by John Hall

I never knew his real name, he was just, 'Push-em-up Tony, the Popcorn Man'. I can still see him standing on the corner handing out big white bags of popcorn and yet I knew so little about him. He had a small handcart he pushed to the spot where he knew business would be good that particular day, usually near a corner on Walton Street or where some special event such as the Rotary club annual fair was being held. His cart had wheels on each side at the front with legs at he back and there were two horizontal handles, one on each side so he could pick up the cart to let the legs clear the ground. When he decided to move he simply grasped the two handles, lifted the legs from the ground and rolled forward on the two front wheels. The top of the cart was glassed in on all four sides and the top was also glass. On one of the glassed sides, there were two glass doors which could be opened and locked back out of the way when Tony was making his popcorn. On the inside and hanging from the roof of the enclosure was a round metal tray into which Tony poured his popcorn and the whole was heated by a gas jet. The popcorn poured out of the tray and fell to the floor of the cage where he scooped it using a large metal scoop and put in white paper bags. There was also a large, granite pot which looked like a coffeepot with a long pouring spout and this hung near the gas jet and contained the hot butter Tony poured over the popcorn in each bag. The final operation was to vigorously add salt from the shaker to complete the operation, whereupon Tony would say, "There you go, the best-a-popcorn you ever tasted, five-a-cents please." Tony was right, it was, without a doubt, the best popcorn I ever tasted and as I sit here, I can still in my imagination, smell and taste it.

Even on fair days I didn't have the five cents needed to buy a bag of popcorn, there just wasn't money enough to waste on frills, but I always managed to get some. I'd follow my nose until I found the spot where Tony had parked his wagon and I'd wait until he noticed me and then I'd say, "Hello, Mr Tony, need any help?" He knew I didn't have any money, but he always found a way to let me earn a bag of popcorn by running errands or picking up papers using a stick with a nail in the end. Tony used to say, "Hey Kid, I'm-a-need some butter and a-salt. Here's-a-some money, you go to the store and get me butter and-a-salt. Get-a-the best-a-butter and the salt in the round-a-box. You get-a-the best-a-butter you hear, and don't-a-be-a dumb-kid and get the cheap-a-stuff. Tony wants the best." I'd take the money and run all the way to the store, buy the best butter and get the salt in the round container, just like he said. I'd run all the way back, give him his change and make sure he knew it was absolutely correct. I didn't want him to think that I would cheat him. He would pocket the money, fill up a big bag with his delicious popcorn, pour lots of butter over it and then add just the right amount of salt. He'd say, "Here kid, this is for you, the best popcorn you ever tasted and you earned it." I'd go back several times during the fair to pick up the papers around his cart and maybe go to the store for him, but I never asked for or took when offered, a second bag. You see, I was afraid the second could never be as good as the first and I didn't want to be disappointed.

Although I knew Tony and saw him several times a week during the summer, I knew very little about him. He was a big man, with a round, florid face. He had huge arms, broad shoulders and a large stomach. I don't think he was Italian because the Italians I knew only spoke English when talking to him. He may have been Yugoslavian or Greek, but he spoke English well even though he had an accent and he'd obviously been in the country for many years. Looking back, I now realize I didn't know very much about him, where he lived, if he was married, whether he had children and sadly, whatever happened to him. To me, like so many others, he was just, 'Push-em-Up Tony, the Popcorn Man', but he took time to care that a kid with no money had some of 'The best popcorn ever made' and taught me to earn it honestly. I left home when I was seventeen and joined the Army. Push-em-Up Tony and my memories of him faded with time, but I never quite forgot him. One night, many years later I was working temporarily in Victoria, BC and one of the local people asked if I would like a tour of the city. My friend, his wife and I left our car in a downtown parking lot and walked along the water front near the CP Hotel. Suddenly, the smell of Tony's popcorn was in the air and I said to my friends, "I haven't smelled that smell since I was a boy and if it's what I think it is, we're going to have some hot, buttered popcorn, the best popcorn ever made." I came around a corner and there, a few yards away, was Tony's popcorn wagon with a big man making popcorn just like Tony did, hot butter in the pot, and salt in a shaker in his big fist. He saw me looking at him and said, "Hot buttered popcorn, Sir? the best popcorn ever made" and held a bag out to me. I bought popcorn for the three of us and we sat on a park bench and ate until we could eat no more. My friends had originally been from Nova Scotia and they too had a popcorn man when they were young. It was an evening we enjoyed and repeated when I made other visits to Victoria.

I realize now that many of the best things in life are there before our eyes if only we could see them. Tony was a simple man, honest, hard working and kind. He never questioned the change I gave him and I wanted so much for him to know I would never cheat him that I carefully counted it out as I handed it back. He always studied each coin when I gave it to him and then would say, "You-a-good kid and never cheat Tony." This made me feel good because he was in some ways, my idol. It was several years later that I found out Tony had very little education, and I'm not sure he could count the money I gave him, but he always let me prove to him that I wouldn't cheat him, yet somehow, I think he knew that all the time.