By Greg Clark, August 14, 1943 (and August 15, 1936).
While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Cure for Lumbago” in 1936 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics.
“My uncle,” said Jimmie Frise, “has got the lumbago.”
“They say it’s very painful,” I said, “if you really have it.”
“How do you mean?” asked Jim.
“Well, of course,” I explained, “lumbago is one of the swellest fake ailments in the world. It is one of those diseases that are hard to diagnose. A man can pretend he has lumbago periodically for 30 years and escape an awful lot of hard work. And nobody can catch him at it. Even doctors are fooled.”
“H’m,” said Jim.
“There is only one way to tell if a man really has lumbago,” I informed him. “A medical officer showed me, in the army. We had a dreadful outbreak of lumbago in our regiment one time. Somebody knew that lumbago was hard to diagnose. So he passed the word around among the real lead-swingers of the regiment, and we had as high as 30 very serious cases of it.
“The medical officer was nearly crazy. The only thing he could do for lumbago was excuse the lead-swingers all parades and working parties; and the whole 30 of them lay around the billets playing red dog and penny ante. Suddenly, he had an idea. He had all the lumbago cases paraded before him, one by one. As each man, with drawn face and cautious step, came in front of him, the medical officer dropped a sheet of paper and asked the sufferer to pick it up. Each sufferer, very suspicious, slowly and with agony bent over and picked up the paper; then quickly straightened.
“Now in lumbago, it doesn’t hurt to bend down. But it hurts like blazes to straighten up. The whole 30 all made the same mistake. So the M.O. gave each of them two number nines and a dose of castor oil and they were all on duty parade the next morning.”
“We ought to tip off everybody to this diagnosis,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t wonder if there were thousands of guys faking lumbago all over the country. Especially when there is any heavy lifting to do.”
“Oh, it’s useful for lots of other things.” I said. “It isn’t only hard work. I know plenty of men who suffer from lumbago terribly every Sunday morning, and it is worst just about time to dress for church. Others get a pang of it when their wife wants them to accompany them over to Sister Emily’s or some other such place where you sit around all evening listening to a lot of family complaints.”
“We’ll do a lot of good,” agreed Jim. “revealing this trick about bending down. In real lumbago it is easy to bend down and hard to straighten up. Fake lumbago, they bend down in agony and straighten up quickly. Is that it?”
Uncle Horace’s Attacks
“Then there is cupping,” I said, “You get a good thick glass, the kind peanut butter comes in. You set fire to a little bit of paper in the glass and then pop it against the small of the back of the sufferer. The instant you slap the cup against the hide, the lighted paper goes out. But a vacuum has already been created in the glass sufficient to suck up the flesh under the cup like half a golf ball. You go all over the lumbago area, overlapping each cupping until you have applied suction to the whole area. This is an old-fashioned cure and a dandy. Anybody can do it.”
“But what has it to do with fake lumbago?” asked Jim.
“Well,” I showed him, “all you have to do is be a little clumsy and let the burning paper fall on the small of his back. And he lets out a yell, leaps to his feet and all his lumbago vanishes without the need of any treatment.”
“My uncle,” said Jim, “is a very fine man. A pillar of the church. A county councillor. But he does get the lumbago around haying time. And harvest generally.”
“H’m,” said I.
“His wife, Aunt Minnie,” said Jim, “wrote and asked if I wanted any clover honey. In the same letter she mentioned Uncle Horace had the lumbago very bad. I don’t suggest there is any connection. But I’m awfully fond of clover honey. She’d give us each a couple of big pails of it if we went down.”
“We?” I said suspiciously.
“Anyway,” said Jim, as a patriotic duty we should give Uncle Horace a hand with his harvest, lumbago or no lumbago.”
“The only thing we might have to do,” said Jim, “would be to lend a hand for an afternoon with the barley, probably. Or maybe oats.”
“Agricultural labor,” I stated, is what drove my family into the city three generations ago.”
“I don’t suggest you do any work,” said Jim. “But it might be fun to try out these tests on Uncle Horace.”
“You don’t suspect a county councillor of deceit,” I demanded.
“The only fault I have to find with Uncle Horace,” replied Jim, “is a certain nighness. He’s a little nigh. He reverences a dollar bill with devotion that is touching.”
“I can think of worse ways of spending a summer afternoon,” I said, “than sitting under a shady elm on a farm with a pitcher of iced tea beside me, watching you forking sheaves on to a wagon. Count me in.”
Our arrival at Aunt Minnie’s was timed exactly right. Lunch was just ready when we drove up to the kitchen door. There was cold pickled ham and lettuce; potato salad with little green onions in it; hot biscuits and clover honey; hot tea or iced tea; and Aunt Minnie had a plate of mint sprays to crush around the lip of the iced tea glasses, which were the old-fashioned kind that hold a pint.
We went in and saw Uncle Horace laid out in his bed. He is a lean and weather-beaten gentleman. His hands crossed peacefully on his chest, are big, capable hands. But there was a look of patient suffering in his eyes.
Applying the Test
“Jim,” he said, “it was mighty kind of you to come down at a time like this. And bringing a friend, too.”
“Ah, Aunt Minnie knows the trick,” said Jim. “Clover honey.”
“What would you like me to tackle, Uncle Horace? The barley, is it?” asked Jim.
“Well, the way I look at it,” said Uncle Horace, pushing his moustache back as if he were going to address the county council, or close a deal, “a hired man costs so much. And a pail of clover honey is worth so much. It all works out even.” “you can’t get a man around these parts for love or honey, let alone money, and I don’t know what I would have done if you two hadn’t shown up.”
“It’s a small field of barley,” said Uncle Horace. “By dark, you could mow the whole thing. Then I have your Cousin James and his family coming down for the week-end. They are hearty eaters, but I figure they can get the whole crop into the barn for me. It’s a wonderful thing, Mr. Clark, to have relatives like mine. Especially when I am such a martyr.”
Aunt Minnie showed us the wash bench, basin and soft water pail.
“What do you think?” murmured Jim.
“We’ll try him out, after lunch,” I replied guardedly. Both systems. I didn’t like the sound of that word martyr.”
And after a wonderful two-helpings lunch, with three of clover honey and six tea biscuits, we walked into Uncle Horace’s bedroom on the ground floor.
“We’ll just help you up,” I said, “to sit here at the window and see us off.”
I then dropped a dollar bill on the floor, folded up.
“Careful, lads,” said Uncle Horace, extending his long legs out of the bed and moving very, very cautiously. He had two or three twinges in the process of getting his back off the bed and his heels on the floor. But with Jim and me on either side, slowly taking the weight, he got into a standing position and gasped heavily.
“I can manage now,” he said. But I knew he had his eye on the dollar bill.
Jim stepped over to the chair at the window, and I moved back and shook the bed quilt aside.
And Uncle Horace, bending very quickly picked up the dollar; and then, with every symptom of intense agony, slowly and with fierce groans, straightened up
“Did either,” he gasped, his face white and his eyes bulging, “of you lose a certain sum of money?”
Jim and I felt in our pockets and shook our heads.
“Well,” said Uncle Horace, painfully hitching himself towards the chair, it must have fallen out of one of my pockets.” Though I can’t imagine me losing my faculties to that extent just yet.”
He eased himself into the chair. Jim and I saw him comfortable in front of the window, and left him.
“The real thing?” asked Jim as we went around toward the barn.
“He sure has the real thing,” I agreed. “”He bent down as quick as lightning. But he straightened with intense agony. I never saw a man suffer more for a dollar bill.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” mused Jim. “A dollar bill would make Uncle Horace forget anything. Suppose he grabbed for the dollar bill. And then remembered suddenly he had the lumbago and groaned coming up.”
“He’s a marvellous actor,” I said, “if he hasn’t got lumbago. I hadn’t the heart to suggest the cupping cure, after seeing his face.”
“Then,” said Jim, “it is an act of charity we are doing, helping him with his barley.”
Purely As An Observer
I know nothing about the agricultural life.
My ancestors before me must have exhausted themselves so completely trying to wrest a living out of the soil that they used up even the instincts which normally might have been passed on to me. So it was purely as an observer that I accompanied Jim into the stable, saw him lead out three fine heavy horses, their sides shining like fresh peeled chestnuts. …their bellies and limbs fat and full of flesh. Jim stood them in the shade and bridled and harnessed them. Drove them cleverly to the lane where the big binder was standing ready. Expertly backed them on to the trees and fastened the traces. Walking slowly around them to see where every collar and every strap lay not too loose and not too snug. Slipped his hand under the bands. Slapped and patted the friendly beasts.
“What gorgeous horses, Jim,” said, from the rail fence where I perched.
“Uncle Horace knows his horses,” agreed Jim.
“They’re like lambs,” I admired.
“They are bred to be like lambs,” said Jim. “Nowadays, there are really no bad horses any more. The first principle of breeding is to eliminate all vice. In the past 40 or 50 years Canadian farmers have been breeding to an ideal horse, so they choose only the horse free of vice to breed from. It is as if, in human breeding, we only allowed good-tempered and quiet people to have children.
“That would be a swell idea,” I said, “for some of us. But why did we have such wicked horses in the army?”
“Ah,” said Jim, “those were riding horses you mean? They breed riding horses for style and courage, not for gentleness.”
“I have never really got over my experience with horses in the army,” I told Jim, as I walked along beside him to the mower. “What horses did to me in the war I have never quite eliminated from my character. My self-esteem is only about half what it would be normally, if it hadn’t been for the way horses threw me and bucked me and stepped on me.”
“You’d be a tough egg, then,” said Jim, “if it hadn’t been for horses.”
I watched Jim mount the seat of the big binder. I walked along as the huge machine, its paddles thrown out of gear so they did not operate during the drive down the lane, clattered and banged and rattled. Jim was like a Roman charioteer, reining the three magnificent rippling horses. They bent into the harness so willingly. They plodded so knowingly down the lane. They wheeled, almost without any directions of Jim’s voice or reins, into the barley field through the gate.
“Yee,” called Jim, sitting proudly on the binder seat, lifting the reins high, and gazing with the pride of a landowner across the glistening harvest.
Behind, I walked in the fresh springing stubble of the barley. Ahead, the great paddles whirled and the sheaves rolled out. We came to the end of the first swath. Jim yeed the beautiful beasts around on a five-cent piece, as it were, their chins across the fence, making the turn.
“Stook it up,” Jim shouted gaily to me pointing back along the swath of the sheaves.
“I never stook barley,” I shouted back. “I promised my old great-grandfather.”
Jim whoaed the three-horse team. They seemed actually to smile with a kind of harvest joy, those horses.
“How would you like to drive?” asked Jim,
“Are you a mind reader?” I replied. “Jim, if I could drive those horses even for two or three turns of the field it would restore the self-esteem I lost in France 20 years ago.”
Jim swung down off the seat.
“These horses,” said Jim, “could mow this field without anybody driving them.”
“Upsadaisy,” I said, springing into the high seat.
“Just hold the reins,” said Jim, “and let them do it.”
“Yee,” I said, “giddap.”
And without even a lurch, the three beauties curved and rippled their magnificent rumps before me and their heads bobbed, their black manes rose and fell, their ears flopped and twitched and signalled, and beside me the great paddles whirled and the wheels bumped and the seat swayed on its soft springs; and I was, after four generations, a husbandman again, a reaper of harvests, a bringer-in of sheaves.
Barley Field Jigsawed
But I hardly had time to feel the full bloom of age-long and forgotten sentiments. Some day I would like to mow a field, just to see if my instincts are really dead. About one third down the field, when I was just beginning to feel that thrill of achievement which comes to us even when we first ride a bicycle, the team stepped, I am reliably informed by Mr. Frise, into a bees’ nest. The same curious creatures who topped off for us our delectable lunch also served as a cure for lumbago.
With a couple of snorts, the gentle but massive ton and a half of glossy horseflesh writhing and rippling before me, suddenly backed, swerved and reared.
“Whoa,” I roared, seeing Jim out of the corner of my eye bending over sheaves some distance back of us.
But even the best-bred horses do not go for bees. The next thing agricultural science should develop are stingless bees. Paddle wheel whirling madly, wheels bumping and clanking, bars jerking, seat leaping perilously, we tore down the field, curving this way and that; losing all sense of geometry, coming to a fence and turning only when we had to.
I could hear Jim shouting directions, but above the noise of the binder I could not hear whether he was saying to pull on the reins or let them use their own good sense. But since a few bees zoomed around me, I thought he was saying to let them run. Anyway, I do not believe it would be humane to force poor dumb animals to submit to bee stings. Frankly, we did four diagonal and otherwise various swaths with the binder before Uncle Horace leaped the fence and caught the off-horse by the head strap and brought us to a stop.
“Get off that,” he roared at me
I got off it, quite willingly.
He climbed without lumbago into the seat He stood up and surveyed the barley field, all jig-sawed. His beautiful horses were standing as quiet as lambs.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” I said.
“Stch, stch, giddap,” said Uncle Horace.
“It was a bees’ nest,” said Jim, who had arrived.
“Yee,” said Uncle Horace, leaning forward to grasp the reins better and straightening back without even a grimace.
So Jim and I went to the side of the field and watched him once around; and as he did not notice us when he went by, we proceeded back up to the house and sat in rocking-chairs with Aunt Minnie in the kitchen. And she made us iced tea again; and after due consideration we decided to leave before supper. Aunt Minnie gave us each not two but three pails of clover honey; and in deference to my feeling for her tea biscuits, she did me up a dozen in a bag to take home, too.
Editor’s Notes: Lumbago is lower back pain, and was a more common term in the past.
Red Dog is a gambling card game, Penny-ante refers to very low sum bets.
A Stook is a stack of grain to keep the grain off of the ground.