It was the biggest chest I ever saw… “Hold on there a minute,” I shouted.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 30, 1943.

“Could you,” inquired Jimmie Frise, with that foregone conclusion air that friends use on one another, “could you stick a few little items of furniture in your attic for me?”

“Jim,” I regretted, “you should have spoken to me yesterday. Do you know what I am doing right this minute? I’m sitting here at the living-room window waiting for my wife’s cousin to drive up with a chest of drawers they want us to keep for them.”

“But I figured with that big attic of yours,” said Jim, possessively, “you wouldn’t mind storing a couple of little items. My house is jammed to the roof. All my relatives and half my friends, due to the housing shortage…”

“Jim,” I interrupted him, “you don’t know the half of it. Look: there are two chesterfields in this room, aren’t there? And three stuffed chairs. And how many end tables do you see?”

Jimmie glanced around my crowded living-room.

“H’m,” he said. “It is pretty full. Why don’t you put a lot of this stuff up in the attic?”

“The attic’s full,” I cried. “Jammed full. A year ago, when any of my relatives or my wife’s relatives made tentative suggestions about letting us keep a little furniture for them, we naturally agreed. But we had no idea that half the population of Canada was going to move out of houses into apartments.”

“Well,” said Jim, “when any of the boys among my relatives joined up, their wives went back home to live with their mothers. And naturally, I couldn’t refuse to help out by taking a few items of furniture to store for them.”

“Exactly my case,” I informed him. “These promises are so easily made. I meet my cousin Tom downtown and he asks if we could store a bed and dresser some time, in case they have to break up their flat. I say sure. But I forget to tell my wife. My wife’s nephew calls her up, and she forgets to tell me that Harry might want to leave a chesterfield and stuffed chair and maybe a chest of drawers with us. And my mother-in-law is a very active church worker, and she collects a few little good-will items. As she says, when you’re a member of a committee and the committee undertakes to look after the storage of some gallant boy’s effects while he is off to the wars…”

“Well, sir,” said Jimmie, “you’re crowded all right, but I don’t think you are as crowded as I am. Even in my upstairs hall, there isn’t room for an end table. And as for what they call occasional chairs, they’re far from occasional around my house. Every time I come home, I think there is either a public meeting or a church social in my house.”

When Promises Catch Up

“There’s a practical side to it, of course, Jim,” I pointed out. “I figure that there is bound to be some items that people will never want back. Storing furniture for your friends, provided you don’t let them pass off any junk on you, is pretty certain to result, in the end, in your getting possession of some of it. They may move away. They may die. Time may pass and they’ll forget about it.”

“Your charity,” smiled Jim, “always has a future in it.”

“Cast your bread upon the waters,” I reminded him, “and some of it may come back buttered.”

“If I help you,” said Jim, “do you suppose we could shift things around in your attic so as to make room for a bed, a dresser, a chiffonier and a dining-room table?”

“My gosh, Jim, a dining-room table!” I protested. “Look. Any minute now, my wife’s cousin is going to drive up with a little chest of drawers. It is the last possible article of furniture this house will hold. And the only reason I agreed to accept it was that it is a little bit of a chest of drawers that I can use. The way he described it, I can stick it in the corner of my bedroom that has two chests of drawers in it already. But it will just nicely hold my hunting clothes, my woollens, mackinaw, flannel shirts and so forth, packed with moth balls.”

“These things I’ve got to find a place for.” said Jim, firmly, “will take up very little space. The bed will all come apart. We can take the mirror off the dresser. The dining-room table is one of those oval ones, and we can take the leaves out of it and stand it upside down on top of other things. I think if you let me come up with you to your attic and help you shift things around…”

“Look here, Jim,” I stated indignantly, “not another thing, not even the precious goods and chattels of my own blood relations, is coming in this house. Let alone any overflow from your public generosity.”

“Greg, look,” pleaded Jimmie. “I’m in a desperate spot. My promises have caught up with me. I’ve got three families absolutely counting on me taking some of their furniture. They’re all people I simply couldn’t refuse, good friends and relatives…”

“What’s that got to do with me?” I inquired.

I should here tell you the best story I know about Jim. When he was a young man still living in Birdseye Centre, he owned a lady hound who was expecting a litter of pups. And since she was a famous rabbit hound, most of the sportsmen of Birdseye Centre asked Jim for a pup. And he promised them a pup without question, until he had at least 20 pups promised. Well, there were only five pups in the litter and Jimmie wanted two. So he had only three pups to satisfy 20 promises. And naturally, a lot of men were very indignant and expressed their indignation to Jim.

“Well,” said the astonished Jim when braced by these disappointed sportsmen, “what kind of a poor toot do you think I am that wouldn’t promise a friend a pup?”

A Matter of Principle

Thinking of this, I eyed Jimmie in his present predicament with some amusement.

“My cellar’s full,” detailed Jim. “Every room in the house has two of everything. I have no attic, but there’s an opening up into the rafters from one of the bedroom clothes closets, and I’ve even shoved a lot of small stuff up through there.”

“Well, Jim,” I consoled, “there is only one thing to do. Get in touch with your friends and tell them the truth. They won’t mind. Tell them you simply haven’t any more room. They’ll just have to make other arrangements.”

“The stuff,” confessed Jim, ruefully, “is delivered. It is right now on my veranda and cluttering up my front hall.”

“Mmmmmm,” I said.

“So you see,” he explained, “I’ve simply got to fall back on my friends, and you’re number one. Couldn’t we just take a peek at your attic? Maybe with a little rearrangement…”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” I stated resolutely. “You should have figured that all your friends were likely in the same boat as yourself with regard to storage of stuff for relatives and friends. There is such a thing as being too big-hearted. You are now finding that out, with your veranda and front hall looking like an auction sale.”

Jimmie walked around my living-room and out into the dining-room, gazing absently around. There certainly was no more room here. Two buffets, unmatched; three dinner wagons; four extra chairs, unmatched; and an orphan china cabinet jammed with the chinaware of my mother-in-law’s cousin’s granddaughter.

And on the wall, a huge, old antique portrait of a side-whiskered gentleman of the period of the Duke of Wellington. My nephew’s wife’s aunt used to say it was her grandfather, and one of the family jokes was that this portrait never was heard of until my nephew’s wife’s uncle got a job with the civil service in Ot- tawa. To strangers visiting at my dining table, I indicate that the old gentleman was my great-grandfather. I suppose this is how most family portraits come into being.

Jimmie studied the portrait absently.

“Gosh,” he said, “he’s certainly got your cold, crafty eye!”

“I resent that, Jim,” I said. “Just because you want to pose as a big-hearted guy and then can’t pass the buck to your friends, you suddenly turn bitter.”

“The last time I saw your attic,” declared Jimmie, coming back into the living-room and knocking over an end table in passing, “there was oceans of room. If you’d only let me, come up with you and reorganize…”

“My attic,” I informed him, “is packed solid. It is like a storage warehouse. I have rearranged and shifted things around a dozen times.”

“Okay, why don’t you let me see it?” demanded Jim.

“As a matter of principle, Jim,” I asserted.

“But good heavens, there’s a war on,” exploded Jimmie. “And we’ve all got to help one another. Here I am in a jam…”

“James,” I announced, “it is everybody’s war. But it is your private jam. I, too, am in a jam. But it is a jam I’ve got control over. And I don’t propose to lose control of it by weakly surrendering to the pleading of a friend whose good-heartedness has now to be underwritten by a lot of other people.”

“Well, what do I do?” snorted Jim.

“Put the stuff in storage,” I suggested.

“And pay for it?” cried Jim.

“Why not?” I inquired sweetly. “Are you unwilling to pay for your reputation for good-heartedness? Or would you prefer me to pay for it?”

“Will you come down,” demanded Jimmie hopelessly, “and take a look at the stuff? See if there is anything, any single item, you could take?”

“I’m expecting my wife’s cousin any minute,” I said. “And in the meantime, I’ve got to shovel off the snow. Then I’ll come down.”

“Good,” cried Jim, affectionately. “Have you got two snow-shovels?”

“Jim,” I informed him, “I’m the kind of guy that always has two snow-shovels.”

So we put on our things and went out and shovelled the snow and had the job neatly done when a moving van came heavily down the street and pulled up in front.

“Some poor guy,” I remarked, “getting a load.”

The van slewed around and started backing up square in front of my walk.

“Hey,” I called to the driver’s mate as he jumped down.

“Mr. Clark?” he inquired, cheerily.


He flung down the back of the, van. The first thing in sight was a huge chest of drawers.

“Tch, tch, tch,” said Jimmie.

The driver came around and the two of them started heaving the huge chest out.

“Some mistake,” I called. “What initials of Clark did you want?”

“Mr. Gregory Clark,” said the driver, heartily going right ahead heaving the chest.

Instead of a little chest, it was the biggest chest I ever saw. It was bigger than any of the chests already in my house.

“Hold on there a minute,” I shouted, hurrying down the walk.

The boys laid the chest down heavily. Struck with a nasty suspicion, I opened the top drawer. It was packed tight. Packed with what appeared to be curtains, rugs, drapes.

“Look here,” I cried to the driver. “I was expecting my wife’s cousin with a little chest of drawers. I don’t get this.”

“Here, he gave me a note,” said the driver, feeling in his pocket. The note was from Cousin Edward:

“Dear Greg:

“What a grand old sport you are to help Winnie and me out like this! We will never forget you. I am unable to bring this chest myself so have hired a van. Hope you don’t mind taking a couple of other small items you can just stick in a corner anywhere. We hate to impose on you like this but your kind offer was exactly what we might expect of you. Thanks a million. Yours in haste, Ed.”

That’s Just Taffy

I handed the note to Jimmie.

“What are the couple of other items?” I asked bleakly, walking around the back of the van.

“A chesterfield chair,” said the driver, “a dressing-table and a parrot cage, I guess it is.”

“Parrot cage?” I repeated dully.

It was a large pale blue cage on an ungainly big ornamental pale blue iron stand.

The chesterfield chair was the grandma type.

“This chest,” sympathized Jimmie, “won’t ever go in a corner of your bedroom.”

“And what’s worse,” I said, “look!”

And I pulled the drawers of the brute one after another, showing them all packed tight full with moth inviters.

“What do I do?” I demanded of Jimmie.

“You can’t refuse,” he said, holding out Ed’s note. “After a lovely note like that.”

“Aw, that,” I scoffed. “That’s just bunk. Ed always knew I was a weasel. That’s just taffy.”

The driver and his mate had the chest hoisted up and were staggering up the walk.

“Up to the attic, boys,” I said, overtaking them and leading the way.

Well, there is this to be said for attics. There is always a little more room in them. Jim and I went ahead and studied the layout. We shifted things this way and that, piled one thing on another, shoved other things underneath, and by the time the men came grunting and stumping up the attic stairway, we had a good big space cleared.

In fact, after we had the chest, chair, dressing-table and parrot cage stowed, Jimmie offered the boys a dollar to carry the stuff from his veranda up the four doors and in the lane to my place.

And we got in a dining-room table, a bed, dresser, stool, mirror, three occasional chairs and seven framed pictures.

“There you are,” cried Jimmie. “See?”

Editor’s Notes: With a large number of people moving during World War Two for war-related jobs, as well as war-time shortages, there was a severe lack of housing in most cities.

“Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters” comes from the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 11. It means that if a person is generous and shares with others, they will be rewarded.

A chiffonier is a chest of drawers with a mirror or low bookcase on top.

“That’s taffy” at the time would mean “That’s flattery”.