Sam Mihailidis was a fruiterer on Johnston street Collingwood.His ramshackle shop had no name. After serving the community for over 45 years he collapsed and died in his shop last Thursday evening.
An older Somali lady was in his shop at the time. She saw he was in distress. She asked” shall I call you ambulance?”
No no he gasped, take what you need and go home and cook!
Then he collapsed and passed away.
He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
He was 75
He embodied the theme people before profits.
As a resident in Abbotsford for over ten years, I found refuge in the beauty of this human being. The frequent banter, ” Sam there is water leaking from your ceiling! … Yes I catch the water and grow the fish!”
You know I’ve been here for over forty four years now.
Sam your wife must be worried…hahahaaaaa
Here take these olives, and I made olive oil also.
How much Sam?
Don’t worry, money later.
But I want to pay you Sam
Later, later , now go
My eldest daughter , who is ten and my youngest son who is three see Sam as a pillar in their communal identity.
Grace always walked out with free bananas and seasonal grapes or strawberries.
For spike it was peaches.
” dad , can we go past Sam and get a peach?”
He never let us pay full price, if anything.
Having grown up in Sri Lanka, my identity was fortified by the trust and generosity of the local shop keeper. Like a second father, they nurtured the young.They were just a pantry for our needs.
Sam’s death has left us gutted.
Having spent time with, his holiness the Dalai Llama, Governor Generals and prime ministers , I have not been touched by the vitality of life in the manner that Sam did.
Often I would bump into Sam at 4 AM in the mornings at the Melbourne wholesale market. It was like bumping into my guardian.
What are you buying?
Have you found the best price?
Forget the tomatoes… They are no good!!
Ok ok Sam, thank you.
If I needed to be reminded of the essence of what it is to be alive, I don’t go to church, ashram or temple, I visit Sam. Often, there were all manner of interesting characters who’d be sitting and chatting with Sam.
Somali or Sudanese council workers, old Chinese retirees, elderly Turkish men struggling to hold up their gold braces. Usually, there was hardly a common language. The glue that kept us all in this unnamed embassy of community was that Sam slowed us all down, like olives being cured for the banquet. We were reminded that , each other is all we need.
Have a yarn, crack a joke, try some olives and scheme your exit out of the maddening pace of life in the most liveable city.
Going past Sam’s shop in the last two days has been a strange experience.
My partner and I have to fight back tears and explain to our three year old that Sam will never be able to give him a peach anymore.
It is his legacy that will nourish spike from now on.
So what is his legacy?
I call them – traders of the lost art.
Traders who are ply their trade in an unsuccessful attempt to hide their generous hearts.When you visit them for the second time , you are family.
There is Maria, who’s milk bar on Abbotsford street has served the community for over fifty years.
Felix the Russian cobbler on church street- who pulls out a chocolate for the kids before any conversation begins with the adults.
Frequent these shops and spend more money and time being touched by these near extinct souls.
This is the missing vitality in your life
Because , like the Coles ads, ” we are going down down down”… If we put saving money ahead of saving ourselves.
Sam said so