Monday, July 15, 2024
Photo: Great British Chefs
On the Road with Mike Murchison

When sparks flew

Take a walk with me back to my old stompin’ grounds of North York. Back when the inside of Yorkdale Mall still smelled new; when outdoor hockey rinks outnumbered indoor rinks. When Harold Ballard ruled the Leafs with an iron fist.

Way back in the early 70’s when as a kid, trucking and playing the guitar were just still dreams in a young boy’s world of hockey, soccer and riding my bike down through Downsview Dells.

It was way back in those days that summers were everything we’d hoped they be when we daydreamed about them during the cold damp days of winter.

Now that you’ve accompanied me on this little journey, I want to tell you a story about some primitive entrepreneurs who conducted business on the streets long before E Commerce was even thought of.

You see, back then in our neighborhood from time to time there came a need for most households to have their knives and scissors sharpened. Back then, there wasn’t a Dollar Store or Bargain store where you could just grab a new pair of scissors or a knife for a couple bucks. No, you hung on to what you had. 

The knives and the scissors would need sharpening from time to time.

So, on any given day while outside playing street hockey or riding bikes it was common to come across a gentleman who was pulling a small two wheeled box. A box that had a foot pedal at the bottom which was connected to a pulley by a belt. It was an odd looking thing.

In one hand he held a bell. You know the type, the kind teachers used to use to round us kids up to head back into class. It had a black wooden handle that was attached to a brass bell, so shiny it looked like gold.

The old fellow would pull the odd-looking card behind him while ringing the bell every few minutes to announce his arrival.

I would watch as a housewife here, a housewife there, or a husband or an older teenager would walk up to the old fellow and hand him a pair of scissors, or a couple of knives.

The fellow would sit his card upright, hang his bell on a protruding hook and then, he’d flip the lid of the cart open to reveal a grinding stone and a small coffee can size container of water.

Since I myself wasn’t in the need to have anything sharpened, I just watched. Still mounted on my bike, just watching the old fellow work.

I knew nothing about sharpening knives and scissors. However just to watch the old fellow go about the task was enough to keep me transfixed.

With the knife or scissors in hand, he’d dip them in the can of water then the magic started. He began to pump the foot pedal with one foot. The grinding wheel would start to spin. And with the care of handling a newborn babe he would ease the blade against the wheel.

I’ll never forget the sound when the two made contact. A rhythm all its own. Controlled by the rate his foot would pump the pedal.

Then….just like my own private fireworks display the sparks would fly. They’d shoot out horizontally and ebb and flow up and down as he worked the blade. Back and forth. Back and forth with exacting pressure

My eyes would be fixed on the sparks flying off the grinding wheel.. Back and forth he’d stroke the blade. And when it was done, he’d flip the knife or the scissors over and gently lay its edge onto the wheel.

Sometimes the old fellow would get 5 maybe 6 people coming out with things to sharpen. They’d stand there waiting while he worked; it was almost like a town hall meeting. Sometimes, no one came at all. The bell would toll but no one would come.

The old fellow would make his way down the street. Ringing that bell. He’d never announce his arrival with his voice. No. He announced it with the bell.

That old fellow and his sharpening box….and bell are long gone. Yet somehow, they are etched in my mind. Why I recalled them tonight, I’m not sure. But regardless of why, that memory brought with it a smile that was needed.

If I close my eyes, I think I would see that little wagon, sparks flying, and I surely would see the stone and hear the bell.