“Here it is,” cried Jim, huskily. There, sure enough, dim and worn by the years, were the initials, J.F.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 18, 1937.

“Old home week,” cried Jimmie Frise, shaking open a large pink poster that had come in his mail.

“Where?” I asked.

“My old home town,” said Jim, tenderly, holding the poster up so we could look at the huge type. “Reunion. Monster street parade. Trotting races. Fall fair. Eighty- seven classes of agricultural and livestock exhibits.”

“Including quilting, pastry and preserves,” I muttered.

“Streets lavishly decorated,” read Jimmie. “Illuminations at night, including firework displays.”

“Dust,” I said, “dry burnt grass and a strong smell of hogs.”

“Revisit your old home town,” quoted Jim, loudly, “and meet your childhood friends again.”

“New friends are best,” I stated. “They are more suited to your present tastes.”

“Ah,” said Jimmie, “you weren’t born in a little town. You will never know what you missed.”

“I missed the long walk into the city,” I informed him. “I got to know my way around the city real young.”

“Mmmmmmm,” said Jim, tenderly. “Every once in a while, I get so darn homesick for the little town. It gives me a lump in my throat. The warmth of it. The simplicity and naturalness of it. Sometimes, when I look at a mob of people in the city, I think they are crazy. Living like bugs. All jittery with meaningless motion, hurrying, excited, full of purpose going nowhere.”

“It’s because,” I explained, “being a small town boy, you are at heart a stranger among us. We love it.”

“The little towns,” said Jim, lyrically, “are so human. Life is slow and easy. There is a meaning to every hour. Every day has its different shape and form. You can sit back, in a small town, and taste each passing hour of your life. In the city, all hours, all days, are the same. In the small town, they are every one different, with plenty of time to include humor and kindliness and reflection and retrospect. In cities, the time rushes by so fast you have no time to pause and reflect on what has just happened. Something else is happening each new hour.”

“That’s life,” I informed him. “Life is action.”

“In the little town,” said Jim, “you roll time around your tongue and taste it. In the city you gulp time whole.”

“Then why didn’t you stay in your small town?” I demanded.

“Because it got a little tiresome,” said Jim. “But I think I’ll go back for a visit during this old home week.”

“I’ll expect you the following morning,” I scoffed.

“It will be great to see the boyhood chums again,” said Jim. “Some of them are still there. Fatty Pollick. He runs the shoe store. Fatty and I have been in many a scrape together. And Red Rowan.

“The last I heard of Red, he was the village cut-up. I’d just like to have one night with Red. The night of the monster street parade will suit me fine. Dear old Red. He and I were the leaders of a chicken supper club. We used to steal chickens from the neighbors each week and take them to a hide-out down by Turtle Creek and roast them at a bon fire. There were twelve members of the club, and we never were caught.”

“I often wondered about you,” I said. “You have a sort of chicken stealing look.”

“I wonder whatever became of Gum Smith?” mused Jim. “Gum Smith was the best cook of a chicken there ever was. Isn’t it funny the way the friends of your boyhood seem to vanish right off the earth? I knew Gum Smith so well, he was like my brother. We were closer than brothers. All through the formative years of my life, Gum and I were inseparable. And do you know, I don’t believe I have even thought of Gum, not even thought of him, for the past twenty years.”

Jim leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling.

“My, my,” he said, almost embarrassed. “Isn’t that a funny feeling? Gum Smith and Red Rowan and Fatty Pollick. And Joe McConvey and Pete Boyle., Why, where are they? Where have they gone?”

He sat up, startled, as if he had only lost them this minute.

“They must have slipped out the keyhole,” I said sarcastically,

“Don’t you ever recollect your boyhood friends?” demanded Jim, injured. “Have you no emotional remembrances…”

“In cities,” I explained coldly, “there are so many kids, you have a new chum every week. We’re not plagued with any soft and sentimental recollections. Of course I see them. They’re getting old and potty. Their noses are much larger. They’ve got a sort of bloated look. That’s all.”

“Ah,” sighed Jim, “I wish you’d come and see a real small town reunion. You’d see some- thing that would open your eyes. It would give you some understanding of life as it used to be and ought to be. Not this dreadful hive, this swarming mass, this cold, mechanized…”

“I’ll go with you,” I laughed. “Just for the fun of it.”

Which I did. Jimmie went and ordered a new suit, a snappy worsted with pleated back, that made him look young and sporty. He got a special haircut, asking the barber to leave it a little long around the temples, so that he could give it a distinguished swirl with the hair brush. He got brogues and a college stripe tie. He had his car polished and a few spots touched up with paint. He borrowed my good walrus suitcase.

And with as much excitement as if it had been a fishing trip we were going on, we set forth for Jim’s old home town on the afternoon of the gala day which was to end in a monster street parade, with illuminations and fireworks.

I must confess that, as we came within a few miles of our destination, things did begin to look up. There were wayside signs, bright and very well executed, cheering us on our way to the great reunion. There were long bunting streamers and signs suspended across the highway, gay and exciting. And in the traffic coming and going, there was a festive air.

“The best looking girls in Canada,” said Jim, “come from my old town.”

“Come from, is right,” I agreed.

An open roadster loaded with young ladies in fancy dress with pink tissue paper hats on their pretty heads, raced along side of us and heaved into our car a raft of leaflets, on bright colored paper, detailing the program of the old home week. With every mile of our approach, the road became more alive with cars, trucks, wagons, farmers driving buggies, leading vast prize horses with ribbons, steering brightly painted agricultural implements drawn by brand new tractors.

“This isn’t so bad,” I admitted. “Not so bad at all. It’s a sort of pageant. It’s kind of old-fashioned and lovely like shepherd’s hay or a country dance.”

But Jim just swallowed and grinned sheepishly, for there were tears in his eyes and over the next hill, lay home.

The town was aglitter. Its streets festooned with colored electric light bulbs. Hundreds of cars angle-parked filled all the possible parking space and outer rows of cars straight-parked left only a narrow lane done which with loudly roaring horns, trucks, cars and buses struggled in a hopeless heap. And the sidewalks, with bunting and flags flaring above, were jammed with a grinning, wide-eyed multitude, filling the world with a great hum.

“Who would ever have thought,” was all Jimmie said, as we surveyed the scene and Jim took a side street to avoid the central confusion. We found a parking spot.

“We’ll,” said Jim huskily, “we’ll first take a walk in the crowd.”


And back to Main street we strolled, and A entered the milling, smiling, greeting throng. Idling and shouldering and butting our way, past knots and crowds we wandered down the densely packed street, and everybody smiled and nodded at us and we nodded and smiled at everybody. But they did it as much to me as to Jim.

“Everybody very friendly,” I said. “But I don’t see you doing any black slapping.”

“I’ll see them,” said Jim. “I’ll see them in a minute. Never fear.”

And I could see him eyeing hungrily each group and knot as we walked. He would turn and look back at them all narrowly.

“The stores,” he said. “All changed. A lot of new stores. And they altered the fronts on a lot of them. That, for instance, used to be a bakery.”

“It’s an electric refrigerator store now,” I said.

“First,” said Jim, “we’ll call at Fatty Pollick’s shoe store down here. There’s sure to be a gang gathered there.”

And thrusting and shoving through the smiling multitude, we came to the shoe store and went in. All was cool inside, and two young ladies were in attendance.

“Mr. Pollick in?” asked Jim.

“Mr. Pollick?” said the girl, eyebrows lifted. “Mr. Pollick isn’t here any more. He sold out about five years ago.”

“He’s in town, though?” said Jim.

“Noooooo,” said the girl, tucking in her hair, “he went to Montreal, I think, or Vancouver.”

“Could you tell me,” said Jim to the friendly young lady, “where I would likely find Mr. Rowan?”

“Mr. Rowan?” said the girl.

“We used to call him Red Rowan,” smiled Jim. “You’d recollect him by his red hair.”

“I can’t say,” said the girl, embarrassed.

“A tall, red-haired man, Rowan,” persisted Jim. “Why, he was the town cut-up. Surely you have heard of Red Rowan?”

“I’ve only lived here five years,” said the young lady, turning to the other one. “Ella, do you know of a Mr. Rowan in this town?”

“Rowan? Rowan?” said the other young lady. “I seem to have heard the name. Oh, no, it’s the Anderson’s I’m thinking of. No, I can’t say I ever heard of a Rowan here.”

Jim turned and I followed him out.

“Well,” he said, cheerfully, “we’ll just have to join the merry throng until we meet some of them.”

And nodding and smiling we entered the mob again, slowly pushing and meandering up the street, while Jimmie peered and craned and turned to look back at every face as we passed.

“Psst,” he laughed happily. “Look. Gum Smith. As I live.”

Jim was eyeing a tall, well built man dressed very smartly, with a gray fedora, the centre of a lively group that were laughing and shouting together.

Jim and I edged in.

“Hello, Gum!” shouted Jim, slapping him tremendously on the shoulder.

The gentleman turned and looked joyfully at Jim. But his eyes blanked.

“Remember me?” cried Jim, pumping his hand. “Jim Frise?”

“Frise?” said Mr. Smith. “How do you spell it?”

“Frise, Frise,” cried Jim, heartily. “You’re Gum Smith, aren’t you?”

“That’s what they used to call me around here,” admitted the gentleman.

“Well, I’m Jimmie,” laughed Jim. “Jimmie, remember? The chicken supper club? You and me and Red Rowan and all the gang?”

“Red who?” said Mr. Smith, eyeing Jim eagerly but uncertainly.

“Red Rowan?” cried Jim, “and Fatty Pollick? Don’t you remember?”

“I’ve been away so long,” said Mr. Smith. “In the States. You other boys may remember…?”

But the gang Mr. Smith was talking to looked at Jim with pleasant but uncertain gaze. Jim looked from face to face anxiously, but saw nothing in them he could recall, nor any recognizing glance.

“Well, so long,” said Jim, weaving back into the throng. I followed.

“Jim,” I said, “maybe you’ve got the wrong town.”

He turned into the comparative quiet of a side street and slowed his steps. His head was bowed.

“Maybe you only think you lived here,” I said. “Maybe you are a foundling, brought up in an orphan’s home, and you only heard these names of boyhood. Come clean, Jim. Own up.”

“I did live here,” declared Jim, halting and staring strangely around at the night. “I did live here.”

“You can’t prove it,” I laughed.

“I can prove it,” he cried. “I can name every family that lived in every one of these houses… if… if I can just remember their names.”

“Heh, heh,” I said.

“I can prove it,” Jim shouted. “I did live here. I was born here. I spent the longest, happiest, merriest days of my life right here. Down this street. Every tree and fence and bump in the road, the way it used to be…”

“Ah,” I cheered, “the way it used to be.”

“What a strange feeling,” breathed Jim, staring about at the darkness. “The way it used to be. The way I used to be.”

Night had fallen. Behind us, under its glaring colored lights, the main street glowed and hummed and rang with the tumult of reunion. In a few minutes the monster parade and illuminations would begin.

“The old school,” shouted Jim suddenly. “The old school!”

And he started to run down the dark street. We came to a school. But it was no old school. It was a new school. Yellow brick, with a stone carved door, and a beautiful grill iron fence around it.

We stood in the night, staring.

Along the street came a man in a peak cap.

“Pardon me,” said Jim, “but is this where the little red, school used to be?”

“Yes, sir,” said the stranger heartily. “She’s still around at the back. A sort of annex.”

“Can I see it?” cried Jim. “Do you know how I could get inside? I want to see my old desk. I’ve got initials carved on my old desk.”

“You couldn’t enquire of a better person,” said the stranger. “I’m the caretaker.”

“Great,” shouted Jim, and we hurried around the flower-bordered walk to the rear, where, when he saw the little old building in the gloom, Jim let out a joyous and broken cry. It was only an instant until the caretaker had unlocked the door.

“Second desk from the back, far corner,” hissed Jim, feeling his way down the dim little school room. The janitor started lighting matches for us to see.

“Here it is,” cried Jim, huskily, seizing the little desk in his hands, gripping. In the light of the match, Jim bent over.

“J.F.,” whispered Jim, pointing.

There, sure enough, dim and worn by the years, were the initials, J.F.

“My initials,” cried Jim.

The caretaker spoke up sharply.

“Them aren’t your initials!” he stated.

“What?” cried Jim. “Those are my initials. I cut them myself.”

“Them aren’t your initials,” said the caretaker grimly. “Them’s little Jimmie Frise’s initials.”

Jim slowly straightened, in the light of the dying match. His face was joyous.

“Who are you?” he whispered, peering into the heavy face of the caretaker.

“My name’s Boyle,” he said. “Pete Boyle,” They stared at each other until the match went out.

“Jimmie,” said the caretaker, in the dark. And while I lighted matches, those two staged the craziest, silliest dance up and down the little aisles of that old schoolroom, shouting and stamping and kicking and leaping, and slapping one another and pushing and laughing as if their foolish heads were cracked.

So we went back out to Main street and watched the monster street parade go by and Pete took Jimmie by the arm and found for him all the lads.

“Hello, Gum!” shouted Jim, slapping him tremendously on the shoulder. The gentleman turned and looked at him. But his eyes blinked.

Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on September 30, 1944 as “Home Town!”