Any person with sense enough to come in out of the rain could run a chicken farm. That’s what they thought
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 19, 1941
“You and I lead a risky existence,” declared Jimmie Frise.
“Our dangerous days are over, Jim,” I said comfortably.
“I don’t mean risky in the sense of bullets and bombs and stuff,” said Jim. “But suppose this war goes on until nobody wants to look at cartoons any more.”
“You could always eke out an existence drawing war maps,” I submitted. “There is always room for artists there. War maps change every few days.”
“What about you?” inquired Jim. “Suppose this war goes on and on until you haven’t the heart to write any more nonsense.”
“I could peddle articles about how terrible the next war is going to be,” I stated. “Lots of men made a living predicting this war. Don’t you remember? They wrote sensational articles all about how the skies would be filled with bombers and whole cities blown to atoms. And how armies would fight only in tanks. And ships would be sunk from the air.”
“Now that I remember,” cried Jim, “they did a pretty good job of forecasting just what this war would be like.”
“Yep,” I said, “and they made enough to live on and see their predictions come true. It must be queer to be a London or a Berlin journalist and sit in your deep dugout, thumbing over your scrap book and studying all the big feature articles you wrote in 1930, with terrific illustrations of bombers blasting cities and tanks roaring over prostrate civilians…”
“We got so sick of those predictions,” interrupted Jim. “that we went into reverse. Instead of preparing us for the disaster, those articles just drove us to bury our heads in the sand. Maybe the government won’t let you peddle articles like that after this war. Maybe that will be defined as a form of indirect treason.”
“I’ll find something to write,” I assured him.
“Sometimes,” sighed Jimmie, “I get so weary of trying to find anything amusing in this sad world.”
“Laugh, clown, laugh,” I asserted. “It’s the old, old story. Jim. We who were framed by providence to be fools and clowns have to keep on, come hell or high water. The show must go on.”
Going Chicken Ranching
“I wish we had some side line,” muttered Jim.
“Such as?” I demanded.
“We have reached the age,” proposed Jim, “when we should look ahead to retiring. Naturally, we have been much too foolish to save any money. You can’t be a professional fool and a private wise guy at the same time.”
“Chicken ranching,” I submitted.
“That’s not so foolish,” ejaculated Jimmie, sitting up sharply. “I’ve often thought of it. But it is so common a way of escaping from the world, so many people have retired to chicken farming, that I was afraid you’d laugh at me if I suggested it.”
“If others have found an escape from the woes of this world by going chicken ranching,” I offered, “it probably indicates there is merits in the idea.”
“I know people,” said Jim. “who have decided to retire; who quit work and sold their homes in the city and went out and bought little places in the market garden belt; and who inside of two years were back in the city, cleaned to the bone and living on their relations.”
“They probably didn’t understand chickens,” I informed him. “But I should think anybody with enough sense to come in out of the rain could make a go of chickens. Why, out in the towns and villages, nearly everybody has a hen house at the foot of their back yard.”
“Chicken ranching is different,” said Jim. “Keeping a few chickens is one thing. Making a business of them is another.”
“Listen,” I said. “You were born and raised on the farm. You were 18 before you decided to come to the city and be a cartoonist. Surely there is enough of the farmer left in you to make a go of a chicken ranch.”
“I suppose if we went into chicken raising,” said Jim, “you’d leave all the hard work to me on those grounds?”
“I’d be the salesman, Jim,” I explained. “You be the production manager. I’ve got some swell ideas already. For instance: You know those white signs they have along the highways – ‘Cattle Crossing, 300 feet ahead’.”
“Yes,” said Jim, alertly.
“Well, sir, three hundred feet on either side of our little chicken ranch,” I said triumphantly, “I would have signs exactly the same only reading – ‘Chicken Crossing, 300 feet ahead.”
“Oh, boy,” said Jim.
“Can’t you just see them?” I cried. “And can you imagine the effect on the traffic going by? Why, hundreds of cars would stop, just for a laugh. And they’d come into our little place and buy our eggs and poultry. I could set up a little sort of glass shop in the front yard, with refrigerators and things, modern and white…”
Secret of Success
“I believe you’ve got something there,” exclaimed Jim. “Chicken Crossing, 300 feet ahead. Boy, that would stop them. The secret of success in any business is a new idea.”
“You said it, Jim.” I said enthusiastically. “Why maybe we’ve been wasting our lives in this newspaper business. I bet if we’d started in some business like chicken ranching 30 years ago, we’d be rich old geezers right now.”
Jim sat thinking in eager silence, his eyes dancing with the mental pictures he was seeing.
“Listen,” he said excitedly. “You know that little kennel run you have at the foot of your garden?”
“Yes,” I said, doubtfully.
“You don’t use it for anything but storing the lawnmower and the garden furniture,” said Jim. “It was built by some former tenant who kept pets of some kind…”
“Rabbits or pheasants,” I admitted.
“Why can’t we do a little preliminary experimenting,” demanded Jim. “I’d go in with you to get a few chickens. There is no use putting this idea off, the way we do all our other inspirations. Let’s start chicken raising right now. In a small way…”
“Not in the city, Jim,” I protested. “It’s against the law, for one thing.”
“Is it?” questioned Jim shrewdly. “Let’s find out.”
And while I sat filled with misgivings, Jimmie telephoned the city hall, and got the sanitation section in the department of public health and had a long chat with the gentleman there.
“See?” cried Jim, hanging up. “It is not illegal. There are no restrictions whatever against keeping chickens in the city.”
“It doesn’t sound possible, Jim,” I protested. “They’ve by-lawed everything else in the world.”
“The man said, definitely.” declared Jimmie, “that there were no restrictions. It was wholly a question of the neighbors. If the neighbors objected, then we could be summoned through the department of health.”
“It doesn’t sound natural, Jim,” I cautioned. “It doesn’t sound like Toronto.”
A Perfect Example
“The man said,” assured Jim, “that the grounds on which neighbors usually complained was that the chickens were unsanitary, or they were kept too near other people’s premises, or they created a nuisance by escaping into other people’s gardens. Or the rooster crowed too early in the morning … any of these reasons could be advanced by the neighbors and you could be forced to quit keeping chickens.”
“What is too early for a rooster to crow?” I inquired narrowly.
“The gentleman said,” advised Jim, “that in the court, it was usually the opinion of the bench that a rooster should not be permitted to crow before seven a.m. After that, it is all right.”
“What a perfect example,” I pronounced, “of pure democracy. There is no law regarding chickens. But if the neighbors object, you’re out. I didn’t think there was such a case of pure democracy left anywhere on earth. And we find it right here in Toronto.”
“It shows you the value,” declared Jim, “of keeping in with your neighbors. If you are the type that is eternally quarreling with you next door neighbors, objecting to their children, to their dogs, to their shaking mops out windows and so forth, then it is hopeless to try to keep chickens. But if you love your neighbors and they love you, then you have earned not the right but the privilege of keeping chickens. One sour neighbor, and you’re out!”
“Jim” I confessed, “not as an experiment in chickens, but as an experiment in citizenship, I am almost persuaded to agree to your proposition. How many chickens would we buy?”
“Six,” said Jim, after a moment’s calculation. “Five hens and a rooster. I’ll buy three, you buy three.”
“I’ll buy the rooster,” I said.
“And we’ll divide the cost of buying chicken feed,” said Jim, “and we’ll divide the eggs. Oh, boy, oh, boy, do I ever love a pure fresh egg, still warm from the nest, poached and sitting on top of a slice of lovely golden toast…”
“Shirred eggs for me,” I cut in. “Take a little dish and butter it. Break two lovely fresh eggs and put in a hot oven. Bake them until they are just set. Don’t let them bake too long…”
So we went down to the Market that very afternoon, and amidst a glorious music of roosters crowing and hens cackling and squawking that resounded in the big empty market like a symphony rehearsal in an empty auditorium, we walked up and down aisles of cages full of poultry and sought the advice of the white coated lads in charge.
But in the company of the chickens, Jimmie’s latent memories of the farm began to waken, and he began to show an increasing knowledge of the chicken world. The big fluffy Plymouth Rocks intrigued me: but Jim said eggs were our chief interest and he plumped for the White Leghorn. The young fellow who had us in tow praised the Rhode Island Red. He said he had a strain of them that were simply prodigious at eggs. They couldn’t be pried off the nest. He suspected most of them of laying two eggs a day.
Buying White Leghorns
So we ended up by buying a White Leghorn rooster and a combination of White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. The idea being that we could experiment with them and so decide what to raise when the great day came for us to go ranching. The young fellow put them in sacks and we took them home in Jim’s car.
In no time at all, we had the pet house at the foot of my garden in shape for the chickens. All we had to do was move out the swing and the lawnmower and some canvas chairs, patch a couple of holes in the wire netting where some previous tenant had kept some sort of pets; and there we were. A large gathering of children of the neighborhood and both our families were present at the launching of the chickens from the sacks.
They took at once to their new quarters. Each ran about four steps out of the sack before starting to peck. And the big rooster got up on the door edge and let go such a trumpet that windows for half a block in both directions were opened and heads came popping out.
“We’ll have to keep that rooster locked up until seven a.m.,” said Jimmie.
“By the way,” I inquired, “how will we arrange about whose turn it will be to come and let them out each morning? You take one week and I’ll take the next?”
We went up to the Junction and found the last flour and feed store in the district. We bought a 20-pound bag of feed and a water trough and half a dozen china eggs to put in the nests. And before dark, we had the whole enterprise ship shape. Jim built three box nests and I nailed up two perches inside the little house. From a new house we saw under construction on our way to the flour and feed, we got a big carton full of sawdust and shavings. We went to bed that night in the knowledge of something well done and a new era dawning in our lives.
I was waked by sounds in my garden. And there was Jimmie in his old clothes at the chicken house, throwing feed. I dressed hastily and joined him. He lives only five doors south but he had promised to set his alarm clock for seven. It was only ten to seven.
However, I didn’t raise any quarrel. I examined the nests. There were only the china eggs. I renewed the water in the can.
“Mmmff,” said Jim, warmly. “It already smells chickeny.”
We watched them for about an hour and then had to go and get ready for the office. We left the office early and spent the evening around the birds, making friends with them and indicating in our dumb way that they were welcome in all respects and that we would not be distressed if they laid an egg.
Up At Six-Thirty
The next morning, I set my clock for 6.30 a.m. and caught Jimmie just as he came down the side drive. We entered together. I opened the door. Jim grabbed the feed bag and started throwing the feed. I went to the nests; and in the third one found an egg!
It was still warm. And Jimmie and I, after the excitement had died down and the rooster had been chased into silence from his perch on the door, handed it to each other several times while we praised its beauty of form, its transparency, its delicate shell … Then we tossed and Jim won it for breakfast. However, I claimed the right to borrow it long enough to take it inside and wake each member of my family and show it to them.
We latched the door and left repeated instructions to our family as to anybody disturbing the fowls during our absence, and we got back home around 5 p.m.
There were no more eggs. This distressed me, because I was figuring on a shirred egg for supper. But we broomed out the house and renewed the water and Jim made some changes in the sawdust and shavings in the nests. And it was about seven p.m., after a hasty supper, that Jimmie and I were sitting inside the chicken run watching the birds slowly going to bed when the party of neighbors came in the drive. They were a deputation. There were seven gentlemen and one lady. Some of them came from as far as ten doors north.
“Aha,” I said, when I saw their formal expressions, “democracy, huh?”
The spokesman was a man I have often lent my lawnmower to. I have even loaned him a lawn mower that I had borrowed. His children play with mine without ever a rift.
He explained that a wholly spontaneous delegation had been formed, by telephone. There were in the neighborhood several sick people. There was one new-born baby, whose parents got little sleep anyway. That the rooster crowed all day long. But even without the rooster, the hens made a slow, drawling, complaining sound that was most irritating.
“The weather has been very still,” I pleaded. “On ordinary days, you would not notice …”
But he said he had requested to be permitted to be the spokesman as he was an old friend of mine and he wanted to keep the delegation on the pleasantest footing possible.
“We’ve only had one egg,” I pleaded.
However, as the other members of the delegation began to swell up and get red, especially the one lady, we agreed to do something about the matter. The spokesman herded the delegation out before it burst.
So we sat down and watched the last of the fowls retire into the house. It was the rooster. With soft, masculine chuckles and mutters, he reassured his five ladies that all was well and he was coming in from his sentry duty.
I felt something tiny crawling on the back of my neck. I pursued it. It eluded me. I felt something on my wrist. I felt two things on the back of my neck, in the short hair.
“Jim,” I said, bending over, “can you see anything on the back of my neck there?”
“You should keep out of the chicken house,” said Jim. “We’ll have to get some fine sand so they can dust themselves.”
“Is it …?” I inquired.
“Yep,” said Jim.
And the following morning, there being still no more eggs in the nests, I held the bag and Jimmie cornered the birds and we took them down to the market and sold them back to the man for $1 less than we paid.
Which is cheap experience.
Fake eggs are placed in nests to encourage chickens to lay in a particular spot. This is were the term “nest egg” comes from, as it was felt that it would encourage more eggs, and therefore bigger profits.
Greg was probably referring to mites or lice being on him, which can come from chicken farming.
By Greg Clark, May 23, 1941
In which Greg and Jimmie confirm the old adage that one good turn deserves another good turn
“Guess who’s in the army?” cried Jimmie Frise.
“Goodness knows,” I guessed.
“Wesley,” shouted Jim.
“Not old Wes?” I protested. “Why, he’s older than we are.”
“He’s in,” declared Jimmie excitedly. And he’s coming over to the house tonight. In his uniform. And I said you’d be there for sure.”
“I’ll be there. I stated. “If only to find out how he did it.”
“Well, he did it by persistence, of course, said Jim. “He hasn’t drawn a happy breath since this war started. Now he’s in heaven.”
“But he’s away over 50,” I protested. “Wes is just about the Methuselah of the army, I’d say.”
“You’re jealous,” smiled Jimmie. “Just jealous.”
“Not me,” I assured him. “I’ve seen a lot more of this war than old Wes will ever see. I’ve seen more of it than most of our army has seen yet.”
“Yeah, but a war correspondent isn’t a soldier,” submitted Jim, “even if you have a uniform.”
“This country has come to a pretty pass,” I insisted, “if they have to take men as old as Wes.”
“I think they took him,” said Jim, “to get rid of him. He has been public nuisance Number One at all the military headquarters in the country, including Ottawa. He has a file nearly a half a foot thick from Ottawa alone.”
“What’s he going to do?” I inquired. “What branch is he with?”
“Oh, some supply department,” said Jim. “He’s too old to fight.”
“Why, he was in the old First Division, a quarter of a century ago,” I scoffed. “He enlisted on August 5, 1914. I remember thinking he was rather oldish for a lieutenant in that old war.”
“He was a great fighter,” declared Jim. “He won two decorations.”
“Maybe it is just to show off his ribbons that he’s been so crazy to get back in,” I suggested.
“Now, that’s a lousy thing to say,” declared Jim. “Even if your jealousy does hurt you, you shouldn’t say a thing like that. Wes deserves great credit and honor. If there had been more men like Wes in this country we’d have been better off.”
“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “You’re quite right. Wes is a real patriot, even if he hasn’t done so good these past 20 years.”
“He’s just had bad luck,” said Jim.
“Bad luck?” I laughed. “The last war ruined Wes. He came back from the old war a hero. And there was no more call for heroes. So instead of forgetting about the old war and settling down to business like the rest of us, he tried to travel through life on his reputation as a soldier. There were plenty like him.”
Solver of All Problems
“I didn’t know you felt like this about Wes,” said Jimmie. “I thought you liked him a lot.”
“I do like him,” I explained. “But I think it is silly for an old guy like him…”
“Heh, heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie. “I’d like to see the standing broad jump you’d take if you got the same chance Wes got.”
“I know my age,” I declared, “and my capacity.”
“Ah, the army,” sighed Jim dreamily. “No more worry. No more fretting. You get up to a bugle and you go to bed by a bugle. You eat to a bugle call and you go to work to a bugle call. Your pay goes on, whether you work or not. The more dependants you have, the larger your allowance. No cares in the world.”
“It sure must be heaven to old Wes,” I agreed. “He hasn’t had a steady job for 22 years until now. He first tried selling insurance to all his old army friends. Then he went into the stock brokerage business. Then he got a job as sales manager of a novelty furniture company. He came in to see me one day with some crazy kind of collapsible shell he tried to sell me. His life, ever since the last war, has been one long worry. No wonder he was frantic to get back into the good old, safe old, cosy old army.”
“Well, the way things are going,” said Jim, “with taxes and everything, it seems to me the boys in the army are the wise guys.”
“Maybe that’s why I feel a little envious,” I confessed. “The army sure was wonderful wasn’t it? When I first enlisted, I thought with a kind of horror about the surrender of my personal liberty to an institution like the army. But suddenly I found all my personal cares had been lifted from me. All the little, petty carping worries and anxieties of my daily life vanished. I had nothing any more to decide. Everything was decided for me. Always somebody to tell me what to do. I did not even have to decide how to dress for the day. It was all laid down in orders. I did not have to make any decisions as to how I would spend the day or even my spare time in the evenings. There it all was, laid down in the syllabus.”
“It’s freedom, that’s what it is,” declared Jim. “Army life is not the surrender of freedom. It is the sudden liberation from a thousand little, unrealized cares that like a swarm of bees follow a man in civilian life wherever he goes.”
“We never understand how enmeshed like fish we are in little bonds and shackles,” I agreed, “until we go into the army and discover the nearest approach to freedom there is in the world.”
“A monk in holy orders,” said Jim, “escapes from the cares of the world.”
“And a soldier can do what he likes in the evening,” I added.
“The army is the solver of all problems,” declared Jim.
“It is the only way I know,” I concluded, “in which you can chuck your troubles and tribulations on the nation’s back and get credit for it.”
“Maybe Wes can give us some tips on how to get back in,” suggested Jim.
Back in Uniform
“What rank has he got?” I inquired.
“Lieutenant,” said Jim.
“Well, I couldn’t get along on lieutenant’s pay,” I pointed out. “I was a major in the last war. If I could get a colonel’s job…”
“You’re a lot wiser than you were in the old war,” agreed Jim.
“And there are a lot of jobs on organization and so forth,” I submitted, “where I could fit in without losing my wind at all the hills.”
So after supper I went down to Jim’s and we sat on the steps until Wes arrived. We saw him coming halfway up the block. He was magnificent. The old Wes I had seen many a time bowed and shrunken with his worries and disappointments of the past 10 years had left not a vestige of its mark upon the fine upstanding soldier coming down the street, his back as straight as ever it was, his head up, his chin out, and carrying his little swagger-stick as carelessly as though he had held a swagger-stick all his life. His stride was long and lithe. He was like a parade all in himself.
“Let’s give him a cheer,” I said.
“Don’t embarrass him,” cautioned Jim.
So we rose to our feet and stood forth to meet him in honor.
“Wes,” I said, wringing his hand, “this is a great treat for us all.”
“It’s nothing, boys,” he said happily. “It’s where I should have been 18 months ago …”
Even his manner was altered. Wes, of recent years, had got a tired sort of voice, with a little tinge of complaint in it. Not now. His voice was vigorous and it rang. And there was just the trace of an English accent in it, such as many of us affected in the old war.
So we went inside and got settled in the living-room and all gloated.
“When did you put it on, Wes?” we asked.
“I didn’t get the uniform until 5 o’clock,” laughed Wes. “I haven’t had it on three hours.”
“And yet you look as if you had never had it off,” said Jim heartily. “Sit down, Wes.”
But Wes would not sit down. He preferred to stand. He stood against the mantel. He stood over by the windows, his hands behind his back. He walked back and forth in the living room. In a new uniform, you hate to sit down.
His ribbons glowed on his chest. Men of 50 are pretty crafty at noting the age of their peers. A man of 50 who can carry his years is an ever-pressing reproach to all his fellows.
“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow morning.”
“Are you going to have to drill again?” I exclaimed
“Ah, no,” said Wes. “This is just an office parade. I mean that I must present myself to my new C.O. at 8.30 am. He’s quite a stickler. I want to make a good impression.”
A Bit of Spit and Polish
You could see the old Wes feebly trying to assert himself amidst the force and splendor of the new Wes.
“May I suggest,” I ventured kindly, “that you could put a bit of the old spit and polish on those buttons?”
“They’re lacquered,” said Wes. “I haven’t got a batman yet. I may not have one for some time, they told me. So I thought I would leave that lacquer as long as I could to protect the shine.”
“Aw, Wes,” I protested. “An old soldier like you? With dull buttons?”
“They’re not dull,” said Jim.
“I agree they’re not what they should be,” said Wes, looking down appreciatively at his handsome frontal expanse. “But I have no button stick, yet, and no polish. It takes a little time to get things organized again, after all the years…”
And he gazed at space with a strange, joyous, exalted expression on his face.
“After all the years,” he said quietly.
“What chance,” began Jimmie, “do you think we might have, Wes, of getting back into the game?”
“I’m shocked, Wes,” I cut in, “to think that an old soldier like you would be stumped by the want of a button stick. Haven’t you made hundreds of them, in your younger days, out of cardboard?”
“Where’s some cardboard?” laughed Wes, promptly. “Jimmie, find us a bit of stiff cardboard. And have you any metal polish in the house?”
“Down cellar there’s sure to be polish,” said Jim, rising.
So we followed him. And down cellar on the shelves we found three kinds of metal polish. And Jim got a piece of heavy card board, from which we fashioned a button stick. In the army, it is usually of brass. It is a small panel of brass with a slot cut in it which you slide under your buttons to polish them and keep the cleaning fluid off your tunic. We made one, as most soldiers do, out of the cardboard.
“Have you got a good polish,” asked Wes. “that will cut the lacquer?”
From the three assorted polishes, we chose the one that seemed likely to have the most bite.
“Wes,” I said, “take off your tunic and let me have the honor of being your first batman in the great world war.”
And Jim gave me a friendly look, as much as to say that I was making decent amends for some of the things I had said behind Wes’ back. But I am a great believer in acts of humility. I sometimes think they are about the only ones that God happens to notice.
Wes took off his tunic and handed it to me. I slid on the button stick under the buttons and proceeded to wet them up. The lacquer was very hard. I had only rags, but Jim dug up an old brush and with that I scrubbed the buttons. And under Wes’ anxious eye, I began to get results. The lacquer certainly began to dissolve.
“Now,” said Wes, “lay on the flannelette.”
And you should have seen those buttons gleam.
“To think,” said Wes, ashamed, “I came through the streets with those dull buttons.”
A Great and Broken Cry
Long and tenderly we buffed and fluffed the brass buttons until they shone like liquid jewels.
“You know,” I submitted, “a batman’s life isn’t so bad.”
But when we removed the cardboard button stick to attack the smaller buttons on the pockets of the tunic, Wes let out a great and broken cry.
For around each button was a nasty yellowish stain from the brass polish seeping through the cardboard.
“Quick, quick,” shouted Wes in an agonized voice. “Get something.”
“Water, Jim,” I shouted.
“No, no,” bellowed Wes, “some kind of cleaning fluid.”
“Cleaning fluid,” said Jim, promptly diving into the cupboard. “I saw it here.”
And he came out with a large glass jug labelled “Cleaning fluid.”
“Douse it on,” I commanded.
“Easy now, easy,” begged Wes, his voice cracking with anguish.
Jim got a fresh rag and we dipped it in the cleaning fluid and wiped it over the stains around the buttons. Instantly the nasty yellowish stains turned white, as if the very dye out of the khaki cloth had been removed.
“Oh, oh, oh,” roared Wes, snatching the tunic from us.
Jimmie found out later, from the family, that this cleaning fluid was for cleaning floors and sinks and things like that.
“Wes,” I said, as he stood staring in rage at the beautiful new tunic with the horrid ghastly stains all down the front, as neatly spaced as the buttons themselves, “I hope you don’t think I did this on purpose.”
“On purpose?” cried Wes, too confused and amazed to try to understand.
“I’m an artist,” said Jim, resolutely, “I think I can mix up some color in some kind of medium that will touch out those spots temporarily.”
“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow at 8.30.”
“The tunic is ruined,” I said bitterly.
“Come upstairs,” commanded Jim firmly. “I’ll see what can be done.”
So while Wes sat, all hunched up and broken in heart in the living-room, Jim worked in his study, where he keeps his amateur artist stuff – he is in artist by profession, but is a pretty fair amateur artist on the side tinkers at landscapes and things – and taking a tiny patch of cloth from the inside of one of the tunic pockets he worked with colors in ink and alcohol until he got a reasonable match for khaki.
But when he picked up the tunic to start applying the color, he found, with a great yell, that the nasty spots had almost disappeared from the cloth. Only a vague circle of paler color surrounded the buttons.
So we took a damp cloth and sponged around some more until we had abstracted still more of the offending polish and cleaner. And by the time the cloth dried, you could barely see the stains, even in bright 100-watt light.
Wes donned the tunic and stood a little way off.
“Why,” cried Jimmie, “all it looks like that the shine of the buttons has lit up the surrounding cloth.”
So Wes ceased muttering and went off home and we have no doubt his first parade was a complete success.
Editor’s Notes: As indicated in the story, Greg was already a war correspondent at this point in World War Two, and was in Europe during the fall of France.
A swagger-stick was a short stick like a riding crop that officers would carry as a symbol of authority.
A batman was a servant to an officer. This was much more common in the First World War, when class hierarchies were much more prominent in the British Army, and to a lesser extent, in Canada.
As described in the story, a button stick was used as an aid to polishing buttons.
By Greg Clark, May 10, 1941
In a fighting man’s life, there are never enough cigarettes.
There may not be enough ammunition, or enough bombs or even enough food. But if there are enough smokes, everything is jake.
In fact, every old soldier will agree with this: that though there be boxes of ammunition enough to build a barricade and bombs and shells and food enough to stand a siege, if there are no smokes, the battle looks gloomy indeed.
Every soldier’s family knows this. If you listen to the troop broadcasts from Britain, you will hear about every fifth man laughingly but not too laughingly exclaim…”and don’t forget the cigarettes.”
But there are thousands of our men in the army, the air force. the merchant marine who either have no family contacts to keep them supplied with smokes or whose families are living so strictly within the narrow confines of a soldier’s pay and allowances that a dollar for cigarettes is not a little gay gift but a sacrifice, even a heavy sacrifice.
And since there are so many millions of us in Canada with no warmer wish in our hearts than to do some little gracious act towards some unknown man in army, navy, air force or merchant marine, here is the way.
Send a donation of a dollar up – or a dollar down if you like – to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.
For every dollar you send, 400 cigarettes go to a Canadian fighting man in Britain, on the sea, in the air in Newfoundland, West Indies, Iceland, and wherever Canadians are these days.
His majesty the King is patron of the Overseas League, also the Earl of Athlone, representing his majesty in Canada. Every lieutenant-governor in Canada is a patron. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, Air Marshal Bishop, and Sir William Mulock are patrons. Chief justices of provinces, presidents of universities and namely men all over Canada are patrons. The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund is a reputable organization if ever there was one.
You personally can send 300 cigarettes to a friend in the army for a dollar. The Overseas League sends 400. Because of their mass purchases. They have so far sent 4,000,000 cigarettes. They have, in past months, on an income that never yet exceeded $2,000 a month, tried to give one package of cigarettes per man per week to 80,000 Canadians. They need $20,000 a month to supply every Canadian soldier, airman, sailor or merchant marine a packet of cigarettes a week. And they think that if The Star Weekly tells all those people who have the warm wish in their hearts about their program, the $20,000 will roll in. And the league will then give at least one packet a week to every one of the 80,000 Canadians, and in each package will be a postcard bearing the giver’s name and address for the soldier or the sailor or the airman to send his thanks.
The league will also personally acknowledge your donation.
Never Enough Smokes
Now that is the simple and direct process by which you can touch with your own hand some Canadian fighting man somewhere in the far, battled world.
Simply mail your money to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.
By return you will get an acknowledgment from the league.
Supplies from home are of tremendous value to the boys. Under the present system, you can go to any reputable tobacco dealer and send 1,000 cigarettes to your soldier overseas for only $2.50. Imagine 1,000 cigarettes arriving in one gob to your lad sitting in some stuffy hut in a coastal village in England!
Besides, in these perilous times, so many plans go agley.
Ships go down, and with them cigarettes and socks and many a treasured gift. So the more we keep flowing across, the more will get there.
Speaking of ships going down. Our main supply of cigarettes in the old war came via the Expeditionary Force Canteen. The supplies were brought over from England and distributed to our battalion canteens via the big wholesale canteen. But a channel boat loaded with a week’s supply of smokes was sunk. And before another boat could be loaded, a tobacco famine had struck.
And were we ever conscious of what a smoke means to a man! What little stores of smokes we had each treasured up, from our parcels from home, were soon exhausted. And there, mile after mile along the front, were some millions of men all going through the business of “giving up smoking” at the same time. And we got a little on each other’s nerves.
In the dugout in which I lived there was a small wooden box which had come up with the rations. It was a familiar little box. It came to each company of our battalion once a month from a ladies’ auxiliary of our unit back here in Toronto. One month it would contain tooth brushes. The next month, washcloths. Another month, dear little icky-dicky tubes of toothpaste or fairies’ own soap. Now, mind you, these little gifts are welcome. They marked the fact that we were remembered back home by somebody else.
But we never opened these boxes up the line. We carried them back out of the mud and filth, and opened them and distributed their contents when we got back to billets.
However, I adopted this box as my chair or stool in the dugout. And there I sat, during the six-day tobacco famine, on that small box. And such was the state of my nerves that while the company commander just drummed his fingers on the table and the other lieutenants acted queerly according to their natures, I took the old three-cornered French bayonet that we used as a poker for our brazier, and with it sat moodily picking at the small box which protruded between my shins.
And I accidentally split off a bit of the wood. I looked within. I saw a sheet of thick, dark brown waxed paper.
H’m, said I; funny packing for bath salts or something. And I stood up and picked up the box and let out a great and mighty yell. For the box contained one gross of plugs of vicious black chewing tobacco.
Chewing tobacco. As black and fat and pungent as tar. But the note inside explained that the ladies’ auxiliary had been too busy to pack the gifts this month and had left it to a committee of three husbands. And the three husbands had secretly agreed together to be rid of this icky-dicky soap and paste stuff, and send us, for once, the he-mannest thing they could think of – eatin’ tobacco!
God bless those three husbands. It was awful stuff. We cut it up into finest dust and rolled cigarettes with it. We used it in pipes. The bravest of us chewed it. But it broke the famine. And cheered us beyond all belief.
I have seen men in the last outposts of despair, cut off from all help, no food, no water, no ammunition – and because they could steal a smoke, they looked one another in the eye and grinned. And came through.
I have seen men deathly wounded, who, when the stretcher bearer stuck a cigarette in their lips, seemed, at any rate, to lose their pain for a time. Seen men dying who, by the grace of a cigarette, could relax and smile.
There be grim-hearted people who will look askance at this panegyric of tobacco. They think it mean of a human being to bear so heavy upon a wisp of paper and twist of a weed. But on the sea, in far seas, on land, in remote worlds far beyond anything our lads ever dreamed to see, are tens of thousands of our boys who give the lie to the grim-hearted who think of mankind as something to be improved upon what it is, by denial.
Send your dollar, your less than a dollar, your five or your collected $50 to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund. 225 Bay street, Toronto.
Readers who wish to contribute to the fund are requested NOT to send money to The Star Weekly. Donations should be addressed to: The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto. This is the Canadian headquarters. Your gift will be acknowledged by return mail – and later, some grateful soldier in Britain will doubtless write you a note of thanks.
Editor’s Notes: I’ve labelled this article as an advertisement, for understandable reasons. 225 Bay Street no longer exists in Toronto, it is now just part of a block containing the Commerce Court West Office tower.
The Earl of Athlone was the Governor-General of Canada at the time of the article. Ernest Lapointe was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in Cabinet, Billy Bishop was a World War One Flying Ace, and Air Marshal in World War Two, and Sir William Mulock was involved in so many things, you will have to read his Wikipedia article to see why he was referred to as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada. At the time of the article, he was the Chair of the Canadian Committee of the International YMCA, and 98 years old.
Greg so liked the story about the unexpected tobacco received during the First World War, he would repeat it on many other occasions with various embellishments.
By Greg Clark, March 22, 1941
“Men from the country,” asserted Jimmie Frise, “make better soldiers than city men.”
“As a city man.” I replied, “it is my duty to deny that. And I think it ought to be self-evident. This is a war of machines. Machine-guns, tanks, airplanes. It is a city man’s war.”
“The average farmer,” declared Jimmie, “knows at least 10 times as much about machines as the average city man. A city man lives amongst machines. But he doesn’t know anything about them. The most he knows about them is to push a button. He pushes a button and an elevator comes and carries him upstairs. He stands at a white post, and a car stops and picks him up. He puts a nickel in a slot and something comes out. A city man is served, hand and foot, by machines. But it is all buttons to push and switches to turn and white posts to stand at.”
“Why, Jim, that’s ridiculous …” I protested.
“If a city man’s car starts to act up,” went on Jim, “he runs it into the first garage. He wouldn’t dream of trying to fix it himself. If his radio goes bad, he yells for a repair man. There is nothing so comic in the world as a city man whose telephone is out of order. He is rendered absolutely helpless.”
“So,” I said bitterly, “after living all these years in the city, you turn and bite the hand that feeds you!”
“A farmer,” continued Jim imperturbably, “knows 10 times as much about machines as a city man. He lives by machines. He can take his tractor or his car apart and put it together again. His daily job has to do with engines, churns, chopping mills. He understands and can fix pumps, harness, tools and implements, all of which come under the heading of machines. His electric light, telephone and all the things which to us city men are mysteries beyond our ken, he can mend because he understands them. This is the machine age. But the city man is its only victim.”
“How do you mean victim?” I demanded hotly.
“Because,” said Jim, “the city man has sold out to the machines. He has left himself no retreat. If our power were shut off for a week, we would be thrown into complete confusion. All our work would stop. We would live in darkness. We couldn’t cook; our oil furnaces would go out; we would huddle like cavemen freezing to death. But the farmer would carry on his life much as usual. Without lights, he’d just go to bed earlier. Without coal, he’d use wood or straw.”
Magic Hour in the Country
“Our gas engines and cars and trucks would save us,” I countered.
“Purely temporary,” said Jim. “Without power, without machines, we would be helpless. Our telephones wouldn’t work, our radio would be shut off, there would be no movies. Why, we poor city folk would find life hardly worth living. But the farmer has not sold out to the machine. His machines are still his servants, not his lords. We may have saved a little money. But the farmer has saved hay. He plants his grain and feeds his stock. His hens go right on laying, his hogs go right on growing.”
“Yah,” I cried, “but he has to have the cities for his market.”
“If he wants a market,” agreed Jim. “But suppose he merely wants to live? He has got all the means wherewith to live right in his own hand. He has his food. His fires he feeds with wood from his own woodlot. He has lamps, and if the oil gives out, he can still remember how to make tallow candles. If all the highways are bombed so that no traffic can move, the farmer lives in perfect comfort and security, while the cities slowly starve and go mad.”
“That’s an awful picture, Jim.” I accused.
“No,” said Jimmie, “I was just pointing out that we should not put too much reliance on machines and we should not permit ourselves to be carried away with our pride in them. A farmer’s land will stand by him long after the machines have let the cities go to hell.”
“You said men from the country make better soldiers than city men,” I accused.
“I’m inclined to think they do,” repeated Jim, “and we mustn’t forget that among city men are tens of thousands of men from the country who have come into the cities. Whereas, among the men from the country are mighty few who have come from the cities.”
“You’ certainly have a one-way mind,” I snorted.
“I was just thinking,” said Jim, “of all the boys from the farm who are in the army now, in Britain and Iceland and Gibraltar and all over the world. And how they are feeling just about now. With March nearly over and April on the rim.”
“I guess city boys are feeling the same,” I asserted.
“No,” corrected Jim, “to city men March and April are just the dead end of the year; a memory of rain and mud and slush and dreariness, with all the clothes shabby before the spring clothes come out, and all the cars dirty and the streets gray and slimy. But to a country boy, this is the magic hour. The calves and the lambs are coming. The stock are being let out into the fields. The hens are starting to lay and the sap’s runnin’.”
“Of course,” I cried. “The sugar bush.”
When Spring Exults
“The last log is being hauled out of the woodlot,” sang Jimmie, “and the last cordwood being drawn. The meadowlarks and the song sparrows are in every field and the crows are making marriage in the bush.”
“And spouts are being hammered into all the maples in the sugar bush,” I reminded.
“All over the world today,” said Jimmie, “the soldiers from the farms are exiles indeed. This is the time of year when the farmer feels his own sap rising; when he looks out to see where he left the hay rake last fall; in what corner of what field did he drop the plow. You will see him plodding over the fields, planning his crops. At this very hour spring exults on the farms.”
“Jim,” I interjected, “maple syrup and maple sugar. Let’s stop and think about them. To me, there is no flavor in the world so inspiring as the flavor of genuine maple syrup boiled in the bush.”
“And you got mighty little of it,” stated Jim. “Mostly you get ordinary cane syrup flavored with an artificial maple essence made from maple bark and sap wood. There are thriving factories in this world devoted entirely to the making of artificial maple flavor. And I’ve even heard of imitating the flavor with potato peelings and brown sugar. There was a farmer’s wife who could make it that way and even her husband couldn’t tell it from the real thing.”
“No,” I said aghast. “There ought to be a law against it. That’s a crime against the state. The maple leaf is Canada’s emblem.”
“All I say is,” said Jim. “if you want maple syrup, go out in the country and buy it from the farmer.”
“Why,” I cried scandalized, “the government ought to forbid the manufacture or import of maple flavoring. It’s unpatriotic. It’s subversive.”
“I agree with you,” said Jim. “But there are plenty of politicians who wouldn’t. If there are dollars in anything artificial, then that thing is here to stay. That’s a sort of general rule we can bear in mind.”
“We ought to start a battle,” I declared
“Listen,” said Jim. “I bet that half the maple syrup you have gloated over was fake. And I also bet that there are tens of thousands of people who have never yet tasted genuine maple syrup, made and sealed in the bush.”
“And it is one of the unforgettable flavors of this world,” I sighed. “Which we owe to the Indian.”
“The Indians,” enunciated Jim, “had no kettles big enough to boil the sap. They used to get their sugar by freezing.”
“How?” I inquired.
“They collected the sap,” explained Jim, “in bark pails. They had to collect it real early in March, at the very start of the run, so as to take advantage of what frost remained. They set the pails of sap out to freeze. Then they skimmed off the ice and threw it away, By alternately freezing, and thawing, they reduced the sap to a kind of sugar. When the white man came, he introduced big kettles.”
“Does it take much sap to render down to syrup?” I inquired.
“It all depends,” said Jim. “Some sap is richer than others. But as a rule, it takes about 30 to 35 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.”
“Holy Moses,” I said. “And how much sap does one tree give?”
“Well,” said Jim. “that, too, is a problem. If you get a good tree with a big top, and it is situated near a cold spring, and it is a real hard sugar maple, you would get an average of two gallons of sap in 24 hours.”
“So 15 trees would give you a gallon of syrup a day,” I suggested.
“Plus a lot of hard work,” smiled Jim. “driving a sleigh around the sugar bush collecting the sap from the buckets and taking care of it so it doesn’t sour.”
“Isn’t the sap sweet?” I demanded.
“Yes, but if it is neglected, or gets warm, it sours,” said Jim. “You can get sap from any kind of maple, and they all make syrup and sugar. But the best trees are the sugar maple. And they run good for only about three weeks. Sometimes the run starts early in March, sometimes later. Sometimes the run will go great for four weeks and sometimes only for two. It’s tricky, like everything else around a farm. But if you want to go for a drive in the country one of these days, we can pick up a few gallons of the real McKay.”
But I was looking speculatively out the window. For there in Jim’s back yard were three thriving maple trees. And out in front were two more. And in the neighbors’ yards I could see half a dozen other fine maples. And I was calculating just how many there were in and around my own front and back yard.
“Jim,” I said, “did it ever occur to you how many maple trees there are in Canada? How many billions? Did it ever occur to you that if we Canadians went at the problem in a business-like way, we could take possession of the sugar market of the world?”
“Don’t suggest anything business-like in connection with maple syrup,” said Jimmie, “or you lose the wild, smoky tang that distinguishes the real thing.”
“Do you realize,” I demanded that there are 15 maple trees within sight of where we sit? Do you realize that those 15 trees would give us enough sap, at two gallons per tree per day, to make a gallon of maple syrup right in our own kitchen?”
“Hm,” said Jim reflectively.
An Exciting Experiment
So we went out and made a survey of the situation and found five trees on our own premises, seven more on the premises of what might be called friendly neighbors, and another 12 in the immediate vicinity which might be brought into the scheme if we approached the owners in the proper fashion.
It was a matter of less than an hour to round up, in our own cellars, enough empty pails, lard tins and other receptacles suitable to collecting the sap. From the stationery shop we got half a dozen pea shooters of tin which would make, Jim thought, ideal sap spouts to drive into the trees. A chisel for making the notch in the bark and a brace and bit for making the little holes into which to stick the spouts was, with a handful of nails, all that a couple of maple enthusiasts required.
We agreed to tap only Jim’s trees to start with. From them we figured on collecting about 10 gallons of sap which would give us a boiling down of better than a quart of syrup, which, as Jimmie explained, would indicate whether the experiment was worthy of larger development.
“We may,” pointed out Jim, “get the whole city making maple syrup.”
So, with daylight saving to help us, we tapped our five trees, on the front lawn and in the yard, and found no trouble inserting the spouts and suspending the pails on nails. The colorless, water-like sap began to run almost instantly. First a dribble and then a trickle rewarded our gaze as each tree was notched and spouted. And when darkness fell, there was already a nice wetness covering the bottom of each pail.
The next morning being Saturday, we telephoned the office that we had important work to do; which was fortunate, because with all the children of the district home from school, we had to keep a sharp eye on our pails of sweet sap. Overnight, some of the smaller pails had actually filled and overflowed. It is astonishing how maple sap flows. With the day, the sap flow increased. In a big preserving kettle down in Jim’s cellar, on the laundry gas stove, we collected the sap from the pails.
“We should be boiling by 6 o’clock tonight, at this rate,” said Jim, looking at the good six inches of sap already in the kettle.
The children of the neighborhood took a most lively interest in the enterprise, and Jim and I both took time, seeing there was nothing else to do, to instruct these ignorant little city children in the mysteries of maple sugar making.
“To celebrate our first boiling,” suggested Jim. “we might invite all these kids in to watch and let them sit around the kettle and dip sticks in the syrup, the way they do in the country at a sugaring-off. They dip switches in and then cool the syrup in the snow and it turns to candy.”
“It might be nice,” I agreed, “because after all, this is a patriotic enterprise and the kids ought to be in it.”
The First – and Last – Boiling
So we got quite friendly with the children clustered around and I allowed some of them to taste the sap, even though it was precious. I had tasted it. It had a sweetish, queer flavor. Rather nice. I tasted quite a lot of it. I got a spoon and dipped some out for each youngster. They all had two or three helpings of the sap. I had about 10 or 15. And then an old lady passing by spoiled the fun.
“Mercy sakes,” she said, “you are not giving those children that maple sap!”
“It won’t hurt them,” I reassured her.
“Won’t hurt them?” she cried. “It’ll give them the worst gripes they ever had. My goodness, don’t let them have any more.”
“My dear lady,” I said, “I bet I’ve had a pint of it.”
“Well,” she laughed, “if you have, you’ll soon know it. Why, when I was a girl back on the farm the best joke in the world was to invite your town cousins out and give them sap to drink and then…”
But at that instant I felt the first gripes. It was just as the lady said.
I had to leave the experiment to Jimmie. He had drunk only a little of the sap and was more or less able to carry on. I came and went, as the gripes came and went. I was feeling some better along about 6 o’clock, when Jimmie announced the first boiling to be ready.
Unquestionably, as we boiled, there was a delicious maple aroma in that cellar laundry. Unquestionably, the sap slowly boiled to a darker and darker shade. Unquestionably the slowly forming syrup, as the hours went by, did taste like maple syrup. But also unquestionably it seemed to taste of other things, such as a faint suspicion of gasoline, and a faint tinge of lubricating oil and other things which undoubtedly seep down into the soil from which city trees draw their sustenance.
It may have been the sap I had drunk earlier in the day that threw me off my taste, but by the time the syrup had begun to take on the consistency of syrup, I had no taste for it at all; and I was ready to go out into the fresh air and breathe the cold. What we had left at the end of the boiling both Jimmie and I agreed to pour out in a quiet corner of Jimmie’s garden. Altogether, it was a failure as an experiment. And a lot of work and trouble.
But the worst feature of the experiment was that all day all the mothers in the neighborhood telephoned in high, sharp voices to ask what on earth we had been giving their children to drink?
Editor’s Notes: This story gives a good description of making maple syrup. I suspect that at the time of writing, it was more common to encounter artificial syrup in Canada, but this in no longer the case. To anyone in the right climate, making maple syrup by hobbyists is not uncommon, so long as you have enough trees to work with, and preferably do the boiling outside. One shouldn’t let Greg and Jim’s failed experiment discourage you.
Jim uses the phrase “the real McKay“. This is from an advertising slogan of the MacKay whisky distillery: “A drappie o’ the real MacKay”. This would eventually transform to “the real McCoy“, to indicate something was “the real thing” or “the genuine article”.
By Greg Clark, June 7, 1941
“I’m going to have to rent the cottage,” stated Jimmie Frise dismally.
“Rent the cottage!” I cried.
“With the new war taxes and everything,” said Jim, “I just can’t afford to have a summer cottage. I’m going to rent it.”
“And who’s going to take it?” I demanded hotly. “Doesn’t everybody have to pay taxes?”
“I can get somebody to take it,” said Jim.
“Yes, but what more right will he have to take it than you?” I demanded.” “If you can’t afford to keep a summer cottage, nobody else can. So keep it. Everybody’s in the same boat now.”
“I can find somebody with a little more money than me,” explained Jimmie. “The taxes and stuff have moved me quietly out of the class of people who can afford summer cottages.”
“You don’t follow me,” I protested vehemently. “If these were normal times and you had lost money in the stock market or something normal like that, you would be justified in giving up your cottage. But everybody is being taxed. Everybody is going to have to live on less money. Therefore, how are you going to find anybody to rent your cottage? And if you do find somebody to take it, doesn’t that prove he is a chiseller who hasn’t declared all his taxes?”
“You’re just sore because you won’t have those fishing week-ends up at my place,” smiled Jim.
“I don’t let my personal concerns interfere with my reasoning,” I informed him. “But it doesn’t make sense to say that you can’t afford to keep your cottage so you’re going to rent it to somebody who can’t afford to rent it.”
“Plenty of people,” said Jim, “can get along very nicely on the money I get, without going short. I’m just a poor manager, that’s all.”
“So you’ll rent that dear little cottage,” I said, “to some good manager? My dear boy, if there are any good managers, they’ve got a summer cottage of their own already.”
“I can get $200 for the summer from that cottage,” said Jim. “And boy, I need that $200.”
“There is nothing you can buy for $200,” I informed him, “that will be worth half so much as those two months for your family and you up at the lake. Not for $500 could you buy anything of equal value.”
“I don’t want to buy anything,” explained Jim. “That $200 would go for things I’ve already bought.”
“Jim,” I pleaded, “economize on other things. Economize on your car, put it away in the garage all summer. Economize on your food bills, on your clothes, on your summer wardrobe. But don’t try to economize on the health and happiness of your family.”
“Or,” said Jim, on the good fishing of my friends.”
“It is Your Dream Home”
“Any more cracks like that,” I stated, “and I won’t even visit your cottage.”
“I’m afraid you won’t be visiting it anyway,” said Jim. “Unless maybe you’d like to rent it?”
“I’m not interested, Jim,” I said. “You know my beliefs in the matter of summer cottages. I don’t believe in tying myself down for the whole summer to one place. I like to see various parts of the province during the summer.”
“At your friends’ cottages,” said Jim.
“I pay my way, don’t I?” I said indignantly. “Didn’t I bring a whole ham on that last visit to you last August? And two baskets of tomatoes, and a basket of melons, and two boxes of candy and toys for the kids? Didn’t I?”
“You remember the details, all right,” admitted Jim.
“I certainly do,” I stated. “I make it my business to bring the equivalent in supplies and gifts of a sum of money equal to what I would pay at a good summer hotel. For whatever period I come for. I’m no cheap sport. I pay my way.”
“You’re very good,” agreed Jim. “But it isn’t the same as owning your own cottage. Or even the same as staying at a summer hotel.”
“Do you resent my spending a few weekends with you?” I exclaimed. “I thought we had more fun than…”
“Sure, sure, I love to have you up,” said Jimmie. “In fact, our fishing trips are the highlight of the whole summer to me. But I was just wearing down your objections to me renting my cottage. I’ve made up my mind. I’ve written out an ad to put in the paper. And I’ve painted a sign ‘Cottage for Rent’ to nail up on the cottage this week-end.”
“Well,” I said glumly, “there goes about the nicest cottage in my whole collection.”
“It’s a great little spot,” admitted Jimmie. “It won’t be easy to pass it up. We’ve had a lot of fun there. You can move all over the city in the course of the years, and leave one house after another without a pang. In fact, you’re often glad to be rid of the last one. But a summer cottage is different. No matter how shabby and run-down it may be, a summer cottage becomes your true home in a sense a city house never does. It is your dream home.”
“You said it, Jim,” I insinuated. “You have no idea how you’ll miss it this summer, when you and your family are slowly baking and frying here in town.”
“It’s a straight case of dollars and cents,” said Jim quietly. “I have thought it all out.”
“Have you visualized the haggard eyes of your little children,” I demanded, “looking at you when you come home here on one of those blistering August afternoons?”
“We’re going on plenty of picnics,” explained Jimmie. “We’re going to bring down from the cottage some of the deck chairs and other summer furniture to fix up our garden. We’re going to bring down the outboard engine, too, and I will rent a skiff down on the lake off Sunnyside and take the family on the evenings for sails along towards Oakville and Hamilton.”
“How pleasant,” I sneered.
Jim Makes a Decision
“I’ve set out a regular program,” continued Jimmie, “picnics, sails along the lake, al fresco suppers out in the garden on bright deck chairs and rustic tables. After all what’s the difference between Muskoka and Toronto when it comes to temperature?”
“About 30 degrees,” I stated loudly.
“Don’t be absurd, retorted Jim. “Don’t you remember last summer some of these nights when you could hardly draw your breath it was so hot and stuffy up at the cottage? You were there in the hot spell. We had to practically live in the water.”
“And where will you live during the hot spell here in town?” I inquired. “In the cellar?”
“It isn’t five minutes from my house to Sunnyside,” said Jim. “And we can put our bathing suits on right in our own house here, too.”
“You are making a great mistake, Jim,” I said.
“I am making $200,” replied Jim.
“Which the government will take off you,” I pointed out.
“You have put up a good fight,” said Jim, “but you have lost. I am definitely giving up the cottage this year. The ads go in next Monday. I am going up to the cottage this week-end to bring down some stuff. The deck chairs, my outboard engine, and a new three-burner oil stove we just bought last summer.”
“Are you hiring a truck?” I asked.
“No,” said Jim, “I thought maybe you would be interested in a little trip to the country. And if we took your open ear, we could pack all that stuff in it.”
“Well, I’ll be …”I gasped. “You deprive me of one of my favorite summer cottages, and then you …”
“An open car carries twice as much as a closed car,” said Jim.
“But I’m not making any truck out of my sport phaeton,” I snorted. “Especially three-burner oil stoves. What are you bringing that home for? Isn’t the new tenant going to have a stove?”
“There’s the old oil stove out in the back shed,” explained Jim. “We don’t like to use second-hand stoves. The food always seems to taste of strangers. So we’re bringing the new one home to store and let the tenants use the old one.”
“I think my family has me dated up for this week-end, Jim,” I said.
“Very well,” said Jim shortly.
The Farewell Journey
But the more I thought of it, the more I felt I should accompany Jim on his farewell journey to the cottage. After all, Jim and I have been friends since boyhood. I was a cub reporter when he was a cub artist doing diagrams of where the murder took place, X marking the spot where the body was found. We have been to wars together and killed thousands of fish and not a few ducks together. And, as Jim says, a summer cottage comes to mean more to you than any mansion you might inhabit in a city.
So I intimated to him that the date my family had made for me on the week-end had fallen through and that I would be happy to use my touring car for transporting his lares and penates down from the cottage.
“What are lares and penates?” asked Jim.
“It is Latin for outboard motors and three-burner oil stoves,” I explained.
“And we left Friday night, seeing we are all on the five-day week now which gave us Saturday and Sunday at the cottage, to do a real job of farewell.
The bass season does not open for nearly a month, so there was no use torturing ourselves by going out in the boat. We just loafed about the cottage itself. Sat on the veranda and smoked; walked back over the hills and woods where already the heavy hand of summer was laid. The birds had pretty nearly finished nesting and young birds were everywhere. The wildflowers were all over and done. The season of silent growth was one, the season of leaf and wind that leads straight to autumn and harvest and lying leaves and death again.
Between walks. we went over the cottage rather sadly setting out on the veranda the things Jimmie wanted to take home. The engine, the stove, three deck chairs and a new mattress that was too good to let unknown strangers have.
We also tore down a whole raft of colored pictures from the rotogravure and from the movie magazines which, in past years, had been tacked up on the cottage walls.
We tidied things up and hid away some of the things Jimmie was sure would be lost or mislaid by strangers, such as paddles, a little hatchet Jimmie was very fond of, an old rake and things like that.
“I’ll hide these under the back of the cottage,” said Jim. “which will give me the feeling of coming back some other year. These things will be waiting for me, even though strangers call this place their own for a while.”
“The new people,” I said, “will probably change everything around. They’ll tack up new pictures clipped from the rotogravure. They’ll probably shift the beds around.”
“I can easily shift everything back again,” said Jim.
“They’ll no doubt break things,” I pointed out. “Some of the china, and maybe a window or so. Are you going to allow a family with children to rent the place?”
“I wasn’t figuring on selecting the tenants,” said Jim. “For $200, almost anybody …”
“Some women,” I said, “are dreadful housekeepers when it comes to a summer cottage. They just feel it is a holiday and they let things go hang.”
“My family can soon redd it up,” said Jimmie.
“You’ll have to come up after the season’s over,” I suggested, “and clean her up then.
Some women leave the kitchen like a pig pen, dirt and filth all around the sink, and stuff left in bottles and packages on the shelves. That attracts the mice in, and when you come up next year the place will fairly stink.”
“I’ll be up in the fall, all right,” assured Jim. “The minute those people get out, I’ll be up here with a gang to clean house, you bet.”
“Are you putting on any extra insurance,” I inquired, “in case these people are careless with lamps and things? Or any insurance for damage kids might do?
“I think I’ll try to rent it to a couple of old maids,” said Jim. “How about piling the stuff in your car now?”
“Why,” I protested, “we’re not leaving yet, are we? I thought we’d be leaving after supper.”
“There’s no use hanging around,” said Jim miserably. “The longer I hang around, the worse I feel about the whole business.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pile the stuff in the car.”
So we carried out the mattress and the engine and the chairs and stowed them in the car. We were just carrying out the three-burner oil stove when a strange thing happened.
Right off the little wharf in front of the cottage a huge black bass leaped.
It was not an ordinary leap. Jimmie and I have both seen thousands of bass leaps. This was like a ceremonial leap. The bass came out of the water in a loud, ringing splash which attracted our attention as if it had been gunshot. There, in the lovely light, the bass seemed to hang in space. It curved and dropped, with another resounding splash, back into the water.
Jimmie and I set the stove down in a single movement. We tightened our belts and walked quickly down to the wharf. There, on its white sand nest, lay the bass, a huge one, fanning the water with tail, and fins in motionless stance.
Jim stood and stared with entranced gaze. I dared not open my mouth.
The great bass, fanning immovably, seemed to eye us with his red orbs. Jim waved a hand. The bass darted from the nest and then came darting back.
I tossed a little chip on the water. The bass rose like a torpedo and hit the chip a terrific slash with his tail.
“Oh, boy,” muttered Jim, “oh, boy, ohboy-ohboy.”
He turned and marched back up to the car. He seized hold of the end of the three-burner gas stove. I seized the other. Jim backed into the house. I followed. In five minutes, we had the chairs back, the mattress on the bed, the engine in the cupboard and everything all hunky dory.
Then we went and sat on the cedar chairs and put our heels on the railing and lit our pipes and blew smoke out on to the silent air.
For the first time, Jimmie spoke.
“That settles it,” he said firmly.
Editor’s Notes: For story-telling purposes, Greg implies he does not have a cottage. He did at Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay.
Lares and Penates were Roman deities who protected the home. It came to be a phrase meaning a person’s home and household possessions.
Rotogravure is a printing technique, and was also used as a term to refer to the illustrated sections of magazines.
“Redd it up” means to clear something away, to tidy.
By Greg Clark, March 8, 1941
“My conscience,” said Jimmie Frise, at the wheel of his car, “is not hurting me.”
“Why should it?” I consoled. “Ice fishing is not a crime against the state.”
“No, but it’s a waste of time,” said Jim. “The time is coming when we will all have to measure each hour of our day and see to it that it is well spent in the service of our country. War is the harshest employer in the history of labor.”
“Recreation,” I reminded him, “is simply re-creation. The re-creation of our energies.”
“In Germany,” said Jimmie, “we could be pinched and charged with high treason for going fishing through the ice. Wasting the nation’s time and energy.”
“But what could we do, Jim?” I protested. “Come down to earth. Be practical. What could you and I do this Saturday afternoon that would promote the war effort, in place of going fishing through the ice?”
“Every hour of work,” enunciated Jimmie, “produces wealth in some small measure. That wealth is a tiny drop in the ocean of the nation’s wealth. And wealth is power.”
“So,” I concluded, “we turn around and go home, and you draw a cartoon and I write an article …”
“It might be,” countered Jim, that the cartoon I would draw this afternoon and the article you might write this afternoon would be the one in a million to strike the true note of inspiration and inspire millions of our fellow-Canadians to more hours of labor, to making more money, to invest in more war savings …”
“On the other hand,” I stated, “we are salary workers. We don’t get paid by the piece. Whatever we write or draw this afternoon, we would get paid just the same; so that nothing is added to the nation’s wealth.”
“So,” I concluded, “we turn around and go home, and you draw a cartoon and I write an article …”
“It might be,” countered Jim. “that the cartoon I would draw this afternoon and the article you might write this afternoon would be the one in a million to strike the true note of inspiration and inspire millions of our fellow-Canadians to more hours of labor, to making more money, to invest in more war savings …”
“On the other hand.” I stated, “we are salary workers. We don’t get paid by the piece. Whatever we write or draw this afternoon, we would get paid just the same; so that nothing is added to the nation’s wealth.”
“Except the inspiration,” submitted Jim.
“How do you know,” I inquired shrewdly, that we might not get the makings of an inspirational story and cartoon this very afternoon, out on the ice fishing?”
“Well, that’s true,” admitted Jimmie, stepping a little on the gas.
And in no time at all, we saw Lake Simcoe’s white expanse shimmering in the March sun. March is the month for ice fishing. The herring are on the move. In their arrowy silver hordes, they are sweeping up from the great depths of the lakes to explore the shallows. And squatted on the ice over the shallows out from shore, over those areas which generations of Lake Simconians have proven to be the favorite water-paths of the herrings, are the little fishing houses of the ice fishers.
Just Village Gentlemen
Some are sportsmen purely. Some are commercial-minded purely, who fill an eight-quart fruit basket with the little silver herring and get a good price for them from the dealers in the villages on shore. But mostly, the ice fishers are just ordinary village gentlemen of mature years and sundry occupations who find in the silence and comfort of the little fishing shack a pleasant escape from the cares of domesticity and a chance to sit and think.
Most of the fishing houses are home-made. They are mere boxes, and a big sleigh is made on which to haul the fish shack from place to place on the ice as fancy guides. The fish house is cosy and has a floor. In the floor a square hole about the size of a suitcase has been cut. This hole in the floor is the exact size of the hole in the ice the fisherman cuts with a long-handled ice chisel. The shack is then slid over the hole in the ice. The angler enters the little house, lights a fire with sticks in the tiny stove made of a square gasoline can. Closes the door of the shack, and there, in a kind of luminous dim green light striking up through the hole in the ice and the floor, proceeds to dangle his line into the motionless and mysterious depths.
For bait, he uses as a rule a tiny dead minnow of the kind you see in shoals along the shore in summer. These the fisher has caught in a minnow trap let through the ice near shore. Probably it is these tiny inch and two-inch long fishlets the herring have come in search of.
The great American divine, Dr. Henry Van Dyke, said: “There is nothing that attracts human nature more powerfully than the sport of tempting the unknown with a fishing line.”
This is specially true of ice fishing. Because, as you sit there on your little bench in the fishing hut, bending over the hole and dibbling your line, watching the tiny bait dancing dimly below, you are liable to tremendous shocks when some giant lake trout, following the herring hordes, comes like a monstrous shadow out of the green gloom to veer disdainfully past your tiny bait. Sometimes a huge pike will visit your little horizon. Sometimes, even, that pike will rush like a fury from nowhere and grab from your lure a herring you have just hooked.
However–it’s a sport. A cosy, lazy, sit-down sport that appeals mightily to those men who are fond of a little isolation now and then from the cares of the world.
In the village Jim and I inquired at the gas station if there was anybody around with a fishing house to rent for the afternoon. And right in the gas station was the man we sought.
“It’s out there on the ice,” he informed us. “I’ve been trying all day to get out to it, but it don’t look as if I can make it today, so I’ll gladly rent it to you.”
“A dollar,” he said. “It’s the best fish house on the lake. And right now it is over one of the best channels in the lake. I got three baskets of herring there the day before yesterday.”
The gentleman escorted us down to the shore and pointed out the colony of little shacks clustered on the ice a mile out.
“You can’t miss it,” he said. “It’s the largest of the shacks. It will hold the two of you comfortably. It has a bright red roof. You can’t miss it. Just ask for Sam’s house.”
So we locked up the car on the edge of the lake and walked out to the little fishing village on the ice. A deserted village it seemed to be. From each little chimney thin smoke curled. Not a living soul was in sight. But when we stilled our crisp footfalls on the snow, and listened, we could hear a small, faint traffic, thuds and muffled coughs, and now and then a voice muttering or yawning. And in one shack, a fine deep snore.
As we explored the ragged little village of huts, a door opened and a man’s head and shoulders appeared as he threw out on to the ice a little pailful of slush dipped from his fishing hole within.
“Which is Sam’s house?” we inquired.
“That one there with the red roof,” replied the angler, eyeing us drowsily.
So we went up and tried the door of the red-roofed shack.
“It’s locked,” said Jim.
“Give it a little kick,” I suggested.
Jim gave it a little kick, and instantly a tremendous bellow answered us from within the shack, the door burst open and a most furious-faced individual glared and blinked indignantly up at us.
“What the heck do you want?” he roared. “Do you know what you done? You scared away the biggest pike I ever hope to see!”
“We rented this fish house,” said Jim.
“Get away,” shouted the occupant. “What kind of … coming kicking in doors … the biggest pike I ever hope to see.”
At this row, several neighboring fish houses opened their doors and inquiring heads peered out. Addressing these neighbors rather than us, the gentleman in our fish house cried:
“Swum right around my bait three times, coming nearer and nearer, and me jigging the minnow so dainty. And then … wham … these guys come hollering and kicking in my door!”
“Isn’t this Sam’s fishing shack?” inquired Jim.
“What if it is?” bellowed the stranger hotly.
“We rented it for a dollar,” said Jim. “We paid a dollar.”
“Possession is nine points of the law,” retorted the stranger. “I always use Sam’s house if he ain’t here. I’ll pay him a dollar. If I can only catch that pike. The biggest pike …”
He tried to close the door but Jim stuck his foot in.
“This is our house,” he stated evenly. “In law, it is ours in fact. We have leased it.”
“Use my house, over there,” pleaded the occupant in a heartfelt voice.
“No,” said Jim, judicially. This is our house. We leased it.”
“Oh,” said the man furiously, and grabbed together his lines and sticks and scrambled out into the sunlight. And in no time, Jim and I were inside, with Sam’s lines dangling enticingly into the limpid green depths, and Sam’s little stove humming and we were very set.
We had hardly got settled before we heard thuds and chopping and we looked out to see the late tenant of our house busy with ice chisel and dipper cutting a hole in the ice not 10 feet from our location. He had drawn his shack over on its sleigh and he was about to set up right alongside of us.
“I guess there is no law against it,” said Jimmie.
And presently silence fell, and we sat in that muffled stillness, dibbling our lines down, making the tiny minnows dance on our hooks.
No herring came. Nothing came. Sleep tried to come but Jimmie and I both fought it back. We opened the door from time to time. There, a few feet away, was the silent house of our evicted friend, a thin smoke coming from his chimney while he sat within, concentrating.
“Psst,” hissed Jim, after we had been sitting some time. And there, off to one side, a monstrous shadow glided.
It was the pike. Dark green amidst the lighter green of the icy water, the huge fish drifted with imperceptible movement of fin or tail. Like a shadow, it floated. Then it slowly vanished out of the orbit of our view.
Jim and I found our hair standing on end and our hearts thudding like drums on parade.
“Jig your bait!” whispered Jim. And we furiously danced our minnows.
A long moment later, again that soundless, effortless shadow, big as a log of wood, drifted across the far edge of our view. Still a third time it appeared, and suddenly, with a wrench of its body that seemed to be the effort of absolute fury, the pike launched itself.
Upward and past us it flung itself in a leap so sudden, so swift and dreadful, both Jim and I leaped back from the hole in the ice and yanked our lines clean out of the water.
But the pike had not attacked us. It had gone obliquely past our baits, headed straight for the lure of the gentleman next door. And no further proof was needed than the muffled bellows and roars that we could hear.
“He’s got him!” shouted Jimmie, kicking open the door.
“Shut the door,” I commanded. “Look, look.”
For through the hole in our floor we could see part of the battle as the hooked pike, its yellow spotted sides making it gleam like burnished metal, writhed and fought furiously, crossing and recrossing our view.
“Boy,” breathed Jim. “what a box seat we’ve got!”
“Yeah?” I said, lowering my baited line. “And what else?”
For our lines were sturdy and strong and new.
Time after time the fighting, plunging pike dragged the other line against mine; time after time I jerked viciously as the pike itself passed over my hook.
“That tiny hook will never hold,” protested Jim.
“Anyway,” I panted, jerking.
And suddenly I had him.
By the tail. And for three or four minutes that little fishing house was as full of excitement and flying slush as a March dog fight.
I pulled one way and our neighbor pulled the other until the pike, regardless of its size and strength, caught by head and tail, gave up the struggle entirely.
Law of Probabilities
We could hear our neighbor bellowing, “Leggo leggo,” but all I said was “Hook the door, Jim.” And then I took a double-wrapped hold on Sam’s stout green cuttyhunk, braced my feet and hauled.
And it was the neighbor’s line that parted. For I had the little hook solidly embedded in the powerful tail muscles of the pike. And tail first, the pike was hauled up through the hole in the ice and Jimmie fell upon it and held it fast.
“Open up. open up,” roared a voice outside, with loud thumping on the door.
“Open or I’ll kick it open.”
“Go away.” I shouted. “Don’t disturb us. We’re fishing.”
By this time several of the neighbors had gathered outside to learn the excitement, and we could hear our neighbor most indignantly recounting how he had hooked the monstrous pike and how, while he was playing it, we had foully sniggled it and then bust his line on him.
“Open up, open up,” he repeated, kicking at our door.
“Hey, you, listen,” I yelled through the door. “We’ll have the law on you for trespass, assault and battery and damages. Don’t you wreck this house or you’ll have the police on you.”
“Gimme my fish,” he bellowed.
“It’s not your fish,” I shouted hotly. “Your line broke. You lost the fish. It fouled my line. I caught it. The law says it is my fish and you know it.”
I could hear corroborative discussion outside and there followed several minutes of conversation, occasionally rising to loud and menacing yells as our neighbor felt his grief come over him. Little by little it died away but our neighbor lingered long, making loud and lonely remarks about thieves and gangsters coming from the city to rob honest men.
He thumped and banged around, rendering any hope of fishing vain. But as darkness grew, we heard the others of the colony depart and finally silence fell and we emerged and carried our pike across the ice a mile to shore, where we found our car with all the tires flat. The air had been let out of them all, including the spare.
“Let’s have him pinched,” I yelled.
“It couldn’t be proved who did it,” mollified Jim. “It might have been mischievous boys.”
“Mischievous…” I snorted.
“We evicted the poor guy out of the fish house,” said Jim.
“We were within our legal rights,” I stated.
“We snaggled his pike,” said Jim, “which we don’t want, now that we’ve got it. We’ll only give it away to somebody.”
“The fish fouled my tackle,” I retorted.
“Now our tires are flat,” said Jim. “And only the law of probabilities to suggest who did it.”
“The law, the law,” I said.
“Aren’t human beings funny,” mused Jimmie.