When I was a young boy in the 1950s, I loved elevators. One of my favorite children’s books contained a passage that went something like “Going up elevator? I’ll go too. Up up up where there’s work to do”.
Most elevators in those days had operators. They were called “elevator operators” or “lift men” but I called them “elevator men”. Elevator men opened and closed the elevator doors and made sure that they reached the correct level at each floor. They would sometimes call out things like “Third floor. Men’s shoes, women’s lingerie”. They had fancy uniforms and smiled a lot. At least, that is how I remember them.
My Dad worked for the Canadian government. He worked in an office building across from the Canadian Parliament. I think the name of the building was the “North Light” building but I cannot remember. Neither could Dad. (Note: With help from great Ottawans, I just found out it’s the Norlite Building on Wellington Street – still there!).
I liked visiting Dad’s office. He had a mechanical electric calculator that could do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division automatically. Dad told me that I could play with the computer it if I promised not to divide by zero. Oops. I divided by zero. The computer kept trying its best to divide by zero. It didn’t give up for an hour. Obstinate machine. Finally Dad arrived. He was upset. They had to send the computer to Montreal to take it apart and put it back together. Dad’s work colleagues were less friendly to me during my subsequent visits. And I was never allowed near that machine again.
But most of all I liked to go up and down in the rickety elevator. The elevator man was old and most of the people paid no attention to him.
But my Dad always asked him how he was feeling. And he would smile and answer.
One day as we left the elevator, Dad said quietly, “That elderly man was once famous. He played hockey for the Ottawa Senators.”
The Senators had been the most successful hockey team in the world some thirty-five years earlier. And he had been one of their star players!
Once people had flocked to obtain his autograph. Now they barely acknowledged the existence of the old man who quietly opened and closed the doors of the elevator.
(Note: It might have been Cy Cyril Denneny – according to Pamela Coburn).
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the elevator man and neither does Dad. But I do remember the important lesson he taught me about life:
One should never judge a person based on his or her age, physical characteristics or occupation. Everyone is unique, has a family, and an amazing life story.
Today there are few elevator men left in most countries. To tell you the truth? I miss them!! So I wrote the children’s book on the next page. Enjoy.