Below is Chapter Seven of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s.
Every Tuesday over the next few months, Beach Metro News will post up another chapter of the book on our website at https://www.beachmetro.com/ for readers to enjoy.
To see our earlier story on Black, and to read Chapter One, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/07/14/former-residents-book-looks-back-on-growing-up-in-the-beach-in-the-fifties/
Hard copies of the book BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s are now available locally at Book City on Queen Street East and Danforth Avenue and at The Great Escape Book Store on Kingston Road. For more information on the book or to order a copy, please contact Black at firstname.lastname@example.org
BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s
CHAPTER SEVEN: ‘The Yummy Man is Coming’
By KEITH BLACK
RAAAAGABEAU. RAAAAGABEAU. This word or semblance of a word was yelled loudly and nasally and when my friends and I heard it, we ran from wherever we were playing to stare.
We didn’t get too close; we were deathly afraid of the source of that strange call. But we were fascinated. RAAAAGABEAU. It sounded like it was all one word with the second half rising but not quite like a question, but more like an implication.
Invariably the fellow making this announcement was a wizened and seedy looking chap and invariably he was accompanied by a beefier but equally seedy partner. One of them would be holding the reins guiding a horse which was seedy as well. This poor creature would be hauling a decrepit wagon containing an eclectic load of what one might kindly describe as junk.
These were the Rag and Bone men. And that was what they were announcing. They would spend their days plodding up and down the side-streets of Toronto picking up any manner of debris that the residents were happy to be rid of. They would accept virtually anything, but scrap metal in any form was the mother lode.
We were afraid of them because in our eyes (eyes which had been opened by Grade B movies) they appeared to be the lowliest of criminals. Actually, they were just trying to make a buck. Like so many things of the Fifties, I miss them. RAAAAGABEAU.
Another sound frequently heard on the street was the ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding of a hand-held school bell. This was the Sharpening Man.
Ringing the bell with one hand, he would be pulling a homemade wooden contraption on two wheels with the other. This device consisted of a stool, a foot pedal, a drive belt, a grinding wheel or wheels and a collection of files and whetstones, all rather ingeniously assembled in a small lightweight package. For a small sum he would sharpen knives, scissors, garden shears or axes, a process which, for some reason we children found fascinating; the Sharpening Man never seemed to mind when we gathered around to watch. I don’t know why, but we didn’t find any of them to be frightening. Maybe it’s because all of the Sharpening Men reminded us of Pinocchio’s dad, Geppetto. I wonder how many miles each day they walked and for an income of? I suspect they weren’t familiar with the term “disposable income”.
One of our favourite visitors to the neighbourhood was the Popcorn Man. Each of them looked like he was related to the Sharpening Man. The sound of his steam whistle (blowing a constant middle F) could be heard from afar, allowing each of us plenty of time to run home to beg for a nickel for a bag of popcorn. The wealthier members of the group would score a dime for a bright red candy apple. He also sold roasted chestnuts, but I honestly don’t recall ever seeing anyone buy them. In addition to the edibles, the Popcorn Man had such things as colourful homemade pinwheels, spinners and small stuffed toys.
All of this was transported on a tricycle, the double wheels being located at the front supporting a large wood-framed glass box containing the popping machine and the popcorn. In front of the box was the steamer that kept the chestnuts warm as well as melted butter in a copper kettle to be poured on the popcorn (it was probably not butter, but more likely margarine or even vegetable oil….but we didn’t know or care). The whole conveyance was painted in bright red and white stripes or other vibrant colours with the toys festooning the top of the box.
I now wonder how the Popcorn Men managed to negotiate some of the streets of the Beach such as Scarborough Road and Kingswood Road with their challenging hills. Perhaps some of the children of the area were forever deprived of popcorn because of geography.
Another frequent and appreciated caller was a man who apparently did not exist. Periodically we would hear other children screaming “The Yummy Man, The Yummy Man is coming” and off we would go again to implore our mothers to fork over another nickel or dime.
Like the Popcorn Man, the Yummy Man rode a tricycle with the double wheels up front but it was supporting a large white cooler containing ice cream bars, packaged ice cream cones, fudgesicles and popsicles.He announced himself with several tinkling bells. Unlike the Popcorn Man, the Yummy Man was usually a teenager wearing a white jacket and a soda jerk hat. If you don’t remember what a soda jerk hat is, perhaps I will explain it later on.
But I can find no evidence that The Yummy Man ever existed. I can find no reference to a company with that name. Dickie Dee of Winnipeg had ice cream carts but they didn’t appear in Toronto until 1960. The only company I can find that sold ice cream from a tricycle cart in the Fifties was the Good Humor Corporation of America which operated such carts in Canada with the name Good Humor displayed prominently. Their vendor was known as The Good Humor Man. But we never called him that. It was always The Yummy Man.
Could it be that we took affront at the American spelling of humour and therefore changed the name? Possibly we were making a profound nationalistic statement. I don’t know if the children of the Sixties called their ice cream vendor the Dickie Dee Man instead of the Yummy Man. I hope not. Our name was more descriptive. Plus it sounds better. The Dickie Dee Man is coming? I don’t think so. The Yummy Man is coming!
The treats were free from another regular visitor: the iceman. As discussed earlier, many Canadians still had ice boxes well into the Fifties and they relied on an iceman to deliver large blocks of ice on a regular basis.
When the iceman carried the ice into the home, we kids would hover around the back of the truck’s platform picking up chunks or slivers of ice to suck on. Of course this ice had been sliding around on the grimy floor of the truck but do you think we cared? Not a bit; it was cool and refreshing and, besides, all the other kids did it.
Without doubt the hardest working fellow to appear regularly in the neighbourhood was the coal man. Almost all of the apartment buildings in the Beach were heated with coal-fired boilers and many of the houses still had coal-burning furnaces.
This gentleman would park his truck as close as possible to the receptacle for the coal and then carry the bags on his back. I believe that they were 75 pound bags. The coal for our apartment building was poured into manholes at the back of the building. This meant that the coalman parked his truck on Queen Street and then would carry the bags up the driveway which was too small for his vehicle, a distance of about 80 feet, turn to his left, climb a couple of stairs and then proceed another 30 feet and then pour it into a hopper. I think that he delivered about 10 bags on each delivery day.
To deliver to houses he would carry the bags as far as was necessary to reach a small door which opened to reveal a coal chute. The coal would be poured into the chute and then slide into the hopper. Some homes didn’t have coal chutes but outdoor stairs that led into the basement instead. He would have had to negotiate these stairs and cramped basement quarters in order to reach his target.
And, of course, he was covered in coal dust from head to toe. He would regularly wipe his eyes and they shone like LED lights through the blackness. They revealed a stoic determination. Children are not endowed with empathy but whenever I saw the coalman I felt strangely discomfited. The fellow that delivered coal to our building actually lived in an apartment block across the street from ours and I would occasionally see him on a Sunday when he was not dressed in anthracite. Even then, his countenance was grim. I clearly remember what he looked like and today, when I hear a professional golfer or baseball player describe how hard they are working, I think of him.
You might think that burning all of that coal for heating, power generation and industrial purposes must have been bad for the quality of the air that we breathed. You would be right.
We also burned a lot of garbage. Like most apartment buildings, ours had an incinerator chute down which the tenants would throw all of their garbage to be burned with the resultant clouds of dark smoke billowing from the chimney. Throughout the decade, concerns were expressed, studies were initiated, ineffective laws were passed and then ignored; it would be years before the severity of the problem would be recognized and then tackled. Meanwhile we breathed deadly air. Another one of those “Faults of the Fifties”.
There was a pair of individuals who delivered another product directly to our doors in the Fifties and they worked as a team with precision and camaraderie. One of them seemed to know all of the customers by name and always smiled and waved to us. he other always worked in a state of muted resignation but also seemed to enjoy or at least tolerate our presence. I don’t remember the name of the friendly one but I think the quiet one’s name was Nellie. I am, of course, talking about the milkman and his silent partner, his horse.
The Beach was serviced by two dairies in the Fifties, Blantyre and Silverwoods. Both of these maintained fleets of electric and/or gasoline powered vehicles but both continued to also use horse-drawn wagons until the end of the decade.
Looking back at it, I feel fortunate that our area was one that was visited by the horse-drawn wagon, the simple reason being it’s a treasured memory.
Until 1954 we never saw our milkman and his horse; they and all of the others worked overnight. But in that year a new anti-noise bylaw was passed prohibiting them from delivering before 7 a.m. After that, each weekday in mid-morning, we would see the wagon turn onto Maclean Avenue from Queen Street and stop. The milkman would make several trips into our apartment building carrying his two metal bottle holders each of which carried 6 or 8 bottles of milk.
When he had finished delivering to our building he would start refilling the carriers as the horse sauntered down to the first house south of our apartment block. The milkman would then hop off and would walk down the street dropping off milk at each doorstep. Meanwhile Nellie would pull the wagon down to the last house before Avion Avenue and wait there. The horse knew the route as well as the milkman which was helpful when he went on vacation and was replaced by a temporary substitute. The replacement driver simply followed Nellie.
As I mentioned, the milkman delivered glass quart bottles some of which flared into a reverse bell shape above the neck; these were cream-top bottles. Originally the bottles were closed with a wired stopper,but later in the decade they were all sealed with waxed cardboard lids inserted in the top. And how did he know how many bottles to leave? An empty bottle with money in it was to be replaced; an empty bottle without cash was simply a return.
Yes, money was left out on front porches overnight up and down all of the streets of the Beach. Was it ever stolen? I vaguely remember my mother talking to other women on one occasion and one occasion only about money having gone missing. And their reaction? “What is the world coming to?” They were in a state of disbelief.
Many of the houses had milk doors which were usually located next to the side or rear door of the house. These were doors about 12-inches square which opened to reveal a small cupboard which was accessed by an interior door as well. These have virtually all been removed; they were a major cause of heat-loss.
Home milk delivery whether by horse-drawn wagon or by other means disappeared in the early Sixties. And what killed it? A simple thing really; it was the glass three-quart milk jug. These were sold at supermarkets and chains of franchised convenience stores at or near cost as loss-leaders to get people into the stores. It worked.
Many of the milkmen found jobs making deliveries to retails stores or delivering for department stores such as Eaton’s or Simpsons or for driving for Bacon Cartage which had the local contract for the transport of mail.
As for Nellie, I sincerely hope that she enjoyed many years of happy retirement.
To read earlier chapters of BOOM, please see below:
To read Chapter Two, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/07/21/chapter-two-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Three, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/07/28/chapter-three-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Four, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/04/chapter-four-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Five, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/11/chapter-five-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/
To read Chapter Six, please go to https://www.beachmetro.com/2020/08/18/chapter-six-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/