Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


        During the 60s, when I was growing up, I thought Toronto was nicknamed the Gem City because it had so many colorful characters like Nick Yanick, Singing Kate, Johnny Wasco, Chief, George Tarr, Joe Hitchcock, George Peckins, Naughty Dotty and many others.  None, however, was more memorable than the man himself who said "the town's full of nuts"--Bill Jaco.
      My first recollection of Bill came at the old A & P where the abandoned Save-a-Lot now stands.  My father was pushing a cartful of groceries to the family Ford while my mother was trying to herd her four children safely across the parking lot.  "Push cart, push cart," Bill said, knowing this courtesy usually amounted to tips of dimes and quarters.
      "That's all right," my father replied, "I can handle it."
      Bill trailed us to our car, anyhow.  As my father began stowing grocery sacks inside the trunk, Bill said, "Ford junk.  Ford junk.  Hit a bump and the seat falls down."
      I would later learn every model of car made was junk in Bill's estimation, except for funeral cars, not many of them being drove those days other than by Clarkie, of whom Bill said was goosey.
      To me, back then, Bill appeared as tall as Wilt Chamberlain, but in truth, during his prime, he stood, at tallest, six-foot, three-inches.  He was naturally big-boned and broad shouldered and had a Santa Clause-like belly.  Legends abounded about his strength, including being able to lift the rear end of a Volkswagen Beetle off the ground.
       When I was first married, my wife Debbie and I lived across the empty lot from Bill and his sister May at the top of Daniels Street.  Many people were afraid to let their children go near Bill, but he was a gentle giant who would hold the hand of our daughter Sevy and walk her up and down the block.
      Bill did not know Monday from Tuesday or a weekday from the weekend, but he did know garbage day and took out the trash faithfully the evening before garbage day, and, on cue, the following morning, regaled the truck crew with his Jaconian philosophy, usually always referring to junk Fords and that Clarkie was goosey.
      Whenever I saw Bill toting an umbrella, I knew rain was probably coming sometime soon.  The weather, however, never stopped Bill from taking his daily and evening strolls.  Wherever Johnny's Pizza Shop was located, Bill would walk in that direction, or toward whoever was passing out free goodies to Bill--nearly everybody.  I could always determine what Bill had eaten because half of it was smeared on the front of his shirt.
      Back then, Johnny's was the only pizza shop around, and it frequently moved.  For a while it stood at  the corner of Federal and Franklin, later next to the Manos Theater and still later in the heart of downtown Toronto.  No matter the location and the change of pizza cooks, Bill would always be there, one minute calling my date "skinny girl," the next minute telling me, "Man marries girl something's loose."
      Bill almost always repeated his statements as though his diaphragm had a built-in echo chamber.  He would sneak up behind you, poking his finger in your back, and in that signature flutey nasal voice, utter, "Whoops.  Goosey.  Goosey.  Clarkie's goosey."
       The Dairy Aisle was another regular stop for Bill, who held an equal affection of free ice cream, courtesy of the Henry family.  One evening, a young man coasted his car onto the Dairy Aisle parking lot, stopped by Bill and asked him directions for Kuhn's Hardware Store.
       Naturally, Bill assessed the man's car first and called it "a piece of junk."  Then Bill said, "Turn up bay.  Turn up bay.  Drive junk by Clarkie's--by Clarkie's.  Clarkie goosey.  Clarkie goosey.  Turn up bay."
        Frustrated the man crisscrossed his arms and yelled, "Just stop now; you're nuts!"
        Bill casually replied, "Ain't lost."
        Another signature quote of his was "push daddy."  I could never quite determine what that one meant, but maybe it bore some reference to his old A & P days when pushing grocery carts was in vogue.  Or just maybe he used such phrase to fill in conversation gaps.  Bill was certainly not quiet or one for a loss of words.
       The seats of my cars have never fallen down, sometimes I agree with Bill that the town was full of nuts.  About his assessment of marriage, I am going to have to plead the Fifth.
        "Push Daddy."


Tina Coppa said...

I can remember sitting in the car waiting for mom to get the groceries at A&P. Bill would see me in the car and come over and start bouncing the car up and down...I was scared to death.

Anonymous said...

We really did have a colorful bunch of people in Toronto while we were growing up. I remember "Donuts" walking through town, bent over, hands behind his back wearing layers of clothes. He never said much though. The tribute to Bill was great. I can remember him being in Johnny's saying Johnny has the best pizza and then in Manninni's saying Manninni makes the best pizza. All the while eating the pizza and dripping it on his shirt saying...hey pretty girl.....pretty girl! Thanks for the memories,Clyde.

Anonymous said...

My Dad would be glad to hear that Bill thought all cars were junk.....I remember going into the grocery store for ice cream with my Dad on Saturday nights for our weekly dose of ice cream and Bill would see him coming and my Dad would start mumbling about why do we come here?....... "Damn Ford Man, piece of junk" Bill said repeatedly. All I heard was "skinny girl". Bill is the only male to call me a skinny girl! Janie Hartwell

Karen Donofrio said...

I was afraid of Bill. I used to go with my mother to the A&P once a week. He was tall, all right, & had a deep voice. I 'heard' that he lived somewhere with his sister.

I also saw 'Donuts' all the time. Rumor was he lived in someplace in the woods. I don't know which woods. Certainly not the ones on south Franklin St. He muttered. I just kept my distance.

BTW, I think it's the "Dairy Isle", like "island". I lived across the street from it, & it was great when my dad handed me a dollar & i got ice-cream cones for us all. It's still in business, i believe.

Jeffrey Lawlor said...

Great writeup. Made me laugh out loud a couple of times. I needed the laughs. I remember Bill and often wondered what became of him.

Debbie Chadwick Bain said...

hE WOULD STOP IN OUR STATION, jOHN"S AUTO AND JOHN HAD to get him a pop!!! or he would ask for a quarter. we would offer to buy his lunch but nope, want quarter!!! We had a convertible back in the day and when he seen my mom driving in it, He"d say Pretty Lady with Paper roof. I always felt bad for the guys that worked at Timet. If they left there cars unlocked he got in them take flashlights or whatever,some small stuff them bring them to John at the station and try to sell them to him for a quarter!!. This was a great trip down memory lane, nice write up. And R.I.P. Bill goosie goosie!!!

Debbie chadwick Bain said...

Karen, did you know that Donuts was very,very rich!!!! He lived down by the overhead bridge by the tracks. as for Bill he wouldn't of hurt a fly

Unknown said...

Jaconian philisophy. Nicely worded.

Unknown said...

I remember him saying Ford no good piece of junk Chevy good.

Edna (Huntsman( Lucas said...

I remember him well. He gave me a plastic ring out of machine and told me it was for "pretty girl.....gonna marry pretty girl." What a wonderful tribute to an Bill.

Anonymous said...

I remember delivering Newspapers to his house. He always told me "Paper boy needs to buy a scoota" "Go getta scoota!"

Bill Kuhn said...

You never heard push too hard baby pop out LOL i think i know the meaning

Unknown said...

I alway remember him hanging out in front of Melhorn's. Everyone was always afraid of him but I'll bet he was a gentle giant.

Darlene Van Dyke said...

I remember Bill very well. I wish I had the wherewithal to have invested into his life, to learn more than I know, but I moved from Toronto when I was 20. I liked him. He meant no harm to anyone.

Curtis Smith said...

A nice tribute that made me laugh and brought back fond memories of Bill and Toronto

Anonymous said...


Buck Nemitt said...

Many years ago around 1972 our Scout Troop was pulling up Bricks at the Methodist Church at corner of Main and 5 th (?). Bill came by and said something in the line of “ Boys not know how “ and grabbed our 5’ Spud Bar and went to town prying up Bricks.
Many a time now I see that Cement Sidewalk and think off Bill but then again growing up 2 Blocks below his Home on Daniels Street I had a lot of great interaction with the Legend .