By Greg Clark, June 16, 1934
“What part,” asked Jimmie Frise, “are you taking in the coming elections?”
“I’m afraid,” I admitted, “I am not much at politics. Politics seem to have died out in this generation. I’ve heard how my grandfather, Willie Greig, used to sit on his horse at the crossroads near his farm at Pickering far into the winter night, shouting politics with his neighbor, also on a horse.”
“Why on a horse?” asked Jim.
“So they couldn’t fight,” I explained. “It was agreed between them never to talk politics when on foot.”
“What party was your grandfather?” asked Jim.
“I couldn’t say,” I said.
“There you are!” cried Jimmie. “You know all about the intensity of your grandfather’s political feeling. But you don’t know whether he was a Grit of a Tory.
“I think a man like you,” Jim went on, “would go well in politics. You have a soft, kind look. People would trust you.”
“I’ve often thought of entering public life,” I said, “that is, if I ever got ahead a little at the bank and had the time to spare.”
“I bet you could make a great political speech,” went on Jim.
“Ahem,” I said. “I talk easily.”
“What this country needs,” pursued Jim, “are politicians who will look out for the common man. Men without big ideas of themselves. Men who will serve with courage and devotion the interests of the mass of the people. You are such a man.”
“Nonsense, Jimmie,” I cried. “You are the man! You have described yourself to a tee. Modest, honest and always interested in the common man. You should go into politics.”
“But I can’t talk,” explained Jimmie. “I may have sound ideas, but I can’t express them. Whereas, however unsound your ideas, your expression of them is excellent.”
“We might,” I surmised, “enter public life together: you to provide the character and ideas and I to express them. We could get seats beside each other in parliament and you could mumble at me while I stood up and made fiery orations. My prompter.”
“I wonder,” asked Jim, “if it is too late to get in on this election? It seems to me you can’t run unless you are entered.”
“We could start by attending some meetings,” I suggested, and if we make a hit with the people they will insist on us running.”
Country Meetings are Best
“I wonder where there are any meetings?” mused Jim.
“Why, there are meetings all over, in schools and dance halls, everywhere,” I said.
“I have a hunch,” said Jim, “that we ought not to start at city meetings at all. Let’s go out to country meetings. We would show up better there. After all, we are more country than city, aren’t we?”
“That’s a wonderful suggestion,” I assured him. “Our sympathies are with the country people. Country folk can detect real worth in people far more quickly than city people. City people are dumb. They are so used to being bamboozled, hornswoggled and high-pressured they can’t tell the genuine article when they do see it.”
“Then we can drive out to the country after supper and attend a meeting in one of the little towns near Toronto,” decided Jim. “Country meetings are quieter and not so well organized as city meetings. You will be able to find a spot to get to your feet easier in a nice, slow-going country meeting than at one of these cut-and-dried city meetings. Have you some good, high-sounding words to pull? Do you need to rehearse your speech? What will you talk on?”
“I always trust to the inspiration of the moment,” I stated.
“Oh, by the way,” asked Jim, “which party are we supporting?”
“We can decide that when we attend the meeting,” I explained. “There is no use us deciding which side we are on until we can tell, from the tone of the meeting, which side the meeting is on. Then we horn in on the right side. It’s to get elected we are doing this, isn’t it?”
“Quite right,” agreed Jim. “Well, you had better read the papers to-day and get a line on the main arguments on both sides.”
“I’ll prepare two sets of notes,” I suggested. “One for either side.”
“Good,” said Jim. “Work in a lot of phrases like ‘This is a time of great change, of transmutation of all our former values into modern terms,’ or ‘Fellow citizens, at such a time as this, dare we, dare we tamper with those institutions which the generations of our fathers have, by their life and their death, proven to be sound?’ You know the stuff.”
“I get it,” I said, anxious to be off to read the newspapers and get organized.
“Get some facts and figures, too,” said Jim. “Some large millions, and look up a lot of words that mean embezzlement and fraud, without actually saying it.”
“How’s this: derelict in their sacred duty?” I tried.
“That’s it!” cried Jimmie. “Derelict. Swell.”
I spent part of the day reading the papers, and it was easy, by putting some of them on the table and the others on the bureau, to separate the political situation very simply and work up a collection of notes on both sides. I got some beautiful words. Machine. Chaotic. Quack medicines. Invasion of public rights. And so forth.
The Spirit of Battle
Jimmie called for me right after supper. “James,” I said, because if we went on the one side, we might have to favor titles, and Sir “Jimmie” is obviously out of the question, “James, which direction should we go?”
“Any direction,” said Jim, “until we come to a public meeting in the country. And the country is full of them.”
It looked like a thunderstorm as we left the city in a northwesterly direction. And we were scarcely in the country before one of those real old thunderstorms was in progress, in which every bolt of lightning seems to be directed, if not directly at you, at least to the lone elm tree which you are just passing.
“I hope we don’t have too far to go,” I said.
“Just nicely in the country,” said Jim.
We passed through a couple of little villages, semi-suburban, where a few people loitered in the shelter of gas stations and gloom prevailed all otherwise.
We passed farmhouses in connection with which it was impossible to imagine politics.
“What do you suppose the political complexion of this neighborhood would be?” I asked.
“You never can tell in the country,” explained Jimmie. “In the city, it does not matter to you what politics your neighbors entertain, or the people across the road. But out in the country, there are so many factors to decide your politics. For example, in the country, a man usually follows his father’s politics. But if you don’t like your neighbor, you hold the opposite political views from him. It is one of the ways of expressing your dislike for your neighbors.”
“Perhaps it is not going to be easy,” I suggested, “if we do succeed in finding a meeting to discover which is the stronger side for us to be on.”
“I’ll advise you,” said Jim.
Ahead we saw a village. And as we neared the village, Jim seemed to sense there was a political meeting here.
Just this side of the village was a big building all lighted up. And cars were parked densely around.
“Here we are!” cried Jim.
It was a handsome sort of building one of these modern-looking community halls the country is starting to erect, and by the well-to-do look of the motor cars packed around it, this was a meeting of successful farmers, country gentlemen of the first rank.
“Boy,” I breathed, “this would be the place to get our start in the world of politics! Look! Sport roadsters and everything!”
“Perhaps,” said Jim, as we got out of the car in the rain, “there might be some of these big retired business men farmers at this meeting.”
We hurried to the door, and as we entered, we sensed the tension, the spirit of battle, which filled the meeting. There were no loiterers in the lobby, and no young men smoking cigarettes in the corridor. Everybody was in the packed hall, and even the door was jammed with the backs of men straining forward to listen, while a voice boomed angrily amidst little gusts of clapping and occasional cheers.
Jim could see over the heads of the men jammed in the door, and he relayed the news to me.
“It’s crowded,” whispered Jim. “Jammed to the walls. I don’t recognize the chairman. But there is certainly something doing here. Listen.”
Loud cheers and boos and stamping of feet ended the remarks of the booming voice.
I could hear the chairman making some remarks, and then a new voice began. A strong, nasal, penetrating voice.
“Those of us who have been charged with the government of this …”
“BOOOOO! Minaaoooww! Boo, boo!” came roars from the meeting, amidst hisses and feet stampings.
Jim caught my arm and led me to the outer door.
“You can see the meeting is against the government,” exclaimed Jim excitedly. “There can be no doubt about those boos and hisses. Let’s get in somehow, perhaps we can get in by a door or a window. And at the first opportunity, you jump up and start lambasting the government or something. At the top of your lungs. And don’t forget to stick your clenched fist forward at arms length. A fighting posture. You know!”
“All right, all right,” I agreed breathlessly. “Why can’t we just push in past those fellows at the door?”
“The aisle is crowded, too,” said Jim. “We’ll have to get in somewhere that you can be seen. Let’s scout.”
We went outside in the rain and walked around the building. There were two side doors, both locked. There was a back door, also locked, with a man inside who gestured us through the window to go away.
But up about ten feet was a small window, with the downpipe from the eavetrough running beside it. The water gurgled in the downpipe and from the open window above us streamed light and tumult and cigar smoke.
“Could we get in through there?” I asked.
“I imagine,” said Jim. “that window is right at the back of the platform. We wouldn’t want to land with a thump on the platform, would we?”
So we went all around again without finding any other windows or doors, and we went inside the hall again and tried to wiggle through the jam at the door; but it was no use. And the meeting was getting hotter all the time.
“Jimmie,” I said, “we’ll simply have to climb through that window, platform or no platform? It will be dramatic entry! It will certainly focus attention on us. And anyway, there are a lot of people on the platform, and they may screen our actual arrival.”
So Jim hunted about and got an old table, a large lawn roller and an empty tar barrel, and with these we built a sort of ladder to reach the window. I got up first, and Jim came close behind, so as to help boost me through the window.
I peeped in. I saw, through a fog of smoke, a packed sea of faces, like pebbles on the shore. All eager. All excited and hot. In the near foreground, almost where I could touch them, were two rows of heads, mostly bald, with their backs to me. These were the gentlemen on the platform.
“How’s she look?” hissed Jim.
“It’s about a six-foot drop inside. If I can get through the window quickly, they will hardly notice me at all. I’ll just drop in and sit on a chair until you get in. Then you come and sit calmly beside me, as if this was the way we always come to meetings. There are several empty chairs at the back of the platform, right under me here. Can you manage to get through all right?”
“I’ll be right after you,” said Jim.
It was raining more heavily.
“What I think,” shouted the speaker with the nasal voice, amidst an uproar of feet and yells and boos, “of a lot of people like you, no gratitude, not a spark of gratitude for all the years we have faithfully served you …”
“Psst!” said Jim, just as I raised one leg to enter. “If I were you. I would rush to the front of the platform and start your speech the instant you touch the floor.”
I pulled myself together. I quickly slipped one leg over the window sill and swung the other one after, bounced to the floor, leaped across the platform, and thrusting through the row of men sitting on chairs, stuck my clenched fist out at the audience, who stared with open mouths and glaring eyes.
“Down,” I roared, “with the government or something! How about the returned soldiers! Who kept the…”
“BOOOOOOOOO!” bellowed the crowd, rising to their feet.
It was all over in a minute. The chairman and several bald-headed men took me, while others surged on to the platform from the audience, and amidst an immense confusion I was carried across the platform to the window, hoisted up and dropped out.
Jimmie caught me.
The chairman stuck his head out of the window.
“Scat,” he said. “Beat it, you Bolshevik.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jimmie.
We went around the building, where hall a dozen younger men were waiting for us having come out the front door. They looked at us curiously in the light from the porch.
“Which party is this meeting for?” asked Jim.
“Party?” asked the young men.
“Yes, which side are they on? Did the government call the meeting, or the opposition?” asked Jim.
“You’ve got the wrong place,” said the young men. This is the Twitchgrass Golf and Country Club, and they are holding their annual meeting.”
“Oh, pardon,” said Jim, “we thought it was a political meeting.”
“No, there’s a political meeting of some kind down in the county hall at the far end of the village,” said they.
Jim and I got in the car.
“How about it?” asked Jim. “Will we go on down?”
“It’s such a nasty night for politics,” I said.
So we drove back home.
Editor’s Notes: “Grits” was slang for the Liberal Party, and “Tories” is slang for the Conservative Party.
When they speak of the upcoming election, they probably mean the Ontario Election of 1934, which was to be held in 3 days on June 19th. This election was won by Mitchell Hepburn, the first Liberal victory in very Conservative Ontario since 1902. His victory was mainly an anti-incumbent sentiment that generally occurred in the early years of the Great Depression.
Greg mentions the “returned soldiers” as an issue. Great War veterans were not always reintegrated into society on their return and the problem was highlighted during the Depression with unemployed veterans. It was seen as shameful that these men volunteered for their country and then those who needed help on return were treated poorly. It was this experience that ensured that veterans benefits and support were promised when World War Two began.
This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).