By Greg Clark, April 15, 1933
“New suit?” said Jim Frise, looking at me admiringly. “Are you going to take part in the big boardwalk Easter parade?”
“I might run down and look them over,” I admitted.
“Easter isn’t what it used to be,” said Jim. “Where are the egg eaters of yore? I remember when I was a kid, everybody used to see how many eggs he could eat. In Sunday school Easter Sunday we used to hold up our fingers to show how many we had put away. I held up eight fingers once. But I had to leave Sunday school half way through.”
“Personally,” I said, “I am glad to see those old pagan features of the Easter celebration going out of style.”
“You would rather see the egg part of Easter limited to fancy chocolate eggs,” said Jim. “And as for the rest, nice fashion parade. You are strictly in favor of a business Easter.”
“No, no,” I protested. “But it seems to me half the rheumatism and those other things everybody grown up used to have when we were kids were caused by eating too many eggs for Easter and too much Christmas pudding. The pagan rites of the Victorian era were the cause of the Victorian era’s general biliousness.”
“What would you blame the present anaemia on?” asked Jim, sweetly, which is always dangerous.
“Anyway,” I said, “we never had such church services, such music, such beauty.”
“How many eggs did you ever eat on Easter?” demanded Jim.
“I don’t recollect,” I said. “Not many. I was carefully brought up. We did not go in for egg orgies.”
“How many hot cross buns did you ever eat?”
“My grandmother used to make up batch of carefully constructed buns at Easter,” I said, “but we did not injure ourselves on them.”
Jim shrugged his whole body impatiently.
“No wonder,” he said, “you are only a bundle of shallow prejudices. Why, I bet your insides are only half grown.”
“I’m not laid up with the gripes hall the time the way you are,” I retorted.
“If you never have gripes,” said Jim, “how do you know how good it feels to be healthy?”
“You belong in the middle ages,” I said.
“I can eat eggs,” countered Jim. “I tell you I can eat eggs. I once ate fourteen eggs in the army. They weren’t very good eggs either. But I won twenty francs.”
Ah, That Prairie Oyster!
“They were fried, I suppose?” I asked.
“I ate them all ways,” said Jim, sitting up, with shining eyes. “Boy, how good an egg is! Now you take raw egg. A lovely fresh raw egg, golden and clear. You drop it into a glass. You sprinkle salt and pepper on it. Then you put in a dash of Worcester sauce. Just a speck. You twirl the glass so that the egg is well salted and peppered and the Worcester is a mere vapor of flavor over it all.”
“And then what?” I sneered.
“That’s a prairie oyster,” said Jim. “A lovely, chill, smooth, bracing, invigorating, reviving creation. You hold up the glass, to admire the golden beauty of it. You hold It to your nose, to sense the bouquet of it, fairly making your insides tingle. Then with an easy, slow, luscious, soul-stirring gulp, you down it at one sweet swallow!”
My mouth was slightly watering, so I swallowed instead of speaking.
“Now, you take a boiled egg,” said Jim, twisting around in his chair, and wrapping himself around the subject, “a boiled egg, just barely cooked, about three minutes less ten seconds. Or maybe less fifteen seconds. You got to get it just right. You tap off the lid. There she lies, snow white, delicate, tremulous. Is there anything in the world so lovely, so pure, so soft and delicate as a perfectly boiled egg? Unless it is a baby’s cheek, I know of nothing.”
“Well, go on,” I growled.
“You dip the spoon into it,” went on Jim. “Gently, with trembling hand, you dip the tip of the spoon into it. Out pops what? Pure gold. Lovely, rich, glowing gold. You drop a suspicion of salt into it. A zephyr of pepper. You take your spoon and dip a spoonful. Out curls a lovely shaving of that wondrous snowy white, embracing a little of that golden treasure, that food of life, that fountain of youth….”
Jim took out his hanky and wiped his eyes.
I got up and stood looking out the window.
“Now,” said Jim, “do you know what a shirred egg is? A shirred egg! Ah, there is an egg. You butter a little dish, like a saucer. You drop the egg lovingly into the saucer. You salt and pepper it most sparingly, and if you have the soul of an artist, you might put a sprig of fresh parsley on the edge of the egg.”
“You mean,” I said, “put the sprig of parsley on the saucer before you cook it?”
“Exactly,” said Jim. “It imparts a faint, frail suspicion of the fragrance of parsley to the finished masterpiece. Then you place the egg in the oven. It is, in fact, a baked egg. But you must not over-bake it. Just let it cook until it is set. Until the white turns white. Whip that saucer out of the oven, place it on a serving plate, and set it before your true love. Oh, Hen of my Delight, as Omar Khayyam might have sung if he had been an egg enter instead of a wine bibber, what a feast that shirred egg is!”
I went over and sat down on one of Jim’s spare chairs. I felt a growing weakness coming over me.
“How would you like,” asked Jim, standing up, “to engage in an egg-eating contest with me, starting at breakfast Easter Sunday morning?”
“It sounds all right,” I said.
“You come over to my place for breakfast. At eight o’clock,” said Jim. “We’ll eat egg for egg. No two eggs alike.”
“We could start with shirred eggs,” I suggested.
“No, sir,” said Jim. “As the undefeated champion egg eater, I set the rules. We start with a raw egg, prairie oyster.”
“Should I bring my wife to help with the cooking?”
“I have four daughters,” said Jim. “They will attend to the cooking.”
“I’ll split the cost of the eggs with you,” I said.
“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, “what we ought to do is go out in the country to one of those chicken ranches and get a supply of strictly new laid eggs, right off the nest. What do you say?”
“I’m with you,” I said, “I have passed hundreds of chicken ranches in my life, but I never was really interested in them till now. I’d love to visit an egg farm.”
“That’s the spirit,” cried Jim. “You will learn to love hens. Those dear, bright, absent-minded little creatures, dedicating their entire lives to producing one of nature’s most precious benefits. They ought to occupy a high place in our esteem.”
Without further delay, Jim and I got in my coupe and drove out the Hamilton highway to hunt up a chicken ranch, and we found a nice looking one, with about a thousand white hens all busy pecking the ground, the other side of Port Credit, and up a side road.
The rancher was dressed in a cowboy outfit, with a pistol on his hip, and heavy leather chaps and spurs.
“Don’t be alarmed, gents,” said the chicken rancher. “This is the costume we all wear nowadays. Cow punching has got so tame, all the bad men are dead long ago, but chicken thieves are the successors to the cattle thieves of the past. I am prepared to guard my chicken herds with my life.”
He led us clanking down into the broad pens where the pure white hens were amusing themselves in the runs.
“How many eggs would you like?” he inquired.
“Oh, say four dozen,” said Jim.
“Make it six,” said I, because I had been dreaming about shirred eggs all the way out in the car.
“These eggs,” said the rancher, shifting his pistol on his hip, and rolling a cigarette with a snap of the fingers, “are hot off the nest.”
They were warm. Pearly. Fragile. Beautiful. They were like jewels.
The rancher put them tenderly into a basket, one by one. He lifted the basket with grace and care. He took our money with sadness. He followed us out of the lane, casting sympathetic glances at the basket of eggs which Jimmie was bearing away. When we got into the coupe, he threw a kiss at the basket of eggs, making veal eyes like Richard Dix.
Killing Two Birds With One Egg
“I’ll carry them on my lap,” I said, as Jim was doing the driving. He does all the country driving.
“Nothing doing,” said Jim. “We’ll put them on the ledge here, back of us. The expression you have got in your face right now, I wouldn’t trust you with those eggs. You look as if you might suddenly go mad and bite right into the whole six dozen.”
They certainly did look beautiful.
So we drove back to the highway and turned toward the city.
“Drive easy,” I cautioned Jim. “Don’t jiggle so.”
“I’ll go careful,” said Jim.
With something of those sentiments with which a young father drives his new baby home from the hospital, Jim and I drove back through Port Credit, Long Branch, New Toronto and Mimico, slowing down and changing gears at all railway tracks, rough crossings and bridges. With ears laid back, we listened to that basket of eggs resting on the ledge of the car seat behind us.
We crossed the Humber bridge.
“Ahhh,” we breathed. Safe. Safe in Toronto.
Jim stepped on the gas. We started into the broad sweeping arc of the Sunnyside highway, with the lake sparkling blue beside us. So lovely was the afternoon, hundreds of people were out rehearsing for Easter Sunday, babies in prams, young folk, old folk.
A shabby car passed us and swung in front of us.
It all happened so suddenly I don’t remember what really took place.
Maybe the driver of the shabby car saw A pretty girl on the boardwalk.
Anyway, he suddenly jammed on his brakes.
And before we could do more than open our mouths in horror, we had slammed into the rear of the shabby car, something from behind us leaped into the air, with a forward curving arc. I closed my eyes and felt myself drowning.
Either Jim or I was terribly injured.
There was sticky blood, or worse than blood, all over everything. I lay on the floor of the car, waiting for the pain to come. But no pain came. I felt Jim struggling beside me.
Voices all about, doors opening, feet pounding on the pavement, screams of horror. Or was it laughter?
I was lifted out of the coupe. As in a dream, I beheld Jimmie, with the crowd gathered round, swathed in a shimmering and beautiful garment. Was he dead and were we so suddenly in heaven, dressed in cerements of shining gold and silver?
I wiped my face and looked down on myself. I was sheathed in a golden and honey-colored and shimmering robe that dripped, dripped on the pavement.
Jim took my arm.
“The car has jammed the bumper right against the wheels,” said he. “We’ll have to walk down to the garage near the bathing pavilion. Nobody will give us a lift in this condition. And we might as well go together.”
So we left the car to the mercy of those who would shove it off to the side, and we held our own fashion parade on the boardwalk.
It was a little previous. But nothing on Easter Sunday will be as astonishing and as strange and lovely and colorful as the pre-Easter parade of me walking along the boardwalk, dripping raw eggs and shining like stars against the blue lake, with a throng of delighted admirers following us joyfully from out near the Humber to Keele St.
“We kill two birds with one egg,” said Jim, rather juicily, as we strode along. “We have a parade and we eat eggs.”
“Eat them, breathe them, inhale them, absorb them,” said I.
“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Jim.
“I’m through with eggs,” said I. “I believe in signs. I think this happened to save me from killing myself at that egg-eating contest. It saved me dying of the gripes.”
“Aw,” said Jim, “you’re just a little egg conscious.”
And so I am.
Editor’s: Notes: An Easter Parade refers to the notion that people might buy fancy new clothes to wear to church on Easter Sunday, to show off, and be seen.
The prairie oyster was fairly new in 1933, and was consider a cure for hangovers.
Omar Khayyam was an ancient Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet. His poetry became famous in the West during the “Oriental” craze of the late 19th century. Greg is probably referring to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a 1859 translation by Edward FitzGerald.
It is not often that Greg gives fairly precise directions of where they travelled. Port Credit is on Lake Ontario in Mississauga, and Long Branch, New Toronto, and Mimico are all neighbourhoods in western Toronto on the lakeshore. They would have been travelling on Lakeshore Road (now Boulevard). They then crossed the Humber River, and ran into trouble at Sunnyside Beach. A 1933 map of Toronto is viewable online from the University of Toronto.
A cerement is a shroud, used for the dead.