“Pig Skin” has never left Birdseye Centre from that day to this. Except–

By Gregory Clark, October 15, 1927.

“Where,” we asked Jim Frise, the cartoonist, “is Birdseye Centre?”

Jim snatched his pipe from his mouth, politely.

“You go down to the seventh line,” says he: “turn right and go four concessions and you’ll come to the old mill. Turn left at the mill, up over a hill, and there, right ahead of you, you’ll see the church spire. That’s Birdseye Centre.”

Jim acts as if he is eager to come with you. If you can’t find the way to Birdseye Centre, he’ll come along on the running board and show you the way. Ah, that mysterious seventh line! Ah, those mythical four concessions, that old mill, that hill, that spire, down amid the elms and maples! It is like Peter Pan’s prescription for finding the Never-Never Land. “Second to the right,” said Peter, “and then straight on till morning.”

For Birdseye Centre is known to all men, and all men may find it, even without the help of Jimmie and his careful directions, unless they happen to be city born and bred, which few are. Yet even they, if they have some affection for their fathers and mothers, can seek their way back to the place their fathers and mothers came from.

“Were you born and raised in Birdseye Centre?” we asked Jim.

“No, sir,” said Jim. “I was born and raised three-quarters of a mile from Birdseye Centre, on the second line.”

“How do you come to know it so intimately?”

“Well,” said Jimmie, leaning back from his big drawing board, “I came up to it every day for the mail. After I was seven, I did the messages to the store, carrying eggs up and bringing soap or oatmeal back. It was a short three-quarter mile up with the heavy basket of eggs, and a long three-quarter back with the little package of soap, for Birdseye Centre was a metropolis in those days and its civilization filled me with wonder.”

“Has the town failed, then?”

“No. Birdseye Centre has not changed. It is time that changes. And boys. But Birdseye Centre was a metropolis once upon a time, and still is, always will be, I guess, so long as there are boys living three-quarters of a mile away on the second line.”

“What’s the population of Birdseye Centre?”

Jim hesitated. He seemed reluctant to answer this question.

“The railroad station….” he began.

“About what is the population?” we insisted. “Three hundred or so?”

“Well, sir,” said Jim, “things are changing so much, coming and going. It would hardly be possible to give a fair estimate of the population. The railroad station is located about half a mile east of the town.”

How Pig-Skin Blew In

Jim gave this piece of information as if it contained a good deal of significance.

“Tell us about Pig-Skin Peters?” we asked. “The public would like to know more about him, since he brought a good deal of publicity to Birdseye Centre in connection with his fine effort in the big Exhibition marathon swim.”

“What would you like to know about him?”

“Is he a native of Birdseye Centre, born and raised?”

“No. Pig-skin blew into town about fourteen years ago. You can tell by his dress, by his hat, that he is a stranger. Anyway, it seems, so far as we can find out, that Pig-Skin was out west on a harvesters’ excursion and went broke, and was riding a freight on his way back home – nobody knows where his home was – when they cut out the car he was riding on and sided it at Birdseye Centre.

“Pig-Skin came up into the village and the very first house he called at was Mrs. Stradivarious Stubbs! How’s that for coincidence?”

“The Mrs. Stubbs who was his chef during his training for the big swim?”

“The very same! And it so happened that Mrs. Stubbs had just baked some mince pies when Pig-Skin, looking very seedy and hungry from his journey, called at the door.”

“The back door?”

“Certainly. The regular door. The door that’s used. Mrs. Stubbs is so accustomed to having her pie praised, she always gives some to anybody that calls. So she hands out a whole pie to Pig-Skin.

“Pig-Skin has never left Birdseye Centre from that day to this. Except for overseas.”

“Ah, he was to the war?”

“Yes. Pig-Skin was one of the four boys Birdseye Centre contributed to the Canadian Corps, and the only one that came back. As a matter of fact, he got the M.M.1

“And you don’t know where he came from? Doesn’t he write back home or anything?”

Jim seemed embarrassed for Pig-Skin.

“Well,” he said slowly, “maybe Pig-Skin may have some kind of a past. We used to wonder about him, but we don’t do it any more, since the war. Pig-Skin’s past is forgiven, whatever it was.”

“He conducts the ice business, locally, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, that’s his chief business, but when he first landed into town, he tried his hand, at everything and now we can always get Pig-Skin to give a lift, from shoveling nip and tuck out of the snow drifts to washing dishes at the annual Harvest Home.”

“He seemed to get a pretty cool reception on his return from the big marathon swim2.”

“No,” said Jimmie, “that was only from the new-fangled element in town. The regular folks gave Pig-Skin a real welcome. In fact, Pig-Skin’s home-coming made a pretty clear division in Birdseye Centre between the solid element and the new-fangled crowd. The chicken dinner at Mrs. Stubbs’ to welcome Pig-skin home was a social event that will mean a lot of social excitement all this winter. Because she never invited a single one of the disturbers.”

Wes Clipper Wants Progress

“How do you mean, disturbers?”

“Well, the people, for instance, that want the strip of cement down the middle of the village.”


“Yes. There’s the same crowd that wanted electric light in the school and that wanted a chemical fire apparatus and now they are trying to get the council to put six hundred yards of cement down the middle of the town. Wes Clipper, the barber, is the leader of this element. Wes is all for putting Birdseye Centre on the map. He’s the one that started that tourist camp that only three tents have been in in two years. Wes wasn’t invited to the reception for Pig-skin. But just the same, it was Wes Clipper that said Pig-Skin had got more publicity for Birdseye Centre than all the rest put together. Him and Pig-skin are good friends.”

“Who opposes the road?”

“All the older folks. Taxes are high enough, as it is, without providing a piece of road that speeders would scoot past at fifty miles an hour on. The most active opponent of the scheme is ‘Gas’ Waters, who owns the garage. ‘Gas’ has made more money out of that bit of bad road north of the village in the past five years than he has out of all the gas, oil and service put together. John J. McGlone, the general store keeper, is also opposed. He asks what would be the effect of that piece of cement pavement? It would simply cause everybody to hurry through the town. He’s sick and tired, Mr. McGlone says, of seeing people whizzing through Birdseye Centre at thirty-five miles an hour.”

“I guess the older people have their way?”

“Yes. Chief Pinchall is against it too. A speedway down the main street! The next thing he’d be having to operate one of those durn stop-and-go thingamajigs at the Four Corners Saturday afternoons, and Sundays, in all kinds of weather. As if he hadn’t enough to worry about, as it is! What with ringing the town hall bell three times a day, winter and summer, inspecting liquor permits, impounding cows grazing within the town limits and meeting all the trains down to the Junction.”

“All the trains, Jimmie?”

“Well, Nip and Tuck as we call her, goes through twice a day. That is, up and down. Nine-fifty-three and four-eleven, weather permitting.”

“What’s Chief Pinchall meet the trains for?”

“Watching out for suspicious characters. And besides, Old Cap, who is in charge of the gates across the railway tracks, is Chief Pinchall’s cousin, and the Chief is always waiting to catch Cap with the gates down longer than the law allows.”

There’s always one boy wanting to carry home the rabbits.
A Majorgraph of Frise. Note the far-off Birdseye Centre expression

“How is this Wes Clipper so modern?”

“Wes is a barber, and it seems all barbers are out to modernize things. Wes introduced the first female bob into Birdseye Centre by bribing Ned Balsam’s daughter to let him give her the first boy haircut in the county.”

“I bet that made trouble.”

“No. Old Ned Balsam has the rural mail route, and when he got home that night, he naturally was kind of peeved. But Ned never lets anything worry him long, not even these threats from disgruntled folks along his route who are continually complaining about their mail being left in somebody else’s box. There are those who claim that Old Ned has political pull, or he’d never get away with it. Yes, Carrie Balsam was the first to be bobbed, but now everybody in the district is bobbed except Eli Doolittle’s wife.”

Trailing With Old Archie

“Eli Doolittle, eh? What’s he?”

“Eli is the orneriest man in the whole county. He does absolutely nothing. His wife takes washing and all Eli does is sit on the porch of the Grand Central Hotel, with his chair tilted back and his hat tilted forward, watching the world go by. Nobody ever heard of him doing anything. He is a good fisherman, but nobody ever saw him row a boat.”

“Doesn’t his wife kick?”

“No, that’s funny. She never was known to protest. Some of the ladies in the town have ventured to criticize Eli to Mrs. Doolittle, when she calls to do the washing, but Mrs. Doolittle, is one of those timid little women, and she fills all up and they can’t go on with the conversation. She thinks Eli is wonderful, and at every opportunity she quotes his opinions on politics, local improvements, life in general. But Eli has got all beat. He plays the cornet, and accompanies some of the greatest vocal artists of America on the radio. We tried to form a band two winters ago, but Wes would not come to rehearsals at the town hall; it was too far, and his house is too small for rehearsals, so the scheme fell through. Pig-Skin, learned to play the bugle overseas, but that wouldn’t do. We had to have a cornet, so the band fell through. Then Pig-Skin took up the saxophone, but there were so many complaints, the town council passed a by-law prohibiting the playing of musical instruments before sunrise and after sundown.

“Who is your favorite character in Birdseye Centre, Jimmie?”

“My best friend? Well, they’re all friends of mine. But perhaps Archie is the oldest and best friend I have.”

“Archie who?”

“Just Archie. Old Archie. He was an old man when I first remember him, as a boy. He is the crack shot of the whole country. He catches fish where there aren’t any. My friendship with Archie began when I was about six years old and he let me carry home the rabbits he shot down in Duncan Campbell’s bush. And I’ve been trailing around with him ever since, fishing, rabbit shooting, and many a time we have gone fishing with our guns, or shooting with our fishing rods, it doesn’t matter. It’s just to get out, somewhere, down by Dunc Campbell’s bush.”

“Must be a popular old boy?”

“Well, there’s always one boy wanting to carry home the rabbits, you know.”

We asked Jimmie how often he re-visited Birdseye Centre, now that he is an artist on a big metropolitan newspaper.

“Oh, pretty often,” said Jimmie, diffidently.

“Couple of times a year?”

“Oftener than that.”

“Once a month?”

“Better than that.”

Shifting a Whole City

“How do you manage? Isn’t work like yours pretty insistent in its demands on your time?”

“Well,” said Jimmie, “let’s skip that point. It’s not important to your story, is it?”

“Oh, you bet! The people like to know about this sort of thing. You know, most of our cartoonists and comic artists come from the States. We get their stuff over by mail. Here you are right in Ontario, working right in Toronto, and telling about regular folks, our cousins and uncles and parents. We want to know how it’s done and all that.”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Well, it’s so, Jimmie. How often do you go back to Birdseye Centre?”

“Well, I’m there pretty often. I’m there a good deal.”


Jimmie, like all artists, has an elfin way of suddenly going away from where he is, just as if the man sitting there before you had suddenly disappeared. It might be called temperament. But it’s queerer than that. Jimmie, when we had him cornered about this matter of how much time he spent in Birdseye Centre, did that strange disappearance act. He was sitting there. Yet he had gone.



“Come back to earth. Where were you, then?”

“Birdseye Centre,” said Jimmie, quietly.

And you know – by the shy and hidden look that is in a man’s eye, when he is telling you the truth – for only liars have that beautiful frank eye – that Jimmie was revealing a secret. He lives all the time in Birdseye Centre. In the phone book you will see he has a house in Baby Point. He has four daughters who have the unutterable misfortune to have been born in Toronto. But doubtless Jimmie can easily transport the whole lot of them and their mamma to Birdseye Centre any time they want fun. For if Jimmie can shift a whole city, holus bolus, away off into the country once a week, he could easily handle a few womenfolks, two and up. But that’s not his real home. His real home is within a three-minute walk of Old Archie’s frame house. And that house is twenty minutes easy walk of Dunc Campbell’s bush. And how red and gold that bush is to-day!

“It’s a year or more since you gave us any news about Miss Beatrice Chickadee3, the new schoolma’am at Birdseye Centre.”


Jimmie apparently didn’t want to talk about Miss Chickadee.

“How’s she doing? Who’s her beau?”

“She’s a fine young lady,” said Jimmie, rather doggedly. “We’ve got a new school.”

“Yes, but about Miss Chickadee. Is she popular?”

“You bet she is. She can take care of herself. Our new school….”

“But what about her? Come on!”

“It’s All the Four Corners”

“Well. I’d rather not discuss Miss Chickadee. You see, I got in Dutch with her last winter. I made a mistake somehow and got her dress too short and didn’t do her justice in drawing her face, and she asked me to please not draw her any more.”

“Ah, a peppery young lady!”

“No, but she explained to me a country schoolma’am has to look out for herself and see nothing is put over her. The way she handled old Eph Grousebeak….”

Jimmie chuckled and lowered his voice.

“Eph is the chairman of the school board. He’s been chairman ever since there was a school board. He’s a wonder. I tell you the inspectors are scared stiff of him when they come to visit the school. He puts them through an inspection. Well, Eph, you know, was against Miss Chickadee getting the job – she was too young and pretty and too much of a flapper. He I called her Miss Flapper for weeks after she came. Eph defeated, single-handed, the scheme to put electric lights in the school. Electric lights, he said, in a school, for a few hours a year? Twenty or thirty dollars on the taxes for a bit of sheer nonsense. Lamps, were good enough for him as a boy and he still has his sight. Anyway, Miss Chickadee had Eph eating out of her hand inside two months, and this year, she is moving from Mrs. Henry’s and is going to board at Eph Grousebeak’s. Can you beat that?”

“Quite a victory.”

“The electric lights were installed in the school this summer.”

“Do you ever get in wrong, Jimmie, with any of the other folks in Birdseye Centre, for writing them up?”

“No, because they don’t know about me. Miss Chickadee found out about me being the artist but I promised not to refer to her any more in my cartoons if she wouldn’t give me away.”

“They don’t know about you, Jimmie?”

“No. You see Birdseye Centre isn’t its real name, and their names aren’t really Doolittle, and Grousebeak and Clipper and so forth. And their characters are not exactly like the characters I give them, and they don’t do the things I say they do. So they don’t know it is them. All they know about me is that I am some kind of an artist, which is the next thing to acting in the theatre.”

“But the Four Corners, Jimmie! The Grand Central and John J. McGlone’s general store! That Four Corners you can draw with your eyes shut. Isn’t it real?”

“It’s real, but it’s not just one Four Corners. It is all the Four Corners I have ever seen.”

“Then all these folks, these houses, these wagons and pumps and fair-grounds are only a dream?”

“Even Dunc Campbell’s bush is only a dream,” said Jimmie. “But you can’t have a dream without having seen the reality.”

“That’s a bit metaphysical.”

“So is life.”

“In Birdseye Centre?”

“Yes, and in Toronto.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. This is the Military Medal in World War One. ↩︎
  2. See the comic “Pig-Skin” Peters Leaves for his New Training Camp. ↩︎
  3. See the comic The New School Ma’m Arrives. ↩︎

A Majorgraph is a term for a caricature created by the cartoonist Henry Mayer.