The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1937 Page 1 of 4

People in Glass Houses

“A most dreadful thing happened – the glass in the door splintered right before our faces, and the Raspberry Kid disappeared into a bush.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 4, 1937.

“Have you noticed,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “a boy around this neighborhood, a kind of a big kid for his age…?”

“You mean the one with the loud voice?” I asked.

“Loud voice,” agreed Jim, “and red hands and insolent manner.”

“The Raspberry Kid, I call him,” I said. “Every time he passes me on the street, he lets go a quiet but none the less disrespectful raspberry.”

“That’s the kid,” cried Jimmie. “And he bullies all the smaller children. And every time you see him, he is doing something he shouldn’t. Yesterday I looked out the back window and saw him cutting a stick out of my beautiful orange blossom bush.”

“I caught him throwing rocks at our dog,” I added.

“Last week,” stated Jim, “I actually caught him in my garage cutting a couple of short lengths of rubber hose off my garden hose. For new handle-bar grips for his bike, if you please!”

“Why didn’t you give him a licking, there and then?” I protested.

“I asked him,” said Jim, “why he didn’t I cut up his own hose at home, and he said his father wouldn’t let him.”

“Ah, his father,” I agreed. “Hmmmm.”

“His father,” stated Jim, “is that biggish, sulky-looking man that drives the green car. They live down at the foot of the street.”

“I know him,” I assured him. “I figured he was the father of the Raspberry Kid by the resemblance.”

“You hardly know what to do with a kid like that who has a father like that,” ruminated Jim. “It’s a kind of a ticklish problem.”

“I don’t think,” I admitted, “that I would care to get into any kind of a muss with that father.”

“He looks,” said Jim, “as if he would just clip you and then mow you down.”

“Yet probably,” I presumed, “he wouldn’t.”

“I’ve seen him for the past year,” said Jim, “and passed him maybe twenty times. And every time, he looks straight at me, never a smile, but just a cold, straight personal look, as if he were sizing me up for a suit.”

“The same here,” I confessed. “I know the feeling exactly. One night, in the cigar store, I said to him, ‘It’s a fine night’, and he took a look out at the weather, and then turned and looked me up and down, from head to foot. That’s all.”

“In a way,” said Jim, “how can you blame a kid for being the way that kid is, if he is born that way. Maybe it runs in the family.”

“If I see him heaving rocks at my dog again,” I said, “I am going to take after him and beat the tar out of him, heredity or no heredity.”

“As a matter of fact, something must be done,” stated Jim firmly. “The reason I brought the subject up was that last night, three of my neighbors called on me to help form a committee to deal with that kid.”

The Raspberry Kid’s Father

“A committee?” I exclaimed. “To deal with a kid?”

“Well, of course, it’s the father they have in mind, the same as us,” explained Jim. “None of them ever met the big guy. They’ve looked him up in the directory, and he is harmless enough. Accountant in an insurance company.”

“Look out for accountants,” I warned. “They lead such a funny life, bent over ledgers all the time, that they are liable to get violent on the slightest provocation.”

“I wish you had been at this committee meeting last night,” said Jim. “We telephoned to all the immediate neighbors of the big guy, and they could give us no information. None of them are on speaking terms with him, though he has lived there three years.”

“Are any of them on your committee?” I asked.

“No,” said Jim, “they said they thought the matter could be better handled by neighbors living a little farther off than them. But they are with us, heart and soul. They say we have no idea what a pest that kid is.”

“Did they say the father was tough?” I inquired.

“They don’t need to say it,” stated Jim. “They can see it, as easy as us.”

“I hate neighborhood rows,” I muttered. “I’d rather keep clear of them. That big bird looks as if he could make it mighty unpleasant for the whole street.”

“What could he do?” demanded Jim.

“Well,” I explained, “if he can make a whole neighborhood self-conscious, without any provocation, what would it be like if we came to an open row with him? If all of us are made to feel intimidated by just passing him on the street or meeting him in a store, how would we feel if war was declared?”

“I wish you would come to my house the next time the neighbors call,” pleaded Jim. “It’s your wits we need. Your foxy way of looking at situations like this.”

“Well, Jim,” I confessed. “I see what you mean, and if you really think I could solve the problem for you, I would be glad to sit in; but strictly on the understanding that I am not involved. Because, after all, he has done nothing to me personally.”

“No?” cried Jim. “Just heaved rocks at your dog. That isn’t personal, of course.”

“I told you what I’d do if I ever catch him again heaving any rocks,” I informed him firmly.

But that very afternoon, as I turned in my own front walk, I was met by a wild scattering of small children who clustered around me for shelter, while out the drive came the Raspberry Kid, armed with a long gad of rose bush, covered with thorns, with which implement of delight he was chasing the entire child populace.

“Ah,” I said, as he skidded to a halt and stood guiltily before me. “Caught red-handed, young man.”

“Thoooop,” he raspberried me.

“Here,” I shouted, “come here!”

But he just turned and started to walk off down the drive, my drive.

“Listen, young fellow,” I roared, “this neighborhood has had enough of your high jinks. We’re going to deal with you.”

“Yah, yah, yah,” the little brat mimicked back, as he vanished around the corner of the house.

“We’re going to call on your father this very night,” I bellowed furiously.

But he was gone.

“Why didn’t you catch him,” demanded the little ones, clinging around me, “and spank him?”

“You can’t spank other people’s children,” I explained gently.

“You spanked me one time,” protested my little friend, Billie.

“Ah,” I elucidated, “but your daddie and I are the best of friends. See?”

But I am afraid they did not see, for they fell away from me rather embarrassed and looking down and away, and at supper I caught my own boys looking at me with a strange surmise. So when Jim telephoned to say another committee was gathering at his house in a few minutes, to decide on immediate action, due to several outrages committed during the day. I agreed to attend.

And such is the power of eloquence, I found myself gradually being jockeyed into a position of direct relationship to the problem. A man with the gift of speech must be very guarded. I think that in cases of this sort the gathering should be divided into two sections. Those who can speak should do the speaking. Those who can’t speak should be the ones to take action as the result of the speaking. Don’t you think so?

There were half a dozen quiet, angry men there, at Jim’s, but it was not they who were elected to act as a committee to wait upon the father of the child. It was Jimmie and me.

“What would be the good,” demanded one of those wordless birds, “of any of us going when we couldn’t speak? All we’d do would be to get into a fight.”

So Jimmie and I went.

We left the committee at Jim’s, waiting, in case there was any trouble, in which case they agreed to come if called, and we would gang up on the big guy.

That time of night all little boys should have been in bed, yet Jim and I, as we walked slowly and firmly down to the end of the street, distinctly saw the stocky figure of the Raspberry Kid lurking out amongst the bushes on the lawn of his home.

“There he is,” I hissed.

“He’s hid,” said Jim.

We paused out on the walk and went over briefly what we were to say. We were going to be quite friendly and polite, no anger or provocation in our manner or words, so as to give the big guy no reason for taking offence.

“Okay.” said Jim. And we marched up the walk.

We went up the steps. cautiously.

“You ring the bell,” said Jim.

I reached out and, with a deep breath, pushed the bell.

There was a moment of pause.

Then, a most dreadful thing – the glass in the door, right before our faces, splintered with an awful crash.

“The kid,” gasped Jim. “The kid. I saw him. He threw a stone through it.”

We were really starting off the veranda to chase the kid, where he had been hiding ready to put us in this horrible embarrassment, and when the big man opened the door he might reasonably have supposed we were merely trying to make a get-away.

In fact, now that I come to think of it, we probably did look exactly like two men who had come up and smashed the window and were trying to flee.

But the door opened violently and there stood the big guy in his shirtsleeves.

And behind him, breathless, was the Raspberry Kid, screaming past his father:

“I saw them, daddy. I saw them heave a rock through our door!”

Which so astounded Jimmie and me that we halted in our tracks and just stared.

“Gentlemen,” said the big guy in a deep voice, “this is unthinkable. Unthinkable.”

He had switched on the veranda light and was staring down at the shattered glass while the kid continued to babble: “I saw them; I saw them.”

“How can you explain it?” said the big fellow, whose voice had that deep, kindly quality that is in the voice of the radio singer, Singin’ Sam1. “How on earth can you explain an outrage of this kind?”

Jim and I were too astounded to speak. We just came forward and assembled, as it were, at the foot of the steps.

“I have lived in this neighborhood,” said the big fellow, sadly, “for three years. In all that time not a soul has come to visit me, not a neighbor has spoken to me. I have been greeted with nothing but frosty and bitter looks as I pass you on the streets, and now, now you come and smash my windows.”

He stood there, gazing mournfully down on us like some great human St. Bernard. And the Raspberry Kid, I observed, suddenly and very quietly, sneaked back into the house.

“May we come in?” I asked.

“Most certainly,” said the big fellow, with a great awkward eagerness.

He threw his shattered door wide.

And we went in and explained, to the astonishment of the big fellow, the facts of the broken window to him and recounted, item by item, the depredations and scalawaggery of the Raspberry Kid.

“My, my, my,” said the big man, eyes popping in dismay. “I knew Elmer was an energetic child, and I gathered from his conversation that he was not on the best of terms with the other children of the neighborhood. But I sympathized with them there, gentlemen, because I felt that were some sort of unexplainable antipathy to us on this street.”

“Antipathy?” Jimmie and I cried, reproachfully.

“As I say, everyone seems to regard me with hostility,” said the big fellow.

“Nonsense, my dear sir, nonsense,” Jimmie and I insisted heartily. “It is just one of those false impressions we all get amongst strangers. We can prove it. Put on your coat and come on up and meet some of the neighbors who are at the house. A little party. Come along.”

The big fellow got up with alacrity.

“I’d be only too delighted,” he said in that deep voice. “But first I have a small job to attend to with Elmer.”

He went upstairs and Jim and I sat listening.

But no sounds came.

“He’s a very kindly man,” whispered Jim.

“Maybe,” I said, “he’s got the brat across his knee, holding his mouth with one hand and whaling him with the other. Maybe he’s got the kid’s head muffled in a pillow while he…”

“What a blood-thirsty beggar you are,” said Jim, getting up to listen out the living-room door.

But the big fellow came downstairs, not the least ruffled, and said, as he threw his coat and hat on:

“I think you will have no more trouble with Elmer.”

And after briefly telephoning the hardware store about the broken window he joined us and we went up the street to Jim’s and we had a grand neighborly evening, all about politics and business and things, and Elmer’s name wasn’t even mentioned by anybody.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Singin’ Sam was a popular early radio star, actually named Harry Frankel. ↩︎

Among Those Present

November 20, 1937

Thanks a Lot

Christopher launched himself into space. The ladder wafted back, under the powerful heave of those wings.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 9, 1937.

“What size of a turkey,” asked Jimmie Frise, “have you in mind?”

“A turkey,” I enumerated, “about the size of ten-year-old school-boy. A turkey, say, roughly, about the size of a large travelling bag when picked, plucked, singed and trussed up ready for the oven.”

“About a 12 or 14-pounder?” inquired Jim.

“Never mind the weight,” I assured him. “It’s the size I am interested in. You know that sort of box or lid that goes over a sewing machine? Well, I want a turkey, nude, about that size. In short, I want a turkey that won’t fit any roasting pan we’ve got. I want one that can’t possibly be got into our oven.”

“What’s the idea?” demanded Jim. “Don’t you want to eat this turkey?”

“Of course,” I laughed. “But you see what I mean. Whenever I say I want a real big turkey at home, they always say a big one won’t go in the oven. Or that we haven’t a pan big enough. Or it will be too big to eat or too tough or too dry or something. I’m going to bring them home a turkey that is a turkey. They will have to go and buy a big enough roasting pan. And they’ll have to tie the blame thing’s legs down and grease it all over in order to slide it into the oven. They’ll have to pack that turkey into the oven the way they get a chesterfield up the stairs on moving day, by figuring and calculating and trying it this way and that way. But I am determined this year, of all years, to have a turkey for Thanksgiving that truly represents the grateful heart.”

“It won’t be a young bird,” cautioned Jimmie.

“Who wants a young bird?” I demanded. “This business of buying everything young, like baby beef and young chickens – why, there isn’t any taste to that stuff. The world is getting soft, and no wonder. Eating nothing but veal and baby beef and six-weeks’-old chickens. Give me prime beef, one slice of which is as big as a face towel. Give me a good big rooster, with a flavor that is a flavor. I like bacon off a hog that spent some time and thought upon his bacon, every slice as long as your arm.”

“An old turkey,” warned Jimmie, “is often as dry as a roll of asphalt roofing.”

“Not if he is properly cooked,” I replied, “with plenty of fat bacon skewered on his breast-bone, and well stuffed with the right kind of dressing. Mix some fresh butter in the dressing, and some nuts.”

“Nuts?” cried Jim.

“Whole English chestnuts,” I said stoutly, “and whole walnuts and filberts. You’ve got a good big cavern to stuff when you’ve got a real big turkey. It’s a hole almost a square foot in size. A small boy could crawl right into it. You need about a bushel of stuffing for the kind of turkey I have in mind. Loaves of bread, box after box of biscuits, handfuls of chestnuts, walnuts and filberts, a slashing big fistful of sage and summer savory, some onion and anything else you fancy, not forgetting a big gob of butter to lubricate the beast from within.”

“You seem to like turkey,” said Jim, as we drove along the autumn road, turkey bent.

What Might Have Happened

“Carving chickens,” I said, “is just a kind of manicure business, a kind of fiddle-diddle breaking and tearing apart of a poor little fragile, helpless song-bird. But carving a turkey is a major construction job. You have mountains to break down. You have mighty joints to separate with knife, fork, sharpening steel and elbows and anything else your family will let you raise above the table level. And finally a mighty excavation job, with a great big spoon, digging out the stuffing.”

“I like slicing the white meat,” said Jim.

“Aaaah,” I agreed.

“The way it slices,” quivered Jim. “In great big white tender slabs, with juice running and thee smell rising.”

“Mmmmmmm,” I confessed, staring eagerly over the farm fields as we passed in watch for the great bronze figure of a turkey the size of a young horse.

“Still,” said Jim, “I don’t think we should get all worked up over the thought of eating that turkey. Thanksgiving shouldn’t be merely an excuse for a colossal bust of eating.”

“You’re right, Jim,” I said, “it’s a sacrifice. We should make it a sacrificial feast. But to get people into a truly grateful state of mind, you have to fill them pretty full.”

“It has been a year to be thankful for,” said Jim, looking at the fat Ontario barns.

“Except in the drought areas,” I suggested.

“The true spirit of Thanksgiving,” said Jim, “isn’t so much for the things we have got as for the things we didn’t get. For instance, we didn’t get any gumboils this past year.”

“And we didn’t get hit by lightning,” I submitted fervently.

“My car hasn’t been wrecked,” said Jim, “nor me squashed beneath it.”

“And nobody,” I contributed, “has persuaded me to mortgage my few belongings and borrow money from my friends and relatives to put into a sure thing in the stock market, only to lose it all.”

“I didn’t get the itch,” said Jim, “though it was very prevalent among my friends.”

“And I haven’t had a single corn all year,” I prayerfully added.

“Lots of people,” went on Jim, “have had the appendicitis and all sorts of trouble, but not me.”

“I haven’t had any toothache,” I thought up.

“Nor hangnails,” listed Jim, “nor ingrown toenails, nor thumbs hit with hammers.”

“Think of the aeroplanes,” I said, “that have flown over us, and not one has ever fallen on us.”

“Or even dropped a wrench on us,” said Jim. “We haven’t been shipwrecked. We haven’t been run over in traffic. No slivers under our fingernails.”

“No plaster has fallen on us from our ceilings,” I remembered.

“When you think,” said Jim, “of all the things that might have happened to us, we certainly ought to be thankful.”

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

“It certainly is far larger grounds for gratitude,” I admitted, “than the few good things we did get, like our salary every week or good crops.”

“We should give thanks,” decreed Jim, “for the things we didn’t get. That ought to be the spirit of thanksgiving.”

At that moment, in a stubble field this side of a pleasant white farm-house backed with red barns and sheds, we beheld the unmistakable form of an enormous turkey.

He was swelled all up in his pride. He was absolutely square. His head was drawn back and his tail spread wide and his wings were dragging. In a slow, measured pace, like a politician pausing between sentences, he strutted a few aimless steps.

Jim had taken his foot off the gas and we coasted to a stop. He turned off the ignition just in time. Across the bright stubble came the baritone bellow of the bird, a sound like a baseball bat being rattled in a huge syrup kettle.

“Jim,” I breathed, “that’s him.”

“I’ll toss you for him,” said Jim, anxiously.

“He’s mine,” I declared grimly.

Jim started the engine again and in low gear we crawled up the lane to the farm house, feasting our eyes on the splendid creature as we passed. He grew more beautiful and desirable with every moment. He was far bigger than he had seemed from the road. He was as broad as he was deep. His plumage gleamed like metal and his enormous wattles, when he slowly turned to face us as we passed, were not merely red. They were magenta. And they hung from his head in great knobby festoons like the ornaments of some pagan Aztec high priest.

As we passed, he began to shiver and shake in a sort of frenzy, stretching every fibre of his being, and suddenly thrust forth his great neck to let go a sound like nothing on earth.

“Hoggle, woggle, goggle!” he yelled.

“Hah, hah, hah,” I yelled in retort out the window.

“I bet he weighs 30 pounds,” gasped Jim.

“Each side of his wishbone,” I gloated, “the white meat will be as big as a rugby ball.”

“Think of his drum-sticks,” cried Jim.

“You could use his wishbone,” I said, “for croquet.”

We pulled up in the farmyard and a lady in an apron came out, drying her hands. “We’re looking for a turkey,” said Jim jovially.

“A big turkey,” I added, significantly.

“Ah,” said the lady. “I was afraid Christopher Columbus would holler once too often.”

“Christopher Columbus?” I asked.

“That’s his name,” said the lady. “The one out there in the stubble. He’s pedigreed. That’s his official name.”

“Is he for sale?” asked Jim.

“Everything is for sale,” said the lady, “considering.”

“How much is he?” I inquired.

“Wait till I call pa,” said the lady, retiring to the house and coming out with a big galvanized horn on which she blew a deep fat blast. This was a well-organized farm.

He’s More of a Pet

While the lady went and got a pitcher of cider, Jim and I got out of the car and looked the situation over. It was a beautiful farm. The house was neat as a pin, and brightly painted. The yard looked as if it had been swept. The buildings were all tidy and trim. No chickens or calves roamed loose.

“Look at that barn,” said Jim. “Bulging.”

“Look at that implement shed,” I countered. “Everything as trim and tidy as a would-be foreman’s bench.”

“Farmers must be in the money again,” said Jim, and from the far side of the house came the triumphant challenging yell of Christopher Columbus.

Over the fields came the farmer in long business-like strides. Out from the house came the lady with the cider pitcher. The bright sun glowed.

“Pa,” said the lady, as the farmer strode up, “here’s a couple of gentlemen to see about buying Christopher Columbus.”

“Old Chris, eh,” said the farmer, accepting a glass of cider from his wife and hoisting it in salutation.

“We’re tired,” I explained, “of looking at those poor pallid turkeys they have hanging in the stores. The kind you have to look at their feet to see if they are chickens or turkeys.”

“Them,” explained the farmer, “are what they call standard market size. The way people are nowadays, they don’t want a real big turkey. A nice medium bird is what the market calls for.”

“Well, this expedition,” I stated, “is a protest against nice medium birds. It isn’t any nice medium Thanksgiving we are thinking of staging this year. It’s a real old-fashioned Thanksgiving. And no standard market bird will do.”

“Christopher is a big bird all right,” said the farmer.

“We never did put a price on him,” said the lady, pouring Jim a fresh glass.

“We never raise turkeys,” said the farmer, “they are too tricky. I stick to the things I’m sure of.”

“We bought Christopher,” said the lady, “at a fall fair four years ago, just for fun. He was only a little bird then, compared.”

“He’s more of a pet,” explained the farmer.

And from the far side of the house came the echoing roar of Christopher Columbus.

“Now last year,” said the lady, “we would have sold him without a thought. But this year, everything has been so good, we never had a crop in all our lives like this year. Everything has turned out, the grain, the roots, the cattle. Why, we even had two sets of twin Jerseys.”

“Well,” I interrupted, “it wasn’t so much for all the good things we have received during the past year that we were planning to stage a special Thanksgiving. It was more in recognition of the things we didn’t get, like appendicitis or motor accidents or getting accidentally shot while out hunting.”

“That’s an idea,” said the lady.

“Yes,” said Jim. “Just think. All the things that could have happened. Lightning and lung trouble, broken legs and so forth.”

“Mercy,” said the lady, “now you come to think of it, there is hardly a farm around here they haven’t had some misfortune this past year.”

The farmer cast an anxious look at his bulging barn and looked nervously up at the sky. “Still,” he said, “in this business, you raise things to sell. And Christopher is in his fifth year. You never can tell what might happen to him some day.”

We started to stroll around the house towards the stubble field. Jim and the lady followed, talking earnestly about heart trouble and headaches, fallen arches and whooping cough.

We stood at the fence, looking at Christopher Columbus, who, shaking and trembling in an ecstasy of pride, slowly paced towards us, his head almost buried so far did he throw it back.

“Aha,” said the farmer, warmly.

We all climbed the fence. Christopher Columbus sidled away from us. We formed three lines of attack, like in the Battle of Crecy1. We converged. Christopher Columbus, as light as a feather, leaped into the air and flew, with all the grace of a cow jumping a fence, to the top of the tool shed.

“One of you go up and get him,” said the farmer. “I get lumbago stitches.”

“If I go up,” said Jim, “he’s my bird.”

So I went up. I reached for his leg, because, after all, his head was four feet away. As I touched the great sinewy beam of a leg. Christopher launched himself into space. The ladder wafted back, under the powerful heave of those wide wings. Sickeningly I arched backwards. Fair into Jim’s rescuing arms.

“Talk about thanks!” gasped Jim.

And in a moment the farmer had walked up and captured poor Christopher Columbus, all exhausted by his aerial efforts.

“Heft him,” said the farmer, lifting the giant creature over the fence to Jim. Jim took both hands.

“Here, help,” said Jim.

So I took a part hold on those great legs and patted the fat thighs exploratorily. What drum-sticks! What a mountain of white meat, above.

We marched into the yard and over to a block of stump wood. From its neat rack in the implement shed, the farmer brought a shining axe. Jim held the bird’s feet. I held his head.

“Poor Christopher,” cried the lady, throwing her apron over her head.

“A fine way,” I said bitterly, closing my eyes and turning my face away, “to celebrate the fact that I never got hit with lightning.”

“When I think,” came the muffled voice of the lady, “of that poor soul on the next farm, wasting away.”

“Pagans,” muttered Jim. “That’s all we are. Feasting.”

I heard a sniffle and opened one eye to see the farmer, gripping the axe, covering his face with his hand.

“Here,” I shouted. “If you feel that way about this poor bird!”

“Sciatica,” muttered Jim, “stomach ulcers, phlebitis.”

“One hail-storm,” said the lady, “and where would we have been?”

I let go Christopher Columbus’ bill. He flapped his wings furiously. Jim let go his feet. With a peep all out of proportion to his size, the huge bird floundered to the ground and with long strides and no dignity whatever he raced around the yard a couple of times to get his bearings and then legged it, head outstretched, down the lane.

So we went inside and sat talking about general debility and spots dancing before the eyes and so forth, including great storms of the past and plagues of cut-worms was time we were on our way, if we wanted a turkey before dark.

But up the lane, we met Christopher Columbus again, all puffed up and proud once more, his head pulled back, his wattles purple.

“Aw, heck,” I said, “why not leave domestic matters to the women?”

Which we did.

Editor’s Note:

  1. The Battle of Crécy was a part of the Hundred Years’ War. ↩︎

Old Home Week

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

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

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

“Where?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come from, is right,” I agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mr. Pollick in?” asked Jim.

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

“He’s in town, though?” said Jim.

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

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

“Mr. Rowan?” said the girl.

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

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

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

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

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

Jim turned and I followed him out.

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

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

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

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

Jim and I edged in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can’t prove it,” I laughed.

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

“Heh, heh,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We stood in the night, staring.

Along the street came a man in a peak cap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“J.F.,” whispered Jim, pointing.

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

“My initials,” cried Jim.

The caretaker spoke up sharply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Swimming Hole

July 24, 1937

To the Swift

Suddenly the rabbit made a right-angle turn … the cop turned into the ditch right on its tail.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 10, 1937.

“Look at that bird,” cried Jimmie Frise, “look at it travel!”

“It’s a flicker,” I said, looking out the car window. We were zooming along the highway. “Sometimes called high-hole or yellowhammer.”

“But look at it go,” shouted Jim, who was stepping on the gas. “We’re hitting forty.”

“It’s a member of the woodpecker family,” I explained.

“Never mind what family it belongs to,” said Jim, “just look at the speed it’s got.”

“It’s favorite food,” I declared, “is ants. And for the purpose of obtaining ants from their holes in the earth, you will note the flicker has a very long, round, slender, sticky tongue.”

“For Pete’s sake,” shouted Jim, “lay off and look at that bird dangle, will you? We’re hitting forty-five and we haven’t gained a yard on it.”

The flicker, with a final leap in its curious rising and falling flight, came to rest against the bark of a tall dead tree. Jim slackened the car speed to normal.

“Boy,” said Jim, “I had no idea birds could go so fast.”

“That isn’t fast,” I stated. “Forty miles an hour is one of the slow-going speeds amongst birds. The humming-bird is believed to travel at the rate of 110 miles an hour.”

“Get away,” said Jim.

“It’s a fact,” I assured him. “As the crow flies, it is about 2,000 miles to Mexico, where the hummingbird goes for the winter. So a hummingbird can go to Mexico in a couple of afternoons, stopping to see the sights on the way, in the Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon and so forth.”

“How about ducks?” asked Jim.

“Canvasbacks have been paced by aeroplanes,” I stated, “at a speed of 90 miles an hour.”

“Then,” said Jim, “I’ve been leading them too little. I’ve been shooting ten feet behind them.”

“If you are going to turn all my information on natural history into facts for your gun,” I said, “I will hardly be inclined to inform you. However, it would take a better mathematician than you to figure out the speed of a duck, plus or minus the velocity of the wind, head or tail, taking into account the exact distance in yards the ducks are from you, so as to have the flight of your load of shot intersect exactly the flight of the duck at the precise one-thousandth of a second that intersection must occur…”

“How fast,” asked Jimmie, “do black ducks fly?”

“They’re slower,” I said. “They go about fifty to fifty-five. So do partridge. A pheasant goes about forty to forty-five.”

“Their normal gait,” reflected Jim. “A mile a minute, normal speed. And we men move, normally, at about two and a half miles an hour.”

“Yes,” I said, “birds do get about.”

“What’s the fastest land animal?” asked Jim.

“The Indian cheetah, a kind of leopard,” I said. “It can catch any deer or antelope in the world in less than one hundred yards, and it doesn’t quite hit fifty miles an hour. But it’s only a sprinter, like all the rest of the animals. An antelope can go around forty miles an hour, but it tires. All animals, tire. Their hearts and lungs aren’t meant for sustained effort. But birds can go for hours. Some of the plover leave Baffin Land and go straight to Little America in the Antarctic, all in one jump.”

Science Means Knowing

“For Pete’s sake,” said Jim, who was driving along watching for more birds to race.

“Yes,” I said, settling down to the discussion, “and some of the Arctic terns…”

“Who,” said Jim, “collects all that stuff about Arctic birds, and why?”

“How do you mean, why?” I demanded indignantly.

“What I can’t figure out,” said Jim, “is where all this stuff about birds and animals and insects and things comes from. Who gets it? What for? There are so many other things to do in the world, like shoe-making and raising wheat and working for banks and so on. Yet apparently there are guys up in Baffin Land watching plover go away. And guys down in the Antarctic waiting and watching for the plover to arrive. Why? Who? Which? And who pays for it?”

“Jimmie,” I said pityingly, “science is above all mercenary motives. You wouldn’t understand. Science means knowing.”

“Knowing what,” said Jim, “and why?”

“Science wants to know everything,” I explained. “Nothing is too small or irrelevant or indifferent for science to know. Science observes and records everything. Science has an army, a vast, international army, devoted, self-sacrificing, more patriotic to science than any men ever were to any mere country, giving their lives to the gathering of knowledge, each in his different sphere. Watching birds, trees, animals, seeds, wind, rain, rocks, soil, sun, stars, butterflies, bugs; in fact, there is nothing you can think of, try as you will, that is not the subject of intense study and observation by some scientist or group of scientists.”

“What’s the object?” asked Jim.

“To know all,” I quoted, “is to understand all. When these vast armies of science have probed all life to its uttermost and secret end, life itself will be understood. Truth will reign at last.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “but what have the habits of Arctic terns got to do with truth?”

“Well,” I said, “for example, one scientist spends his life up in Baffin Land living in an igloo and eating blubber, in order to discover that terns can keep on the wing for 100 hours. Then another scientist makes a study of the tern’s heart structure, to see how it differs from human hearts, say.”

“Ah,” cried Jim, “some day they’re going to graft bird hearts into us humans, so we can live for a thousand years!”

“No, no,” I shouted, “science is not interested in mankind at all. It is only interested in truth.”

“For what?” shouted Jim.

“Don’t let us quarrel,” I said. “If you don’t understand about science, you don’t understand, that’s all. Some people live their lives perfectly happy, never wondering. Others are filled with a divine and insatiable curiosity. You are interested in a flicker, because you see it travelling parallel with you at a speed that surprises you. The minute you have observed that phenomenon, which is purely personal, you forget all about flickers. But I, on the other hand, like to know all about flickers, what they eat, how they are specially equipped for that eating, how they live, where they nest and why, how many eggs they lay…”

“It’s just a hobby of yours,” said Jim. “Now my hobby is Russian pool. I like to know how a ball, hit a certain way, causes another ball to do a certain thing. You want to know why about birds, and the answer doesn’t matter. I want to know how about pool balls, and the answer saves me maybe fifty cents a game. Knowing about birds isn’t going to get you anything. Knowing about pool balls makes me money. See?”

“Between us,” I muttered, “we’re a pretty good example of the human race.”

“Mmmmm?” said Jimmie.

“Look,” I exclaimed. “Ahead of us there, see that bird?”

Jim crouched and stamped on the gas. The car leaped forward.

“It’s a dove,” I said, “a mourning dove, one of the fastest fliers, doing maybe fifty miles an hour. If it just follows the road…”

“Watch me,” said Jim.

Just Observing Nature

He kept his foot on the gas, and the car gained speed furiously. The dove, with quick, headlong wingbeats, fled away ahead of us. Jim got the needle up to fifty-five miles and still the dove, as if co-operating, held its course straight up the highway.

“We’re gaining,” cried Jim.

“Don’t overtake it,” I warned, “and scare it. Maybe we can pace it for an even mile, and then we can write to the ornithological journals. This is what I mean. We’re scientists, Jim. We are adding to the great…”

A brown blur zipped alongside of us and passed us.

“Speed cop,” gritted Jim, taking his foot off the gas and touching his brake carefully.

The cop coasted ahead, watching us in his mirror and slowing as we slowed. We drew off to the side and stopped. The cop, the very set of his head indicating outraged sensibilities, swung his large leg stiffly off his cycle, and lifting his goggles off stern eyes, turned and walked back towards us.

“Weh-hell,” he said. “Weh-hell, what a hurry we are in this morning.”

“Sir,” said Jimmie, “we were doing a little scientific experimenting.”

“Experimenting, eh?” said the cop. “Weh-hell.”

He put a very unfriendly little chuckle in between that weh-hell.

“Yes,” I inserted, “we’re interested in ornithology. We were pacing a dove.”

“Pacing a which?” asked the constable, flipping the leaves of his notebook for a nice clean page.

“We’re interested in birds.” I explained. “The speed of birds is a subject of intense interest to the scientific world. We were in the act of pacing the speed of a dove, mourning dove, when you overtook us.”

“Professors, eh?” said the cop.

“No,” said Jim, “not exactly professors. But the world of science includes many like us, who contribute millions of important facts to science. For example, how fast does a dove fly? Professors could come out in their cars every day of their lives, looking for a dove to race, to test its flying speed, and never see a dove, much less encounter a dove actually flying straight along a level stretch of highway. Such coincidences come only once in a million years, and we were actually checking the speed of that dove when you interrupted us.”

“How fast was it going?” asked the constable.

“We had it held at exactly fifty-six miles an hour,” I stated.

“I paced you at sixty-one,” said the cop.

“We were trying,” I said, “to establish a fixed distance from the bird, and hold it for one statute mile, and then you had to come along and spoil what would perhaps have gone down in history as one of the greatest records in science.”

“That certainly is too bad,” said the constable, closing his book and returning it to his breast pocket. He rested his elbow on Jim’s window. “Why don’t you have some kind of sign painted on the back of your car? So we’d know you were making experiments like that?”

“That’s what I was saying,” I explained. “These opportunities to serve science only come by accident, and you never know when the chance will offer. It may be a hundred years now before somebody, somewhere, has another chance like this to pace a dove. Maybe a whole century.”

“I certainly am sorry,” said the cop, sadly. “I’d hate to be the guy that spoiled a thing like that, specially as I am very interested in nature myself.”

“Are you?” I said eagerly. “What’s your specialty?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the cop, modestly, “I observe groundhogs and things. I take a special interest in hawks. I’ve followed at hawk around eleven concession roads.”

“Really?” I cried.

“Oh, yes,” said the constable. “Life is pretty dull, just sitting along the road, looking at cars whizzing by and chasing silly people and having to listen to all their excuses. Nature is a great relaxer, don’t you think? I get a lot of pleasure out of just observing nature, kind of.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s funny how we meet, we nature lovers.”

“Say,” said the cop, suddenly, “there’s a jack rabbit up here a-ways; he gives me a race every now and then. A great big jack rabbit. I never thought to see how fast he goes. There’s an idea.”

“It certainly is,” Jim and I both agreed.

A Right-Angle Turn

“I’ll drive up ahead, you follow,” said the cop, “and if he’s around we can chase him and see his speed. My goodness, I’m sorry I never made a note of his speed. I bet he goes forty.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed, “not a jack rabbit, not forty. I bet a jack rabbit can’t do thirty.”

“Thirty!” said the cop indignantly. “Listen, boy, this is one of the biggest jack rabbits in the country, I tell you, and if he doesn’t go better than forty, I’ll eat your shirt.”

“Let’s go,” said Jim, who liked the cop best as a nature lover and didn’t want to get his rougher nature roused.

“Let me drive,” said I.

The cop tramped his engine into life and with a wave led us on. For six miles we scooted, being scientists, at about fifty. Then the cop slowed and coasted cautiously ahead of us.

Suddenly, out of the ditch by the road, a large fuzzy fawn-colored jack rabbit leaped, with a big lazy leap, and a flirt of his hind legs.

Straight down the side of the highway he ran, in long, bounding leaps, his ears laid back or cocked forward, as he seemed to look back, out of his bulging eyes, over his shoulder.

The cop increased his speed. So did we. The rabbit let her out. The cop crouched low and drew closer to the rabbit. We drew closer to the cop.

I watched the needle. It rose from twenty to twenty-five; to thirty. It hung at thirty, while the cop with all the cunning of a scientific observer, increased his pace almost imperceptibly. And the jack rabbit, with ears laid flat, began to let fly with his long hind legs to show what a jack rabbit, in this spring of the year and the young wheat sprouting, can really do.

“Thirty-two,” cried tensely. “Thirty- five. Jimmie! Thirty-seven! This will make a wonderful record to send to the scientific journals!”

I was clutching the wheel, keeping as close as I dared to the motorcycle, and the cop, all crouched down, was keeping as near as he dared to the brown racing ball of fawn.

Suddenly the rabbit made a right-angle turn, a wild leap across the ditch.

The cop turned right on its tail and automatically I whipped the wheel to the right, and, with a thud and a rattle and violent bump, we too went into the ditch, narrowly missing the cop, who, with his cycle, was all of a heap up against the snake fence.

“Hurt?” I shouted, scrambling out of the car.

“Forty-one miles an hour,” said the cop. “Thirty-seven,” I corrected. “Thirty- seven. I was looking at the speedometer.”

“Look here,” said the cop, rising angrily, “I’ve a good mind to run you in so as to have your speedometer tested. I tell you it was forty-one. I was looking right at the speedometer when the darn thing made that jack-knife turn…”

“How about getting me out of the ditch?” demanded Jim, who was still sitting in the car and looking a little shaken.

“Okay,” I said.

With a fence rail, the cop and I turned Jim’s wheel and eased him up enough to let him drive safely out of the ditch. There was only a slight shimmy in his front axle. The cop tried his machine out and it was in good shape. He walked over to us.

“Well,” he said, grimly. “What do you say? Was it forty-one or not?”

“It was forty-one,” said Jim emphatically. “I made it forty-one.”

“How about you?” said the cop.

“I guess it was forty-one, all right,” I said. “Okay,” said the cop, buttoning his breast pocket where the little book is kept.

Editor’s Notes: Russian pool is a particular type of pool from Eastern Europe.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

A Sweet Ride

March 13, 1937

Movie Mad

“One adult?” said the girl peering over the edge, “and… er….”
I glanced up sharply.
“Oh, make it two,” said Jim. “It’ll flatter him.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 6, 1937.

“Will we go,” asked Jimmie Frise, “to the first show or the second?”

“If we make it the second show,” I replied, “we can walk. And a walk would do us good.”

“There’s a curious difference,” said Jim, “between the first show and the second. The first show crowd is younger, peppier. You can feel a sort of glow from that first show audience. They laugh more merrily. And their silence, in emotional bits, is sort of breathless. I like the first show crowd.”

“Personally,” I stated, “I like to go to the second show because I am sleepier. And I enjoy the picture better then. If I am wide awake I am too critical.”

“You’d be critical, anyway,” retorted Jim. “Why go through life weighing and measuring everything as if you were buying? The best things in life are gifts. Art, music, movies, books, they are gifts to us. No money can buy them. Thirty-five cents for a movie is a preposterously small sum to pay for the pleasure, joy and deep emotion you get in return.”

“Most shows are lousy,” I stated on the defensive.

“There you go,” said Jim.

“Most everything is lousy,” I explained. “The reason I say that is that I believe in the power of criticism. If it weren’t for us critics, just think how lousy everything would get?”

“So you go around then,” said Jim, “kicking and squawking on general principles?”

“Precisely,” I agreed. “I am very fond of grilled whitefish. I eat it nearly every day. I never get tired of it. And most of it is so good I could burst into tears. But every day of my life, I make it my business to kick and squawk to the waitress telling her how rotten it is, and how stale the fish is, and how badly grilled. I do this in order to keep up the wonderful quality. I never let down for an instant. Because it is my belief that if the waitress and that chef and that restaurant manager knew it was always good, they’d get careless.”

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, looking at me very distastefully.

“Well, can I help what I believe?” I demanded. “Do you mean to insinuate that I am responsible for what I believe?”

“For mercy’s sake,” breathed Jim, aghast.

“My dear boy,” I laughed, “don’t be so childish. If everybody was responsible for what they believed, how could you explain nine-tenths of the human race who believe such poppycock? No, sir, a man believes what he is told and what his pathetic and narrow experience teaches him. He is helpless. He has no more chance of coming to a free and unbiased belief than a circus horse has.”

“You’ve got the weirdest ideas,” said Jim.

“So when I say most movies are lousy,” I went on “I don’t mean that I haven’t gone cold all over when Charles Laughton recited the Gettysburg speech; or leaped for joy when W. C. Fields took a billiard cue in hand. I confess that when Norma Shearer turns her beautiful mysterious gaze into the eye of the camera, my heart stands still. And as for Eleanor Powell, when she dances, the years drop away from me like a ragged old garment.”

Divine Discontent

“But still you say they’re lousy,” said Jim.

“On principle only,” I explained. “I saw The Informer sixteen times, often having to motor away out as far as Georgetown or even to Goderich to see it. The first time I saw it, when we came out into the bright lobby and my wife was re-adjusting my neck muffler the way wives always do, she looked at me and said, ‘dear me.’ And I stopped weeping long enough to state emphatically, ‘It’s a lousy show.’ You see the principle of the thing, don’t you?”

“I regret I do not,” said Jim coldly. “I know a good show from a bad show. But I hate the critical mind that pulls everything to pieces. They examine everything as if they were buying it, not knowing it is a divine gift. All the money you have got would not buy you the pleasure and joy one movie can bring you. Or one book. Or one beautiful painting. Or even one swift song on the radio. I say, take it. Take it for what it is worth. All beauty is a divine gift. Some stirs you more than others. Let it go at that. If anything stirs you even the least little bit, thank God.”

“Jim,” I said slowly. “I never heard such folly from human lips. Only in the war, near some artillery horse lines, at feeding time when all the mules got going, have I heard such a remark as that one from you. The present perfection of the human race is due, I should say, one hundred per cent to the eternal squawkers. The houses we live in, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, are all the result, and only the result of a discontent more divine than all art. Our laws and customs, our every item of daily life, great and small, is as good as it is, and heaven knows that’s not very good, because somebody was always throwing plates at the cook. What do you suppose it is that makes wives go to all that trouble to make us good meals but the age-old fear, inherited from their ten thousand grandmothers that we will hurl the hash at their head?”

“I think we had better,” said Jim, rising, “go to the second show. What you need is a good laugh.”

“I don’t think anybody could make me laugh to-night,” I said. “I feel a divine discontent stirring within me.”

“Too much grilled whitefish,” suggested Jim, as we proceeded to the coat closet.

We had ten blocks to walk and a pleasant walk it is, along the brightly lighted suburban main street, with its little shops of every kind. Drug stores with windows like jewellers’, filled with all kinds of beautiful and interesting things. Hardware stores with interesting things. Hardware stores with objects every man desires, pliers, screwdrivers, plush covers for steering wheels, axes, good sturdy coffee percolators. Little shoppes full of china and bric-a-brac and framed pictures. Small furniture stores with darkly shining walnut under soft lights. Flower shops, fruit stores riotous with color. It may be only the night, but there is an attraction about the suburban main streets that the high and mighty down-town can never quite achieve.

“Why,” I demanded, “haven’t they got fishing tackle shops in these districts?”

“It’s a pity about you,” said Jim, staring earnestly and long at a beautiful galvanized hot water tank in a plumber’s window.

“It’ll Flatter Him”

Thus we came to the movie theatre, just nice time to see the first show crowd straggling out. This is another reason for attending the second show. It is possible to observe the faces of these people emerging and catch from their expression some idea of what has been going on inside. If I were a first-class painstaker, that is how I would decide whether to attend a picture or not. Visit the neighborhood a couple of evenings and stand in front of the theatre to watch the people emerging. If they showed by their behavior that it was a good entertainment, then one could risk thirty-five cents.

“I’ll get the tickets,” said Jimmie, reaching into his pocket.

We lined up at the booth and presently came to the wicket.

“One adult?” said the girl inside peering over the edge. “And… er…”

I glanced up sharply.

“Oh, make it two,” said Jim. “It’ll flatter him.”

“Jim,” I stated, as we entered the lobby. “I regard that as a piece of impertinence.”

“The poor girl,” said Jim, “could only see your hat. You could tell by her face as soon as she saw yours…”

“A piece of impertinence,” I repeated loudly, as we entered the ticket door. The grand duke taking the tickets was slightly in the way. I butted him out of the way.

“Easy,” said the grand duke.

“Easy what?” I inquired firmly. “Do you want me in here or don’t you? If you do, don’t stand in the passage.”

“Pssst,” said Jim.

In the inner lobby, a beautiful young man in blue costume faced with scarlet and gold, stood magnificently straight, with one gloved hand extended. I hung my hat on it.

“Pssst,” repeated Jim, snatching my hat off the young fellow’s hand and taking me by the elbow.

The young man looked as if he were going to faint. He swayed slightly.

We entered the aisle.

“Lights,” I said distinctly. “Lights.”

“Psssst,” said Jim. “Psssssssssssst.”

“I can’t see,” I announced.

All around in the gloom I could hear mutters and sounds of people stirring and shifting.

An usher appeared, turned his flashlight on my face.

“Turn it off,” I ordered. “Show me to a seat, that’s all I paid for. I didn’t pay for all this…”

“Pssst,” said Jim.

“Why don’t they leave the lights on,” I insisted, “until the one mob is out and the new mob gets seated. How do they expect…”

“Cut it out,” hissed Jimmie in my ear.

The usher was halted, directing us into a row of seats, from which people were already half rising, bent over, to let us pass.

“This is too far back,” I told Jim. “We don’t want to sit away back here.”

“Hush,” said several people around. “Pssst.”

“Psssst yourself,” I retorted. “What kind of a business is this, where they sell you admission and then…”

“Shut up,” said Jim in my ear, at the same time giving me his knee in the lowermost region of the back, as it were.

Muttering and Head-Turning

“Jimmie,” I said, turning to face him, “what’s the matter with you? Can’t I get a seat where I want it without all this…”

Jim shoved me down the aisle, where, amid a sea of dim faces turned in our direction, the usher again waited, his torch discreetly shooting a beam of light along the floor of another row of seats.

“Ah,” I said, “this is better, admiral.”

One of the men half standing to let me pass had his bulky overcoat held in front of him and as I went by, I gave it a hoist. He gave me a shove in return.

“Here,” I said, “what’s the idea?”

But Jim from behind hustled me on. We got to our seats. By now there was quite a lot of muttering and head-turning going on all around us. Jim sunk deep into his seat. I stood up and removed my overcoat with due deliberation.

“Sit down,” came several low voices.

“Must I?” I inquired.

“Sit down,” they repeated more loudly, and by now large numbers of people were complaining on all sides.

“When I’m ready,” I informed them.

I had to get up again briefly a couple of times until I had my overcoat comfortably folded for sitting on so as to see over the heads of the people in front. But presently all grew quiet. Jim, who had been crouched deep in his seat, gradually sneaked himself up to a proper sitting posture and favored me with a long stare which I could feel even in the dark.

The picture was a drama. It was about a dear old blind mother in Austria whose children had all gone to America to make good. They had not, as a matter of fact, made good. One was a taxi driver and another a chorus girl and the third was at music teacher with a pitiful local practice. But they sent their money home to dear old mother in Austria, and wrote her lying letters about owning motor cars and being. musical comedy stars and famous pianists on concert tours all over America.

It went from bad to worse. The scene as mother leaves Austria on a surprise visit to her wonderfully successful children in America was terrible, but when she arrived in America, it got really tough.

I began groaning very softly about that part. And when a marvellous eye specialist was called in to restore mother’s sight, and he turned out to be a fat spectacled gentleman with his eye on the loveliest elder daughter, I began to applaud. Each time he came on, I applauded heartily. The villain was a woman and I began hissing her.

“Cut it out,” said Jim, softly.

I replied by applauding the fat eye specialist.

Functions of Criticism

Jim seized his coat and rose and hurriedly wiggled out the row and left. It is not so easy to be independent when you are left alone. I clapped a couple of times and hissed once, when I noticed two ushers and another man in the aisle, standing. A flashlight was turned on me.

“This way, please,” said the usher.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“You are disturbing the show,” said the man with the ushers, who turned out to be the manager.

“Indeed,” said I, “anything that could disturb this…”

Two people behind me, I think they were ladies, got hold of my collar and rather than make a scene, I took my coat and went to meet the usher who was coming along the row to help me.

We all went up the aisle together, amid a mild scattering of applause to which I paused and bowed.

In the lobby, Jimmie was waiting, pale and formal.

“I’ll look after him, gentlemen,” said Jim to the resplendent ushers and the manager. “Wait till I have a look at him,” said the manager, “so I’ll know him. Boys, take a good look.”

Jim held my coat for me.

“A little misfortune,” said Jim, “happened at the ticket booth on our way in.”

“What was that?” asked the manager.

“Nothing at all,” said Jim. “Just one of those small trifles that sometimes spoils a man’s whole evening.”

“I was within my rights.” I started. But Jim just took my arm and hustled me forth to the street.

“It was a punk show anyway, Jim,” I said. “We’re well rid of it. That eye specialist…”

“How in the world,” said Jim grimly, “you could put on an exhibition like that!”

“I was doing everybody in there a favor,” I said.

“Is that so?” said Jim.

“I was making them all feel,” I explained, “how much better they were than me. Suppose there were no people like the ones I was imitating? How would the great majority of people know how nice they are?”

“So it was just human kindness on your part?” said Jim.

“Criticism,” I elucidated, “has two major functions. One is to keep squawking and complaining so as to keep everybody up to scratch. The other form of criticism is constructive. It is demonstrating how measly human nature can be, in the hope that it will be an object lesson to others.”

“So you’re a critic?” said Jim.

“Maybe,” I confessed. “I’m only a little upset to-night.”

“Too much grilled whitefish?” said Jim.

“Never too much,” I assured him. “But at lunch to-day, as a matter of fact, Jim, it was not quite fresh and was a little underdone.”

“Did you mention it to the waitress?” asked Jim.

“I was too disappointed,” I explained.

Editor’s Notes: Greg was being a jerk in this story, but it is not clear to me why he was bothered at the ticket window. Perhaps because he was short and initially assumed to be a child? I don’t think senior rates existed then.

35 cents in 1937 would be $6.90 in 2022.

The various actors mentioned were Charles Laughton, W. C. Fields, Norma Shearer, and Eleanor Powell.

The Informer came out in 1935, and won 4 Academy Awards.

Greg was calling the ushers “admiral” and “the grand duke” because they were quite formally dressed back then, often in uniform tuxedoes or formal wear that was not that different from military officer formal wear.

Candid Camera

The bull kept running around the tree after me, while Jim kept screaming, “Farther out, farther out. I can’t get you in focus.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 27, 1937.

“I’m through,” said Jimmie Frise, “with killing.”

“Why, you haven’t killed much,” I assured him, “especially this past year.”

“That’s what I mean,” explained Jim. “I’m through with it. I can’t see wasting time and money chasing after fish and game just for the fresh air of it.”

“That’s the best part of outdoor sport,” I protested. “The outdoors of it.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “it costs me five cents every time I shoot my shotgun. It costs me twelve cents every time I shoot my rifle. That’s the cost of the shells alone. The cost of the guns, the cost of all my expensive fishing tackle that I have waved in vain over the waters of Ontario this past year, is the capital expenditure.”

“But your profits,” I said, “are good health, a happy frame of mind and so forth. Intangible assets, if you like, but mighty real.”

“Happy frame of mind?” cried Jim. “Do you call it a happy frame of mind if you sit here looking back over a year with no trout, no muskies, no duck and no deer?”

“But the fun?” I reminded him.

“The best fun,” stated Jim, “is coming home, after a happy trip in the woods, with a basket of fish, a bag of ducks, or a deer lashed on your car fender.”

“This was just a bad year,” I comforted him. “You’ve had your share, in former years.”

“Have I?” questioned Jim. “I was just thinking. Thinking of all the shells I’ve fired, all the guns I’ve owned, all the fishing rods and big cases of tackle that have come and gone in my life. And all the miles I’ve walked, and rowed, and driven, and all the hours spent in hard, rough work. And yet the kill is mighty slim, as my memory holds it. A good muskie, once or twice. Three or four good bags of ducks. Maybe one deer, really killed without help from others.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “that is the experience of the average sportsman. People imagine, when they see hundreds and hundreds of us going forth with guns, that there is to be a dreadful slaughter of wild life. But the fact of the matter is, nine out of ten who pretend to be killers are anything but killers. If their kill was to be measured against their tackle, their outfit, their energy and the time they spend at it, even they would have to laugh.”

“Still,” said Jimmie, “what right have a few of us, a little percentage of the population, to assume we have the right to kill game?”

“Hmmmm,” I mused, “you have been converted, haven’t you?”

“I mean it,” declared Jim. “Why should a little handful of gunners be allowed to go forth into the public domain to kill birds and animals that belong to all? There are plenty of people who love as much to see a deer as we love to kill one. Maybe more. Maybe twice or three times as many.”

“Sssshhh,” I said, “Jim, this is heresy.”

Reformed Hunters

“I Don’t care,” insisted Jim. “Now that I find I can’t kill anything anyway, I am beginning to doubt the right to kill of those who can kill.”

“That’s perfectly human of you,” I agreed. “That’s the proper way to feel about it.”

“What I mean,” said Jim, “why haven’t you and I taken up camera hunting years ago? Imagine some of the swell shots we could have had with cameras, and be able to have, instead of a few horns hung up on the wall, beautiful enlargements of pictures of wild game, deer, moose and even bears, to adorn our homes and stand as a lasting record of our skill as hunters?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess cameras don’t go bang.”

“When I think of it,” said Jim, moodily. “That time I was standing at the beaver dam and that glorious buck came by me within twelve feet.”

“You missed it with your gun,” I reminded him. “Probably you would have missed it with your camera.”

“I could have made three or four pictures of him,” declared Jim. “Imagine. I heard a twig crack in the thicket. Then a full five minutes elapsed. Nothing stirred. As it was, I was standing there, with my rifle ready, slowly starting to shake and tremble with buck fever. Then, with a bound, he came out, his head laid back, his great antlers glittering in the sun, to pass so close to me I was actually frozen, with astonishment. In that five minutes, I could have got my camera set, my time set, my focus fixed. And the way he leaped out and halted and stood glaring at me not twenty feet off, with one of these new fast cameras, I could have had a picture that would have been one of my proudest possessions.”

“Or imagine, “I contributed, “hunting birds with a camera. That would be my line.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “how about selling our guns and buying cameras, these new candid cameras?”

“We could have fun,” I admitted. “Until about next summer, when we’d begin to hanker for our guns again. It’s a hobby that seems to last only for about three or four rolls of film.”

“Ah, but with us,” argued Jim, “reformed hunters. It would be like reformed drunks eating apples. Without our guns, we’d have to do something.”

So, at lunch hour, we strolled around to a camera store and sized the situation up. There were certainly a lot of new kinds of cameras since we had last pulled a bellows. There were handy little outfits, with interchangeable lenses running into three figures. There were cameras not much bigger than a package of cigarettes, with a film about the size of a thimble, with which, as the salesman explained to us, you could take a picture even of a detective and he would never know it. Palmed photography, as it were. There were about 40 different kinds of film for about 90 different kinds of cameras.

“When I was last in a camera store,” I told the clerk, “there were about seven different kinds of cameras and only one kind of film for each. The cameras were all standing open inside glass showcases, and it reminded me of an undertaker’s. The nearest thing to an undertaker’s was the camera store. Now look at you.”

To Set an Objective

And it certainly was a scene of glitter and color, cameras in green and pink and yellow, and everything very jazzy and chromium-plated.

So he showed us one of the newest candid cameras. He talked about “shiners” and light meters, and it seemed more like University mathematics than just up and banging a camera, the way I recalled it. The prices staggered us.

We asked him if he took anything in exchange, like guns or anything, and he said no.

So we went a little farther up the street to a gun shop and made some casual inquiries as to the turn-in value of sundry guns, rifles, micrometer sights, gun cases and what not.

“Well,” said the gun clerk, there isn’t much call for that old-fashioned equipment, but we could allow you perhaps $15 or $20 for it if you are buying a new outfit.”

Back at the office, we decided to use what cameras we had and perhaps borrow one, if we knew anybody that had got tired of theirs. But it seems the best way to remind anybody that they have an expensive camera which they ought to use oftener is to ask to borrow it.

“What have you in mind?” I asked Jim.

“It’s a poor time of year to start,” said he, “but at least we can go out into the country and look around for what we can see. We ought to set an objective, the same as hunting with guns. For instance, we might go out this week end to hunt jack rabbits.”

“There’s an idea,” I agreed. “But how could we get near enough a jack rabbit to take his picture? It would just be a speck.”

“Use this new modern film that guy was telling us about,” said Jim, “and enlarged, that speck will prove to be a jack rabbit, clear as crystal, in full flight.”

“But they get up so quick,” I pointed out.

“Don’t you see,” cried Jim, “what a sport this can be? You know how it is hunting jack rabbits with a gun. Walking across stubble fields, along snake fences, and not a sign of anything. You are going along very careless. You would say that no living creature, not even a mouse, could hide in that bare stubble. And then, all of a sudden, with a soundless bound, a great big jack rabbit, as big as a calf, leaps up not twenty feet from you and starts away with fifteen foot hops.”

“How would we ever have time to focus?” I demanded.

“We would have our cameras set,” explained Jim, “the same as we have our guns loaded and cocked. We would just have to up and bang, the same as with our guns.”

“Well, we can try,” I submitted.

“And once we get good,” said Jim, “we can plan trips for deer, moose, bears, ducks. I can just see me in a blind, shooting pictures of flocks of ducks storming into my decoys.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and wishing you had a gun, and throwing your camera into the drink in rage.”

“Not if I get some swell pictures that I can keep for years and show for my trouble.”

“Your walls,” I stated, “will hold just so many enlargements. Photograph albums grow fat and shabby. But you can eat ducks forever and ever.”

Across the Stubble

However, we went out Saturday. Jim had got from some camera fiend a little book that had tables and scales in it, showing exactly how much time to allow for certain lights. And he had got for a dollar a tiny gadget that you looked through. I had numbers in it, which you could faintly see. Depending on the light, the faintest number you could see was the one to work to, in the printed tables. It was a little complicated. It was like reading railway time tables, only the signs were different. We spent about an hour or so, after we had parked our car down a promising looking side-road, trying to figure out the light tables. So we gave it up and decided to take everything the old way. 25th of a second, distance inf. and the little hole open as wide as it would go.

“That has taken millions of good pictures,” said Jim. “It will do for us.”

So, with cameras held open and ready, we started across the wintry stubble fields, heading for a distant clump of dark cedars that suggested a brook.

“Where there are brooks,” said Jim, “there is game.”

Walking slowly and alert, we quartered the first two fields very thoroughly. It was a cold day, and it got pretty cold, even with gloves on, holding a hard chilly camera in a position of readiness. So we rigged up straps and handkerchiefs to hang the cameras around our necks.

Some little gray birds got up and cheeped and flew away, and by the time I had decided whether or not to try a shot at them, they were so far off that they do not show on the negative at all, just a thin edge of land and a lot of sky.

“Don’t shoot at everything,” protested Jim.

“It was just a practice shot,” I explained.

We found another field, full of dead weeds, burrs, stickers, prongs and sheep-snatchers, which we waded through very stealthily without raising so much as a small bird. So at the end of it, I snapped a candid camera shot of Jimmie bent down picking burrs off himself, and he shot one of me climbing a fence.

“Those will be the kind of thing,” said Jim, “informal, unposed stuff, our descendants will be interested in.”

“Except that I got you from the back,” I corrected, “and it might be anybody.”

The next field led down to the cedar clump and there was a little frozen brook running in it, ice and tiny falls making some pretty closeups, which I took and then Jim reminded me that I was set at infinity. So I finished up the roll, pacing the distances.

“Nice little shots,” agreed Jim, “of icicles and stuff. Very interesting. A good big fat album of that kind of thing certainly ought to amuse your guests whenever they call around.”

“All right,” I declared. “What have you got?”

“The thing about camera hunting,” said Jim. “Is the same as shooting. Wait till something turns up. Don’t bang your gun just for the fun of hearing it go off.”

As we climbed out of the valley of cedars, we saw a farm in the near distance.

“Good,” said Jum, “at least we can get some shots at cattle and pigs and barnyard stuff. There is a lot of humor and human interest in really characteristic shots of everyday beasts. We can stir ’em up and get them to show a little action.”

“You tickle a pig,” I said, “and I’ll get a picture of it.”

We walked across the fields to the farm, and as we drew near, we saw a little cluster of cows gathered in a fence corner, numbly feeding on a pile of hay. The farmer had let them out for a little fresh air which does not come often to cows in winter.

They looked up at us as we drew quietly near.

“Just that look of dumb curiosity,” said Jim, “would make a nice picture if we could get a close-up.”

“Cows won’t hurt you,” I assured him.

Taking our cameras in our hands and setting them, we began to stalk the cows, watching down in our finders to get the distance right.

I was looking down in the finder, preparing to say moo or otherwise attract their attention, when I heard a kind of a loud snort, and Jim’s feet pounding heavily on the frozen earth.

I looked up just in time to see that one of the cows was a bull, a large bull with that lithe humped look some bulls have, and, as he slowly curled around and advanced, I caught a glimpse of Jim’s vanishing back.

Instead of taking the fence which was quite handy, I too turned, and saw that Jim had reached a small tree and was already winging himself up into the branches. By the time I got to the tree, I discovered the lowest branch was too high for my reach, and the bull, without any excitement at all, was right behind me.

“Keep running around the tree,” shouted Jimmie from aloft.

Which I did, and the bull kept coming around after me, while above Jim kept screaming:

“Farther out, farther out, I can’t get you in focus!”

But I didn’t get farther out. And Jim, leaning down aiming his camera kept screaming orders at me and clicking his camera, until the farmer arrived and, with a fork, prodded the bull away.

“I never saw,” declared Jim, coming angrily down out of the tree, “less co-operation in my life. The most wonderful candid camera shot in the world, it would have been the sensation of camera shows all over the earth, and you wouldn’t even get in focus.”

I am happy to say that none of Jim’s shots turned out, as he had his finger over the lens hole in all of them.

Editor’s Note: Remember that all camera settings at the time were manual, and that they would not know how the pictures turned out until they were developed.

Saga of Lost Lake

We pushed on, over ridge and gully, around swamp and over ten thousand dead trees.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 21, 1937.

“This,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the worst year for fishing we’ve ever had.”

“Is it any wonder,” I demanded, “with fresh thousands taking up fishing every year and fresh miles of highway being built farther and farther into the wilds every season?”

“All our old haunts are ruined,” said Jim.

“Yet we,” I accused, “thought it was swell when they completed the cement highways to all our favorite spots.”

“Even Algonquin Park has a highway into it now,” sighed Jim.

“Canada’s richest asset,” I declared, “is the tourist traffic. It’s the strangest export business in the world. It brings in three hundred million dollars per annum net cash. And all it takes out is snapshots.”

“We’re selling our birthright,” pronounced Jim solemnly, “for a mess of pottage. When we have ripped our country wide open for the tourist trade, when we’ve criss-crossed it with highways and looted all our lakes and made hot dog groves of all our forests and nothing remains but an empty fraud, and all the annual three hundred millions have vanished, as millions do, into thin air, what will we have left?”

“We’ll have had a good time while it lasted,” I pointed out. “Three hundred million a year is mighty sweet money.”

“We’ll have rotting highways running through barren and useless waste,” said Jim. “Our tourist trade goes into a country unfit for anything but playing in. It has no soil for farming. It is no good for reforesting. When the fish are gone and the wild aspect vanished, the tourists will leave us holding the empty bag.”

“Why, Jim,” I laughed, “within ten years, the American tourists are going to be working their way into our Arctic. Already, hundreds of Americans are going every summer into the Albany watershed, running into Hudson Bay. Already, thousands of Americans are taking hunting trips into the Yukon and the northern Rockies. Our tourist trade is good for another hundred years, with that wild, unexplored Arctic up there.”

“And what about us poor guys,” demanded Jim, “that can’t afford to go two thousand miles north? Is fishing in Canada only to be for wealthy Americans?”

“Oh, they’ll stock up the local waters,” I assured him. “It’s all a question of demand. As soon as the fishing gets bad enough, there will be a violent uproar, and the government will go nutty planting fish. They’ll plant fish the way they have been building highways lately, or the way they do anything else to please the public. A government’s real job, after all, isn’t governing. It’s pleasing the public. They govern for a couple of years. Then they wake up with a violent start and realize that pleasing the public is the whole thing. That’s the way we’ll get fish down around these parts. The day is coming when it won’t be safe to go for a paddle on any water in the older part of the country. The fish will be a menace.”

“Tame fish,” sneered Jim. “Liver-fed fish.”

“You’ll be glad enough to hook them,” I assured him.

“I’ll be an old man,” said Jim. “Too feeble to go fishing.”

Reaction in Pioneering

“If we had any gumption,” I stated, “we’d not be sitting here letting the Americans have all the fun going up to the Albany and the Winisk. We’d be going ourselves. What’s the matter with us Canadians? Why do we insist on puddling around near home, when there is simply incredible wild fishing a day or two north? Are we getting soft? Where is the pioneer spirit that, only fifty years ago was part and parcel of every Canadian’s character?”

“I guess,” said Jim, “that there is a sort of reaction in this pioneer spirit business. Pioneering gets kind of exhausted after three or four generations. We belong to one of the two or three generations that are resting up after the ordeal. Then maybe our grandchildren will feel the pioneer spirit creeping back into them again.”

“By which time,” I pointed out, “the good fishing will be exhausted in the Arctic.”

Then our grandchildren,” said Jim, “will run across to fish in Siberia and northern Russia as carelessly as we go up to Lake Nipissing.”

“Ah, boy,” I sighed, “I wish I could go to a lake my Uncle Ed took me into when I was a kid. I was about sixteen, I guess. Talk about bass fishing.”

“Where was the lake?” asked Jim.

“It is the most lost lake,” I declared, “imaginable. In fact, we called it Lost Lake. It’s still there. It is miles from any human habitation. It is a twenty-mile walk over the wildest, rockiest country anywhere in Canada.”

“Twenty miles,” said Jim. “Whew! Your Uncle Ed must have been a tough guy.”

“Tough is right,” I agreed. “He was a pioneer. I can see him yet, with his great big packsack on his back, full of tent and grub and tackle, climbing over those wild rocks like a goat. I’ve never been so weary in all my life, yet I was a strong husky kid of sixteen.”

“What about the fishing?” asked Jim.

“Lost Lake,” I began happily, “is about half a mile wide and four miles long. It is a great bed of glacial gravel set down amidst the most God-forsaken rock in the world. It never was lumbered because there isn’t anything but scrub will grow on it. There isn’t half an acre of soil within 30 miles. Yet that long, narrow lake, full of bright gravel and boulders and reefs, is simply alive with bass up to six pounds.”

“Oh, oh,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said,” my Uncle Ed was a fly fisherman. No bait, no worms, crawfish or frogs for him. Just common trout flies, on little four-ounce rods. He taught me to fly fish. We made a raft of cedar logs. We drifted about that heavenly lake for five days. Every cast, with those tiny little trout flies, a great whacking big bass, from four to six pounds. We put on two flies. We got two bass to a cast. We filed off the barbs of the fly hooks. We caught hundreds of bass and threw them all back except the ones we needed to eat. We never even brought any out.”

“Have you never gone back?” demanded Jim.

“I intended to go back the next year,” I said, “but I started to Varsity. Then I kept putting it off year by year, as I got into that silly age around 20, when you never seem to be able to keep your mind on anything really important. Then the war came. And then Uncle Ed got rheumatism.”

“Engraved on My Memory”

“Is it far away?” asked Jim.

“Far enough,” I said, “You go to Sudbury, and then in by train about 30 miles. You get off at a section man’s house and then walk in 20 miles. No road, no trail. Just across the wild barren rock, working by landmarks.”

“You’d have forgotten them,” thought Jim, “by now.”

“Never,” I cried, “to my dying day. It’s engraved on my memory like the path I took to school as a child. Every once in a while, over the long years, I have renewed my memory by going, in my imagination, over every foot of that trip. First you head for a distant sort of ridge or pinnacle of rocks, far in the distance. You can’t go wrong. Then, from this pinnacle, you can see, miles ahead, a series of great muskeg swamps with broken ridges of rock rising between them. You follow that series of ridges between the muskeg swamps as straight as Yonge St., and they bring you smack out on to Lost Lake.”

“Boy,” said Jim grimly. “Let’s go. Let’s go.”

“Jim?” I cried, “will you?”

“Let’s go,” repeated Jim with a sort of anguish.

“It’s a terrible walk,” I said, “twenty miles. With all our duffle. Tent and grub and tackle and pots and pans.”

“Man,” shouted Jim, “a lake like that, lost amidst all this exploitation and ruin of lakes. A lake like that, within an overnight journey in a sleeping car with hordes of people going hundreds of miles beyond to fish waters already overrun with other fishermen. How do you know it hasn’t been found out by now?”

“How would it be found out? I demanded. Nobody but Uncle Ed and two other men knew of it. And who would walk 20 miles nowadays in this age of satin-smooth highways and motor cars and outboard motors? This is a soft, padded age. The modern sportsman won’t go any place he can’t sit on a cushion all the way.”

“One good fill of fishing,” crooned Jim, “one regular orgy of fishing, and I’ll be content to hang up my rods and let my grandchildren go to the Arctic.”

“It’s a go,” I announced.

And we sat straight down and proceeded to examine the calendar and then drew up lists of duffle and supplies.

We decided to spend four days on the lake. One full day to walk in and one full day to walk out. We debated whether to take Jim’s little wedge tent or my big silk one, and we concluded that as we were no longer chickens, it might be as well to be comfortable.

“This business of going light,” said Jim, “is all very well in your twenties. But at our age, we’ve got to get our rest.”

So we wrote and rewrote our camping lists, which, as anybody knows, is the better part of camping. The tent and our two sleeping bags would go into a joint dunnage bag which we would carry between us. Each of us would have our packsacks, containing clothes, tackle, and all the things needful to a happy outing. Pots and pans we would distribute between us pro rata. The grub we would divide equally and stow in our packsacks.

And Saturday night, we left for Sudbury by sleeper, arriving early in the morning and continuing by day coach some miles out to the section men’s shack where the unmarked trail to Lost Lake began.

The section man’s shack, which had been young and red and fresh when I was sixteen was now no more than a worn old shed in which some railway ties were stored and even the rusty old tin cans in its neighborhood looked as if this had been no human habitation for many a long year. It was no longer even a section house, just a relic of a shanty, faded and old.

“Jim” I declared, as the train sped off leaving us alone with our duffle bags, “this is wonderful. I feared we might even find a village where this section house had stood. But look – it’s only a ruin. Lost Lake has stayed lost, for sure.

From a little rocky eminence handy, we could see the remote whitish rock ridges or pinnacles far to the northwest, just as I had described them.

“It’s a good ten miles to them, Jim,” I said. “By keeping to ridges and high ground, we never lose sight of them. We’ll take all morning, just to reach them.”

But it took more than the morning. I don’t know how far a lumberjack carries his packsack. Probably from the railway station to the boarding house, maybe. A distance of 75 yards in most lumberjack communities. Even the pioneers didn’t carry packsacks. They used oxen. Certainly, no pioneer ever carried a packsack ten miles. Or else why did it take a hundred years for the pioneers to work north a hundred miles?

As I said before it was a wild and rugged country, and a number of swamps had moved or side-slipped, during the past 30 years, for I found any number of swamps where there had been none the last time. A swamp is a thing you have to go around. And often you have to feel your way around it, making many false tries, this way and that.

At noon, the delectable white pinnacles were still white and remote. We halted for lunch and got out our sleeping bags to lie on for a little rest. We rested until four o’clock and then pushed on. By six p.m., the pinnacles were less distant and less white, but none the less too far away for a couple of pioneers without oxen to reach by dark. So finding a pleasant little swampy pond in the middle of a muskeg, we made camp and boiled muddy tea and went to bed on ill-made brush beds, and muttered each other awake all night. In the morning, we went through our packsacks and made a cache in a tree of all the articles, many of them costly if not valuable, to lighten our loads and to be picked up on the way out They are there forever, I fear.

Thus lightered, we struck camp and pushed on, over ridge and fully and around swamp and over ten thousand dead trees until at noon we reached the high ridge from which, stretching far to the west, we beheld, as I had foretold, the series of dark swamps between which wended bare bleak wastes of rock. But these wastes of rock were open and grim and barren and easy, and in slow stages between heavy rests, during which our eyeballs protruded and our kidneys ached and our legs grew numb and our arches fell and our toe-balls scalded, we went out across them, hog-backs of rock amidst endless wasteland swamp, straight as a ship sails towards Lost Lake.

“It’s a Mirage – a Delusion”

At five p.m. from the highest of these heaves of rock, we glimpsed a bit of blue.

“Water,” I cried, “It’s Lost Lake.”

And with a sort of spiritual, if not physical, second wind, we pushed on. Jim holding one end of the tent bag and I the other, and clanking with our pots and pans like Mrs. Finnigan’s Cows, and over seven last great hills of rock we came at last to the very last, and there at our feet, half a mile wide and four miles long, lay Lost Lake.

“What’s that?” gasped Jim, softly lowering his packsack from his long and limber back.

It was music.

We eased our weary baggage down and listened.

“It’s ‘Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em,'” I said, “This week’s number one the Hit Parade.”

“Look,” said Jim pointing.

In the gloaming, lights twinkled at almost regular intervals along the distant shores of Lost Lake.

“Cottages,” I said huskily. “It’s a mirage. It’s a delusion. We’re suffering from explorer’s exhaustion.”

Around the point we stood on, a canoe came, and from it the music we had heard rose with increasing volume.

It was a boy and a girl with a portable victrola between them in their cushioned ease. When they beheld us in the semi-dark, frozen beside our packsacks and dunnage bags, festooned with our pails and pans, they too froze, staring.

“Hello,” I called hollowly.

The boy paddled cautiously nearer.

“Is this Lost Lake?” I demanded hoarsely.

“No, sir,” said the boy. “This is Golden Sand Lake.”

“It used to be called Lost Lake,” the girl piped up, “before the highway came by. I’ve heard my dad speak of it by that name.”

“Highway?” croaked Jimmie.

“The highway,” said the boy, “just along the other side, see?”

Three cars, lights just turned on, sailed smoothly along the far side of the lake, headed inexorably northward, northward.

“Any bass in this lake?” I asked lightly.

“Not now,” said the girl, “but my daddy has one stuffed in our cottage, he got the first year we were in here before I was born, and it weighed six pounds.”

“Do you suppose,” I inquired, “we could get a lift across the lake to the highway side?”

“I’ll go and get our launch,” said the boy, immediately. “I’ll take you across and you can get a bus. There’s a bus every two hours. both ways.”

“That’s swell,” said Jim.

So we sat down on our duffle and waited for the launch, watching the car lights streaming past on the far side, and not speaking at all, but just thinking and thinking.

“Is this Lost Lake?” I demanded hoarsely. “No, sir,” said the boy. “This is Golden Sand Lake.” “It used to be Lost Lake,” the girl piped up.

Editor’s Notes: The Winisk River and Albany River are in the Kenora area of Northern Ontario.

Varsity was the old name of the University of Toronto.

Railroad section men lived in section houses, and were responsible for the maintenance of a particular section of the railroad. These jobs were phased out over time.

I’m not sure who Mrs. Finnegan’s cows were.

“Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” may be referring to the song “Love Me or Leave Me“.

The story was repeated on August 19, 1944 as “Found – Lost Lake”. The image at the bottom is from that reprint. It is also reprinted in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

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