By Greg Clark, February 5, 1938
“Well,” said Jimmie Frise, “I guess we’re snowed up.”
“Nonsense, Jimmie,” I heartened him, “let’s get that farmer in there to tow us through this drift. Maybe this is the last drift between here and Toronto.”
“Look,” expostulated Jim, “we’ve spent four dollars already on being towed out of four drifts. The nearer we get to Toronto, the higher goes the price of being towed out of drifts. What we’ve got to do is settle down somewhere for the night and wait for the snow-plows to clear the highways.”
“Aw,” I protested, “I hate spending the night in a strange farm house, ousting some poor hired man out of his rightful bed.”
“Farmhouse be hanged,” cried Jim, “we’ll get this farmer here to haul the car into his lane and we’ll leave it there. Then we’ll get him to drive us in a cutter to the nearest town. There’s a light in the distance, see?”
It had just turned dark, and through the murk and mighty swirl of the blizzard, we could dimly see the tops of fence posts, the shadowy form of a line of evergreens marking the lane of an old-fashioned farm house, and far down the lonely and swiftly drifting road, the faint glare of headlights of cars stalled like ourselves, and beyond them the fainter suspicion of the lights of a town.
“Jim,” I stated, “this is a lesson to us to read the probabilities before we set out on long motor trips in the winter.”
“I did read them,” assured Jim, “and they said fair and mild.”
“I hate,” I stated, “spending the night in some strange little town. In the first place, hotels have gone out of the hotel business all over the country. They’re either just big boarding houses, where local garage men and Hydro linesmen put up. Or else, after passing from hand to hand downwards in an ever-weakening decline, they are now in the possession of some still hopeful old hotelman who lives there with two of his daughters and seven grandchildren, and nothing in the world staggers and upsets them more than to have guests arrive.”
“Don’t you believe it,” said Jim, as we sat there in the warm car firmly sunk and embedded in a big curving snow-drift, “there are some mighty pleasant little hotels in some of these small town.”
“With Bible texts hung around the walls,” said I.
“The tourist traffic,” corrected Jim. “has revived some of these small town hotels in the last few years. I’ve been in some dandies.”
“The beds,” I muttered, “cold and damp. The bacon a quarter of an inch thick. And the eggs leathery. And mashed potatoes served with the bacon and eggs for breakfast. Ugh! A side dish of slightly browned and slightly warmed mashed potatoes.”
“I guess our troubles of the past two hours,” said Jim, kindly, “have got you down.”
“Why did we ever start for home?” I cried.
“Because you insisted,” retorted Jim.
“Well, why did you give in?” I triumphed angrily.
“Let’s go in and see if this farmer will tow us off the road and gives us a cutter ride to town,” said Jim.
Not So Dull
We got out of the car, leaving the headlights glaring, and waded and hopped heavily through the great edge-crested drifts towards the long line of firs at the far end of which glowed home lights. And we found the household just finishing dinner in the great old kitchen, the room at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit from the immense stove, the table stacked so high with provender, the one side of the table could hardly see the other. They invited us to stop for supper; which we did, having hot roast pork. cold head cheese and cold ham, mashed potatoes, and sliced turnips and carrots mixed, a most delightful combination, sliced in long, thin fingers. The bread was home made, the apple sauce was spiced with cloves and there were cookies made of oatmeal with dates in them that I wish you could have tasted. Around this table, watching Jimmie and me eat, were the elderly father and mother, two middle-aged daughters and two middle-aged sons and one child of eight. Their whole interest in life, outside of turning on the news broadcast so loud that it shook all the shelves of the kitchen, was to see us eat. They passed and handed and urged and shoved. They high-pressured and ganged up on us.
And after we had eaten, and they had turned off the radio the minute the raucous newscast was ended, we all went into the next room, ladies and all, where one of the men sat at the piano and we all sang Harry Lauder songs while he chorded more or less accurately. To feed to suffocation and to sing as loud as possible was the ritual of entertainment in this grand old Ontario home, with all of them acting as if we were nightly guests in their midst. And then, reluctantly, one of the men said:
“Well, gents, if we’re going to town we’d better go now, because the game is at 8 o’clock sharp.”
“Game?” said Jimmie,
“Hockey game,” said Ed, which was his name. “The junior finals for this district.”
“Man,” cried Jim, “my friend here has been complaining about having to spend the night in some dull little town.”
“He’ll not be complaining,” laughed Ed, taking his coat off the door. “It’s our town against Buckleton, only twenty miles west. That makes for friendly rivalry.”
“If they ever get here.” I suggested.
“They’d get here,” said Ed, “if they had to climb the Rocky Mountains. They figure on beating us on our own ice.”
Everybody laughed and Jim said, “what a hope.”
And in a few minutes we had the car towed off the highway into the lane and an old-fashioned farm sleigh hitched with two horses, laden with hay and bedded with robes, quilts and blankets, into and under which we all got, including the old and the young; and with bells jangling mellowly we drove out the tall firred lane and on to the highway.
What had been a blizzard, an enemy, frustrating and menacing to us in our modern high-power car, was now a thing of beauty, the great wind and the dry show sweeping and driving helplessly over us, while we in our sleigh conquered. The deepest drifts which to modernity had been impassable, the two hearty horses simply went around or plunged straight through. We slewed and tipped and swung, but all was merry and chattery, and Ed and his brother, hunched in their old brown fur coats on the driving seat above us, kept up a strong sound to the horses, the bells grew to a music chimed to the white and lovely night; and, when one of the women started sweetly to sing “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” and we all softly joined, I do not think in all my life anything so suddenly and simply filled me with the sense of beauty. I thought of the poor, silly world, striving with its little machines to master, and only being mastered: a thousand million monkeys on a thousand million sticks.
We came in twenty minutes to the town, and down its main street with cars angle-parked and half buried before the steamy windowed shops. The streets were busy with bent and side-ways figures thrusting into the blizzard, all heading one way. The game.
We drove into a great yard and the horses were unhitched and led into a shed. Through the snow we walked out to the street and to a large domed rink, a simple great curve of roof. Through unpainted entrances and halls, ice cold, we filed and so to the rink. Inside, on rough narrow benches, the great throng was already gathered, the rink was full of loud noise, yells and echoing cries. We were crowded into seats, but all around us were packed the bright country people, with their eager or quiet faces, the shy girls who stared stonily in front and the girls not shy who, twisting and turning their heads to look up at the ranks behind and above them, were full of nudges and ducks and laughs and giggles. Small towns are full of girlish intrigue.
Where we sat with our new-found friends was in the midst of the home-town section. Across from us, a section not so full yet, had been reserved for the Buckleton rooters.
“I Can’t Skate”
The rink continued to fill until it seemed it could hold no more. Suddenly, amidst a great hosanna, the home team started to stumble out on to the ice and then the Buckleton team followed and the din became deafening. Ed, who had been down at the rail talking to some of the players. came back up with a look of anxiety on him.
“The referee isn’t here yet,” he said, “And the managers won’t agree on any local man, either here or in the Buckleton crowd.”
“Referee?” cried Jimmie. “Why Ed, you’ve got a referee right here.”
“Who?” said Ed and I together.
“Why, Mr. Clark,” cried Jim excitedly. “Did you ever hear of the West Toronto Juniors?”
“Did I?” cried Ed, looking at me with wonder.
“Well, Mr. Clark,” said Jim, “was a member of the executive of the West Toronto Juniors. They were O.H.A champions in 1931. They were runners-up in 1932.”
I just sat and smiled comfortably.
“Mr. Clark,” cried Ed, “would you referee?”
“No, no, no,” I exclaimed. “No, no, no.”
“Of course he will,” shouted Jimmie standing up. “Certainly he will. He’s only shy. Come on, go down, Ed, and ask the teams if a member of the West Toronto club will do for referee.”
“No, no, Ed, no, no,” I shouted, rising, and trying to catch Ed as he floundered down through the crowded benches. I saw him, as in a daze, beckoning to players and a group gathering. I saw interested, almost reverent gazes lifted to me. I sat down weakly.
“Come on,” said Jim. “Get out to the dressing room. We can borrow skates.”
“Jim, Jim,” I begged, “I don’t know anything about hockey. I was just on the executive to get the team some publicity and wangle radio announcements.”
“Come on,” commanded Jim, starting to shove me. “You can referee a game. Just ring the bell every now and then and face off.”
“But, Jim,” I gasped, struggling to sit down, “I don’t even know an off-side. I never did know an off-side. I’ve sat through hundreds of games …”
“Just ring the bell,” said Jim, who had hoisted me up and started shoving me past everybody’s knees. The teams were now ganged up below, looking very happy about the whole thing, and a voice in a megaphone was explaining. I heard my name. I heard West Toronto Juniors. I heard loud roars and boos.
All perspiring and dazzled, I was led down icy cold alleys to a dressing room, where a half a dozen managers were introduced and somebody had me sitting down sizing me up for skates.
“Jim,” I said, bending him near, “listen, I can’t even skate. I haven’t been on skates for thirty years.”
“Aw, anybody can skate,” said Jim.
“Jim, listen,” I begged. “I tell you, I never really took any interest in hockey. I was only a member of the committee to help wangle things. Look: I don’t know the rules.”
“Ring your bell,” said Jim. “That’s all there is to it.”
“Jim, you don’t understand,” I cried, “all the years I went to hockey games I wasn’t following the play, I was watching some one guy, the goalie or a defence man or even some funny looking bird in the crowd. I tell you I can’t go on with this. I don’t know the first rule …”
“Do you realize,” hissed Jim. “that you are holding up a great crowd that will be bitterly disappointed if the game is called? And if you won’t serve …”
They arrived with skates. They brought a rather oversize white sweater for me. I took off my coat and put on the skates with numb and trembling fingers. It was all blurry and confused, it was like that dream of the house on fire.
“Have you a copy of the rules?” I demanded, standing up.
“Yes, sir,” cried one of the Buckleton management, handing me a little frayed book from his pocket. I pretended to study up a paragraph or two. I had never seen the book before in my life, except in Doe MacIntyre’s hand.
Amidst the sense of hurry, I started out the alleys, accompanied by a respectful and helpful throng of managers and coaches, Jimmie helping me from behind.
The ice was icy. Amidst deep cheers I stepped down on to it, clinging to the rail. I was handed the bell and I rang it authoritatively, after the fashion I had seen scores of junior hockey referees waggle it. I stepped forth and slid for the centre of the ice, in the pot-bellied, ponderous way referees do, reflecting dimly the while that, after all, most hockey referees are punk skaters. I hoped my initial shove from the rail would carry me to the middle.
It did. I came to a slow, dignified stop, just exactly about middle ice, and once again I waggled the bell and stood ready. Amidst a deepening stillness, the teams took up their positions, and the two centre men skated towards me. The home town boy was an enormous lad for eighteen. He was redheaded, rugged and ugly. He looked about twenty-four to me. The Buckleton centre was a long, lean youth with a very wicked expression on his face for one so young. according to the rules.
Glancing around at the players, in the way I had seen referees do, I leaned forward and dropped the puck.
Calling ‘Em Wrong
It was as if lightning had struck the place.
A sudden rocketing roar filled the rink, the two figures before me slashed and leaped and from all sides flying figures seemed to come in blazing colors and at inhuman speed, while I stood paralyzed. Things in general seemed to be moving towards one end of the ice, so cautiously I followed. A thunderclap of sound suddenly exploded amidst the deafening roar: I saw a red light blink on down there where I was heading and those solid cliffs of human flesh on all sides seemed to be lifted by pandemonium, they became a living storm of humanity, leaping, waving, and roaring.
“Good,” I muttered. “A goal. Now I just skate back to the middle again.”
But to me, in vast furious curves, came figures blazing and surrounded me, all shouting, glaring, waving immense gauntleted hands and arms. I pushed resolutely through the gathering cluster, and picked the puck up out of the net, where a goalie lay, face down as if dead. I picked the puck up and started to skate back to centre ice.
It was all over very suddenly. The sound, which had been continuous, and filling the air like wool, all on the instant seemed to double and throb and vibrate. It was a formidable sound. I was instantly surrounded by multicolored players, who started shoving me and thrusting and I could see the infuriated face of the red-headed centre man bent low down, his eyes rolling. Through the gaps in this milling mob I could see things being thrown on the ice, and one glimpse I got of Jimmie, standing down at the rail, leaning forward, his familiar face purple and … booing!
Yes, booing. I felt the impact of something striking the outer rim of the mob around me, which, by its colors, I took to be the members of the Buckleton team, and then the lights went out.
Something crashed into me and I went down under a heap of fighting, grunting bodies, the din grew high with screams, and I covered my face and head with my arms, saying “so this is hockey.”
I heard a low voice near me grating my name.
“Jim,” I replied wildly. “Jim.”
It was Jim. And he dragged me across the darkness of ice and hoisted me over the rail. Through unseen and fighting shapes, he propelled me between rough plank walls to what, when the lights came on, proved to be the dressing room where my dear old overcoat lay, friendly.
“You booed,” I yelled.
“The goal was off-side,” shouted Jim back. “Miles off-side. And you allowed it.”
“A good referee,” I shouted, “always calls ’em as he sees ‘em. I’ve heard Lou Marsh say that.”
“Yeah,” retorted Jim, “but not on home ice. That was the Buckleton team shoved that one in.”
So the game was called on account of the unavoidable absence of the referee.
Editor’s Note: Pre-World War Two, hockey referees wore white sweaters with a shirt and tie, as illustrated here. Rather than have whistles, they would ring bells. Note that in the drawing, Greg holds the bell by the clapper. This is to prevent the bell from ringing while the play is on.
Lou Marsh was an NHL referee and Greg and Jim would have known him when he worked at the Toronto Star in the early 1930s. There are even some stories from that time staring Greg and Lou. He died in 1936, only two years before this story was published.
This story was also published in “Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors” (1979).