by John Hall
There was a restaurant on Walton Street everybody called the 'Chinese Restaurant' and I think it was called 'Chinese' because it was owned and operated
by a person of Chinese origin. I don't remember anybody ordering Chinese food and I doubt if it was on the menu, although I often
read it carefully to make sure I got the best buy for my money. The owner was referred to as 'Mr. Mark' who was cook, waiter, cleaner,
proprietor and, on occasions, entertainer. He was a fine man, always polite and cheerful and I'm glad I knew him. When I grew older
and learned more about him I realized he was separated from his family because of our archaic laws, and could not have them join
him, even though he was a good citizen, paid his taxes and obeyed our laws without question.
My friend Hager and I were sometimes given a treat by our fathers when we were told to come to the File factory on
pay day and given enough to buy lunch at the Chinese restaurant. This was a real occasion and we both looked forward
to a day when we were on our own, with money in our pockets and dining out. Being able to go to a restaurant by ourselves
and ordering a meal made us feel grown up and we looked forward to our lunch at Mr. Mark's, especially his Boston Cream Pie.
While we studied the menu with great concentration, it was really part of our 'being grown-up' act. We knew exactly what we
were going to have before we went into the restaurant and it never varied. We started with a bowl of very good, thick vegetable soup,
followed by a hot beef sandwich, fries, green peas and gravy. The culmination of the meal was of course, the Boston Cream Pie and a Coke.
Mr. Mark used real cream on his pie and it was a good half-inch thick. He always tried to convince us to drink milk because it was better
for us, but didn't insist and I think he liked to listen to the arguments we dreamed up to justify our decision to order a Coke. Perhaps
talking to us helped him remember his own son Howard who was in China and was about the same age as Hager and I, but could not
join him. By the way, the cost of our meal was a whole quarter, yes sir, twenty-five cents for the whole lot and it was delicious.
Incidentally, while I had a meal in the Chinese restaurant at least twice a month for several years, I had my first Chinese food
many years later when I was an Army officer on course in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. I believe I was about thirty-five at the time.
When Mr. Mark got to know Hager and me he told us that one of his favourite meals was turtle soup. He said he had first had it when
he was a small boy and it was considered a real delicacy in China. Unfortunately, turtles were not sold here and he couldn't get one
to make his soup, but he sure missed it. Hager looked at me and I said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" and he said
"Yep," and we decided then and there to get Mr. Mark his turtle so he could make his soup. You see, we knew
where there was a real old 'snapper' who sometimes appeared in our swimming hole in the Ganaraska and who would
bite you if he got the chance. We decided to kill two birds with one stone, get the ugly old turtle out of our swimming hole
and provide Mr. Mark with the makings of a fine soup. The problem was, how did you catch an old snapping turtle, and when
you did catch it, how did you carry it without being bitten? Mr. Hagerman told us that a snapper would bite something and
never let go if you got him mad enough, so the answer was to poke him a little with a long pole to get him mad and make
sure the pole wasn't too big for him to bite on. He took us out to the stand of willow trees on Cavan Street and cut a good
pole about six or seven feet long and gave us a demonstration on how to catch a turtle. Once we had practiced a little, he
gave us a big leather sack and said, "Put him in there, tie the draw string loosely at the top so he can get some air, then
hang the sack from the centre of the pole and each of you put one end of the pole on your shoulder and away you go." I, like
the amateur turtle catcher I was, said "How do you get the long stick in the sack if the turtle won't let go?" and he
said, "Geez Pug, you use your jack knife and cut the pole off about a foot from the snapper and then push him into
the sack." It all seemed so easy, but first we had to find the turtle, tease him until he got mad, get him to bite on the
thin end of the pole, drag him to a place where we could cut the pole off without being bitten and then stuff him into
the sack. Nothing to it, or so we thought.
We gathered up our turtle-catching gear and started walking up the
railway tracks towards our swimming hole where we knew the old snapper lived. When we got there we started
splashing in the water and making all the noises we normally made when we went swimming. At first we had no luck,
but suddenly Hager said, "Look out Pug, he's coming after your foot," and sure enough there he was making a bee
line for me. Now I can tell you I got out of there as quick as I could and ran back up on the shore where the turtle couldn't catch me.
He followed me out of the water and started up the bank after me, but he was very slow once he got on land. Funny thing, in the
water he was graceful and quick, but on land he was awkward and easy to dodge. I grabbed the pole and started poking at him
and soon he bit into the end and held on for dear life while I started pulling him up on shore. "Put him in the bag
Hager," I said, but when Hager approached him with the sack, he let go of the pole and grabbed the bag, and wouldn't let go.
"Not from the front Hager, sneak up behind him," I said, but the turtle wouldn't let go so we were back to square one.
Somehow we had to make him let go of the bag and grab the pole again so I said, "Take that long stick and poke him in the
rear," but Hager said, "You poke him in the rear," and I took the pole and started worrying him from behind.
Finally he let go and started turning towards his new tormentor and as he did I poked at him again and once again he
grabbed the stick. This time he was really mad and there was no way he was going to let go, so I started to lift him off the ground.
Once he was clear Hager put the bag underneath him until I had him above the bag which was above the ground.
I told Hager to hold onto the bag, but to start turning it slightly towards me so I could push him in.
The turtle was soon in the bag, but he refused to let go of the pole, so we just cut it off like Hager's dad had
told us to and we had our turtle for Mr. Mark. We tied the bag's drawstring to the centre of the pole and with
one of on each end, we carried the turtle to Mr. Mark. He was really pleased, but couldn't understand our warning
about the turtle being a 'snapper' until we showed him what happened when we poked the turtle with the stick and he
once again he snapped on. Now Mr. Mark saw what we meant, but we didn't wait to see what he did about it, we just left
and hoped Mr. Mark could figure out what to do with him.
The next time we went in for lunch Mr. Mark said,
"Turtle not like Chinese turtle, he real fighter," and he held up a bandaged finger to show us what happened when he tried
to get the turtle out of the bag. "He tough turtle," he said, "but he taste good, just like Chinese
turtle," and he refused to take any money for our meal. I think he really enjoyed the soup,
but he never asked us to get another 'tough turtle'. Funny thing happened to our swimming hole though, there were lots of
little turtles in there after that, all coming from a nest of turtle eggs that looked just like ping pong balls. We found a whole
parade of little turtles, all headed for the swimming hole as soon as they could get their feet going. It dawned on us that the
old snapper might have been their mother or father and they wouldn't take kindly to what we had done. We could have been
wrong, but we didn't take any chances, we just found another swimming hole, after we checked it for turtles, of course."