By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 22, 1942.
“I’m glad,” stated Jimmie Frise, “that you I are wearing your business clothes.”
“As a matter of fact,” I confessed, “it is getting a little harder all the time to put on my fishing togs. At least, in public.”
“To tell the truth,” said Jim, “the reason I suggested we leave as early as this was to avoid the neighbors seeing me pack up the car with fishing tackle and the outboard engine.”
“I noticed you drove up to my house very quietly,” I informed him, “not tooting your horn as usual, but just rolling up into my side drive.”
“Well, I didn’t know what you might be wearing,” explained Jim. “I’m glad to see you put your fishing clothes and tackle in an ordinary suit-case this time, instead that old canvas bag you generally use.”
“I guess we both feel the same about going fishing,” I submitted, “We are both trying to conceal the fact that we are taking a holiday.”
“Well, for all our brave talk,” said Jim, “this is the first time we’ve gone fishing since the opening of the season, away back in the end of June.”
“And now the summer’s nearly over,” I sighed.
“If people knew how we measure our lives,” said Jim, “not by years, but by days spent in the open, they mightn’t think ill of us.”
“Well, I hope we have some luck,” I stated. “This is our last fishing trip for 1942. With the end of this trip, another year has gone out of our lives.”
“We should kick,” said Jim. “Think of the boys in the army who have been three years away.”
“They’re young,” I reminded him. “They can catch up.”
“If,” said Jimmie.
Be Ashamed of Others
Which brief remark gave us a few minutes of silence as we drove out of the city and got on to the highway leading north. We were both in our regular business clothes. Our bags and fishing rods were carefully stowed out of sight in the car. We might have been mistaken for a couple of gentlemen of the War Prices Board heading out to some neighboring city to investigate a scandal.
“I guess,” said Jimmie, after we had both pondered that wicked little “if” for a while. “I guess when people begin being ashamed of themselves, the war may be said to have arrived in our midst.”
“The best way to avoid being ashamed of ourselves,” I agreed, “is to be ashamed of others. When you are busy being ashamed of the government or your neighbors or relatives, you have no time to think up things to be ashamed of in yourself.”
“And the louder the critics talk about others,” pointed out Jim, “the nearer, probably, they are to realizing their own faults. The awful day dawns sooner or later.”
“Of course, there are some people,” I recollected, “who are physically incapable of being ashamed. They haven’t got the necessary mental organ to feel shame with.”
“That’s called conscience,” said Jim.
“No, it’s different from conscience,” I declared. “Conscience is the moral sense of right and wrong. And right and wrong are like the stock market; you’ve got to have the latest quotations. But I know lots of people who do the most dreadful things without the least sense of shame. To be able to be ashamed, you’ve got to be a little soft. The harder you are, the less shame you can feel.”
“Then where does that let us off?” demanded Jimmie. “Because it certainly isn’t softness we need now. The war demands hardness from us in every possible respect. Hardness in our soldiers and fighters. Hardness in us at home here, to quit our selfish, creeping ways and get into the chain-gang of war. If being ashamed is a sign of softness, then we should not feel ashamed.”
Old Man Wilson’s Oats
And as we rolled up hill and down dale, we noted the farms and how thoroughly gleaned they all looked; all the fields stubbly brown; all the barns full; threshing going on at some; and only here and there a few farmers still toiling in the fields.
“Oats,” said Jim, “and wheat.”
Ahead of us on the side of the gravel road, a man was sitting who as we drew near, rose to his feet with every indication that he intended to hail us; a hitch-hiker, no doubt.
He waved his arm with more authority than most hitch-hikers and signalled us to halt.
He put his head in Jim’s window.
“Good-day, gents,” he said. “Are you from hereabouts?”
“No, we’re from the city,” I replied with dignity. There was something breezy and commanding about this man in his shirt sleeves that caused me to regard him with suspicion.
“H’m,” he said, casting his eye over our baggage. “Are you bent on business? Urgent business?”
“Yes,” I said shortly.
“Could it wait for a few hours?” he inquired. He had a cold, hard eye, with a slight glint in it.
“How do you mean?” demanded Jim a little sharply. “What are you getting at?”
“Well, gents,” said the stranger, “the probabilities are rain tomorrow. The farmer who lives in here is an elderly man. His oats are still in the shock. We have organized this township the past three weeks better than any other township in the province, but we still haven’t got Old Man Wilson’s oats in.”
“So?” I said firmly.
“I’m out here, on the road,” said the stranger, “commandeering anybody I can find to come in and help us get those oats in.”
“I’m afraid,” I stated, “we wouldn’t be much use to you. City men are hardly the type you are seeking.”
“Listen,” said the commando stranger, “anybody can pitch sheaves of oats.”
“I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie proudly, leaning back.
“Hey, then, will you come?” cried the high-jacker, delighted.
“I thought,” I stated loudly, “that you had all these farm commandos worked out within your own township. Why stop people who…”
“We did have it organized,” explained the stranger, giving me a hostile look. “Even the boys in the army from the farms around here came and spent their leaves pitching oats and wheat. All the old men, all the girls and women …”
“Wouldn’t you be better employed,” I inquired pleasantly, “in there pitching sheaves than standing out here on the road?”
“Well, I’m a city man myself,” said the stranger, “and I’ve been up since 4 o’clock this morning. And I could see we would never get the job done before dark if we didn’t have at least eight more forks working…”
“We’re on,” said Jim, grabbing the steering wheel. “Hop on the running board and show us in.”
“No, drive right in,” said the stranger. “I’ve got to get two more…”
Just Opposite Types
So we left him on the road and drove up a few rods to the lane and drove in.
In the distance, we saw four wagons on the fields, some loaded and headed for the barn, some empty or half laden, out in the fields. And at least eight men were working on the wagons or with forks in the fields.
“Old Man Wilson’s got a lot of oats,” I remarked.
“And the country needs them all,” said Jim.
“I don’t think I like our friend out on the road,” I stated, as we drew up at the barn.
“I don’t think he likes you either,” smiled Jim. “You’re just opposite types, that’s all.”
“I think he is one of those busybodies,” I said. “There is at least one in every service club. One on every church board of managers. Always going about, doing good; in loud voice and with a commanding manner.”
“He seemed a good guy to me,” said Jim.
“What do we do?” I demanded grimly, getting out of the car.
“First put on our fishing clothes,” said Jim, “and come on out in the fields and I’ll show you how to pitch oats.”
And while we changed, the stranger arrived in the barnyard on the running board of another car with three men in it.
He greeted us in our fishing clothes with hearty enthusiasm.
“Hah,” he said “you even have the clothes. Gents, my name is Wilson, I’m nephew of the Old Man who owns this farm. These gentlemen were just heading into town to sign some property deeds so they figured that could wait.”
The three newcomers were farmers; the six of us marched in a body into the field where, at the back of the barn, Old Man Wilson was sitting amidst a collection of hay forks, pails of lemonade and other accoutrements of the harvest. Old Man Wilson was an extremely old man in his 80’s by the look of him. He was long past work himself.
“I’ll pay you regular wages,” he quavered at us grinning, as the whole platoon of us swarmed around him. “Regular wages, by jimminy. Now wade in there, boys.”
An empty hay rick came clattering out from the barnyard and Mr. Commando Wilson hailed it and signaled to Jim and me to climb aboard.
“There’ll be two others down there to help you pitch on this one,” he yelled, giving the horses a spank.
And licketty bang we went, thundering and bouncing over the field in the hay rick, headed for the long row of stooked oats.
I tried to yell to Jim that this was quite a fishing trip, but the words came out all jiggled. All the end of a half pitched row, the rick drew up and almost before Jim and I got off, the sheaves were flying from below the as the two farmers already on the job began pitching.
From everything I have seen of farm life, it’s a leisurely profession. You never, for example, see a farmer actually plowing. He is either resting from plowing; just going to plow; just finished plowing; or else is stopped down by the fence talking to somebody passing on the road.
But this was different. This oats pitching. It takes more skill than strength. But it takes strength too. Jim, after a few minutes, was almost as good as the two farmers on the far side of the rick. But after about 10 minutes, one of the farmers from the far side came around and traded places with Jim.
“I’ll just team up with you,” he said to me amiably, “until you get the knack of it.”
Getting the Knack of It
They said, at supper, that I did get the knack of it, more or less, before the day was done. I may have. But I had knacks in my neck, and knacks in my waist, kidneys and tenderloins; knacks in my legs, arms and shoulders. I was one large knack.
The wagon keeps slowly moving ahead, in short starts and stops, as the sheaves are pitched. The more you pitch on, the higher and harder you have to pitch. By the time the rick is loaded, you are heaving those apparently flimsy bundles of straw right over the moon, it seems.
By resting the handle the fork over my hip, I could get a fair heave. But to tell the truth, it was the farmer who came around to my side who really did most of the pitching. He would pretend, as he caught one I fumbled in midair, and pitched aloft for me, that that was a great improvement on the ordinary way of pitching oats. He said I had probably stumbled on a new idea of great importance to agriculture, to have a little man and a big man on one side of the rick so that the little man could pitch it halfway, and the big man catch it and pitch it the rest of the way.
He was a swell guy.
We had the whole field done well before supper time, and Old Man Wilson’s grand-daughter had prepared a magnificent spread for us.
Before we sat down, Old Man Wilson came in and staged a regular ceremony. He had an old purse, and from it he counted out our wages. We each got a dollar thirty.
“These high wages,” said the Old Man, “will be the ruin of farming.”
Mr. Commando Wilson took each of our dollar-thirties off the whole party to send to the boys of the township overseas in cigarettes from “the Oats Pitchers”.
“I came up here,” declared Mr. Commando Wilson, “on a holiday. I came up here to fish. And I got let into more work than I’ve done in 30 years…”
“Where were you intending to fish?” I inquired.
“In the lake here, back of the farm,” said he. “There’s a little lake back here, about 40 rod, that has more big bass, by big bass. I mean five, five and a half…”
Well, of course, it was too late for anything but a few casts before dark. We got two each, Wilson, Jim and I.
But we had the whole of the next day.
Editor’s Notes: Greg and Jim probably feel guilty enjoying themselves during this period of the war, when everything was still uncertain.
A rod, is an old unit of measure, about 5 metres in length.
A hay rick is a wagon, stooked oats means uncut oats, and a stook, is the stack they are in.