By Greg Clark, November 6, 1943 (and December 7, 1935)
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 “Leak Stoppers” in 1935 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics (though in this case there was little changed).
“You can buy a gun,” said Jimmie Frise, “what they call a caulking gun, and seam up all your windows and doors with it, using a kind of putty or cement.”
“I’ve seen them,” I said. “Like a grease gun.”
“Exactly,” said Jim. “A child can use them. You have no idea how many leaks there are around a modern house. Air leaks.”
“I’m beginning to feel them,” I agreed. “You would think we Canadians would have solved the question of housing a couple of generations ago. Yet the average Canadian home is stifling in summer and freezing in winter; that is, unless you keep a furnace going full blast from October to May.”
“Yes,” pursued Jim, “and what’s more, when you have the furnace going full blast, what are you doing? You are merely squirting 50 or 100 jets of hot air out of 50 or 100 leaks in your house. Through cracks and crevices. Through keyholes and under warped doors. Hot air squirting out of your house, and cold air shooting in. I’m going to get one of those caulking guns. How would you like to go halvers with me on one?”
“Sure,” I agreed.
“The best house for Canada,” said Jimmie, relaxing, “is a log house. It is warm in winter and cool in summer. Our first ancestors who came to this country were a lot more comfortable than we are. They picked a nice spot on the side of a hill for a cabin. A hill that would protect them from the cold northwesterlies.
They left a few tall maples and elms over it, to shelter it in the heat of summer. Out of cedar logs, they built their little cabin, and chinked the spaces between the logs with mud mixed with a little lime they burned themselves from limestone lying around.”
“I often wish I were my ancestor,” I mused.
“The roof,” said Jimmie, they made this way, they laid stout saplings close together, and over them laid what they called cedar splits, like big shingles. Sometimes if they could afford it, they laid couple of layers of heavy paper between the saplings and the shingles. One of my ancestors was called Proudy Frise, because he lined his roof with rawhide deerskins that he bought from the Indians. It was wonderful in the winter, but in the summer, it smelt kind of close.”
“He could stay outside most of the summer,” I pointed out.
“Once the snow fell on the cabin roof,” went on Jim, everything was hunkey-dooley.”
“The fireplace,” I carried on, “was built of stone, with the chimney.”
“As a matter of fact,” corrected Jim, “they built the stone fireplace and chimney first, and then added the cabin on to it. Here and there, throughout Canada, you will find a few weed-grown remnants of these pioneer chimneys and fireplaces. Every true Canadian should reverently lift his hat when he sees one of those small, unhonored ruins. Around those stones, the builders of empire have huddled in the long and bitter winters of their lives.”
“Babies, too,” I said.
“We Could Be Ancestors”
“Let us picture that little cabin,” paused Jimmie. “Never mind the cutting and the hauling of those cedar logs, the finding and hauling of the stones for the fireplace and chimney. They had no horses. Oxen were few and far between and very expensive. I think we may reasonably suppose that our fathers hauled the logs by hand, and carried the stones in their arms. I think I can see everybody in the family, lonely in that small stumpy clearing in the deep forest, hauling, hauling all day. The mother, leaving her baby, to help haul cedar logs. The little boys of 10 and 14, laboriously loosening and rolling stones towards that sacred muddy little spot where soon, before the chill of autumn grimmed to winter, there must rise the stone altar of home.”
“Jimmie,” I said, “you’re a preacher.”
“Day after day, they hauled and notched and piled and plastered with their rude cement,” said Jim. “Then they had to cut and pile firewood, long, ragged stacks of it. But at last, the rough little cabin was made, and the snow fell, and the soft white blanket warmed the little house. And inside, on a big hearth, a far bigger hearth than you will see anywhere today except at golf clubs, burned a bright fire.”
“One of my ancestors, called Great Grandpa Willie,” I interrupted, “had one of the biggest and best-drawing fireplaces in Markham township. They tell that when the fire was drawing good in it, the draught was so strong it sucked great big cordwood sticks up the chimney and threw them hundreds of feet away. In fact, they had to keep letting the fire go out because they couldn’t get any wood to stay on the fire long enough to burn.”
“The floor,” went on Jim, as if I hadn’t spoken, was generally just plain earth, worn hard and smooth by human feet. The beds were rough hewn bunks. A home-made table. The chairs, a couple of stools, and the rest just round pieces of logs set on end. On that bright fire they cooked their meals on spits and boiled their kettles on hobs. All winter long, they hugged the bright fire, never letting it go out night or day. And the only thing that happened was when daddy walked 14 miles through the deep snow to the nearest village, for a bag of flour, to bring back on home-made sled. And maybe a piece of pork he would get from the local missionary, or maybe from United Empire Loyalist, who might live in the village. That is unless your ancestor had been out with Mackenzie.”
“Mine were out with Mackenzie,” I stated proudly. “And they never wanted for a slab of salt pork or a bag of flour. The ones who were out with Mackenzie stuck together a lot longer than the ones who weren’t, let me tell you that. One winter’s night, nearly 30 years after the rebellion, an old man came to the back door of my great-uncle’s farm, and he said he wanted a meal and shelter for the night. The old man came into the kitchen where the candles were burning, and when he saw William Lyon Mackenzie’s picture on the wall, he snatched off his hat and stood in front of it, crying. So my great-uncle sent everybody to bed; and hour after hour the women and children could hear the two old men in the kitchen making speeches and singing, and reading all my great-uncle’s clippings of the sacred newspaper writings of William Lyon Mackenzie. And finally they went out into the winter night, both of them, about midnight or after, and from that hour, my great-uncle was never seen again.”
“Never seen?” asked Jim.
“Never seen again,” I stated. “He had got out his old high hat and his black coat with the silver buttons. His pike, which hung on the wall, a funny old weapon made of a broken scythe blade on a long ash handle, was gone. We say in the family that the old stranger who called at the door was Mackenzie himself or his ghost, and that he came and took great-uncle away with him. I tell you the rebels stuck together, at least in the country.”
“I wish I was my ancestor,” agreed Jim. “They had something to do. Something to fight. Something to believe in.”
“We could be ancestors, too,” I explained to Jim. “By going up north, around Cochrane or out to the far west. And build a little log cabin and go through all the very same things our ancestors did.”
“Yeah,” sneered Jim, “and the minute we began to fail, we’d go on relief.”
Everything Goes in Circles
“Our ancestors went on relief, too, don’t forget,” I stated. “All the Empire Loyalists got what was called ‘assistance’; that is, free seed and potatoes and all sorts of government grants of this and that. And even after the rebellion, the government wouldn’t see you starve. Anyway, your neighbors wouldn’t. And that’s much the same thing as it is now out on the frontiers, where we would go if we wanted to be ancestors, too.”
“Everything sort of goes round, doesn’t it?” muttered Jim. “The same thing happens over and over, only to different people. I guess we had our turn in our great-grandfathers.”
“We’re pretty comfortable,” I confessed. “Except for those leaks around the windows and doors. When do you expect to get the caulking gun?”
“I could get it Friday, and we can do the job Saturday.”
So Jim got the gun and three bags of the powder that you mix up in a pail to make the putty or gum used to fill the cracks.
It was a cold day. In fact, it was so cold I suggested we leave the job over until milder day. But Jim was indignant.
“In the first place,” he cried, “what would our ancestors think of us, passing up a job that takes half an hour out in a little cold? And in the second place, it is a cold, windy day like this we need to help find the leaks.”
We started at Jim’s. Under the downstairs living room windows was a leak that gave you a backache in 10 minutes if you sat in the chesterfield. It was a leak under the window frame and behind the big radiators that filled the front end of the room. So cold was the breeze that cut in across the radiators that it was still freezing after it had passed across practically red-hot radiators.
In a big wash boiler, with water we mixed the gray powder out of the paper bags.
“This stuff,” explained Jim, sniffing loudly, “is sort of like gum. It swells as it hardens. It hardens light and fluffy but strong as stone.”
“Like,” I said, “a sort of asphalt or concrete seidlitz powder.”
Jim and I went and studied the leak from the inside and then from the outside. His family were all away, or we would have had someone stand inside and call out to us where the leak still leaked. Jim did the gun work while I did the mixing and gun-filling. It was an even division of the job, and a cold job at that.
Inserting the flattened end of the gun into the crack below the stone window sill, Jim would press the gun handle and the putty would squeeze inside. Jim shoved and heaved and sniffled, and I crouched down out of the wind, just coughing
A Dreadful Sight
After four gun loads, Jim went inside and reported the cold leak as cold and leaky as ever.
“There must be a hole,” he said, “as big as a piano box inside that wall.”
So I mixed and puddled and Jimmie gunned and heaved, and that one leak took seven pails of putty.
“We ought to have some sort of automatic gun,” declared Jim, “that would connect to a hose. Then we could fill these holes in jig time.”
“My hands,” I said, “are numb.”
“I feel hot chills, confessed Jim. “I bet I am catching pneumonia.”
“Any number of our ancestors must have died of pneumonia,” I offered.
So we broke off, and drove over to the hardware store for another three bags of the gum.
“We’ll fill this leak,” said Jim, setting to, “if it takes all day and 50 bags. Just imagine the kind of man that would build a house with hole like that in it.”
“Maybe,” I suggested, we are filling up hollow wall right to the roof?”
“If we are,” said Jim, “We are. But I going to stop this leak.”
And grunting and sniffing, he leaned on the gun, and shot another two pailfuls of the gum into the chink below the window sill.
“Our ancestors, I coughed, “generally did their wall clinking in the summer.”
“Sniff,” said Jim, heaving hard.
“Our ancestors,” I further coughed, had enough sense to do their chinking from the inside, in winter.”
“There’s an idea,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s find the leaks inside and work from there!”
“For mercy’s sake,” I said, seizing the pail and one of the two remaining bags of powdered gum. “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?”
So we hustled inside through the kitchen, and we paused in the kitchen with all our paraphernalia long enough to brew a pot of tea and drink it neat.
“To be an ancestor,” said Jim, much improved, “you had to have common sense. I bet the bones of amateur ancestors lie thick all over Canada. Men who didn’t use their brains. Men who couldn’t take it.”
“Let’s go find the leak from the inside,” I encouraged.
So we carried the gun and the pail and bags into the living-room.
A dreadful sight met our eyes.
Like candle drippings, like the winter icicles of Niagara Falls, huge stalactites and stalagmites of gray gum draped themselves up and over the big radiator of the living-room, sizzling and smoking. Out across the shining hardwood floor, a great gob of gum, like lava from Mount Vesuvius, bulged grotesquely, pushing a Persian rug ahead of it.
Halvers on the Gun
Jim said nothing. He just dropped the gun and stood loosely, bending at the knees, sort of.
“Jim,” I said, “quick, when are the folks coming home?”
“Ancestors,” said Jim, thickly, “where are you now?”
With garden spade and ice pick, with rags and trowel, we labored. The gum had apparantly been pushing through into the living-room as fast as we shoved it. It had filled the space behind the radiator and finally rose up and flowed over it, so that the radiator was all but engulfed. Where we lifted it, like a great gummy rug, off the hardwood floor, it peeled the beautiful satiny finish off the way a mud pack removes the ageing epidermis of a lady. It smelt rubbery and asphalty. The hot radiator stewed it. It stuck, as gum sticks to your heel. We had the job not quite finished when the family arrived and consigned Jim and me and all our apparatus to the cellar where Jim has a billiard room.
“Will I offer to re-polish the floor?” asked Jim, as we sat there.
“You can if you like,” I said. “If we do the same thing at my house, I’ll offer to re-polish my floor.”
“I see,” said Jim. “I see. You are leaving me?”
“Yes,” I said, “I am all chapped and raw. I feel a bad cold coming on. I have been doing foolish thing.”
“Helping a friend, scorned Jim.
“I have been doing a foolish thing,” I reiterated. “I forgot that my ancestors did all the suffering any family needs to do. They used up in their lives, a basic fund of energy, a sort of family supply of vigor, so that they had none to pass on to me. What they suffered, they suffered for me. And they no doubt were encouraged, as they toiled and suffered, by the thought that their descendants would not have to suffer as they were doing.”
“I bet they thought of no such thing,” said Jim.
“Well, anyway,” I coughed heavily, “there is no call for me to go on suffering when I can hire an ancestor just fresh out from Scotland who will gum up the leaks in my house for two dollars.”
“How about going halvers on the gun?” asked Jim.
“Sure,” I said: “I’ll give you the money the next time I have it.”
So I got up and hurried home and put my feet in mustard bath and put my grand-mother’s Paisley shawl – the one she got for a gift the night the fall of Sebastopol was celebrated in Toronto – round my shoulders and read an old book, a raggedy old book we have, called “The Life and Times of William Lyon Mackenzie.”
Editor’s Notes: This is yet another story in the theme of Greg and Jim trying to do some sort of household repair while the family is out, and making a mess of it.
William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, journalist, reformer, and leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. He is consider a hero by many as the failed rebellion eventually led to more local control.
Seidlitz powders is a generic name for a laxative that required mixing of two ingredients.
The fall of Sebastopol was a battle during the Crimean War, which would have been celebrated in the British Empire.