A TV ad for a certain credit card ends with this question, "What’s in your wallet?" Perhaps the question that should be asked of Jim Christy is, "What’s in your Peek Frean’s tin biscuit box?"
Burton K. Janes
I will explain, but first, a bit about the man himself.
Christy is an artist, author and traveller. He has exhibited his art internationally. He has written more than 20 books. His travels have taken him from the Yukon to the Amazon. He was raised in Philadelphia, but moved to Toronto when he was 23 years old. Becoming a Canadian citizen, he currently resides in the township of Stirling-Rawdon, Ontario.
His gem-of-a-book, "Sweet Assorted: 121 Takes From a Tin Box," was published in 2012 by Vancouver’s Anvil Press.
"For nearly 40 years," Christy writes, "I’ve had this metal Peek Frean’s box into which I’ve tossed items randomly, willy-nilly and with neither rhyme nor reason …
"Going through the box, taking inventory, has meant one discovery after another …
"When I began rifling through the box this time, I realized there was a story behind every item …"
Christy relates the story behind 121 objects stuffed into his tin box. According to his publisher, the reader will find "half-finished notes, scrawled snippets of conversation, observations made on the run, photographs of people known and unknown, scraps of paper with puzzling sketches on them, receipts, match packs, postcards, and other assorted paraphernalia."
Postcards piqued my interest. There’s one from St. Augustine Alligator and Ostrich Farm. A second features the person everyone called Miss Sweden. "She was friendly and talkative but not given to reminiscing. She was pleasantly pudgy, wore harem pants, loads of jewelry, veils, leis and a halter top emblazoned with the legend ‘Sweden Social Democrat.'" A third is a colour picture of a decorated van. Yet another is from Ravenna, Italy.
I’m intrigued by the photographs. There’s one of Bar El Galeon at El Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico. There’s another from Buenos Aires, and two from Saigon. Yet another is a studio photograph of Joseph Isaac "Ike" Clanton, taken at Tombstone, Arizona, 1880, the year before he and his brother, Billy, were gunned down by the Earps and their dentist pal, Doc Halliday.
There’s a 46-cent Canadian postage stamp featuring a drawing of Guy Lombardo, "probably," Christy suggests, "done by someone who was not a fan. It looks like a goofy Guy, a real square at the party, looking for a lampshade."
Coins caught my attention. There’s a Kennedy half-dollar, as well as a 50-cent piece from the Kingdom of Swaziland, and a bright Cuban peso coin.
I wonder how many of us have our own "tin box." Well, it may not be an actual box; it might be something as simple as a file folder. I have one with the heading of "Keepsakes." It’s bulging with this, that and something else. While writing this column, I dipped into it, to see which objects I had collected over the last three decades.
There’s a booklet, "The Adventures of Pac-Man" which, according to an inscription on the cover page, belongs to my son, Christopher. There’s a depiction of a boat, "Hayley, Caleb & Hannah," drawn in church by one of the siblings and passed along to me.
There’s a postcard from one of the young people in my youth group who had relocated to British Columbia. The front is a drawing of a bald man, along with the words, "Bald is beautiful. God only made so many perfect heads. The others he covered with hair!" Touche.
There’s a letter I wrote in 1980 to my dearly beloved, Sherry, with this probing question, "By the way, what are we going to do on the night before we’re married?" I’m not going there.
There’s a postcard with this inscription on the reverse, "Hi, there. From Sally Field." Sally Field? Wherever did I get that?
There’s a Merchant’s Coupon Book, produced in the first decade of the last century. I bought it at some auction, but I don’t recall which one. There’s an Autumn 1946 booklist from SCM Press. There’s a booklet about Gillett’s Cream Tartar from E.W. Gillett Company. There’s a sawmill return, produced by the Commission of Government’s Department of Natural Resources, St. John’s, in 1943. There’s an announcement of the 1939 Royal Visit to Newfoundland. And, there’s a Darren Langdon hockey card I picked up for my son.
On and on it goes and, admittedly, I wonder today why I kept some of this stuff but, at the time, it obviously meant something to me. In short, there’s something for every taste in my Keepsakes file, as well as in Christy’s book.
What’s in your box?
— Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at email@example.com