By Greg Clark, February 10, 1945
“What on earth,” demanded Jimmie Frise, is an afghan?”
“It’s a kind of hand-knitted rug,” I explained.
“I thought it was some kind of a dog,” said Jim. “What the dickens do you want with an afghan?”
“Every man, on reaching his fiftieth birthday,” I set forth, “should be presented with an afghan by his fond and doting womenfolk. His very own private, personal afghan, in his favorite colors. Mine are autumn colors. I want my afghan in dark red, dark green, gold and orangey brown.”
“Neat,” suggested Jim, “and gaudy.”
“An afghan,” I explained, “is made up of a whole lot of six-inch knitted squares sewn together into a rug. All your womenfolk arrange to knit these squares. For example, one does the brown squares, another does the red, another the gold, and so on. Then when they have the necessary number knitted, they get together and sew it up into a rug. And put a fringe on it.”
“Okay,” said Jimmie, “so you get a rug. Then what? Do you take to your bed for the rest of your life? At 50?”
“It isn’t for bed,” I protested. “Maybe you can keep it folded on the foot of your bed, as a constant reminder of the affection in which you are held by your womenfolk. But it is really used as a car rug, a rug to take to hockey games or rugby. You take it with you when you travel, to wear around your legs in trains or on boats.
“I thought you had decided to settle down,” said Jim.
“But the final, supreme value of an afghan,” I enunciated, “is for fishing and hunting and camping. You can wear it as a shawl around your shoulders sitting in the boat in the cool of the evening when the guide is rowing you back to camp. Folded up, it makes a wonderful cushion to sit on in the canoe, during those first chilly weeks of the trout season.”
“Knitted?” inquired Jim. “Isn’t that a fragile kind of a rug for sporting purposes?”
“That’s why I said 50 years old,” I explained. “By that age, a man is old enough to be finicky and take care of his things. Lots of men are too rowdy and careless, even at 70, to be trusted with an afghan. But as for me, I am getting tidier every year. And anyway, I want an afghan. And I want this afghan. Wait till I read it again.”
I took from my pocket the clipping from the Pine Corners Argus, the little country weekly newspaper I had picked up in The Star’s exchange room.
“Listen to this,” I said, reading: “Bingo. Bingo. Bingo. The Ladies’ Frantic Endeavor is holding a bingo at the Community Hall, Thursday night at 8 p.m. in aid of the Pine Corners Veterans’ band. This worthy enterprise on the part of the ladies to equip the local veterans with the necessary instruments with which to welcome home the boys from overseas deserves the support of one and all. Prizes are exceptional. First prize is an afghan, worked by the ladies, in beautiful autumn tints of red, gold, brown …”.
“Just a minute,” cut in Jimmie. “You don’t keep those afghans if you do win them. You send them to the war victims in England or Holland.”
“Er …” I said.
“I Want an Afghan”
“The idea of those bingo games,” explained Jimmie, “is to raise funds for worthy causes. They also bring the community together for innocent amusement during the long winter nights. They give you the satisfaction of winning. But you aren’t supposed to win for keeps.”
“That isn’t the way I’ve heard it,” I said, very disappointed.
“Why,” cried Jim, “if you won that afghan and took it away, I bet you’d ruin the whole community of Pine Corners. I bet that afghan has been put up for first prize for two or three winters past. It goes from winner to winner, and each one re-donates it to the next bingo …”
I read the little notice over again for the twentieth time. Beautiful autumn tints of red, gold, brown.
“Besides,” said Jim, “how would you get out to Pine Corners at this season of the year? It’s 22 miles from the city limits. And you know what the highways are like right now.”
“I’d drive my car,” I suggested.
“Why, you haven’t had it out all winter!” scoffed Jim. “Now, don’t let this afghan business turn your head.”
“I want that afghan,” I asserted firmly.
“But bingo!” sorted Jim. “You can go to 50 bingo games and never win anything.”
“I’d buy it from the winner,” I stated.
“How about the affection in which you are held by your womenfolk?” inquired Jim craftily.
“Well,” I said rather crestfallen.” I’m 52 now, and I haven’t got an afghan yet.”
“Wait till the war’s over,” persuaded Jim. “Don’t deprive some poor bombed-out British family of an afghan. Or some homeless refugee Dutch family. Every afghan this country can produce, out of the spare time of Canadian women, belongs to benighted Europe. This is no time for you to be suddenly consumed by an unholy passion for an afghan. Think of when the war ends, and Canada is filled with hundreds of thousands of women with nothing to knit for. Think of the stores with huge bins of knitting wool for sale again. You can’t get wool for love or money now. But the minute the war ends, there will be a regular avalanche of wool on the market. And thousands of women, trained for five years at knitting, suddenly finding themselves idle. Boy, you can get afghans by the dozen then.”
I read the little clipping from the Pine Corners Argus again. Tints of red, gold, brown.
I reached for the telephone on Jim’s desk. I asked The Star switchboard girl to get me Pine Corners, Ont., the postmistress preferred, or else the general storekeeper.
“What’s the idea?” asked Jim.
“I’m going to find out,” I said, “if what you say is right about not keeping the afghan. If the winner doesn’t keep the afghan, okay. I don’t go. If the winner keeps it, I go.”
“You’re a determined little guy.” said Jim.
“I want an afghan,” I stated.
“How about the bombed out victims …?” began Jim.
But the telephone rang. And it was the general storekeeper, who was also the postmaster of Pine Corners, Ont. And I explained my situation to him.
“Why,” cried the postmaster, loud enough for even Jim to overhear, “of course you keep the afghan. The ladies have knit hundreds of them in the past three or four years. They’ve sent most of them overseas, but these they use in the bingo games are for keeps. They’ve got four of them up for prizes tonight …”
“Four?” I exclaimed. “What colors?”
“All rich autumn tints of red, gold and brown …”
“Thank you, thank you,” I hung up excitedly.
“Jim” I cried, “there are four afghans, for keeps ..”
“I heard,” said Jimmie, getting up and looking out the window.
“Very well,” I cried eagerly. “Will we take your car? Or mine?”
“I wouldn’t take my car outside the city limits,” declared Jim. “And as for trying to get in those side roads off the highway, into Pine Corners …”
“Very well,” I said, “I’ll take mine, even if it hasn’t been out of the garage since the big blizzard in December.”
“I don’t think I’ll go,” demurred Jim. “It will only mean a lot of pushing and shoving in drifts and digging with shovels.”
“I’ll let you drive,” I offered.
“Look at the weather,” persisted Jim. “Another blizzard brewing.”
Comes the Snow
We left in good time. In fact, I offered to buy Jimmie’s supper at Pine Corners or anywhere along the highway, so as to be sure of getting through in plenty of time for the bingo. And to keep the peace, I let Jim drive my car.
“Three miles beyond the city limits, the first snowflakes whirled off the windshield.
“There you are!” cried Jimmie grimly.
“Just blowing off the fields,” I reassured him heartily, and jingling the pocketful of quarters and half-dollars I had changed my four dollars into.
“Faint heart ne’er won an afghan. I feel lucky today.”
“Aw, you low blood pressure types always feel good when the barometer is falling,” retorted Jim.
In another two miles, we couldn’t see 50 feet ahead. In two miles more, we pulled into a service station to make sure we were still on the highway. Ontario’s winter climate, especially in what are called the settled regions, may be as responsible as anything else for the complex character of Ontario people.
“We turn back?” demanded Jim firmly.
“Why, we’re nearly there!” I cried.
“We’re just nicely outside the city limits,” Jim warned me, “and 15 miles still to go, five of them on a side road.”
“Aw, we can take our time,” I said. “It’s still two hours of daylight.”
“Yeah,” growled Jim, “and we’ll be marooned in Pine Corners for a week!”
So we drove on up the highway, both of us watching alertly through the blizzard for the road to the right that goes to Pine Corners.
“This is crazy,” protested Jimmie. “An afghan!
“Jim, you’re getting old,” I cheered. “The love of adventure is cooling in you.”
“Is this it?” suddenly shouted Jim, stamping on the brakes and half turning the wheel.
“Just a minute,” I exclaimed, peering out the window for signs.
But Jim had made the turn and we slowly entered a very forbidding side road.
“Wait till I look for a sign.” I commanded.
“This’ll be it,” said Jim firmly. “The guy at the service station said about eight miles up.”
“Well…” I said, uneasily.
And we drove slow and steady into the teeth of the blizzard.
A few hundred yards in, we entered a swamp and then a heavy bush lot. It grew lonelier and lonelier. I told Jim it didn’t look like a road leading into a fine village like Pine Corners. It was more like a …
Over a rise we came out of the bush into vast deserted meadows and off these open spaces, the snow had drifted. Jim gave the car the gun. We charged. Wumfff. We stuck.
“Aaah,” said Jim, as if pleased.
“Why did you charge like that?” I cried.
“I tried to lift her over,” smiled Jim cheerfully, “but she wouldn’t take off.”
I got out and inspected. The drift was apparently miles ahead solid. I got in and took the wheel. I backed. But she was stuck fast.
“Where’s your shovel?” inquired Jim, very jolly.
“I don’t carry a shovel,” I stated.
“Then,” said Jim, “since we have come about four miles on this road, we must be about a mile from Pine Corners. Shall we walk?”
It was a pretty dismal prospect. The blizzard was really corkscrewing by now. I sat thinking.
“Well?” inquired Jimmie outside. “You can’t back up. You can’t go ahead. So come on.”
“We could get the next farmer to pull us through with a team,” I suggested.
“How much do you figure that might cost?” asked Jim.
I felt in my pocket and slid the quarters and half-dollars around.
So we tucked our collars up and pulled our hats down and headed into it. We plowed through the first drift which was about 40 feet. Then there was a hundred yards of hard road; then another drift. About the fourth drift, I began scanning the dim countryside for a farmhouse. But there was none.
“We’ve gone a mile,” I breathed heavily.
“Afghan,” said Jim.
So we did another quarter mile of alternate drift and frigid windy packed snow road. And still no farmhouse did we see.
“Look, Jim,” I said a little anxiously. “This isn’t funny.”
In a House on Wheels
As if in response, a train whistle hooted mournfully out of the blizzard only a few hundred yards ahead.
“Aha,” I cried, taking heart. “Pine Corners!”
But it wasn’t. For when we plowed and plunged and ankled our way 200 yards farther, we came to a little cluster of houses and a freight train halted at the crossing. The caboose was right even with the road.
“Orphans of the storm?” called out the brakeman on the back of the caboose.
“Is this Pine Corners?” Jim hailed.
“No, Pine Corners is the next village north,” said the brakeman.
“Well, we’re stranded down the road a mile or so,” I said. “Do you think anybody here could haul us out?”
“Better come up to Pine Corners,” said the brakeman, “and get a tow car. There isn’t even a garage in this place.”
“Can we ride with you?” Jim called.
“Sure,” said the brakeman. “In a blizzard, we’re all brothers.”
So we waded through the drifts and climbed aboard the caboose and the brakeman invited us in and made us welcome to the cutest little house on wheels you ever saw.
A little stove was humming cheerily. There were bunks and a table and chairs. Books on the table, tea cups and teapot in the racks. It was cosy.
“Conductor’s up ahead,” said the brakeman, “but he won’t mind you getting a lift to Pine Corners. It’s only three miles. Sit down and take the weight off your feet.”
So we sat down in the tidy warmth and unbuttoned our coats and took off our gloves while we explained how we had turned in the wrong side road.
Then the engine ahead started whistling and the brakeman jumped up to go out to the back, saying:
“He’s signalling to back up a little ways.”
There was a shunt. And we started slowly backing.
And we backed. And we backed. And we gained speed, backing. And we continued backing, the tracks going giddley-did, giddley-da underneath us and Jimmie and I looked at each other in the gloaming.
“H’m,” said Jim.
In a whirl of wind and blizzard, the brakeman came in the door, stamping the snow off.
“I don’t get this,” he said cheerfully, “We’re backing quite a ways.”
“Pine Corners is the other way?” I inquired.
“Yeah, there must be new orders,” said he. “It’s too stormy to go forward and find out. When she slows, I’ll inquire for you.”
He went out on the back again to watch into the blizzard, while the engine continued its mournful warning.
The freight began to slow. We heard voices outside. We went to the door and the brakeman had gone. In the swirling blizzard we could see another handful of houses and a siding,
After several violent shunts, which made the cups rattle and the chairs jolt, we came to a stop. And the brakeman hove in, with the conductor.
“Gentlemen,” said the brakie, “we’re on a siding for a little while to make way for a snow-plow. If you are in a hurry to get to Pine Corners the highway is only about mile west of here, and maybe you could get somebody …”
But we preferred to wait. They made a pot of tea. An hour passed. Night fell. I got out and telephoned from one of the isolated houses to Pine Corners and had the postmaster arrange to send the local garage man with a tow car to pull my car out of the drift and keep it at Pine Corners until I called for it.
“Anyway,” said the postmaster, “the bingo is cancelled on account of the storm.”
At 9:30 p.m., the freight got orders to be up to the West Toronto freight yards.
And we stayed in the caboose and returned with it.
We got home by street car about midnight and I telephoned the general storekeeper at Pine Corners to have some of the local people drive my car back to the city if they were coming in anyway, whenever the roads got plowed.
“The whole thing,” declared Jimmie, “was an omen for you not to try and get any afghans while the war is on.”
“I think I’ll wait for my womenfolk,” I confessed.
Editor’s Note: Though Greg calls it a kind of rug, an “afghan” is a crocheted blanket. You can also get an idea of some of the money raising charity events done during World War Two in Canada.