The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1935 Page 1 of 3

The Last Round-up – Toronto Star Ad

October 5, 1935

This ad is in reference to the 1935 Canadian federal election, which was held on October 14. The Liberals won since the Conservatives were unfortunate enough to be in power during the worst of the Great Depression.

Country in the City

July 17, 1935

This is another illustration Jim did for a news article by our old friend, Merrill Denison, former Star Weekly regular, after he moved to New York. It was an article about nature and farms that were still within New York City limits at the time.

Buzz Off

What seemed to be a very thick and heavy shawl was folded around my neck and shoulders …

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 25, 1935

“Ouch,” I shouted, “Jimmie, a bee!”

We were bowling along the highway. Jimmie Frise at the wheel.

“It’s down around my feet!” I warned loudly. “Slow down till we shoo it out.”

But Jimmie just went right on driving, with a lazy smile.

“Don’t be a sap,” I cried, “Accidents have been caused by bees. Motorists have been killed by being stung and going into the ditch.”

All Jimmie did was put his cigarette back in his mouth.

I drew my legs up on the seat and peered anxiously down into the shadows under the dashboard.

“Jim, I wish you’d slow up,” I pleaded. “It was one of those nasty big yellow and black ones, like chenille. If there is anything gives me the Dracula shivers it is the thought of a bumble bee up my pant leg.”

“A bee won’t bother you,” said Jim calmly, “unless you bother it.”

“I imagine,” I said icily, “that a bee would rightly consider itself bothered by being carried about fifty miles out of its way in this car.”

“I’ve had two hundred bees come into my car,” said Jim, “and go out of it again without stinging anybody.”

“And I tell you,” I stated, still sitting on my legs, that there are about a thousand motor car accidents unexplained every year on these highways, and I’m willing to bet it was a bee sting that caused them.”

“Did you ever got stung by a bee?” asked Jim.

“I’ve had wasps sting me,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, because you stepped on their nest or bumped into them or took a swipe at them when they were merely looking at you with friendly interest,” said Jim.

“In my opinion,” I announced, “the cause of a great many of the unexplained accidents on highways is because a man, dreamily driving along the highway, has suddenly felt a red-hot needle stick him in the back of the neck.”

“If that were so,” said Jim, “since most accidents are not fatal those who escape from motor accidents would explain how it happened. And I don’t recall ever hearing of more than two or three cases where a man blamed a bee sting for putting him in the ditch.”

“If I were you,” I begged, “I’d slow up for a minute until I shoo that bee out of this car.”

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, starting to slow her down, “are we going to have to stop every time a bug gets in our car?”

We slowed down and stopped, and while I took my handkerchief and flapped it around all the corners of the car Jim got out and walked around the car to take a look at the tires. He likes to stretch his legs.

“All right,” I called. “I don’t see it anywhere. It must have flown out itself.”

“OOUUCH!” yelled Jim.

And I ran around to see him jumping excitedly up and down, holding his wrist and putting it to his mouth.

“What the-?” I asked.

“A bee,” said Jim, hotly. “I was just standing here and a bee flew off that weed there, right at me, and stung me on the wrist.”

The First Communists

“Put some mud on it,” I advised him. “Spit on some mud and plaster it on the bite.”

I looked and saw a little white lump on his wrist.

“If we hadn’t stopped,” cried Jim, angrily.

“Much safer,” I assured him, “to get stung out of the car than sitting driving it.”

But Jim just stared with prejudice at me. You can’t expect a man with a bee sting to be reasonable.

We got some mud and plastered Jim’s wrist up. And then we drove on.

“Bees, they tell me,” I said, as Jim was a little sulky, “are wonderful creatures.”

“You can’t tell me,” said Jim. “I was born and raised on the farm. I kept bees.”

“They tell me,” I went on, “that they have higher form of civilization than we have?”

“They’re the first Communists,” said Jim.

“Yet the bees have drones that don’t work,” I pointed out.

“So have the Communists,” said Jim. “How do you know the drones aren’t the deep thinkers? Somebody has to think.”

“Tell me about them,” I urged.

“Bees,” said Jim, “collect honey. They put it obediently into little frames you get for them in the hives. You put up hives, as you might say, company houses. The bees live in these company houses which you have thoughtfully equipped with little wooden frames for them to store their honey in.”

“And how do you get the honey out?” I asked. “At night?”

“No, you smoke them out, ever so often,” explained Jimmie. “You make a big smudge and dope the bees, and lift the hives open and take the honey away, installing new empty frames for them. When they wake up from the smoke they feel dopey and wonder if it was but a dream that they had worked all July. So they set to work again to store up another lot. And so it goes.”

“How do you get them into the hives to start with?” I asked.

“Ever so often,” said Jim, “there get too many bees in a hive. You see, all the time the bees are storing honey the queen bee is laying eggs and raising little grubs that turn into bees. That is how you keep your bee colony up. New bees. But when a hive gets too populous they swarm. The new queen leaves the hive and takes half the bees after her. They swarm, they go flying away, looking for a new hive.”

“So?” I said.

“So you have new hives ready,” said Jim. “And when you see them swarming, to prevent them flying away to some other farmer you and your wife and the hired girl and the hired man all grab dishpans and rush out and start beating the pans, which dins and confuses the bees. And you can drive them toward the new hive you have ready for them with a couple of combs of honey in it to attract them.”

“I’ve seen pictures,” I said, “of bees swarming like festoons and drapes of bees all over a tree or a bush.”

“Or a man or a horse,” said Jim. “The trick is to prevent them flying away to some neighbor when they swarm. Because the law is that when a swarm of bees lights on your property they are your bees.”

Nice Little Side Line

“Why?” I demanded. “If my cow strays into your field it isn’t your cow.”

“Well, that’s the law, anyway,” said Jim. “So you get busy, when you see them swarm, and beat tin pans and make an awful din and drive them dizzily back toward where you have a new hive waiting for them, all nice and fresh and filled with empty frames for the silly things to devote their lives to.”

“I like honey,” I said. “Honey and bread and butter.”

“A Northern Spy apple,” said Jim, looking at his wrist, “a slice of fresh homemade bread and a comb of clover honey.”

“Mmmmmm,” I agreed.

“Everybody likes honey,” said Jim. “You never get tired of it. But you forget about it. And then, after a few weeks or months, you remember it again and get terribly hungry for it.”

“It’s healthy, too.” I pointed out. “Doctors say that the ancient Greeks were as good as they were largely because they ate quantities of honey. It was about the only sweet thing they had in the olden days.”

“Didn’t they have sugar in ancient times?” I asked.

“They put honey on their bread,” said Jim, “and they didn’t have tea. And they didn’t know about preserving. Candies were unknown. So honey was the universal sweet. Mankind has never been as good looking since they substituted sugar for honey. Bees were the big sugar manufacturers of olden times.”

“I’m going to start eating honey,” I stated.

“Personally,” said Jim, “we could have a nice little sideline if we owned a few bees. Why are we city men so dumb? Here you and I are working in a building with about five thousand people in it. We know scores of them. If we wanted to, we could know hundreds of them. Now, suppose you and I owned an apiary.”

“A what?” I exclaimed.

“An apiary. That’s what they call a bee farm,” explained Jim. “Suppose, instead of wasting our money on silly things like stocks or bonds or slapping our money into a bank or something, we invested in a bee farm. We could get some regular farmer to run it for us on shares. We’d put up the money to buy him a bunch of hives and a few thousand good pedigreed bees. Then he’d collect the honey, strain it, put it up in pails, and it could be the Frise-Clark Honey, from Pedigreed Bees.”

“Frise-Clark Honey, from Busy Bees,” I suggested.

“And every Monday,” went on Jim, “he’d ship us down a case or two of honey and we would pass the word around the building. I bet we could work up a nice little trade.”

“Is there money in it?” I inquired.

“There must be,” said Jim. “or there wouldn’t be so many people growing honey. I bet we have passed twenty farms with bee houses this afternoon.”

“Let’s drop into the next one we see, I suggested. “I’d like to see what a bee farm is like.”

“There’ll be a lot of bees around,” warned Jimmie.

“But surely they are trained,” I said.

“They wouldn’t keep bees that would sting prospective customers.”

“I suppose,” said Jim.

And this side of Palgrave we came to dear little white farmhouse with evergreen hedges and in the orchard by the house rows and rows of bee houses on their little platforms.

“Whoa,” said Jimmie.

A kind old lady greeted us as we came through the hedge. She was busy cutting lilacs.

When we asked if we could see the bees she went indoors and got a cow’s horn trimmed with brass, on which she blew a long blast very skilfully and in a few moments over the hills came an equally kind old gentleman in overalls who seemed not to have done any talking for so many years that he could hardly remember the words.

But he shyly took us out into the orchard, where we walked very slowly and politely toward the bee houses.

“They’re Swarming!”

“We just won’t worry them.” said the old man. “If we walk very quietly now, they won’t be bothered with us.”

“Had any swarms lately?” asked Jim.

“I’m expecting a swarm any time,” said the little gentleman. “I’ve lost two swarms this year already. I’m afraid I’m not a very good bee man.”

“Would the honey taste of lilacs?” I asked him.

But he just exchanged a look with Jimmie and they both smiled,

“It tastes better than that,” said the old man proudly.

We stood respectfully looking down the first row of hives, while Jimmie asked about the bees and the blight and all the things that happen to bees. The old man said one of the swarms had gone a mile up the road and settled on the farm of a poor woman, a widow, who had been terribly hard up for a year or more, and he was very glad on her account for these were the finest bees in many a mile.

The other swarm had followed a motor truck, loaded with cows, straight south.

“The last I see of them.” said the old gentleman “the driver was driving like mad, the cows were rolling their eyes, and the bees were gaining. I hope no rich man got them, though I must say every rich farmer always has a few empty hives sitting around, expecting.”

“That’s why they’re rich,” said Jim.

“I suppose,” agreed the old man. You could see he liked Jim.

Thus we were standing, while the orchard hummed and there was a sort of cello music faintly adown the aisles of hives and the orchard trees made a lazy dappled shadow for the music to live in. And the kind old lady with the scissors was shipping more lilacs than she needed in a busy sort of way that told me we were to have some lilacs with us.

And then all of a sudden the old man jumped back and cried:

“They’re swarming!”

And out of one of the hives, about the fifth one down the row, bees began to boil and bubble out of the box with a high sing-sound.

“Get a pan,” shouted the old man, running for the house, with Jim and me after him. The old lady dropped the lilacs and into the house we rushed, where all was cool and fragrant, with a smell like fresh milk, and the old man feverishly thrust a milk pail on Jim and seized the dishpan off the wall for himself, while the old lady took a black cake tin and I grabbed a dipper out of a pail of water.

And toward the orchard we rushed, making a din.

Jimmie and the old man, like Indians at a war dance, hopped about the hive, banging the pans fiercely, bees were darting this way and that excitedly, and what appeared to be a sort of ragged lacy shawl slowly rose from the one hive and began swinging this way and that amongst the apple trees.

Several bees from other hives, upset by the racket, zipped around, like scout aeroplanes, zooming and diving, and I backed off because a couple of them bumped into me.

I decided to withdraw to a little distance, as the noise I was making with the dipper and a stick was not really a big noise, nor did it seem to harmonize with the deep sounds Jimmie and the old man were making with their larger vessels.

I turned my back to walk outside the edge of the orchard when I felt, rather than heard, a loud snore.

“Stand still,” roared Jimmie.

And what seemed to be a very thickly and heavy shawl was folded around my head, neck, shoulders. All was dark.

I stood very still. And all around me rang a furious whanging and banging and heavy breathing.

My fingers ached with stiffness. My leg muscles seemed turned to iron. I breathed through my lips, barely open, while a million tickles, like a million electric shocks, ran around the corners of my mouth, my ears, my eyelids.

I felt like the mummy of King Pharaoh, while the band of 500 B.C. played the funeral march on a million drums.

Then I smelt smoke.

And the lacy tickly shawl, of fine lace, of soft, singing cashmere, not chenille, was slowly lifted, wafted from my head.

I opened one eye. Then the other. I relaxed one finger. Then two. With an effort, like opening a gate, I relaxed one leg.

Jim and the old man and the lady were piously drumming under a tree, while the old man waved a dishpan full of smoking grass from side to side.

I found a thin place in the hedge. I pushed through it. Into the car I stepped, slowly and carefully. All the windows I ran up. I looked cautiously into every corner of the car. I flicked my hair experimentally with my handkerchief.

Presently the old lady came out with a big handful of lilacs.

“Are you married?” she inquired when I opened the door a little.

“If I remember rightly,” I said.

“She’d like these,” said the old lady. “They are an old-fashioned kind.”

“Would they attract bees into the car?” I asked.

“Dear, no,” said the old lady. “The bees are much too busy now to think of lilacs. Once when I was a girl I had then swarm on me.”

“Does it happen often?” I asked.

“No, but it is considered a very lucky sign,” she said. “Were you stung at all?”

“Maybe I’ll begin to feel it a little later, when I can feel anything,” I said.

Jimmie came out with a blue pail of honey for me.

“You saved them from getting away on me,” said the old man. “There’s a pail for you.”

“If I had been out on the road,” I said, “they’d have been my bees.”

“You’re right,” cried the old man.

“Well, I’d have given them back to you,” I assured him.

And I covered the lilacs with my rain slicker and we drove on about our lawful business, which was fishing.


Editor’s Notes: I’m not sure why he would use the phrase, the “Dracula Shivers”, but the Bela Lugosi Dracula movie did come out only a few years earlier in 1931.

Palgrave, Ontario is still a fairly rural area in north Peel County.

Little Pig Fair

A photograph of Mennonite buggies that are drawn up every month for the fair at Elmira, Ont. Gregory Clark, of The Star Weekly, RIGHT, with one of the many little porkers that go up for auction.
A humorous version of a corner of the Elmira fair, where horses, pigs, farm and home equipment are auctioned off above the clamor of the domestic animals …
Two Mennonite farmers snapped by the photographer at the Elmira Fair.

By Gregory Clark, April 20, 1935

Once a month Elmira, Ontario, holds a town fair. Two or three hundred farmers throng the streets of the town. A great buzz fills the Monday morning, with the drone of auctioneers, the murdered squeals of little pigs, the bawl of cattle and the whinny of horses making a festival sound.

It is many, many years since most of the towns of Canada gave up their monthly fair. But Elmira is different. Elmira has had a town fair since long before the oldest recollection. We searched the records, but there was always a town fair in Elmira.

And if I am any good at seeing towns, then Elmira is one of the wisest little communities in this country. For it is a long time since I have seen a town so busy as Elmira was the Monday morning I wiggled my car through the congestion of cars and horses and buggies and, after two tries, at last took a parking place away down the side street.

For the town was alive and alight with action. In the open spaces auction sales of animals and of secondhand household furniture were going full blast; agricultural implements, wagons and horses were going under the hammerless fists of old-fashioned auctioneers; I saw an axe handle, home-made, go to fifteen cents, then by one-cent bids to twenty and sold for twenty-two. I saw a handsome young farmer buy five little pigs at $4.20 a pig.

“Pigs high?” I commented.

“I lost three litters this month,” said the young man. “We wouldn’t be happy at our house unless we had a litter of pigs to raise for fall. So here they are, high or low.”

And he sunk each screaming pig into an oak sack, stowed the struggling pigs in pokes under the seat of his buggy and, with a lean, clever horse dancing in the leather, drove out of the throng.

The rest of the world may have gone in for these here newfangled motor cars. But Elmira, Ontario, sticks to buggies.

Chicago big shots may fly in eight hours to Los Angeles to get away from it all. But the big shots of Elmira, Ontario, find a nice, light pacer, in front of a smooth-going rig, fast enough to keep up with the times.

Before I give you a picture of Elmira’s monthly fair, held on a Monday, with the streets of the little town thronged with men, its open squares jammed with auctions, the hum of country gossip, the drone of auctioneers’ voices, I would like to tell about a conversation I had with an old friend. It shows the humor, the kindliness, of Elmira and its surrounding country of beautifully kept farms. Farms more beautifully kept even than the millionaire farms along the Lake Shore road or up Bayview. In fact, the education of a student of agriculture is not complete until he has driven the country roads out from Elmira and seen these beautiful acres dressed like a merchant’s show window, with never an implement left rusting in any fence corner and no litter or old planks flung about the barnyard, nor ever a fence run down, and geraniums, white, pink and scarlet, in all the sweet windows.

Biggest Buggy Market

As I stood watching the monthly fair of Elmira, with the black-hatted Mennonite men in large numbers, with their calm faces and coats of black so incredibly old that they were a sage green across the shoulders, a Mennonite stepped up and spoke to me. Three years ago I had the pleasure of writing something about the Mennonites of Elmira district, and all of what I said was kindly meant. But I learned afterwards that some Mennonites did not take kindly to being written up at all, regardless of how well we spoke of them.

“So,” said this serene-eyed man in the wide hat, “you’re the gentleman who wrote up the Mennonites in the paper?”

“Yes; did you read it?” I asked.

“I never read newspapers,” said the Mennonite, reprovingly. But I heard what was in the article.”

“Ah,” I said, “then you do not think it as wicked to think evil as to do evil?”

“Yes, I do,” said he.

“Then it is not against your principles to hear what is in the papers, but it is against your principles to read what is in them?” I stabbed.

“Very good,” laughed the gentle man, “then I did not even hear what was in the papers!”

So I asked if these two strapping boys behind him were his sons. They were. We talked, the boys speechless and shy, murmuring yes or no.

“This one,” I said, “is going to be very big, eh?”

“Ah, yes,” sighed the Mennonite. “I am terribly afraid he will be too big to inherit my coat.”

And with this we laughed, for the coat on the father was so antique, its rusty green was fading to gray and it had the cut of a mid-Victorian cab driver’s coat.

So here in the face of all change, of wars and revolutions, of the collapsing of one civilization and the colossal uprising of others, remains a race of men as simple, as filled with plain toil and happiness as if a hundred years had stood still in their part of the world. Good-humored, sincere, devoted, they probably have in their possession more plain wealth than any other community in America. More acres free of debt. More cash in the bank. More peace in their souls.

And let the rest of the world abandon their town fairs, they keep theirs agoing.

George Class of Elmira is the senior auctioneer and former Mayor Frickey of Waterloo shares the auction honors. The fair is held once a month, generally on the second Monday, year in, year out. It dwindles a little in the summer, but with September the streets are thronged again every fair day through the winter, sees a great jam from nine a.m. until well past noon. The town merchants take care that no new goods are sold at the fair in competition with their stores. That is an understanding dating back to the earliest days.

But horses, buggies, farm implements of every sort and age, household furniture of all conceivable kinds, in fact anything that is secondhand or homemade, is traded and sold.

“Little pigs,” said William Auman, a cattle-buyer who has lived his life in Elmira, “are the chief commodity now and always have been. Hundreds of young porkers are brought here every fair day and mostly bought and sold amongst the farmers themselves. Very few dealers are here. Possibly a dozen horses will be auctioned or traded each fair day. Buggies sell from $10 to $40. I suppose this is the largest buggy market in America to-day.”

Eye-Compelling Tidiness

This is due to the fact that the Mennonites faithfully hold to their horses and rigs, religiously denying themselves such luxuries as cars. I saw twenty-five buggies for sale the day I was there. I saw a democrat in first-class condition sell for $22.20. I saw an eight-year-old driving mare sell for $90 and a single farm horse at $123.50.

But while the auction drones on from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. a highly active private treaty goes on all over the place. There are three main market stands, one opposite the public library, where the pigs, cows and horses are sold, and another large open space at the bus terminal, where the farmers’ driving sheds are. Here the household effects, buggies and implements are sold.

These farmers of the Elmira district are very thrifty of everything, including their time. As I said before, their farms fairly crackle with neatness and tidiness. But what time they have left over they employ in making all kinds of wooden ware for farm use. Axe handles, double trees and yokes and tongues for heavy wagons.

“In the winter,” explained a small, sturdy Mennonite of at least seventy years, “I have not much to do, so I make tongues and double trees and sell them here to my neighbors.”

Between the two large spaces jammed with mobs of farmers watching the auctions there are sundry small stalls where country cheese is sold. These people of German descent know how to make cheese, the holey country style of cheese, and stacks of it in doorways are cut into huge gobbets and sold to other farmers, who prefer the country cheese to all the factory products.

The display of household effects is extraordinary, I happen to know that in these lovely farm homes of the Elmira country is hidden some of the loveliest walnut furniture of simple pioneer design – the kind Toronto ladies would go silly over – but there is rarely if ever a stick of such furniture gets on to the open auction of the town. The people prize it more than connoisseurs. They prize it as the designers, the makers and the users of it.

From light oak bedroom sets, all manner of tables and chairs, some rickety, some decidedly good, down to funny looking mid-Victorian sewing machines, incredible pumps, odds and ends of kitchen and barnyard furniture, the display is truly what it is supposed to be, and that is, a means of disposing of whatever is no longer of any use. For example, the day I was there, the carpenter tools of an elderly farmer who had just retired to live in Elmira was one of the items of auction. Everybody for miles around knew this old farmer had been a first-class carpenter, and the disposal of his tools attracted every thrifty man in three townships. I asked about the origin of an entire bedroom suite. The girl whose room this suite adorned in a farmhouse had recently married, and as her young husband took her into a completely furnished home, her parents felt no further need of the furniture. That’s the spirit of the Elmira town fair. If a thing is no longer needed sell it, trade it. It may account for the eye-compelling tidiness of every farm you see for miles around Elmira. Thrift has got rid of every stick, every item that is no longer needed. Surely the strangest items auctioned the day I was there was a veranda pillar. Just an old, faded wooden column or pillar off a farm house porch. It seems the mate to this one had got rotten with age and water, and the owner had made two new matching pillars. This one, which some, perhaps many men, would have chucked out in the barnyard, was put up for sale. It sold for fifty cents.

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked the wide-hatted farmer who bought it.

“Use it to make an arch over my well,” said he.

The man who sold it got the fifty cents.

“And what will you do with the fifty cents?” I asked him.

“Put it on a young pig,” he smiled.

They Don’t Like To Borrow

Beds by the dozen, little beds, big beds, whole harnesses and bits of harness, a box of live geese, chains, great big logging chains, maple syrup pails, whole rolls of second-hand wire fencing…

“Have you had that chain long?” I asked the farmer who sold the logging chain.

“Just since November,” he said. “I got it here, at the fair. I needed a chain to haul a few logs out of my woodlot. Now I’m through with the chain, and I’ll sell it for maybe a few cents less than I paid for it. I didn’t borrow it. It was mine for the time I wanted it. Now somebody else will want it. I guess that chain has been owned by a good many men. Hauled a good many logs out of the woodlots in this part of the country.”

They don’t like to borrow.

The second-hand wire fencing was in perfect condition. It was as neatly rolled as a new roll. The farmer who was selling it had used it for five years to fence off a small field. It was no longer wanted. Instead of leaving it there to die, he took it down, rolled it up and brought it to the town fair for some other farmer who was just looking for that very thing.

I saw at least twenty men carrying small bits of leather harness over their arms, little straps and gadgets whose names I would never know. But wholly necessary to a horse pulling a plow.

“More than once,” said a farmer who was carrying a pair of those eye blinkers, “I have assembled a whole set of good harness from three or four old sets offered here for sale at the fair. A piece off one. A piece off another. And there I had a full set of harness for a song.”

The strangest thing at the Elmira town fair is the absence of women. Not ten of the bonneted and sombrely dressed Mennonite women were to be seen amongst the four hundred men. And they were entirely on the outskirts of the show. None of the townspeople or Elmira ladies seemed to be present at all.

“It is a men’s show,” said Postmaster O. Weichel of Elmira. “And always has been. No home baking or sausages or that sort of thing. It is a men’s fair, and besides being an institution for trade and commerce, it is a mighty important social institution. the men gathering to talk and gossip about country affairs, they look forward to it with the greatest eagerness. They wouldn’t do without the town fair for anything.”

“Is it as big as it used to be?” I asked.

“Quite as big,” said Mr. Weichel. “Changed a little in character. In early days, it had a certain holiday quality; there used to be fights amongst the men, and factions met here to settle matters after the fair in the time-honored fashion. They used to parade their horses up and down the town streets, showing off their paces.”

Mr. Aumon, the cattle buyer, said it was best described as a “little pig market” because, unquestionably, the largest turnover each fair day was in young pigs.

And in crates behind wagons and in buggies and on cars, the little pigs come to market at Elmira. Clean, tidy little pink pigs, some of them no bigger than bedroom slipper and some of them so big and ferocious they filled a whole cart to themselves.

But it is of the little pigs I would warn you. Their screams are so arousing. Their pinky plumpness is so appealing. And if you are a city person that goes to Elmira town fair, be careful of those baby pigs. They’ll get you. You’ll buy one.

And then where are you?


Editor’s Notes: Elmira is still home to a large population of Old Order Mennonites. Note that in 1935, they would not seem as old-fashioned as they do today.

Mike Fright

In that awful hushed silence following the announcer’s words, I accidentally stepped on Rusty’s tail.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 23, 1935

“Mike fright,” said Jimmie Frise, “seems a silly thing to me.”

“It’s like stage fright,” I explained.

“But stage fright is understandable,” said Jim, “facing thousands and thousands of people, row on row. But mike fright, that’s silly. Imagine being frightened of a little round instrument about the size of a turnip or a tin of gingersnaps!”

“It’s the unseen that frightens you,” I further elucidated, “the unseen, the unknown.”

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” cut in Jimmie.

“Yes, but you do know,” I said. “You know that there are thousands, maybe millions, of people listening to you. They are not at your mercy, sitting in theatre seats, all more or less obliged by good manners to sit and say nothing. On the air you picture all those people, thousands, millions, sitting in their own homes where manners do not exist. Some millions of them are reading the newspaper. Other millions of them are sitting talking together. Very few of them are actually sitting in rows in front of the radio listening to you as they would listen to you from the stage.”

“Ah,” said Jim, seeing the point.

“Yes, I went on. “The unseen, the unknown. As you step up in front of that little round microphone the first thing you imagine is that about ninety-nine million out of the billion will promptly, at the first sound of your voice, jump up angrily and turn you off. They can’t do that in a theatre. Or in a public meeting. But that’s what you imagine. You say to yourself, “How can I speak so gently, how can I be so immediately interesting that everybody in the world, with a loud Anarrrhhnnn, won’t jump up and rush over and cut me off?’ That’s how you get mike fright.”

“The reason I ask,” said Jim, “is that Bill Berry has to speak over the air to-morrow night. And he’s nearly crazy.”

“Who, Bill?” I exclaimed. “I didn’t think he’d be fazed by anything in the world.”

“He’s nearly nuts,” said Jim. “He’s been in, to see me the last three nights at the house and walked the floor and rehearsed his speech for me. He’s nearly nutty.”

“The poor chap,” said I.

“I drove him down to work this morning,” proceeded Jim, “and dear old blatherskite Billy sat there like a man in a trance. He never spoke all the way down, except to moan a few times.”

“The poor fellow,” I agreed.

“I’ve seen Bill Berry,” stated Jim, “meet notables and millionaires and statesmen as if he were their buddy. I’ve seen him the life of a hundred parties. He has the nerve of a canal horse. At hockey games he stands up and roars and yells like a bull in a barn and thinks no more of the stares and “sit-downs” of the mob than if they weren’t there. But this morning Bill Berry was worse than a bride with the hives on her nuptial morn.”

Scared By Remote Control

“How did he ever get himself into this jam?” I inquired.

“Oh, some service club,” said Jim. “Some service club is putting on a fifteen-minute appeal. And nobody but Bill Berry could put over the right gusto, the right hail-fellow, the right life of the party. And Bill admits he was kind of tickled at first with the idea of talking over the radio. It was just four or five days ago that he got mike fright.”

“He shouldn’t have mike fright yet,” I cried.

“He’s got it,” said Jim. “Mike fright, by remote control. Every hour it gets worse. It’s worse than buck fever. It’s worse than waiting for the day of your execution. Last night he didn’t sleep a wink. Do you know what he did last night?”

“No.”

“He just sat in a rocking chair all night and rocked.”

“Oh, dear,” I said.

“I wonder what we could do to help him?” asked Jim. “You’ve often talked over the air. Can’t you think of something?”

“Could somebody else make the speech for him?” I suggested.

“I told him that,” said Jim, “but he’s too proud. He won’t hear of it.”

“Maybe we could get a doctor to give him some dope,” I thought, “some sleeping pills, something that will dull him down for the remaining twenty-four hours.”

“He’s full of aspirin now,” said Jim. “And sleeping powders.”

“I am sorry for him,” I said, “but I can’t see what’s to be done about it. A guy undertakes to talk over the radio, he’s got to take what comes with it.”

“How would you like to come with us?” asked Jim. “I said I’d drive him to the studio to-morrow night. You’re a good hand at cheering people up. Come with us.”

“Sure I will,” I agreed.

The next night Jim picked me up at the house about 7.30. In the front of the car beside him sat Bill Berry.

“HUL-lo, Bill,” I cried, in my best service club manner. “Howsa boy?”

Bill did not answer. He just settled a little deeper into his coat collar. In a swift glance, I saw how he had failed. His derby, instead of being on the side and somewhat on the back of his head, was set primly on the centre. It seemed a little too big for him. His face had shrunk. It was pallid and expressionless, and there was a dull look in his eyes.

“Well, well, so we’re making our radio debut?” I cried, opening the back door and stepping in.

Rusty was there. Jim’s Rusty, an Irish water spaniel of advanced age, a dear old dog, but somewhat fallen from his natural estate. Rusty was bought eleven years ago by Jimmie to be a retriever of countless ducks that Jimmie was going to shoot. Rusty comes of a noble breed that fears not the roaring wave nor the icy water, but will plunge in where polar bears would fear to tread, after wild ducks.

But Rusty had two paths to take, and he took the lesser. He became, in a few weeks, a house dog, a guardian of children and property rather than a noble beast of the chase. During the past ten years, any time Jim takes Rusty into the duck blind, poor Rusty just sits there emitting whines in a hoarse Irish voice, demanding to be taken back to terra firma, and houses and property and children, his chief interest.

“Hullo Rusty,” I said as I got in beside him and he grudgingly gave me a bit of the seat to sit on.

A Very Strict Rule

Jim drove rapidly downtown. I could see Bill Berry’s head, with that incongruous bowler sitting so stiff and straight on his head. His neck seemed shrunk. His head looked shaky and his ears stuck out forlornly in a way I had never noticed before.

I tried four or five starts at conversation. I tried the Rotary, then the Kiwanis, then the Lions and finally the Young Men’s Board of Trade manner on him.

None of them worked.

“Bill,” I said, “how would you like me to sub for you? They’ll announce you, and then I’ll step up and imitate your voice so that even your own wife wouldn’t know it wasn’t you?”

“No, no,” said Bill hollowly. “I’ll see it through.”

So I spent the rest of the ride scratching Rusty and talking to him.

“You can’t leave Rusty in the car,” I remarked to Jim. “What was the idea of bringing him?”

“My nights belong to Rusty,” said Jimmie. “Where I go he goes.”

“But he goes frantic if he is left alone in the car,” I reminded Jim.

“We’ll take him inside and tie him up to a radiator in the hall or something,” said Jim easily.

At the studio, we both had to help poor Billy Berry out of the car. He had gone stiff. His legs wouldn’t bend. In his right hand he clutched a wad of paper that was his speech. It was just a wad.

We got him out and stood him there, like an invalid, while Jim put the leash on Rusty and handed it to me.

I held Rusty on the leash and Jim and I each took an arm of Bill and led him slowly down the street and into the radio broadcasting station door.

His feet dragged, he was breathing in short gasps and you could hear a slight moan with every third or fourth breath.

As we went through the door, he leaned his weight on us and stumbled.

“Here, here,” I hissed. “Bill, this won’t do at all.”

In the lighted entrance. I saw his face. It was white and beaded with moisture. His eyes had a glassy look and his lips were muttering. I caught a few words:

“… now altogether, with one heart and voice, let us say…”

“Wait till you get into the studio,” I said, patting his back.

We were ushered upstairs into a waiting room with wicker chairs. We lowered Bill Berry into the biggest one. A few ladies in evening dress stared at him coldly and unsympathetically, and one man in a dress suit played faint trills on a piccolo across the room.

“Is this dog going to take part in any program?” asked a very young man who had come into the waiting room.

“No,” I said. “He’s just an onlooker.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to take him out,” said the young aristocrat, pleasantly. “There is a very strict rule.”

Jim winked at me.

I started out with Rusty, who dragged back on the leash. Rusty knows his nights are for Jimmie.

“Put on That Smile”

Jim caught me in the hallway.

“Walk around here and there,” said Jim, “and at two minutes to eight sharp, come up here. Hide Rusty under your coat.”

“Under my coat?” I expostulated, “Him weighing fifty pounds?”

“I always said that coat of yours was for you and who else,” said Jim. “Stuff him up under your coat, walk in here at the right minute and then push in with the rest of us.”

“No, Jim.” I protested. “I hate trouble. You take Bill inside. I won’t need to go.”

“Listen, you come,” declared Jim. “He’s better, just having you near. I can see it. You sit in the studio where he can see you. Put on that smile. You know the one. The smile that means ‘great stuff, fella.'”

“Aw.”

“Now do it for me.”

“Why didn’t you leave Rusty at home?” I demanded.

“I should have,” said Jim. “But he knows he goes where I go at night. I couldn’t disappoint him.”

“I can readily understand why he isn’t a bird dog,” I said, giving a yank to the leash.

So Rusty and I went out and walked around the street for six or seven minutes, and then, by the clock, I started sneaking back in. We took the stairs up. We went slowly. I watching the wrist-watch, and Rusty anxiously sniffing his way back up to Jimmie.

At exactly one minute to eight o’clock, we were at the top step of the stairs of the studio floor. I reached down and put Rusty under my arm and draped my large English-style overcoat over him. In the hall, as I came through, the party to which Bill belonged was thronged at the doorway of the studio.

All was hushed and “hissed.” Young officials of the studio were signalling with eyes and fingers and forming soundless words with their mouths.

I drew alongside the throng of artists and speakers. Jim mode way for me so that I was in the middle of the group.

The studio door opened and out came sounds of final, triumphant, signing-off music. I heard a quiet voice announcing the end of a program. Our party was ushered, like a herd of cows for the slaughter, into the studio. Its hushed atmosphere was slightly broken by the rising and departure of a horde of shirt-sleeved musicians tip-toeing out. The quiet voice again speaking, and as the outgoing throng made way, we crept anxiously to chairs and benches. There were curtains on the walls and curtains dependent from the ceiling There were wires and cables on the floor and strung across the room itself in midair.

All was hushed and disorganized, yet strangely organized. Rusty was wriggling under my coat and I patted him.

The men on the box, who was talking in the quiet voice, signalled toward Bill Berry and Jim led him forward. A lady was already playing the piano and a short fat man in a dress suit suddenly burst into loud baritone song. Rusty struggled fiercely under the coat, so I let his head out and he glared about the room until he saw Jim. Then he sagged comfortably.

In the Awful Silence

I sat down to one side, where Bill could see me. Jim was holding Bill’s arm, they were seated side by side, and Bill’s face was as white as death. He was listening with intense interest and an expression of surprise, to the man singing. Other officials of the service club were grouped around, most of them looking quickly at Bill and then looking quickly away again.

It was all very swift. Time flies in a studio. On hushed wings it flies.

“It is now my pleasure,” said the announcer up on the box, with an easy and jolly manner, and common gesture toward Bill, “to introduce to you, ladies and gentlemen, one who is known throughout the city and, indeed, throughout the country as a whole, as a great fellow, a great organizer, a great leader, a great worker in many noble and worthy causes, who will put, in a nutshell, the meaning of this campaign in the behalf of an underprivileged section of our great community, Mr. William Berry!”

He said it the way Joe Penner’s announcer announces Joe.

Bill was on his feet. He was in a trance. Jim was whispering in his ear, trying to get him to take a step forward. But Bill’s legs were locked, apparently.

I had to act quick, if I was going to act at all.

I slid Rusty down on to the floor. I stood up. I started toward Bill and Jim.

And under my foot, in that awful hushed silence, I felt Rusty’s tail go squnnch!

“Ki-yi-yi-yi,” yelled Rusty. “Ki-yi-yi-yi! … oooowww!”

“Here, here!” I rasped. But Rusty was crouched down, scrambling out of the way of all big feet, under chairs, looking over his shoulder in terror and letting out a staccato stream of

“Ki-yi-yi-yi-yi-oooooowwww!”

The room was in a panic. Announcers rushed from side to side signalling madly but all in that awful hush in which Rusty’s incredible yowling and ki-yi-ing filled and blasted the air. Frantic faces appeared at windows looking into the studio. Five of six of us were now sprawling on the floor trying to quiet Rusty, but the more we struggled the worse Rusty yelled, and chairs fell over and finally –

“Cut!” roared the announcer.

At that loud call, Rusty and I were like two worms tossed into a flock of chickens

The hush was broken with a babble of voices as officials rushed in and seized Rusty and me and everybody else out the studio, except Jim and Bill.

I stood outside explaining to a mob of infuriated radio experts for only a half a minute until out came Jimmie, leading poor Bill, who was now just one complete quiver, head, knees and all.

They grabbed their coats. We went in a body down the stairs.

“What happened?” I asked Jim. “Did he speak?”

“He couldn’t speak,” said Jim, quite simply. “So the announcer said, ‘You have just heard a few remarks by Mr. William Berry, that well-known worker in behalf of the underprivileged of this great city.'”

“So Rusty made the speech? I cried.

“That was him,” said Jim.

We drove Mr. William Berry back home to his astonished and waiting wife.


Editor’s Notes: Greg did speak often on the radio, he even considered giving up newspaper work in the late 1930s to become a radio announcer. He participated in a series called “Let’s Face the Facts” in 1940, where speeches by notable Canadians commented on different aspects of the war effort. This was accumulated in a single volume in 1941.

Joe Penner was a popular radio comedian at the time.

To the Ladies!

“Can you run a switchboard?” the girl asked. “I can run anything a girl can,” I stated.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 5, 1935.

“Nix,” hissed Jimmie Frise. “It’s a woman!”

I was leaning out the car window, wetting my lips and preparing to hurl insults and imprecations as we zipped past the car ahead, the car that had been holding us up for six blocks.

“Er,” said I, withdrawing myself into the car.

So we went by, without so much as a sideways glance at the driver. It was a lady. Sure enough. And quite a nice lady.

“Funny thing,” said Jim, who a moment before had been, like me, frothing at the mouth over the way this lady had been driving, “the nicest ladies are the worst drivers. By the nicest I mean the gentle, old-fashioned kind of ladies. Ladies with gentle faces and plain ways of doing their hair. Ladies with soft voices, who couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, wisecrack back at you if you bawled them out. Ladies that would just color up if you glared at them and drop their eyes. And you’d feel like a monster.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “they’re the worst drivers. The good drivers are the modern, lip-sticked, smart-haired, cold-eyed dames. They can drive. They never get into any jams.”

“I suppose it is only natural,” went on Jim. “Driving is not a woman’s work. The true woman is the worst driver. The womanly woman. I’d say to the young men of to-day, if you want to pick good wife pick a rotten driver.”

“This whole woman question is a curious one,” I mused. “Up until a few years ago women were the same as they had been for 10,000 years. Then, all of a sudden, the change comes. From being modest, gentle, bashful and retiring. they come whoop-de-doodle right out into the middle of the show and start doing jigs.”

“And fan dances,” pointed out Jim.

“Oh, there had always been fan dancers,” I explained. “And there always were emancipated women. Even in ancient times. But they weren’t the women men married or respected. They were the horrible examples that men held up as object lessons to all the rest of the fair sex. The sort of person not to be.”

“I guess it is kind of hard for a girl nowadays,” said Jim, “to decide what kind of a girl to be. I guess it is more fun to be the modern kind, gay and uninhibited.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But they don’t turn out as happy. Life, after all, is a pretty humdrum business. Sooner or later we all have to settle down. Especially the women. The women have to settle right down even to-day. So the freer they are before they are married, the tougher the settling down will be. Isn’t that right?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” countered Jim. “I Imagine the modern young mother isn’t such a little church mouse as her predecessor was.”

Less Money To-Day

“Listen,” I said, “the average young married couple to-day has less money than even we had when we started married life. Where are they going to get money to hire a maid? Or a nurse? And Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are just the same as they were 1,000 years ago, and every one of those days a baby has to be fed and stayed with, mamma can’t go out, even to a show; hard-boil a girl all you like before she is married, but the minute she gets baby the age-old miracle is performed and love comes first. Love of a baby. So, all I ask you is to imagine a rather perspiring and flustered young woman, hushed in a small room, with a baby in her arms, endlessly tending it and caring for it, rocking it and quieting it, answering its slightest cry with instantaneous service, anxious and devoted – and imagine that same girl, there in a dark room, alone, remembering the four or five years she had spent, just until a year ago, with parties and movies, out every night till all hours, dancing, doing what she pleased, free, emancipated, modern, wearing shorts, hollering and shouting whenever she felt like it, about as modest and retiring as a Varsity student. And I ask you, what kind of a pain does she feel as she hush-a-bys her baby in a little, dark, lonely room?”

“What else could she do?” demanded Jim.

“She could do what all the girls for 10,000 years have done up till now,” I replied. “She could be brought up in shelter, quiet, prim, ladylike, knowing full well that when she was about 18 or 20 there would be a kind of blossoming in her life, that she would be let free for a year or two, all dressed in her loveliest, to bloom before the eyes of men. And one man would she choose; but she knew her brief day of blossoming was ended and that she had to retire to the serious business of life, which was housekeeping and raising a family, she became matron. I imagine the word matron is the most hated word to the feminine mind in the world to-day.”

“It used to be old maid,” Jim said.

“Yes, and now it is matron,” I insisted. “Any girl to-day would rather be an old maid than a matron. Because an old maid fits into the scheme of the modern woman, free, independent and unfettered.”

“I hope,” said Jim, “that the women understand that they are very seriously responsible for much of the world’s troubles to-day.”

“Not them,” I assured him. “They think it is swell.”

“I would say,” said Jim, “that two things are responsible for the sort of stunned condition of the world to-day. The stunned, groggy, dizzy condition. And those two things are, the recent development of a lot of new countries that have started manufacturing and producing things and the recent addition into the working world of about 50,000,000 women.”

“What countries?” I asked.

“Oh, Brazil, for instance,” said Jim. “Before the war Brazil was a little nation, mostly jungle, with about the same population Canada has got now. To-day she has 40,000,000 population – in 20 years! – and is not jungle, but a vast country, far bigger than Canada, lying pleasantly and comfortably between the equatorial and the temperate zones. Lousy with wealth and life and productivity.”

“I thought the 20th century was to be Canada’s,” I complained.

Nations Awake Now

“Brazil’s,” said Jim. “And look at the way a lot of other countries were pepped up by the war? Italy and all those Czechoslovak countries and Japan and Russia. None of them was doing much before the war but snoozing. While we were full of pep, producing, selling. There are too many nations awake now. That’s what’s the matter. Too many nations wide awake and getting busy. We shouldn’t have kicked up all that racket in the war. It waked up a lot of sleepers.”

“And how about women?” I inquired.

“Well, the situation hasn’t been helped a bit,” said Jim, “by the fact that we have waked up about 100,000,000 women. They were sort of asleep, too. Nice and asleep in their homes, doing their humble jobs competently. Then, whatever the heck we did, we waked them up and out they came, in millions, to grab off our jobs in factories and banks and stores and offices. The trouble is, in the past 30 years there has been far too much racket. We’ve waked everybody up.”

“I begin to see It,” I agreed. “Don’t let us miss your street with all this talk.”

“It’s past Lansdowne,” old Jim. We were on our way to pick up Jim’s big camping tent which he had loaned to one of those friends who never return things. You finally have to call and pick it up yourself.

“What are we going to do?” I asked. “How can we get Italy and Brazil and so forth to go on back to sleep again? And how can we persuade the women to become housewives again?”

“Maybe we can’t,” declared Jim. “Maybe it is the end of us as big shots. Maybe we have had our day. Now it is theirs.”

“You mean, we’ve got to go muddling along playing second fiddle from now on?” I protested.

“Why not?” asked Jim. “Who are we to be the top dog forever? We men have been in the money a long time. We British, French, Americans and Germans ran the world for several hundred years. Then we got funny. Now look at us!”

“I never expected to be an anti-feminist,” I confessed. “But, by golly, I feel a little anti-feminist now. Maybe one of the new political parties will propose sending women back to the kitchen and the cradle-side?”

“They’ll be licked if they do,” said Jim.

“Maybe,” I contended, “in 20 years or so, instead of Liberal and Conservative and so forth we’ll have only two political parties, the Men and the Women?”

“It might easily come to that,” said Jim. “We’re drifting farther apart every year.”

I looked out the car window and watched the passing crowds.

“Why, they have a sinister look,” I gasped. “Look at those women, Jim! See how confidently they walk. And see how humble and dejected the men look.”

“They’re pretty bold,” agreed Jim, slowing, for we were approaching Lansdowne Ave.

“Jim, imagine me turning against my wife and daughter,” I supposed, “and my mother-in-law.”

But we pulled up in front of the factory in which one of the big executives was the friend of Jim’s who had borrowed the tent.

“Give us a hand carrying it out,” said Jim.

We went in. It had that chill, forbidding air of the best factories. A girl at a switchboard, a cool, cold, level-eyed girl, looked up lazily at us when we came in the lobby.

“Yes, please?” she asked chillily.

“Is Mr. Adams in?” said Jim.

“He’s in a shop conference,” said the girl. “Won’t be out for at least an hour.”

Lady of the Cords

Between these remarks she was plucking telephone cords out of the switchboard and shoving them in, saying “Yes” and “No,” while lights red and white flickered on the board facing her. She was absent in her manner.

“Well,” said Jim, awkwardly intruding on her affairs, “he left a tent for me. I’m to pick it up.”

“Won’t be out for an hour,” said the girl, continuing to weave the cords and make quiet little remarks into the mouthpiece on her face.

“He left the tent,” insisted Jim, “and I’m to pick it up. He said it was in the corner of the shipping room.”

“Sorry,” said the girl, like a diver coming up from the deeps. “Mr. Adams is engaged. At least an hour.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “who else can I see who will help me get a tent? Mr. Adams is a friend of mine. He borrowed my tent, see?”

“He’s in a conference in the shop. A shop conference,” said the girl, diving deep amidst the cords again.

“Jim,” I said, “let me speak to her.”

I leaned down on my elbow on the counter, shoving my face down within six inches of her ear.

“Miss,” I said, “Adams told us to call for the tent. We’re here. Call a boy and have him bring the tent up. It’s in the corner of the shipping room.”

“No, sir: yes, sir: I’ll ring him again, sir,” said the girl. cool and passionless and totally unaware of me. “There is no boy,” she said, aside, to me.

“Would you direct us to the shipping room?” I hissed.

“No strangers admitted to the shipping room,” said the girl, unexcited.

“Could you show us?” I said sarcastically.

“Can you run a switchboard?” she asked, quite simply.

“I can run anything a girl can run,” I stated.

With a lithe motion she rose from her chair, disentangling herself from the headpiece and the cords.

“Look,” she said crisply, “when one of these bottom lights go on pull the plug opposite it. That means the conversation there is ended.”

“I see,” I said.

“And if one of these other lights up here goes on, see?” she pointed to the upright board, “just stick the plug exactly opposite the light in the hole, press this little switch forward and say ‘Please call back in moment; there is trouble on the line.’ Do you see?”

“Thank you,” I assured her stiffly.

“Come this way,” she said to Jimmie, and glided poetically down the hall, Jim pursuing.

I sat me down. A little light was glowing. I pulled out the cord. A red light glowed I stuck the correct plug, the one exact opposite, in the little hole, pushed the switch:

“Trouble on the line: please call back in a moment,” I said coolly. What a cinch.

Two white lights and three reds all started at once.

“Trouble on the line,” I said smoothly pulling and putting: “please call in a moment.” To show how skillful a man can be I started also pulling out the ones opposite the white or “call finished” lights.

Lights Wink and Pop

But these cords grow tangled. The faster you work the more the red lights wink and the white ones pop. She had about six plugs in when I started. I got the wrong cord, and the white light did not go out. I tried another. I began, I fear, to stick quite a lot of plugs in the wrong place.

A door opened violently. A man in shirt-sleeves leaned out.

“Hey!” he yelled, and slammed the door.

So I pulled all the cords out and started all over again. Red light, pop in a cord:

“Sorry, trouble on the line; call in moment again please.”

The man in his shirt-sleeves burst the door open.

“Where the …” he shouted.

Two more men appeared. One girl.

“Get away from that,” yelled a short, fat man.

Then the switchboard girl came running beautifully back, her hands held high as she pranced along, feminine, smooth, lovely.

I vacated the seat. She slid into it.

Jimmie staggered into the lobby with the tent.

“Hello,” said Jim to the man in the shirtsleeves. “The girl said you were in a conference.”

“Jim, I could kill you,” said Mr. Adams. “Who’s this?”

“My friend, Mr. Clark, meet Mr. Adams,” said Jim.

“I was talking to somebody,” said Mr. Adams in a guarded voice, looking around, “when suddenly, without so much as warning click, I’m switched on to my wife. And I went right on talking. see?”

The other two men crowded close to Mr. Adams sympathetically.

“Dear me,” said Jim.

“Me,” said the fat man next to Mr. Adams, “there is one guy in all this world I don’t want to talk to. And I got him on the phone. Miss Julie, you’re fired!”

Miss Julie paid not the slightest attention, but went right on weaving her cords and speaking politely into the headpiece.

“I,” said the tall man, the third who had appeared in the lobby, “was speaking long distance to Seattle. And I’m cut off, just as Huggins out there, after saying he would think it over, finally got as far as saying, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what let’s do.’ Now he has had time to think it over by the time I get him on the line again.”

“Boys,” said Jim. “this young lady just went for a minute to show me where this tent was.”

“She’s fired,” said the fat man decisively. But Miss Julie just smiled up briefly.

And all but Mr. Adams went back into their offices and slammed the doors. Mr. Adams followed Jim and me to the exit.

“Next time,” he said. “I’ll return your tent in person.”

“Don’t fire Miss Julie,” I said.

“We’ve fired her four times,” said Mr. Adams, “but each time the business goes to pieces.”

So I looked back through the glass door and Miss Julie glanced up, smiled at me and made a little twiddle with her fingers at me.

“Women’s place,” said Jimmie, “is in the home.”

“And on switchboard,” I admitted, still damp with cold perspiration.


Editor’s Note: Both Greg and Jim would be of the generation that would have been surprised by the changes in society after the First World War, including the role of women.

Bear with Us

By Greg Clark, August 3, 1935

“What I like,” said Jimmie Frise, “is blueberries.”

“I’m with you,” I assured him. Strawberries are very nice, if they aren’t sandy. But they give me hives. Raspberries are good, if they haven’t got little white bugs creeping about them. And raspberry seeds get between my teeth.”

“Thimbleberries,” contributed Jim, aren’t bad, but it is hard to get a feed of them. I like a feed of wild berries.”

“The wild strawberry,” I took on, “is probably the finest wild berry in the world. The French-Canadians preserve them.”

“Yes, but give me blueberries,” said Jimmie. “I don’t mean blueberries you get in the city, with the blue down all rubbed off them, and looking kind of damp. I mean blueberries you pick yourself and eat right out on the rocks.”

“I follow you,” I assured him.

“They are so tight in their skins,” said Jim. “They burst, they pop in your mouth.”

“Like celery, sort of,” I helped.

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Nothing like it. They are alone, unique, unequalled. Tight in their skins, with that cool, downy powder on them, and a kind of faint wild spicy flavor.”

“That’s it,” I moaned. “Faintly spicy.”

“Not rough and harsh, like Oriental spices, but a delicate Canadian spiciness,” said Jim. “Dear me, excuse me, my mouth is watering.”

He got out his handkerchief and attended to himself.

“The thing I like about them, too,” went on Jimmie, “is the way they burst in your mouth, a whole big handful of them.”

“Do you like the bright blue ones or the darkish, blackish huckleberry kind?” I inquired.

“Well, it’s hard to choose,” agreed Jim. “The dark ones often have a rich spiciness, yet on the other hand, the bright blue ones have a kind of tang. I don’t know.”

“The bright blue ones,” I pointed out, “are lovely to come on when you are wandering around on the rocks, blueberry picking. You walk along, looking here and there, and then all of a sudden, in one of those big cracks or crevices in the rocks, you see a whole hedge of little bushes that are a vivid sky blue.”

“The Jesuit Relations say,” stated Jim, “that in the olden days, away back in 1600 and something, the Indians used to pick great bushels of blueberries and spread them out on the rocks to dry and then pack them in big birch bark sacks. In the winter, they would use these dried berries to eke out their dog meat and pounded corn porridge.”

“I prefer to think of going somewhere this afternoon,” I submitted, “and picking about two quarts of blueberries and eating them right there as I pick. I’m blueberry conscious.”

“There’s no place handy where we can go on short notice,” Jim thought. “Wonder if there are any blueberries this side of Muskoka or Parry Sound?”

“Would you be game,” I inquired, “to take a run up as far as Midland and hire a boat and go out to one of those rocky islands that are fairly covered with blueberries?”

Doing Something Silly

“Do you mean in the middle of the week?” Jim exclaimed. “That would be silly.”

“Everybody ought to do something silly once in a while,” I offered, “like loosening those little twisters on the end of a banjo handle, so as to relax the tight wires. We’re full of tight wires. Can you think of any silly thing to do that would be as pleasant as driving up to Midland and hiring a little boat and going somewhere to bulge ourselves with blueberries?”

“This heat is getting you,” suggested Jimmie.

“I’m full of tight wires,” I said. “I’m going to reach up and loosen those little tighteners. I’m going to do something silly. And it might as well be pleasant.”

“I could go,” said Jim, “and think. Us artists have to do some conceiving. We ought to be free to run off and hide now and then to invite our souls.”

“The same with writers,” I agreed. “You can’t make a flower grow by walking out very day and yelling, ‘Grow, damn you, grow!’ can you?”

“Artists and writers,” said Jimmie, “are just like flowers. The heat gets them.”

“How about it?” I demanded.

“How long would it take?” asked Jim.

“If we drove to-night,” I said, “we’d be there in three easy hours. Sleep in the car, right in the tourist camp. Rise with the lark, drive down and hire a little launch for a couple of bucks, and scoot half an hour out across the lovely morning water…”

“That’s done it,” said Jim.

“Spend from, say, seven or eight o’clock till noon picking and eating berries,” I said. “Then the boat picks us up by prearrangement and scoots us back across the lovely water to Midland, we hop in the car, and saturated with that noble and patriotic berry, we drive home to Toronto, arriving about 3 p.m., much to everybody’s astonishment.”

“What would we say?” asked Jim.

“We’d say we slept in, or something,” I offered. “Or maybe in this heat nobody would have observed our absence.”

“Well, I guess,” said Jim sleepily.

And before the five o’clock whistles had stopped blowing in the suburbs, we were pointed north for Midland. And the sun was still high when we arrived in that pleasant town. Under the long, lingering sunset, we watched the boats coming and going and observed all the white-clad summer resorters so busily coming and going, probably driving their launches fifty miles for a package of phonograph needles or a camera film. So busy. So intent.

And with the floating sounds of summer in our ears, we folded ourselves up in Jim’s big car and went to sleep. Dawn and a cramp woke us. We took no breakfast, though the light was still burning in the Chinese restaurant as we drove down the street to the docks. The man we had hired the night before was sleepily waiting for us in his little putt-putt. It was just a row boat with an engine in it, but it could not have been better.

Gaily Across the “Open”

“If it is blueberries you want,” said the boatman, steering out into the bay where we could look far across the shining “open” of the Georgian Bay, “you ought to go to a point I know where I take my folks on picnics. It’s up from Beausoleil Island a piece. It will cost you a dollar extra, each way. But it has more blueberries than any other I ever heard of hereabouts. The Indians never picked berries on it because it was supposed to be haunted, or something, and they never went near it.”

“Take us there,” we agreed.

There are cottages on nearly every point of the Georgian Bay, but far in through the channels we came to an inner point, a withdrawn and rather rough and homely point where there was nothing but rude, jagged rocks and burnt-over woods and dead trees sticking up in all directions.

“Here she is,” said the skipper. “Not very handsome, but lousy with blueberries.”

And with promises to return a little before twelve o’clock, he putt-putted noisily away.

We scrambled up the rowdy rocks. Literally, the point was burdened with blueberries. Maybe three hundred yards this point juts out from that vast and practically uninhabited mainland of the Party Sound country of rock and scrub and little hidden lakes and beaver meadows. A blueberry paradise.

“Jimmie,” I said, between munches of the first handful, “don’t let us start right here. As a couple of old blueberry pickers, let us survey the land and find one of those mossy crevices hedged about with two-foot blueberry bushes where we can actually recline at our ease and pick and eat without moving except by either crawling or rolling over.”

“I know the kind of place,” agreed Jim. stooping for another fistful. And so stooping and pausing and staring and walking, we surveyed the point. There were rock gullies and little rock cliffs, little clumps of woods and sheltered spaces all clad in deep bronzy green moss. And around those little clumps of bushes and along the shady margins of those damp mossy carpets the blueberry bushes were massed and dense. And they glowed with a million fat jewels of dusky blue.

“Let’s start here.” cried Jim, finding a little island of birch and pine about the size of a street car, which was entirely surrounded by a ten-foot margin of mass. And the hedge of bushes around the copse was like a belt of azure.

“This is the place,” I admitted, kneeling down on the moss.

“You take this side,” said Jim. “I’ll go around to the far side.”

And around he vanished.

“How is it over there?” I called.

“Just about the same as your side,” said Jim.

There were both kinds. The higher bushes were the bright blue kind. And hidden in amongst the taller blue bushes were the squatter bushes of the big, succulent, black huckleberry. You would take three handfuls of the blue and follow with one of the black. Some of the black ones were as big as grapes.

“Um-yum,” I said, loud enough for Jim to hear.

“Slurp, slurp,” said he. I use the word slurp. but it hardly conveys the astonishing and slightly disgusting sound Jimmie made as he picked, unseen by me, on the far side of the little copse.

“Mind your table manners, Jimmie,” I said.

“Swush, swush, swush,” retorted Jimmie, from beyond the bushes.

“Boy,” I said, “you ought to come around to this side.”

“Whoosh,” replied Jim.

I thought how curious it is: you know a man for years and years, and all of a sudden he comes out with some curious and hitherto undetected habit.

“Jim,” I said, through a full mouth, “it may have been funny the first time you smacked your lips like that, but it is getting a little on my nerves.”

“Squish, sqush, slurp, whooof!” retorted Jim.

“Aw, cut it out,” I retorted, and hinched myself another yard along the hedge. Ah, such berries. Now I was abreast of a three-foot-high dense hedge that positively sagged with the vivid blue ones, big as alleys, clustered like grapes, cool to the touch, cool and firm and thin-skinned.

“Ah, yum-yum,” I confessed, making a little racket myself.

The sun grew warmer. I began to fill up. I could hear silly old Jim working his way around to meet me. And he was slurping.

“Jim,” I begged. “For goodness sake. You’re awful.”

It was at the next hitch I took of a yard further along the bush that I saw Jimmie was wearing a fur hat. I was mildly surprised, because at the moment my eyes were gloatingly beholding surely the greatest blueberry bush ever seen in the history of Canada. It was four feet high, it was laden, as if with blue dew, and deep within its stems I beheld the darkly glowing shapes of scattered huckleberries of size I had never seen before. My mind was divided between these two spectacles – the greatest berry bush in the world, and Jim wearing silly fur cap in the middle of summer.

Finally, with a sudden tiny tingling of my scalp, I withdrew my fascinated mind away from the berry bush in deal exclusively with Jim’s fur cap.

And I saw, to my intense astonishment, that Jimmie’s fur hat had movable ears.

“Not To Endanger You”

I stood up.

So did the bear.

With its short front legs held quaintly before it, and its head cocked on one side, it surveyed me across the bushes.

It was a youngish bear. It was about my size. It was glossy black, with brown ruchings, and its mouth was slightly open in a friendly grin. Frothy blueberries fringed its deckle-edged lips.

“Er-hello?” I said.

“Squish, squish,” replied the bear, swallowing. I could see it was not as surprised as I. I was not wearing a fur cap.

“Where’s Jimmie? Mr. Frise?” I asked weakly.

“Mmmfft,” said the bear, cocking its head on the other side.

“Yoo-hoo, Jimmie?” I inquired, not very loudly.

“Sniff, sniff,” said the bear, looking away to one side, as if not knowing exactly what to do.

“Oh, Jimmie?” I repeated, just a little louder. “Are you there?”

The bear looked at me again, and I detected a more serious expression in its small, twinkling eyes.

“Nice berries,” I said, conversationally. I was backing slowly across the moss to where my boots, hat and coat lay piled.

The bear disappeared by dropping on to his four feet. I backed more quickly. The bear appeared at the corner of the copse and again stood up. His stomach hung very low.

Without removing my eyes from him stooped and fumbled for my boots and clothes. I continued backing.

The bear was now looking, with an expression of immense satisfaction, at the very large patch of berries I had discovered at the same instant I had discovered him.

I half turned and backed quartering away.

The bear dropped down and sat, as I had sat, before that shrine of blue. I turned and ran. In my stocking feet I ran, careless of the hot and ragged rock. Up a cliff or two and down a couple of gullies I scrambled. Looking back, I could see the bear sitting. like a schoolboy, before that feast of blue.

No sign of Jim. I felt badly to have left him. Where could he be? Had he tired of the plenty and gone wandering farther inland? I decided to avoid endangering him with shouting. I decided to go right out to the end of the point and wait for him.

When I came to the rough headland of the point, there, on the outermost pinnacle of the rock, ready to jump into the blue Georgian Bay, was Jimmie, looking fearfully up at me.

“Jim!” I accused. “You left me without a sign of warning.”

“He came out of the bushes just as I left you to take the other side of the patch,” said Jim. “So I just went right on walking.”

“You did, eh?”

“I decided not to endanger you by shouting,” said Jim.

“You did, eh?”

“I decided to come out here and wait for you,” said Jim.

So we both waited, right out on the very little and point of rock, until the boatman came for us at twelve sharp.


Editor’s Notes: The Jesuit Relations are chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France, written annually and printed beginning in 1632 and ending in 1673.

Beausoleil Island was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2011.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

Five Little Birthday Cakes

By Greg Clark, May 4, 1935

Before the crack of dawn, and that’s four-fifteen in the morning, Marie wakes and starts singing.

She sings loud and clear. Like a robin. It is not cooing, or da-da-ing, or whining. It is straight, gay, and uncomplaining singing.

This wakes Annette first. And Annette, who is the trickiest of the quintuplets, generally manages to get one small bare foot out and stick it through the bars of her crib and push the bedside table. She knows a bedside table makes a grand bump. It does not fall. It just goes bump, bump.

The race for waking, Yvonne, Emilie and Cecile run neck and neck, though Cecile, “the pretty one”, is also the sleepiest one, who loves to open her eyes wide, suddenly, and then slowly close them again, the while finding her thumb and clamping on to it for a good comfortable smoke, a process involving much sudden wide opening of the big dark eyes, and much slow, lazy closing of them.

Thus morning comes to the Dionne hospital at Callander.

I spent a day with them to write this story in honor of their first birthday, which is fast approaching. I saw them sleeping and playing; being fed and being bathed. I saw them doing their first crawling, which at the moment consists of rolling over. Not a very precise mode of progression, but, when you see your sister – at least, one of them – whanging a large melodious pink rattle up against the play-pen bars, and you want to take it from her, certainly a slick trick that Clancy or Red Horner ought to know about is to roll over three times, roll right on top of your sister’s legs, pin her down, and then, amidst astonished protests from the victim, slowly, unsurely but inevitably, take the rattle from her.

The quints are at this moment flowering out of their first helpless Infancy. They have smiled, that shy crooked smile of babyhood, for a long time now. But now they laugh. They crow. In the big white bathtub, with its four inches of water in it, I saw them, two at a time, swimming magnificently, their fat little creased legs and arms flailing: and with those bright dark eyes, all aglitter with smiles, they watched each other. Then the nurses turned them over, and feet to feet, heads at opposite ends of the tub, they put on a splashing match, eyes screwed up, gasping at the splashes, and laughing – clear, crowing laughter.

And when they were lifted out, they complained in both French and English. They are bi-lingual, the quints.

So much has been written, in minute detail, about the famous Dionnes that it hard for a mere amateur daddy to know where to start a birthday party story about them. The thing that most arrested me was their color. The color of their eyes. Madame de Kiriline says they are hazel. But Nurse Yvonne Leroux says they are brown, gray and blue. They are remarkable eyes, very large and melting, and their expression veiled. As a matter of fact, when little mischievous and table-tipping Anette, lying on her stomach, rolls her head around to look up at you when you tap on the sight-seeing window of their nursery, there is an expression of almost amused condescension in her gaze. But they are certainly neither light eyes nor dark, because when you put them in a red-flowered dress, the eyes are quite dark. Yet when you put them in a blue dress, you see blue and gray in their eyes. They will be lucky when they are eighteen. They can wear both brown and blue.

The Big Drinker

They are dark babies, with a suffused flush in their color. There is nothing pearly and fragile about them, as in a blonde baby. They are very real indeed.

Another exciting thing is that they are off the bottle. Often you will see big chunky babies skilfully swizzling a nursing bottle. But at ten months precisely, all bottles went up to the hospital attic. For every one of them drinks from the glass. Cecile, “the pretty one”, is the big drinker. She drinks till she busts. She drinks until she has to come up for air with a great gasp, but with her wide eyes, she holds, she commands, the cup to remain. And then deep she dives into it again.

The race as to weight and size, the number of ounces, the number of inches, goes on week by week, but leaves me cold. For me it was exciting only for being the reason the two thirteen-pounders, Marie, and Emilie, were safeguarded in one play pen, while the three fifteen-pounders, Yvonne, Annette and Cecile, scrambled gaily about the other play pen. They are matched according to weight. It is a wrestling match, in those pens.

The routine of the babies starts at five o’clock in the morning. Fifteen minutes to three-quarters of an hour after little Marie, the robin, the alarm clock, has chanticleered the morning with her songs (and perhaps disturbed one of the big policemen sleeping in the very room with her – he’ll get used to it in time!), the whole place is alive and abustle. At that witching hour, eight ounces of whole milk and one ounce of tomato juice go down the five little red lanes. That is just an eye-opener, a hair off the dog that bit them and keeps on biting them all day long. They are changed and left to greet the swiftly rising sun.

“Daylight saving?” I asked Dr. Dafoe.

“We’ll stick to standard time hereabouts,” said he.

At 7 a.m., the day is away. Two small glasses of orange juice apiece – equal to one whole orange. And a teaspoonful of cod liver oil. I suspect those two glasses mean – one before and one after!

All this is done while the clock rushes around to 8 a.m., at which time they all, Annette usually leading, are shouting in plain bi-lingual baby talk: “Let’s eat! How about a little chow!”

And with 8 a.m. comes chow, to wit, one coddled egg, one glass of milk, and a kind of sticky-wicky made of arrowroot biscuit softened, mud-pied with water.

“How much of that there?” I asked Madame Kiriline.

“As much as they want,” said she. “They usually consume a couple of bikkies each.”

“The Pretty One”

This is an end to eating until 1 o’clock. For now at 9 a.m. they are all dressed in their little dresses and coats and out they go in their prams, rain or shine, to mumble awhile and listen to the first robins and the first song sparrows that have come, proudly, to lay their quintuplet eggs in nests nearby the hospital. Listening and crowing, there are curious small calls exchanged for maybe twenty minutes, until the last of them has rolled her eyes for the last time. And if you tiptoe across that veranda and look in each pram, you will see only five little heads, five little snubby noses, five sets of round red cheeks and, strangely, beautifully stirring, five little down-flung sets of eyelashes, the soft silken bars of sleep.

This is the hour of quiet, and the great big blue-clad police step softly on the hardwood floors, and the nurses whisk about, and the housekeeper hums to herself; Laurence, the housekeeper who is to be married the sixth of May – the Dionne hospital’s first romance, because Laurence, Madame Clusieux, is to marry the electrician she met when he came from “the Bay” to wire the new hospital.

In this time of quiet, Madame de Kiriline and Nurse Leroux showed me the works. The clothes closet where hang the rows of coats, dresses, dressing gowns, ad infinitum; where on the shelves lie the fives of bootees, and the fives of stockings and fives of this and that. Most of the gifts are from the makers of things, but there are a great many private gifts from individuals, mostly women. The things I liked best are bright red corduroy overalls, with braces and all. And on each bib of the overalls is worked the name of the wearer. It will be a big help when, in another four months or so, by the end of summer, the quints are staggering to their feet and making their first steps around the resounding nursery. We who peep through the wide observation window into that spectacular nursery will be able to know which is which.

“Do most of the gifts come from the United States?” I asked.

“It is about fifty-fifty between Canada and the States,” Madame de Kiriline thought. “There are none from overseas.”

The most curious gift was a set of five tiny white leather cases each containing a miniature set of false teeth, about the size of your thumb nail, the whole thing. Somebody in California thought of this whimsy for a toothless babe. Another odd gift was a stork made of a great southern pine cone, with pipe-cleaner neck and legs. They sent this stork across the road to the Dionne house.

Knowing which is which is problem. The nurses say they know them apart, not quite unerringly, by their expressions. Cecile, “the pretty one”, though they all looked pretty to my eyes, is rather reserved and quiet. Yvonne has a great crooked smile. Annette is, as I said before, slightly amused and tolerant in her gaze. Marie is the little one, the singer. And Emilie is the one with the rather still, slightly sly and mischievous expression.

Who are the favorites?

Annette is Madame de Kiriline’s favorite. Yvonne is Nurse Yvonne Leroux’s. Nurse Pat Mullen favors Marie. Mrs. Clusieux, the housekeeper, goes for Emilie, and Father McNally, “chaplain of the hospital,” sees something in Cecile that cannot be denied. Maybe it is a certain piety in Cecile.

Hard to Pick a Favorite

I tried to pick a favorite. I first and impulsively chose Annette, because Annette, on seeing my bulbous brow above the window sill of the observation tower, burst into a mighty toothless grin and quite accidentally succeeded in making a certain gesture up at me that was both disconcerting and extraordinarily diverting. I tried to hold her in my memory, so that I could tell her apart. But within five minutes another perfectly charming Annette gave me that same grin.

“Ah, Annette,” I cried. “Hello, there!”

“That’s Yvonne,” said Miss Leroux.

An hour later, I was again quite certain that it was Yvonne who was my favorite because there she was clapping two tiny hands together and looking at the miracle with her eyes slightly crossed – you know the way. So I praised her as Yvonne.

“That,” said Madame de Kiriline, “is Cecile.”

So I gave up. They are all my favorites.

“I would like to have them all on my knee,” I exclaimed. “The whole seventy-five pounds of them!”

“Unless,” remarked one of the policemen, leaning interminably on the window sill with me, watching them, “unless they all got the same idea at the same time!”

At one o’clock, noon, Marie sings a song about eating. It sounded about eating to me. Maybe it was only that she was cawing back at a crow, or warbling at a meadow lark. But by one o’clock, all the little prams were waggling and jiggling and there was a certain hollowness, like out of a tiny empty barrel, to the music.

The 1 p.m. meal is vegetables galore. Sometimes it is a kind of soup or puree of vegetables, carrots, green beans, spinach, beets. Sometimes it is mashed or strained. They are getting their vegetables a little more solid lately. After the feed of vegetables, they get either a baked apple, or bananas, prunes, apricots or apple sauce. Then a glass of milk.

“Who is fed first?” I asked jealously, because at this time I had my eye on Yvonne.

“Whoever is shouting the loudest,” said Madame de Kiriline. “There is no regular order.

So while Cecile was stretching out her little chin and eagerly gulping the spoonfuls, the other four yelled murder. Annette even had tears. But one by one they were fed their big meal of the day, and one by one they were dumped into the play pens, and there they rolled and kicked and humped themselves up like weight-lifters on their heels and the crowns of their heads.

And so came the rest hour, which is until three o’clock, and consists of about as much rest as you’ll see about beehive on a July noon when the clover is blooming. For this was the period of wrestling and of banging rattles, of Cecile lying serenely on her tummy, all uninterested in Yvonne and Annette who staged rolling match to see who could get on top and have the big pink rattle.

“Do they pull each other’s hair?” I asked anxiously.

“Not intentionally,” said Miss Leroux.

“H’m,” said I. For only that moment, one of them had deliberately pulled the hair of my then reigning favorite, Cecile.

“That one,” I accused, “pulled Cecile’s hair.”

“That one,” said Miss Leroux, “IS Cecile, and the one whose hair was pulled was Yvonne.”

“H’m,” said I.

At 3 p.m. they get a glass of pineapple juice to cover up another teaspoonful of cod liver oil.

Then Comes the Bath Hour

Thus they kick and sing and roll and sometimes snooze drowsy-eyed until five, when comes the bath. The bath is magnificent. They go two at a time. One odd one coming last. No order is kept. Sometimes it is Marie’s turn to be left. But they give them all an even break at playing the splashing game. They know about the splashing game. It is no accident. They lie feet to feet and slam their little legs as hard as they can, heaving up and gasping every time the adversary slashes theme good one.

Finally comes the last meal of the day, 5 p.m. Cereal, fine wheat cereal. And a glass of milk. And a big sigh. And a nightie. And no more people peering through the window. And quiet comes creeping. And away they go all five, like a flight of doves, into the Never Never Land. The nurses change. The policemen hitch up their belts and go out into the dusk.

But one policeman must modestly unveil and take off his belts and harnesses, his pistol and ammunition pouch, and when all is still, creep into the room to sleep on a couch set strategically amidst these tiny room-mates of a policeman … At his hand, in this sweet white chamber where five wee princesses, wards of the King, lie softly sleeping, stands a loaded rifle.

“Do you snore?” I asked Constable McCord, as he prepared himself for his incongruous vigil.

“I don’t know,” he confessed in a hushed and shocked voice.

So ends the day in this house of miracle. Far and lonely amidst a rocky land where patches of little fields lie sparsely scattered, this pretty bungalow is the centre of the eye of the world. And the heart. About a year ago, all science on earth would have gambled a thousand to one against this incomparable consummation. A million to one. Premature, like little raw nestlings in wild bird’s nest, all flung into the world within three quarters of an hour. Down this new highway that was then a rocky back road of the north came a motor car swaying through the bird-filled dawn of May 28. Between 4.30 and 5 o’clock in the morning, when the mosquitoes were just taking wing, these five were born before the astonished eyes of a country doctor and a huddle of neighbors.

“Not a chance,” said science in Chicago and Bombay and Vienna

But here is a fresh road. And here are telegraph wires and a special telephone line. And here, in this remote country is a hospital staffed with nurses and every aid to science, standing as a new monument to the ever-widening beam of heavenly light that shines on the babyhood of the world.

They live. Lovely and alive and gay, Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie, they live.

And for the heart as well as the mind of the world, they are guarded and watched and tended, the King has made them his wards, the fences are of steel, policemen armed with high-power rifles and wearing bedroom slippers slumber in a nursery, and the medical science of the whole world is at their command.

So strangely sleeping, we leave them.


Editor’s Notes: I debating including this story, since to modern readers, the sugary-sweet tone is appalling to anyone who knows the history of the Dionne Quintuplets. Aspects of the story treated matter-of-factly, like the armed policeman who stays in their room while they sleep, and no mention of their parents like they don’t exist.

They were the first known quintuplets to survive birth, and became a news sensation during the Great Depression. They were taken away from their parents by the government “to prevent exploitation”, but were in turn, put in a human zoo, and exploited by the government charged with protecting them. Admission was charged to see “Quintland”. Quintland constituted Canada’s highest grossing tourist attraction between 1934 and 1943, earning $1 million in its first year and as much as $500 million for the province of Ontario in total. In those nine years, approximately three million tourists paid admission to catch a glimpse of the Dionne sisters.

How could this have happened? For more information on this tragic story, I would strongly recommend Pierre Berton’s The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama. Another highly recommended source is the episode The Infantorium by the podcast 99% Invisible, which explains the history of premature babies, incubators, and their ties to side-show carnivals. This really provides some context around babies on display, and specifically speaks of the Dionne Quintuplets at the end.

Call It a Spade

By Greg Clark, April, 13, 1935

“This year,” said Jimmie Frise, “I’m going to have a real garden.”

“Me, too,” I admitted.

“A garden full of old-fashioned flowers,” declaimed Jimmie, his eye roving out the window. “Hollyhocks, zinnias, verbenas.”

“Stocks,” I said, “and phlox.”

“Sweet william,” added Jimmie, “and pinks and gillieflowers.”

“What is a gillieflower?” I enquired.

“Hanged if I know,” said Jim, “but I love the sound of them and I’m going to have them.”

“Dianthus,” I said. “There’s a swell name, Let’s have dianthuses.”

“But really,” said Jim, sitting forward and resting his elbows so that he could cuddle right down deep into the very heart of the thought of a garden scented with a hundred perfumes and glowing with color in a June evening, “really, I am going to have a garden. I’m going to put time and thought and labor on it. I’m going to plan it. I’m going to take my time about it. Usually, the way we all do is go out some evening, after supper, buy a couple of dollars’ worth of seeds and a few boxes of infant annuals, and stick them around the garden before dark. Now, this year…”

“Every year,” I interrupted, “I go through what you are going through now.”

“So do I,” confessed Jim, sadly. “But this year I am going to try and really do it. I’m going to hold grimly to my determination.”

“I remember that, too,” I remembered. “But always, some time between the fifteenth and thirtieth of April, a queer change came over me. And by the time the planting was to be done, my heart was In the Highlands or something.”

“This year,” said Jim, sitting back fiercely and crossing his arms tightly across his chest, “I’m going to do my garden in a practical and common sense way. For example, I will spend two or three long evenings digging and turning it over.”

“Like plowing.” I said.

“Precisely,” said Jim. “I was born and raised on the farm. I know the principles of agriculture. The farmer spends weeks plowing. He does not plow and plant all in one day.”

“No, indeed,” I agreed.

“So,” went on Jim, “I’ll spend maybe three long evenings spading and turning over my borders and beds. If the weather is rainy, I won’t desist merely because of the discomfort. I’ll carry right on. Rain or shine, cold or warm, I’ll spend three evenings, one after the other, spading over my garden, burying the top earth and revealing the rich undersoil, exposing it to the life-giving air and light.”

“Good man,” I said, admiringly.

“Then I’ll break it up with my hoe and rake,” said Jim. “I’ll break the lumps, disintegrating them, so that the soft living rain of April may nourish the soil. Why should a man, born and raised on the farm, be afraid of a little rain on him?”

“It’s ridiculous,” I agreed.

Violence is Necessary

“Then, with the spade work well and truly done,” said Jim, making notes on a piece of paper, “I will go out and buy a few boxes of the taller annuals. A few boxes only. It is a mistake to buy the whole works the one night. You have to hurry to get them in. No. Take your time, that is the secret. A few boxes of tall annuals, like zinnias, nicotine, and so forth, the first night. And at great leisure, in comfort and east, so that you can have time to reflect and put them where you want them, you plant them slowly and thoroughly.”

“You do, Jim,” I pointed out. “It is you we are talking about.”

“Quite,” said Jim. “Then the next night, if It is soft and pleasant for planting, get a few more boxes of the less tall annuals, stocks, verbenas, the old-fashioned marigolds.”

He pronounced it the English way, marry-golds.

“Jim,” I said, “you deserve a lot of credit. If everybody in Toronto were like you, what a city this would be!”

“Now, mind you,” declared Jim, “a garden does not consist merely of some plowing and some planting of few square yards of earth. There comes all the long and happy weeks of cultivation. The hoeing of the soil around the young plants. The watering, weeding. The regular spading up of the earth, so that water, air and light may penetrate down towards the roots. I intend, this year, to devote one hour to my garden every night, rain or shine.”

“It is noble of you,” I admitted. “If I hadn’t gone through just what you are going through so often that I have lost faith in myself, by George, I would be tempted to be inspired by you, and try to make the same resolutions.”

“One thing you might do,” said Jim, “just for your amusement, is to come over and watch me do some spading?”

“I certainly will,” I said heartily. “In fact, I might even do a little spading for you myself.”

Which accounts for the fact that two nights later, that particularly soft evening last week, I walked over to Jim’s and sat in the rustic bench while he, looking fresh and healthy, worked with a spade along his borders.

A robin singing and a man spading in April – what more lovely moment is there in all the year?

“Dig deeper,” I said, after watching Jim a few minutes.

“It is the top six inches,” said Jim, pausing in his labor. “There is no need to dig deeper.”

“I disagree,” I said, lighting a new cigarette and signaling to one of the girls in the house to bring me a cushion. “What is true of farming is not necessarily true of city gardening. The open fields of the country are subjected to violence. The great rains pound down, Gales blow across the land. The ice in spring causes great cracks deep into the earth. The freshets belabor and smash the soil. But a city garden, protected by walls and fences and houses, gets no such essential disturbance.”

“Gardening,” replied Jim, delicately spading the earth, “at its best, should be a leisurely pastime.”

“You’re just tickling the earth,” I declared. “Just titivating it, dabbing at it like a lady applying cosmetics. Dig it, man!”

“It is the top six inches,” repeated Jim.

“Now I know the reason,” I said, “why city gardens are such poor, fragile things. They last a week or two: then they are burned up in the first heat of summer. Why? Because you have just dibbled or fiddled the top few inches. You don’t get down deep, the way nature does in the open fields. To make a garden fertile, we have to tear it loose.”

Jim stood leaning on the spade.

“Sail into it,” I admonished him. “Give it what November gives the farms. What March does. Knock hell out of it.”

Jim began to dig with more resolution. He began to enjoy it. He began hurling earth in all directions.

“Now you’re shouting,” I shouted. “Whale the stuffing out of it.”

Jim paused. He jabbed the spade into the earth and came over and sat on the rustic bench beside me. I lent him the cushion.

“I believe you’re right,” he said, “I honestly think what a garden needs is a real shaking up. I never thought of that before. We shelter our garden from nature, and then expect nature to make it bloom as healthy as nature itself.”

“What a garden needs,” I assured him, “is a steam shovel.”

Jim sat up and slapped me on the back.

“Great,” he cried. “Great. I know a guy who owns a steam shovel. And it’s unemployed.”

“Swell,” I exclaimed. “All my life …”

“He was saying a few weeks ago that he wished there was some place he could dig with it just to keep it in shape. It needs exercise.”

“Get him to come up,” I cried. “You could pull it through this back gate.”

“Get him nothing,” said Jim. “I’ll run it myself.”

“Why not?” I admitted. “Go and telephone him.”

And, in five minutes, Jim came out radiant, to inform me that for $2 paid to the caretaker for bringing it up, Jim could borrow the steam shovel any day.

“I said Friday,” Jim exulted, gazing around his garden. “It is one of those self-contained steam shovels. It has its own tractor tread. It’s not one of those great big steam shovels, you know?”

“All my life, Jim,” I said, “I have wanted to run a steam shovel. Just once.”

“Every man does,” agreed Jim. “Why do men stand by the hour watching a steam shovel down in an excavation? A steam shovel is the most fascinating thing in the world. It has power, might, strength. It is power, rude power, all in the hands of one man.”

“Could I help you?” I asked.

“Certainly,” said Jim.

So Friday after early supper I came over to Jim’s in a suit of overalls I borrowed from the garage. One of my boys owned a cap such as engineers wear, and my wife put a gusset in the back of it so it would fit me. Even Jim was astonished and delighted with my appearance.

“Boy,” he said, “you look like the real thing.”

“All I need,” I said, “is a chew of tobacco,”

“We can pretend,” said Jim, shooting an imaginary squirt to one side. “Now let’s look her over.”

The steam shovel, which Jim said was a small one, just about filled the yard. It had a cabin mounted on caterpillar trends. From its top was suspended a giant rusty iron arm on the end of which was a bucket as big as a roadster.

“She works,” said Jim. “The man that brought her banked the fire for me, and I turned it on a few minutes ago. We’ll have a head of steam in ten minutes.”

Jim showed me inside, where, in a little boiler, a fire gleamed brightly and there was a sizzling and a hissing. The steam gauge trembled. There was an air of excitement in the little cabin.

Jim showed me the various levers, throttle and handles, one for hoisting, one for lowering and opening the massive jaws of the shovel. And by this time, the hot and hissing little fire had set the steam gauge trembling at the necessary figure.

“O.K.,” cried Jim. “You get out and stand well over by the corner of the garden.”

Jim tried the various levers. The great arm rose slowly and dropped suddenly with a terrific crash. The cab rattled violently, and the huge creature took half a step forward.

The great bucket descended with a crash to the earth. It fumbled and groped on the ground. It scrabbled and opened and shut. It was like a prehistoric monster mumbling the earth in pursuit of a mole. The engine roared. Steam belched. The arm tightened. The bucket began slowly to rise, rise. It rose twenty feet in the air, slowly swung northerly, and paused, suspended over the middle of the back lawn. Then with another mighty roar of engine, the jaws of the bucket opened, the bucket crashed to earth, and a soup plateful of dirt deposited in the middle of the lawn.

“Hooroo!” yelled Jim, sticking his out of the cab.

In five minutes Jim had mastered the machine. It was a noble sight. One small man the god of the machine. Once he got a little hole dug, it was no time until Jim could sink that steel-toothed, iron-jawed monster into the soil, gouge a hunk as big as a piano, close the teeth on it, hoist it up and swing it into the middle of the yard and dump it. He began to get a big pile on the lawn.

“Why not put the dirt back,” I said, “as you go along?”

“I’ll put it back on the return journey,” hollered Jim, vanishing into the cab.

And with roarings and snortings, the great clumsy pachyderm waddled inch by inch down the border, and inch by inch Jim turned it back, and then, with increasing skill, grabbed scoopfuls of earth from the pile on the lawn and laid it into the border.

“Come on up,” he bellowed from the cab.

I got in. It was hot and steamy and tangled with levers and gears and wires and gadgets.

“Now, watch,” shouted Jim, over the hissing of the engine. “You take this lever, see? Now, slowly, slowly, see? That hoists her. Then this, see? That lowers her. Then you take this one, and it makes it open and grab, see?”

“All right, all right,” I cried, for it was fast growing dark outside.

“Take it slow and steady,” shouted Jim, swinging back out of the cab.

I shoved the second lever. The whole vast contraption began to shudder and stagger. I made a quick grab at what looked like a hand brake. I felt the colossal thing begin to lurch and move.

Jim’s face appeared whitely at the cab door, his mouth open wide. But I could not hear him. I snatched all the different levers and handles one after another. I saw a small dirty rope hanging from the roof. I thought it might be the ignition. I frantically yanked it, and a piercing whistle sounded above the din and drunken clamor of the vastly lurching and staggering machine. The giant arm rose and fell. I felt the cab turning dizzily, as each lever failed to quiet it. I heard crashings and felt crunchings. But in the fumes and the vapor and the staggerings, I dared not look out. My eyes, my soul, my brain were glued to the mass of levers glittering at me in the gathering gloom.

Then, in the midst of a more savage lurch than all, Jim came through the open door of the cab, flung me aside and in an instant all was still.

“Quick,” he gasped. “Get out.”

“What happened?” I asked, friendlily.

“We’re five doors north of my place gasped Jim. “Up a hill. Across five fences. Through one garage.”

“Jim, it went wrong,” I explained. “Suddenly it went wrong.”

“If only,” gasped Jim. “you hadn’t blown the whistle. Why did you blow that whistle?”

“I didn’t know it was a whistle,” I complained bitterly.

“People will be here,” said Jim breathlessly, “any minute.”

But mysteriously, despite all that tumult and crashing and screeching of whistles, nobody came. They must have all been at the movies. Jim had lost his nerve. He would not drive it back to his yard. He telephoned his friend, and, in half an hour, the caretaker came and drove the short away down the lane and off to New Toronto through the dark and shining streets.

“Now,” said Jim, “while I inspect the damage and make an estimate of the cost, the least you can do is shovel that heap of earth out of the middle of my lawn back into the border.”

And it was midnight before I got home, all dirty.


Editor’s Notes: A freshet is flooding caused by a spring thaw.

Titivating means to make small alterations to something.

To older readers, a steam shovel, might be recognized as a generic term for an excavator, but as can be seen in the story, it was a mechanical excavator that was really powered by a steam engine. Actual steam powered machines were being replaced by diesel ones by the time this story was written.

New Toronto was a separate town west of Toronto which was later merged into Etobicoke and eventually amalgamated into Toronto itself.

The Holocaust!

March 9, 1935

This comic was titled when the term “holocaust” referred to any particular disaster, often by fire, and before it took on new meaning during World War Two.

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén