The Four Somethings

“What are you taking with you to ward off bad luck,” asked the woman who answered my Kijiji ad about a week before I was to leave Toronto and still trying to sell some furniture. “You know, really bad shit happens when you’re on the road in other countries – faulty breaks on busses travelling through Bolivian mountain passes, Sri Lankan ferries with one life jacket for every ten passengers, face-to-face meetings with Bengal tigers when you’re walking back to camp with a package from the local meat market – that kind of stuff.”

Oh boy, I thought. She wasn’t exactly building her case. “I’m not superstitious and I really haven’t given it a second’s thought,” I replied, hoping that would end the conversation.

“I don’t care if you’re superstitious or not, there’s no use passing up good karma when someone’s handing out free samples,” she said.

By now I was losing patience with the woman who had driven across town only to decide that my cast aluminum chairs were “too hard.” What did she expect?

I stood by the open door, hoping that might send a message, but she continued to poke through the pile of kitchen utensils that I had laid out on a counter under a chalkboard sign that said, “Your choice – Two bucks.” She picked out a badly worn spatula that originally came with a $15 T-Fal frying pan that I picked up at the Markham Fair in 1995. She passed over a $150 mother-of-all-corkscrews that I had inadvertently left on the counter the night before. Not the savviest shopper, I thought. Then she turned my way and said, “How about The Four Somethings?”

I had to confess that I had no idea what ‘The Four Somethings’ was, and only minimal interest in finding out.

“It’s been working pretty well for brides for a few hundred years, and you only need two years of good karma. Plus, you’ve probably got everything you need in your backpack right now.”

She did have a point.

My MacBook Pro is 24 months old so, at least in the Mac universe, that should qualify as ‘something old’. I’m also wearing a 45-year-old gold charm in the shape of a streetcar. My dad bought the “Desire” charm for my mom on a 1969 trip to New Orleans. I wear it on a necklace as a constant reminder of both parents and the road trips we took when I was a child.

Most of my backpacking gear is about a year old but I did buy new insoles in Winnipeg. Surely they’ll count as ‘something new’.

This next one is a bit of a stretch but I found a sample-size bottle of Axe Body Spray in the washroom at Union Station. I guess you could say that I ‘borrowed’ it.

Finding ‘something blue’ wasn’t too tough as blue is my favourite colour and one of my two pairs of long pants are jeans.

But seriously, who carries a sixpence these days, much less in their shoe?

My mom purchased a Sterling silver brooch while visiting my brother and his wife in Spain in 1970 and she wore it regularly for 35 years. I had a jeweller solder it onto a plain silver money clip and I now carry it with me every day. Hopefully a silver money clip is close enough to a silver coin.

IMG_4516My dad didn’t have a lot of jewellery, and what he did have wasn’t exactly appropriate for this trip. I love his ‘Cadillac’ cuff links but I won’t have much use for cuff links for a few years… I hope. He did have an old brass belt buckle that seemed useful and appropriate for a road trip as the bas-relief design depicts a 1940s or 1950s transport truck. It was probably a gift from a customer or supplier when he ran an auto parts business. The only issue is that it’s brass. I don’t know why I have an issue with brass buckles (possibly a Wooden Nickle flashback, Brenda), but I prefer pewter or silver. I knew the odds of finding someone capable of plating it on my last few days in Toronto were slim but I hit the phone anyway.

DSCF1845After brief conversations with several silversmiths I was resigned to the fact that it would take several weeks to do the job. As I scrolled up the phone list on my Yellow Pages app I came to the last number: Britannia Silversmiths in Scarborough. A 60-ish Brit named Art Edmonds answered the phone. I told him that I was leaving Toronto in five days and since there was only one more business day before the Canada Day long weekend, I was prepared for rejection.

“Bring it in. I can stay late tonight and you can pick it up in the morning,” was the reply.

Fantastic, I thought, but I was supposed to meet my sister for lunch at Yorkdale in two hours and I was without a car, having turned it over to the new lessee a week earlier. Better hit the TTC, I said.

After two hours of streetcar-subway-subway-LRT-bus and a long hike from the bus stop, I made it to Art’s shop near Markham Rd. & Finch at roughly the time I was supposed to be across town meeting my sister.

The front office at Art’s shop confirmed that he had been in business for several decades – and probably employed a cleaning lady once every decade or so. But that’s okay, I thought, according to one of the client testimonials on the bulletin board, I could have dropped the buckle at a pristine Birks store and they would have sent the job to Art. Another letter from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport federation praised Art’s work repairing the Yates Cup – the oldest football trophy in North America.

Art scratched the back of my buckle and determined that a layer of black paint would have to be stripped before it could be plated. “That’ll take time,” he said. I sat at Art’s desk in the office while he went into the shop to perform some more tests.

Another 30 minutes passed. I called my sister and told her that I was going to be very, very late.

To pass the time I picked up Art’s copy of the Toronto Sun, and after having read it cover to cover in 15 minutes, I finally got up the courage to ask if he still thought he’d be able to complete the job in 24 hours. If not, I’d take the brass buckle with me as-is. After all, I wasn’t really looking forward to another 2 hour streetcar-subway-bus trip. “So, what do you think, Art?”

“Don’t bother coming back tomorrow,” he said dryly.

I was pissed. I had specifically explained my time constraints and he promised that he could do the job. Now I was going to miss lunch with my sister and I’d have to sweet-talk someone into picking up and hanging onto a buckle while I’m on the road.

I walked into the shop to take a closer look at what he was doing.

He motioned toward a vat of murky liquid that was hooked up to a rather serious looking power source. “Just about ready for polishing. I just have to neutralize it for a few minutes.” He fished the buckle out of the plating tank and dropped it into a big pot of boiling water.




Now that was a pleasant surprise. While I thought he was determining if he could even do the job, he was actually very close to finishing the job.

In the end everything worked out perfectly. My sister didn’t mind killing an extra few hours at the mall, Art gained another very satisfied customer, and I got the silver buckle of my dreams.

I now carry a silver-plated buckle depicting a 1950s transport truck, a gold charm in the form of a streetcar; and a Sterling silver money clip depicting two pilgrims walking with packs and a mule. Now that has to be the World traveler’s transportation trifecta.


If you should ever require the services of a master silversmith, you know who to call.


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