By Greg Clark, May 1, 1943
“Psst!!” hissed Jimmie Frise. “Here he comes now!”
Jimmie crouched and leaped away from his living-room window.
“Who?” I whispered excitedly.
“Quiet,” commanded Jim in a low voice. “We won’t answer the door.”
“Who the heck is it?” I murmured anxiously.
“There’s a guy going around the neighborhood,” whispered Jim as the door bell rang, “with a petition. There’s a little gang of them want to fire one of the school teachers up at the school. I don’t want to get mixed up in it.”
“Why,” I scorned indignantly, “that’s no way to act in a public matter. Let the guy in. And if you don’t agree with him, refuse to sign his petition.”
“Ssshhhh,” warned Jim, as the doorbell rang again.
“In fact,” I said, “If you don’t agree with his petition, inform him that you are going to start a counter-petition.”
“For Pete’s sake,” hissed Jimmie. “Sssshhhh.”
The doorbell rang for the third time, long and loud.
“He can see the lights in the room.” I stated. “He knows somebody is in. Go on, answer the door. Face the guy. Don’t shirk a silly little thing like this.”
“I don’t want to get mixed up in it, I tell you,” whispered Jim sharply. “It’s a dangerous thing, mixing up in fights over schoolteachers.”
“If you like the guy.” I said, “stand up for him. If you don’t like him, sign the petition.”
“You don’t understand,” moaned Jim. “Sure I like the guy. I think he’s one of the best schoolteachers in the world. But he’s kind of tough. If a pupil is a dope, this teacher says he’s a dope, even to his parents.”
“Okay, stand up for him.” I said, as the bell rang the fourth time, sadly and briefly.
“The trouble with petitions is,” said Jim, “if you let one in the front door, it is almost impossible to escape signing it. I’ve signed petitions before I know. To get rid of the guy carrying the petition, you sign. Otherwise, they take up the whole evening arguing.”
“Aw, throw him out,” I snorted.
“Ninety-nine out of a hundred people,” said Jim, “are too mild and decent to quarrel with guests who come in their door. The loonier the guy carrying the petition, the sooner people will sign to get rid of him. And if nice people bring a petition, the rules of polite society make it next to impossible, in your own home, to throw them out. Petitions are about the falsest known form of human expression.”
I glanced out the window and saw the unwelcome visitor walking rather sadly down the front walk.
“He’s a nice looking fellow,” I said.
Jim came and looked through the curtains at the gentleman departing in the early evening twilight, carrying a brown filing envelope under his arm.
“I don’t recognize him,” said Jim.
As we watched, the gentleman reached the front walk and paused. He stood for a moment and put his hand wearily up to his forehead. Then he swayed.
“Why,” I cried, “the poor guy’s ill!”
Suddenly, before our eyes, the man bent over in agony and clutched his stomach.
“Hey,” exclaimed Jimmie, leaping for the front door.
We reached his side simultaneously, and each seized an arm.
“What’s the matter, old boy,” said Jim gently, urging him towards the house. “Come in. I’ll call a doctor.”
“It’s all right,” said the stranger weakly. “Just an attack of nervous indigestion. A little baking soda….”
We aided him up the steps and into the house. Jim led us straight into the kitchen, where we eased him on to a chair and I hurried to the cupboard for the baking soda and a glass.
“Sorry,” said the stranger sadly. “Sorry to trouble you….”
And I beat up a stout dose of baking soda until it foamed.
“Here you are, my boy,” I said indulgently. “This’ll fix you.”
He took the glass and had a couple of gulps. Then he sat back.
“Aaaahhh,” he said. “Thanks. Thanks, that’s much better. I’m getting so sick of baking soda, though; I wouldn’t be surprised if this weren’t going to ruin my stomach.”
“Are you much troubled with indigestion?” enquired Jim sympathetically.
“I never had indigestion in my life,” said the stranger, relieving himself mightily of some of the effects of the soda. “But I have to get in the houses on my territory somehow, don’t I?
“How’s that?” enquired Jim sharply.
“I believe in telling the truth, gentlemen,” said the stranger sitting up very hearty. “I knew somebody was in. At this hour of the evening, so soon after supper, I figured the man of the house would be home. In fact, I thought I detected you moving behind the curtains. So pulled the old baking soda trick.”
“You mean,” cried Jimmie, stepping back furiously, that to bring that petition into my home, you deliberately faked being ill….?”
“Petition?” said the stranger very surprised. “I have no petition. I’m the Victory Loan canvasser for this street.”
“My dear sir,” cried Jim, warmly, “I certainly beg your pardon. I thought you were a guy going around the neighborhood with a petition.”
“No, indeed,” said the stranger, taking off his coat and shoving the brown paper filing envelope forward on the table, with “Official Victory Loan Salesman” boldly printed on it. “I’ve got this district and it’s a darb. Five times today I’ve had to pull that baking soda stunt. I’m blown up like a balloon.”
“Is it that hard to get into Canadian homes?” I enquired.
“No, as a matter of fact,” said the salesman, “if there is a boy from the home in any of the services, the navy, army or air force, they seem to be waiting in the vestibule to welcome me. But about one house in five turns out to be a problem.”
“That many?” I questioned.
“Yes, about every fifth door,” said the salesman. “With the war as far advanced as it is now, there is somebody gone to war from four out of every five homes. There is no selling necessary there. You would think some of them would argue that they are doing enough towards the war, by sending their boys. But no: they always have their money figured out and they tell you right away that they have a hundred, or five hundred or a thousand all planned out. It’s just a case of sitting down and filling out the forms. I can tell the minute I come in the living-room, by the number of framed pictures of kids in uniform, just about how big a bond they are going to take in that house.”
“But how about the others?” asked Jim. That every fifth door?”
“Well,” said the salesman very kindly, “I feel sorry for them. They are the kinds of people who still want to lead their own lives. They don’t want the war to interfere with them. They don’t want their neighbors to interfere with them. They don’t want anybody calling at their door except the milkman, the baker, the delivery boy and such others as they have requested to call. They are neither the very rich nor the very poor. You can tell by the look of their homes, as you walk up the entrance, just what they are like. There is a kind of prim shine about their bones, as if their own kids never ran across the lawn. You know that they have their lives all organized and budgeted, that they have their little world by its little tail. They are sitting pretty. They spend their evenings sitting peering into the future, so as to be one jump ahead of their neighbors in all things. It is their pride. They think life is a problem in adding and subtracting. If they think it is wise to buy a Victory Bond, they will buy it at their bank, after a careful and cautious discussion with their bank manager, and a little pencil work on the percentages and earnings of the bond, and its probable market value in one, two, three years. They have no emotional sense of sending their dollars or their sons to war. And they resent a stranger, like me, calling at their door to suggest to them what they ought to do.”
“A very nice description,” I submitted.
“But it is only one door in five,” said the salesman, brightly. “And I thought yours was one of them at first.”
“Aw,” protested Jim, “don’t tell me my house looks like that. Why, all the kids in the neighborhood congregate on my lawn.”
“I mean,” the salesman hastened to say, “because you wouldn’t let me in. Your house looks to me like a five hundred or maybe a thousand.”
And he started to open his brown filing envelope.
“Hey,” cried Jim. “Just a minute. The way income tax is now subtracted at the source, and with all my kids … I haven’t any money right now. I wonder that anybody has.”
“Well, I should hope not,” said the salesman enthusiastically spreading out a lot of pamphlets and blank forms on the kitchen table. “I certainly hope you haven’t any thousand dollars hanging around idle these days. It isn’t any money you’ve got I am after. The government should have had that long ago. It’s the money you are going to have, in the next few months, that the country wants.”
The Way the Taxes Are
“But,” protested Jim, “as I say, with the income tax the way it is now, taking the money out of our salary cheque, and all, I don’t see how we are going to have any money….”
“Aw, come now,” laughed the salesman. “It isn’t that bad. When you got your new AA ration book with its dinky little street car tickets for 120 gallons, what was your first thought?”
“Well, dinky is the word,” admitted Jim.
“If it had been twice the size,” went on the salesman, “you wouldn’t have been shocked, would you?”
“Shocked?” enquired Jim.
“Sure,” said the salesman. “If it had contained coupons for 240 gallons, you wouldn’t have refused it, would you?”
“Certainly not,” agreed Jim smiling.
“Okay, then,” said the salesman, “there’s 120 gallons, on roughly $40 worth of gas you would cheerfully have bought in the next few months, if you had had the coupons, eh? Your income tax wouldn’t have cut you so close you couldn’t have used that extra 120 gallons?”
“H’m,” I muttered, feeling already harpooned.
“That’s just one trivial item,” went on the salesman, starting to fill out one of the blank forms. “Without your car, you’re not going to visit your summer cottage each week-end this coming season. You’re not going to play much golf. Not going fishing. I suppose $5 or $10 wouldn’t be too much to say a man spent on his ordinary peacetime week-ends, playing, visiting his cottage, and so on? Well, there’s another $50 or $100 you aren’t going to know what to do with, this summer.”
“Oho,” Interrupted Jimmie, “don’t think I haven’t any debts, mortgages, repairs, all sorts of things….”
“No use owning a house,” said the salesman, “even in good repair, if the kids overseas haven’t got the shells to put in their guns to stop the guys who are trying to take your house away from you. If it’s your house you are worrying about, you had better start thinking of your home instead. A house is one thing. A home is something else.”
“Where do you learn to argue like this?” I inquired.
“We get two weeks preliminary training,” said the salesman. “We attend classes for two weeks before the Victory Loan campaign opens, and demonstrations are put on for us to show all the types of resistance we are likely to meet.”
“What type are we?” asked Jim.
“Type B,” said the salesman. “The kind who give in after a brief struggle.”
“Are we struggling?” I demanded.
“The average man,” said the salesman, “knows exactly what he is going to take before the Victory Loan gets started. The average man then surrenders by taking double what he knew he was going to take.”
“Then there is a struggle?” I suggested.
“The average man,” said the salesman, “doesn’t really know how well off he is. It is our job to show him.”
“You’ve got an interesting job.” declared Jim. “How do you work?”
“Well, Toronto for instance,” explained the salesman, “is divided into seven divisions, and there are from 80 to 140 salesmen in each division. Every house is listed. We are given a list. And it is our duty – our duty, you see? – to visit every home. Most of us are my age, past military duty. But we get a big kick out of getting into every home on our list. Some of them don’t make us welcome. Some of them, it takes a lot of nerve. I don’t say it takes as much nerve as it takes for a soldier to get out of his trench and charge his enemy. But we’re not young, you see. Some of us aren’t so very tough. And to try to push our way into a home where we are obviously most unwelcome takes all we’ve got under our vests.”
“Baking soda,” I remarked.
“There are homes,” said the salesman, “homes where they are very sarcastic, and want to know how much we are making out of the bonds. Then there are homes so full of trouble and grief, it makes our hearts ache even to have bothered them. Last year, I sold a $100 bond to a young girl who was waiting for the ambulance to take her to the sanatorium. I barged right into that home, where they were all sitting around the living-room, the girl lying wrapped up on the chesterfield, waiting for the ambulance. I said my little piece. The girl smiled and took $100.”
“Gee,” I said through my teeth; and Jimmie just cleared his throat.
“I sold a $2,000 bond to a blind man,” said the salesman, “who earned $12 a week. He had saved that much through his dark life. A blind man does not see much to buy.”
I cleared my throat and Jimmie blew his nose.
“One block north of here,” said the salesman, “a man has lost two sons, young boys, one at Dieppe, one in the air. They both had insurance, pre-war. The father bought war bonds with it, $7,000. The bonds he is going to put away for his third son, now age 17, in case that one survives the war.”
“I know them,” muttered Jimmie.
Adding and Subtracting
“Next door to that,” he went on, “a man and woman turned out their living-room lights when I rang. I said to myself, when those lights went out, folks, I said, it is dark where you live.”
The salesman continued scribbling with his fountain pen on the two forms he was working out.
“I wish we could go around with you,” I said. “Maybe if each salesman had a committee of the neighborhood to go around with him …?”
“Well,” explained the salesman, “people don’t like to discuss their money affairs with their neighbors. It is embarrassing enough, as it is.”
“It seems silly,” put in Jim, “that people should still be embarrassed with one another, here in the fourth year of the war, with all our boys poised on the brink of mighty events… Our boys are paraded with bands and banners. But we, we chink our money in secrecy and privacy, like misers under a candle.”
“I often think,” said the salesman, pushing the two forms across the kitchen table at us, and offering his fountain pen, “how much easier it is to go to war than to stay home adding and subtracting.”
“It’s a pretty anxious time,” we agreed.
“My anxieties are over,” said the salesman. “I lost my boy over Cologne.”
“Missing?” I suggested.
“Not missing.” said the salesman.
Editor’s Notes: This story seems to be a combination public service and story. It is pretty much a sales pitch for Victory Loans.
“AA” Gasoline rations were for non-essential private cars, who received the least amount. Coupon books were issued, and over the years, the amount that could be purchased per coupon decreased. The different categories were:
- A&AA: Non-essential private cars, originally allowed 60 coupons per year.
- B1: Rural schoolteachers and clergymen, farmers, and home guard units, allowed 88 to 116 coupons.
- B2: War production employees, flying school students, allowed 132 to 172 coupons.
- C: Government officials, news reporters, MDs, rural veterinarians, commercial travellers, allowed 168 to 216 coupons.
- D: Red Cross and other social welfare organizations, allowed 280 to 356 coupons.
- E: Rural mail carriers, diplomats, allowed 388 to 500 coupons.
- Commercial: Trucks, farm equipment, government vehicles, buses, taxis, ambulances. These vehicles had unlimited gasoline use as needed but were subject to spot checks by government inspectors to verify legitimate use.
- (source: http://bnatopics.org/hhlibrary/newsletters/rev/rev-2010-03-w068.pdf)
The Victory Loan campaign from this time (May 1943), was the 4th of nine campaigns conducted during the Second World War. The images below are from Maclean’s Magazine of May 1, 1943.