Jim was pumping the pump like mad, ladder was rushed against the farmhouse by the farmer and we were all fighting like heroes…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 3, 1945.

“Greg,” said Jimmie Frise, “I’d like you to meet Mr. and Mrs. Gubbings.”

“J. B. Gubbings,” put in Mrs. Gubbings.

“J. B.,” went on Jimmie, “is an old friend of mine, manager of an insurance company that does business with me, and he’s going to buy a farm.”

“Great stuff!” I agreed heartily. “I’ve often thought…”

“It’s not for us,” put in Mrs. Gubbings. “It’s for our son.”

And the proud way she said it, I knew her son was overseas. Mothers have a way of speaking of their sons in the war that makes the air sort of turn gold even in a bare workroom like Jim’s and my office.

“They want me,” said Jim, “to drive out to see this farm they have in mind, and I thought…”

“Sure,” I said, “I’d love to go along.”

“I know Jim was born and raised on a farm,” explained Mr. Gubbings, “and I have been reading his Birdseye Center cartoon now for 20 years or more, and I kind of feel he knows a farm better than a farmer, somehow.”

“What we want,” declared Mrs. Gubbings, “is a farm for our boy. Not too big a farm. You know. And not too far from the city, so he can run in often to see us and to take in a show or a hockey game.”

“And so we can run out to see him,” added Mr. Gubbings.

“You see,” said Mrs. Gubbings, with smile at Jimmy to apologize for repeating what she had no doubt been already saying to him, “our boy enlisted straight out of school and he’s been in the army over four years now. He never liked school. He’ll never go back now. And he’s been living the life of a soldier in the open air all the time.”

“In tents and huts,” put in Mr. Gubbings, “and in slit trenches and open fields.”

“Finally,” continued Mrs. Gubbings with pride, “he was wounded in the terrible Leopold Canal battle and badly shaken up. I am sure his nerves will never be the same. And we just can’t see him coming back to the city and taking some nerve-trying job.”

“We figure,” said Mr. Gubbings, “on giving him the ideal life. After four terrible years, what he will want is peace and rest. The country owes it to him. We owe it to him. He is our only child. So we are going to buy him a farm.”

“But,” I suggested kindly, “does he know anything about farming? After all…”

“We’ve thought of that already,” assured Mrs. Gubbings. “He can go to the Guelph Agricultural college for a term or two, as soon as he’s settled down here back home. We’ve written to the college and got all the prospectuses and details. But we think there will be a big demand for farms the minute the boys start coming home, so we are going to nail ours right now, and we can rent it until our boy is ready to go on it.”

“I think you’ve worked out a wonderful scheme,” I congratulated them, “and don’t forget, the government will help your boy in buying and equipping and settling down on the farm.”

Jim’s Advice

“After all these years of violence and action,” said Mr. Gubbings, “the boys will never want to return to the fury and competition of cities and towns. Not for some time anyway. They’ll want peace and rest.”

“And where,” I agreed, “could you find that but in the sequestered happiness of some lovely little farm…”

“Harruummmfff,” said Jimmie Frise.

“Mmm?” we all said, turning to him; for he had been saying nothing.

“I just cleared my throat,” said, Jim startled. “How far is it out to this farm you have in mind?”

“If you were only free this afternoon,” cried Mrs. Gubbings, “we could go right now. Because it is only 30 miles east of the city. And a very good road all the way, even the six miles of side-road off the highway.

“We’re always free,” said Jim. “Whenever chance to go to the country offers, I lose my inspiration. And it’s best not to work as an artist without inspiration.”

“We’ll go, then?” exclaimed Mrs. Gubbings, leaping up.

“I don’t want to disturb you gentlemen at work,” interposed Mr. Gubbings, “but if you are free, I have my car in front of The Star building….

And in 10 minutes, we were down on the water front, headed east.

“Mrs. Gubbings,” I said, as we settled down for the happy run, “I hope all Canadian parents of young men overseas are giving as much thought to their problems as you are.”

“When I got his letters, after he was wounded,” said she, “it came to me in a flash. I could tell he was nerve-shattered. You can’t expect a young boy, fresh out of school, to go through the things he’s gone through, and not be in need of peace and quiet. How beautifully he wrote of the English countryside. And even the Normandy farms filled him with delight, he wrote so poetically about them. And when he reached Belgium… I wish I had his letters with me so I could read you his description of the Belgian farms and the lovely gardens of begonias, huge begonias, red, yellow, white…”

“They’ve been working for centuries, ever since the time of Julius Caesar, on those farms.”

“Harruummff,” said Jimmie, up front beside Mr. Gubbings who was driving.

“What’s that, Jim?” I inquired.

“Well, I don’t like to spoil this party,” announced Jim. “But you just said the Belgians have been working since Caesar’s time on those farms. One little thing I’d like to mention. I do hope it won’t throw cold water on your plans.”

“Go ahead, go ahead,” said Mr. Gubbings. “That’s why we came to you. We want sage advice.”

“Well, in the first place,” began Jimmie, “If it is peace and quiet you are looking for don’t look on a farm. I would say off-hand, that about the last refuge of violence and action left in the world today is the farm. Compared with a farm, a big steel works is a haven of peace and quiet, of nerve-soothing content and order.”

“Oh, Jim,” I laughed in protest.

“If you want to get a nerve-weary, exhausted young soldier a good restful job,” went on Jim, “get him on the police force and wangle a job on point duty at Queen and Yonge Sts. for him. But keep him away from farms until he’s all quieted down by two or three years in traffic.”

“Why, Mr. Frise!” gasped Mrs. Gubbings.

“The reason farm boys make such good soldiers,” stated Jim, “is because they find war so restful. They don’t have to get up, until 6 o’clock in the morning in the army.”

“Oh, Mr. Frise,” laughed Mrs. Gubbings, “you’re so humorous.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “even in the middle of battle, you always have a lot of other men around you to lend a hand with whatever you’ve got to do. But on the farm, you’re, on your own. In fact, you are alone. You are often terribly alone.”

“Mmm,” I reflected.

“In towns and cities,” said Jim, “which were invented by people who got tired or frightened of living on farms, whenever you run into any little difficulty, you just pick up the telephone and call the plumber or the electrician or the carpenter. But on the farm, when anything goes wrong, you have to do it yourself, whether it’s the pump or the stove or the binder. In fact, on the farm there are no arrangements whatever for having mechanics handy to, attend, you. And if you think you have ever seen a farmer towing a binder down the road behind his car to the nearest village, you are mistaken. He fixes it himself, right in the field where it broke, as a rule.”

“Ah, but modern farming,” said Mrs. Gubbings, “such as is taught at the Guelph Agricultural college….”

A Gloomy Picture

“In the city,” pursued Jim, “when you want anything from a bottle of iodine to a new nozzle for the hose, you walk a couple of blocks. In the country, when a couple of shingles blow off the roof of the barn, you can’t get somebody to fix it. You fix it yourself. And if you don’t, the next gale blows half your roof off. So you climb up that dizzy height…”

“Brrr,” said Mrs. Gubbings.

“In the city,” said Jimmie, “a thunderstorm is nothing. But in the country, it is a grim and real thing. Every crack of thunder, and you wonder which elm it might have struck, with half your cattle under it. Or was it the barn, with all the pigs and chickens in it, and all that is left of your hay and feed for the next three months?”

“What a gloomy picture you paint,” said Mr. Gubbings at the wheel.

“It is not gloomy,” declared Jim. “It’s exciting and dramatic and real. Life on the farm is eternally active, exciting, dramatic. From daybreak to dark and all through the night, not a moment but is filled with possibilities. The bull may break down the fence. The pigs may get into the turnips. Lightning may strike. A calf may be born or a colt. Fifteen pigs may be born. And you don’t call the vet – except in case of trouble. You attend to all these little things yourself. Or with your wife’s help.”

“Oh, my,” said Mrs. Gubbings weakly, looking out at the early March fields of the first farms we were passing on leaving the city limits. “They look so peaceful. And farmers have such quiet, slow ways, compared with the zest and zip of city people.”

“Ah, that’s not slow or quiet,” explained Jim. That’s watchful waiting that gives them that air. And they may be tired, too. Because you can’t live your life amidst the fury and excitement of a farm without paying for it. That zest and zip of city people is just the natural energy of a lot of people with nothing much to do and leading a peaceful, easy, ordered life.”

“Jim,” I accused, “you’re exaggerating!”

“Then, there are such things,” went on Jim, “as breaking the rope on the hay fork in the barn. If it’s a hip-roofed barn, that rope runs high along the plate, and you use it for hauling the hay up into the mow. If the pulley breaks, let us say, can you stop work and telephone to the plumber? No sir. You have to climb like a sailor of an old square-rigger up those dizzy heights and mend it yourself…”

“But couldn’t the hired man do that?” inquired Mrs. Gubbings shakily.

“I hardly think,” said Jim, “that a young fellow setting himself up on a farm could afford to have a hired man except at harvest maybe, or at seeding. Unless you were going to set your boy up as a gentleman farmer?”

“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Gubbings. “We thought of it as his life’s work. As an escape from…”

“Then,” assured Jim, “If he has got to make the farm pay, he’s got to waste no time on mending that rope. And he’s got to fix the shingles or lose his barn roof. And take care of the pigs and turnips. And if the pump freezes, he can’t afford to send for any waterworks department. And he has got to mend everything that breaks, or there is no profit in the crop the machine broke on. And he can’t come into the city if the cattle aren’t fed and watered. And to leave the chickens for a day untended, is to lose enough to cost all the profit he calculated at the start.”

“But perhaps,” suggested Mrs. Gubbings, “if he were to meet and marry some nice, strong girl who was born and raised on farm nearby…”

“Oh, oh,” protested Mr. Gubbings up front.

“Why do you think most farms have mortgages on them?” asked Jim. “It is because of unforeseen needs or accidents or else the slow falling behind in the struggle to make the farm pay a living wage.”

“Well, we’re well enough off,” said Mrs. Gubbings, “but not well enough off to maintain a farm the way rich people do, as a hobby.”

“The bravest,” declared Jim, “the most industrious people in the whole country are our farmers. The people most prepared to face action and excitement, and to face it alone and single-handed, are our farmers. It takes a man – and a woman! – to run a farm. Only the best of our men overseas will ever dare to face the fight of the farm when the war ends.”

Mr. Gubbings was sitting sort of wearily at the wheel. Mrs. Gubbings had sagged back into her corner of the car.

“Isn’t it terrible,” she said, “how little we know our own neighbors. Why, to me, the farm….”

We were turning off the highway into a side-road. The road was deeply scored with icy ruts. As we passed the first farm houses with their out-buildings, there was no suggestion of the violence that Jim had been recounting. They looked as if deserted, as if petrified with silence and inaction.

“They look so lonely,” said Mrs. Gubbings, shivering.

“They’re not lonely,” assured Jim. “That house is occupied by hard-working, strong, eager people looking for the spring. That barn fairly breathes with myriad life of cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, nurtured over the winter with the feed grown for them on the slow yielding earth all around. Planned, schemed and daily carried out by industrious, patient and always prepared people living right there. Lonely? Never for an instant.”

An Exciting Time

“There’s our farm,” called out Mr. Gubbings, “the one with the smoke coming out the chimney.”

“We have been studying snapshots of it,” explained Mrs. Gubbings, fishing in her hand bag and handing me some snapshots.

“Yep, this is it,” I agreed.

As we pulled up at the entrance of the lane, the road grew particularly bad and there were terrific ruts in the lane.

“We’ll have to walk in to the house,” said Jim.

“I’ll just sit in the car,” said Mrs. Gubbings. “I don’t like those cows loose in the lane. I am afraid of cows. And besides, I’ll wait until you make sure it is the right place.”

“Oh, come along.” persuaded Mr. Gubbings.

“No, I’ll just sit here,” said Mrs. Gubbings, “and take in the view for a few minutes.”

As the engine was shut off, you could hear the cows bawling in the lane.

“Say,” cried Jim, “I don’t like the look of that chimney, the way it’s smoking!”

We stood watching. Out of the chimney, large gobs of black smoke burped. And suddenly a tongue of flame.

The farmhouse door opened and a lady ran out and stared up. Then out the door, the man came running.

“Come on,” shouted Jim. “It’s on fire.”

And we dashed down the lane and before we knew what was happening, we had pails in our hands, Jim was pumping the pump like mad, a ladder was rushed against the farmhouse by the farmer and we were all fighting like heroes, carrying, pumping, running, sloshing, slithering…

“The bull!” yelled the farmer from the roof.

A collie dog was yapping furiously at the heels of a large bull just curving out of the gate which we had left open in our haste.

Cows were bawling, from the barn came the squeal and roar and grunt of pigs, the fire crackled, the water hissed, the pump honked like a goose, and the bull pranced and danced around more like a toreador than a bull.

It was pretty exciting for a little while; pretty breathless too, for a lot of city softies.

But when the farmer got the chimney out, he thanked us mighty heartily for our help.

“If you hadn’t been passing,” he said – and Mr. Gubbings gave Jim and me an anxious wink – “if you hadn’t been passing by gosh, we might have had a nasty business on our hands.”

“You must come in and have a cup tea,” said the farmer’s wife, “even though the kitchen will be an awful mess, with all that water down the chimney…”

“I’ll just round up the bull,” said the farmer, “and you go on in.”

The bull had gone out the lane and down the road quite a piece. We chased all the cows out of the lane and got Mrs. Gubbings out of the car, with an escort of all three of us in to the house. The kitchen was, indeed, a mess. But we were shown into the living-room and in no time at all, the farmer’s wife, as if accustomed to fire-fighting at least once week, had tea and tea biscuits and maple syrup for us. The farmer, having put the bull away, came and joined us and we sat around as if nothing but politics was of any interest.

And Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Gubbings never even mentioned the subject of buying a farm.

Winks and a few muttered words of caution as we came down the lane with Mrs. Gubbings had fixed Jim and me on that score.

Any resemblance between Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Gubbings and about 50,000 parents of Canadian boys overseas is purely coincidental!

-J. F. and G. C.

Editor’s Notes: This is the first time I have ever seen a disclaimer about characters in any Greg-Jim story. It was prominently displayed in a box half-way through the story, and I reproduced it at the end. Maybe the story was seen as a genuine public service?

The colour image I have is poor with the white streak down the center.

The Guelph Agricultural College is now the Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph.

To explain the hay fork pulley system, you can watch this nice video that explains the process.