkah", his Mom told him.
That year, I fished Babad's name out of the hat in the gift exchange.
I wanted to buy him a small Christmas tree and present it as a "Hanukkah Bush". But it had to be tiny, complete with lights and within the meager budget allowed for token gifts.
Feeling that perhaps I had chosen the wrong gift didn't last when he whipped off the wrappings, especially after someone plugged in the tiny tree's lights at his desk.
"It's about the nicest thing anyone ever did for me", said the wide-eyed Babad.
It rained the day after the last issue of TFP was put to bed. With the paper out, I had time off from a busy schedule to think.
After a few telephone calls, I traced John Sturrup, now the father of two children and an executive with Metroland Newspapers. (So much for editor McLeod's predictions about him never amounting to much). I had known that Idola Simpson, racked with arthritis, had been in a Whitby hospital during the past decade.
Sturrup told me she had passed on a couple of years ago. I couldn't explain how I heard the distant strains of a song called Maria Elaina.. Beautiful, full-of-life Idola Simpson÷
"Number One" told me that he thought Michael Babad, managing editor of the Globe and Mail's Report on Business was the same one.
I called but could not really tell by the professional sounding recorded message on the voice mail. if this was our Mikey.
It’s now coming in to the holiday season of 2000..
Happy Hanukah bush, Mikey, wherever you are.
Canada Free Press founding editor Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the print media. Her work has appeared on Newsmax.com, Drudge Report, Foxnews.com, Glenn Beck and The Rant. Judi can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.