Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn found adventure on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Tom Hudson and his friend “Shorty” discovered it in the secluded laneways and avenues of a deceptively quiet Toronto neighbourhood. Arse Over Teakettle is an intriguing tale of Tom Hudson’s boyhood escapades in Toronto during the 1940s. He and his mischievous friend, Shorty, encounter eccentric characters such as Grumpy, an unconventional older man in the neighbourhood, and their fierce neighbour—Mrs. Leyer. Their confrontations with the Kramer Gang are sometimes painful and at other times hilarious. As Tom and his friends become sexually aware, amusing situations develop. Shorty constantly pushes Tom to explore beyond the secure boundaries of childhood, into the world of the “big boys.” An intimate and heartfelt tale of family life in Toronto, Arse Over Teakettle is set during the decade when the city is transforming from a parochial city into a cosmopolitan urban centre. In Tom’s neighbourhood, difficulties arise as he confronts ethnic and religious prejudice, which wounds his boyhood friends.
At 6:00 p.m., my mother folded the picnic blanket, and we departed for the return voyage aboard the “Cayuga.” The sun’s strength had waned. In the cooling evening air, we observed a group of boys diving for coins in the water near the port side of the ship. Unable to peer above the wooden rail, I poked my head in the space below it, to watch the boisterous scene. I was unable to swim, and marvelled as they skillfully dived, kicking their feet to propel themselves downward in their search for pennies and an occasional nickel. The ship sailed from the wharf at 6:30 p.m., angling its course northeast. The ship’s wake cut a swath of swirling white on the lake’s indigo surface, as it pushed its way toward Toronto. Two hours later, we arrived at the York Street Quay. The sun drooped toward the western sky, the declining rays of sunlight holding the darkness at bay, one of the blessings of a long July evening. As an adult, I learned that it was the time of day the French referred to as “the magic hour.” I preferred the word “twilight,” and the name “evensong” for hymns sung as the shadows of day’s end descend o’er land and sea. The hymn, “The day thou gavest Lord has ended, the evening falls at thy behest . . .” possess a comforting, lyrical quality that aptly describe the mood of this July evening, after our voyage across the lake. I was grateful for the warmth of the Bay Streetcar as it rumbled eastward and then turned north toward home. As I watched the towering buildings of Bay Street pass the streetcar windows, I didn’t realize that my day at Port Dalhousie would remain so indelibly inscribed on the pages of my memory. Good times, like good friends, remain with us hearts forever.
Doug Taylor has researched, studied, and taught the history of Toronto for several decades. He was a member of the faculty of Lakeshore Teachers’ College (York University), and the Ontario Teacher Education College. He is retired and lives in Toronto.