The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1943 Page 1 of 2

Aw, Rats

Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness. “You’ve got to be ready for fast work,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come in a bunch.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 2, 1939

“What,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “do you know about rats?”

“Rats,” I informed him, “are my meat. What I don’t know about rats isn’t in the encyclopaedia. I have killed thousands of rats. Black rats, gray rats, brown rats, fat rats. In the army they called me the Pie-Eyed Piper.”

“There are rats,” stated Jim, “under my garage. They’ve tunnelled down under the concrete floor. You can see the two entrances. From this dugout they come at night and forage in the garbage cans of the neighborhood. Members of the family coming home at night see them scuttling. They are huge.”

“It will be no trick to get rid of them,” I assured Jim. “You can use traps, poison, fumigation or a ferret. Maybe a ferret would be the best fun.”

“I was thinking of sitting up some night,” said Jim, “with a pleasant companion, both of us armed with .22 rifles. I thought we might spend a very amusing evening popping off rats.”

“It would bring back the old days,” I admitted fondly. “Many’s the long night, in the war, I have whiled away potting rats with my revolver. I often thought that officers carried revolvers for no other purpose but rat shooting.”

“Gosh,” mused Jim, “did you ever see so many rats as we had in France, especially around the Vimy sector?”

“There were millions,” I agreed. “Great big scaly-tailed brutes as big as tomcats.”

“You might say,” said Jim, “that after dark you could look in any direction, at any spot on the ground, and within one minute a rat was sure to cross that spot.”

“They got so plentiful,” I submitted, “and so bold, that they no longer confined their activities to the night. They moved freely about all over the place in broad daylight.”

“And why not?” said Jim. “Nobody disturbed them. They had that vast silent world to themselves, especially by day. No human stirred. No man showed a head. It was at night that rats had to take care. At night we humans were abroad. We shared the night with the rats.”

“As soon as night fell, in the trenches,” I told, “and all the sentries were posted and all the working parties detailed, an officer had little to do but walk up and down and see that all was well. So presently he would pick a suitable spot, a bit of trench or a sap preferably near an old ruined house or barn. And there, sitting on the fire-step of the trench, he would unlimber his revolver and wait.”

“So that,” cried Jimmie, “was what all the shooting was about? We artillery used to sit away back with our guns, wondering what you gallant infantrymen were doing all the popping at.”

“Mostly it was rats,” I admitted. “I used to sit in the dark, motionless. In a few minutes, along the trench, on the parapet or from a rat hole in the wall of the trench, out would come a rat, secret, silent, sliding his head down, his back arched, seeking, sniffing. Quietly, the revolver comes up. Bang.”

“You must have made an awful mess of them with that army gat,” said Jim.

“If we hit them,” I provided. “The best way of hitting a rat was known as fishing for rats. It was mostly done in old dugouts that were rat infested. When it became so bad that the boys could not sleep owing to the rats running over them and fighting and squeaking all over the place, the boys would declare a fishing trip. All the men in the dugout would leave their snug beds on the damp cold planks of the dugout floor and go and sit on the stairways of the entrances. Then the expert would extinguish all the candles stuck along the plank walls and sit on the floor. Extending his legs, he would rest his rifle on his legs, the muzzle resting between the toes of his boots. Out from the end extended the bayonet; and on the end of the bayonet a piece of cheese would be impaled. There in the dark the fisherman sat, finger on trigger. When he felt a nibble on the cheese he fired. Seven times out of ten he blew the rat against the far wall of the dugout.”

“Rather nasty,” muttered Jim.

“What were sanitary corporals for?” I retorted.

“You wouldn’t get many that way,” said Jim.

A Major Problem

“The rats were so plentiful and so greedy,” I assured him, “that no sooner was one rat blown to pieces and the candles doused and the fisherman in position again before the rats, with a secret, soft, scuffling sound and squeaks and scutters, would be coming from their holes again amidst the planks of the dugout walls and ceilings, snuffling for that cheese. I have seen Corporal Cutsey Smith, now with God, get one dozen rats in one hour by this method.”

“But it was a hopeless business,” submitted Jim.

“It was,” I agreed. “And I have often wondered since how France and Belgium got rid of all those countless rats after the war. It must have been one of the major post-war problems.”

“When I close my eyes and try to recall what dugouts were like,” said Jim, “I can smell the queer sour smell of them, and the smell of coke gas and wood smoke. I can see again the dimness, the quietness, the men lying in their matted gray blankets and greatcoats on the muddy plank floors, see the two or three sitting up awake, in dim candlelight, writing letters; but most of all I can feel the silence, amidst which, ever and always, goes on the quiet scuffling and scratching of the rats behind the plank walls and ceilings, a sound that went on day and night.”

“I woke up one night,” I said, “with two rats fighting furiously on my chest.”

“I have had a rat,” countered Jim, “exploring in the dark come to me, lying on the ground, and place his two hands on the bridge of my nose to look over.”

“Ugh,” I surrendered. “What puzzles me is, if men hate rats so badly, how is it we haven’t exterminated them ages ago, like all the other animals we hated and killed off?”

“I figure,” said Jim, “there is a family of six rats under my garage.”

“Right,” I agreed. “The problem is, how can we deal with the present situation. I suggest poison.”

“Too many dogs in the neighborhood,” said Jimmie. “I would sooner put up with rats than poison a dog.”

“We can pump gas down the hole,” I suggested. “Put a tube from the exhaust pipe of your car and carbon monoxide them.”

Plan of Battle

“Wouldn’t you kind of like to sit up tonight, with .22 rifles, and do a little shooting?” wheedled Jim.

“It’s too risky,” I declared. “And too cold.”

“Very well, a ferret then,” said Jim. “Let’s get some fun out of this. I don’t like the idea of putting poison or fumes down the hole and letting them quietly die down under the concrete floor of the garage. They might smell. I’d like to get a whack at them. And a ferret would chase them out and we could stand at the hole with clubs.”

“Where would we get a ferret?” I demanded. “And besides, we’d have to have somebody handle the ferret. I don’t want to be partly responsible for a ferret getting loose in our neighborhood.”

“Well, I’ve got some rats,” said Jim, with pride, “and I want to find some sporty way of dealing with them.”

“I tell you,” I cried, “we’ll drown them out. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Of course, drown them out. How many holes have they got?”

“Two,” said Jim. “One under the corner of the garage and another at the back. We can block one hole up and turn the hose into the other and they’ve got to come out.”

“You’ve got it,” I agreed. “I’ve often drowned rats out. They hate water.”

And we went home a little early so as to deal with the rats before darkness came to their aid. Jimmie got his son’s baseball bat and we brought the hose up from the cellar, where it had been stored for the winter. We turned on the water at the outside tap that had been turned off for fear of frost, and we proceeded to study the terrain.

Just under the south corner of the garage a hole about the size of a milk bottle led downward steeply. At the back of the garage a much smaller hole served as an emergency exit. Trust a rat for emergencies.

“It looks as if a whole army of rats used this front entrance,” I said, as we examined the larger hole. “They probably hold meetings here. Maybe this is a public hall.”

“They’ve got a great cave under there,” said Jim. “I bet it’s tunnelled into a regular apartment. An apartment with a concrete roof. The floor of the garage gives them an ideal bombproof shelter.”

So we took sticks and gravel and cinders and filled up the smaller emergency exit at the back. We shoved all the stuff deep down, packing it in, so as to prevent any possibility of the rats digging out by that route.

Then we turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness.

“You’ve got to be ready for fast work, Jim,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come all in a bunch.”

“Don’t fret,” said Jim, “I can hit with this bat faster than they can fight their way past that stream.”

And indeed it was a dandy stream, because in winter the water pressure is good. No other hose owners are watering any lawns. A powerful jet of water bored into the hole and we could hear it gurgling and swishing deep in the dark cavern of the rats.

“They may come any minute,” I warned. And Jimmie stood poised and tense.

“What do you suppose is going on down there?” I chuckled, as the water gushed. “I bet there’s a commotion.”

“They were likely asleep,” said Jim, “and about now they are getting anxious. This is no ordinary rainstorm.”

“Heh, heh, heh,” I laughed, and squatted down to aim the icy water deeper and more vicious.

“They probably have galleries and upper levels,” said Jim, “into which they are already fighting their way. How long do you suppose it will take to flood ’em?”

“Well, there’s probably quite a large space,” I submitted, “counting all the rooms and galleries. It may take several minutes. The earth is soft under there and will naturally soak up quite a lot of water.”

“It’s sand under there,” said Jim. “It sure will soak it up. This may take half an hour or more.”

“Relax,” I said, seeing Jim still poised with the bat. “Take a look around the back at that escape hole and see there is no sign of anything being tampered with.”

Jim skipped around to the back and returned eagerly to report that the hole was thoroughly stopped.

Still the water from the hose hissed and bored into the hole, which consumed it without any sign of filling. No sound of gurgling came from below any more though I put my ear down.

Jim made several trips around to the rear to see that the exit was properly secure. It was chilly work holding the hose, and when I suggested Jimmie take a turn at running the water in, he said I would be too cramped to do a proper job of execution in case the rats came out.

“Look What You Did!”

And suddenly there was a most extraordinary result. With a loud crash, something inside the garage fell. We could hear the car inside bump heavily against the front doors of the garage, and bulge them outward.

“The floor,” bellowed Jimmie, “the cement floor, you sap!”

I ceased firing with the hose and ran around to the front of the garage with Jimmie. Very carefully, Jim unlatched the bulging doors, and when he opened them, there was his car sunk down on its left rear wheel, its front end high in the air, one-half of the cement floor of the garage having collapsed into a huge dark hole in the ground.

“Look what you did,” shouted Jim.

“The rats did it, not me,” I retorted hotly.

“That water ate away the sand,” accused Jim.

“The rats had dug the hole,” I countered. “The whole foundation of your garage was honeycombed with rat tunnels.”

“It would have held forever, if you hadn’t bored in there with that hose,” concluded Jim. “You and your drowning out methods.”

It was a mess, all right. The car was tipped down at least three feet on its rear end, and securely wedged into the hole.

“Did you see any rats?” I inquired, incidentally.

“I certainly didn’t,” said Jim.

“Well,” I assured, “I bet you’re rid of them. That’s what I undertook to do, at your own request – rid you of the rats.”

“A fine mess,” said Jim.

“Now you can put a proper foundation under your garage,” I pointed out, “and never be troubled with rats again.”

“Any child would have known,” muttered Jim, “that you can’t run a hose for 20 minutes into sand…”

“Look, Jim,” I interrupted, “did you or did you not wish to be rid of the rats? Well, you’re rid of them.”

So Jim phoned for the garage man come with his derrick and hoist out the car. And the garage man’s brother-in-law was the cement business; and before supper, whole situation was well in hand.

And Jimmie is rid of rats.

We turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with a baseball bat in readiness.

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 20, 1943, under the title “Rat Catchers“. The illustration for that story appears at the end, and you can see that the microfilmed copy was very poor. There was no difference in the story, except that references to the war were changed to the “old war”.

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

Deadline!

October 30, 1943

“Pigskin” Peters was in the Army during World War Two, and you had to recognize that packages could take a while to reach their recipient. The post office would suggest deadlines if you hoped for your packages to make it by a certain date. It almost feels like this was also a public service announcement, just to make sure the reader knew the deadline too.

“Never a Dull Moment” – Pepsi Ads

The following are various advertisements created by Jim Frise for Pepsi that ran between 1942-43. They feature a smart kid thinking philosophically about Pepsi, and two other regular kids.

1942
1943
1943
1943

Room for Rent

By Greg Clark, June 5, 1943

“If you’ve nothing to do,” bitterly came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “walk down here and lend me a hand.”

“What’s gone wrong now?” I inquired.

“By a typographical error in the want ads,” said Jim, “my house is supposed to have a room for rent.”

“What can I do about that?” I asked. “I’m hoeing the potatoes right now.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “I’ve warned you before. Leave those poor potatoes alone. They’ll never grow if you keep niggling at them. Come on down and help me sit on the front steps and steer the crowd to the right house.”

“Crowd?” I inquired.

“Ever since three o’clock,” declared Jim, “an endless procession of excited house hunters have been swarming up our walk. You never saw such a mob. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor. By the time I got home for supper, my family was exhausted answering the door bell. So I’ve taken over. I’m sitting on the front steps. Before they get out of their cars, I just yell at them that it’s a mistake. It isn’t Humbercrest. It’s Humbergarden avenue they’re looking for.”

“Aw, well, Jim,” I said, “you don’t need me for that. I’ve got one row of potatoes hoed. I’m just starting …”

“Look, I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie. “I have hoed enough rows of potatoes in my life to reach from here to Duisburg. And I tell you that silly little patch of potatoes you have planted, about the size of a dinner table, will die of worry if you don’t leave it alone to grow …”

“I beg your pardon, Jim,” I informed him. “It is 18 by 11 feet. I expect two bags of potatoes …”

“I’m telling you,” stated Jim. “you want to come down here and see this phenomenon. Dozens, scores, hundreds of people trying to rent a room that doesn’t exist. I yell at them as they stop their cars out in front. I call to them as they start up the front walk on the run. Poor old ladies, utterly exhausted and perspiring. Young men newly married or just about to be married. Kids of 15. Old men of 90. All streaming down the street on a vain quest. And even when I warn them that there is a mistake and it’s Humbergarden, they keep coming right on up the walk. They won’t give in even when I explain that there is a mistake. They insist on seeing the room. So now I am simply yelling out that the room is rented. Even if there isn’t a room.”

“I’ll come down,” I said, “I’d like to see this.”

“You’re Holding Out!”

So I went and gave the potato patch a few farewell and loving pats with the hoe and then walked down to Jim’s.

As I hove in sight, I could see Jimmie sitting on his steps arguing with couple of ladies.

As I drew near, a car rushed up and drew to a stop with a man leaping out waving a newspaper.

“Hey,” he shouted, as he ran up the walk, “I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key!”

“Sorry,” said Jim, “the place you are looking for is on Humbergarden avenue. It’s a typographical error in the ad…”

“Come off that stuff,” said the man, placing himself in front of the two women who were also loath to depart. “Let’s see the room, mister. I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key, see?”

“Look, stated Jim angrily. “I tell you there is no room for rent here. It is a mistake in the paper, see? You’re wasting your time.”

“Seventy-five bucks for the key!” said the stranger insinuatingly. “Seventy-five. I like this district, see? I’ll pay a hundred bucks for the key. Come on, show us the room.”

“I tell you,” announced Jim, standing up and bristling, “there is no room for rent here. It is on another street, about a mile from here. It’s a mistake.”

“Aw, I know you guys,” the stronger snarled. “Holding out. I’m on to you. Holding out. How much do you want for the key? Name your price.”

“There is no room,” shouted Jim.

“Oh,” said the stranger. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

And he rushed down the walk and leaped into the car.

“Humbergarden, did you say?” he yelled. And away he raced.

“You’re quite sure, sir,” said one of the two ladies, softly, that there isn’t a room for rent here? You live here, do you? This is your residence?”

“Ladies,” said Jim, raising his hand in a kind of Nazi salute, “so help me, Hanna, there is no room for rent here.”

Sadly, reluctantly, the two ladies turned and walked away.

“Can you beat it?” Jim whispered jubilantly.

“What’s all that stuff about seventy-five bucks for the key?” I inquired.

“The law says you can’t raise the rent of a room from what it has been,” explained Jim. “So they try to get around that by offering a bonus, a cash bonus. They buy the key.”

“Aha,” I saw. “But isn’t that illegal?

“There are loopholes in most laws,” said Jim. “But the government is now plugging loopholes in wartime laws by sticking its finger not in the loophole but in the offender’s eye.”

Wham came another car to a violent stop and out jumped three men.

Up the walk they ran.

“Room for rent here?” panted the leader. “I’ll take it.”

“It’s gone,” said Jim.

“Who took it?” panted the leader. “What’s his name? Is he in? I want to speak to him.”

He started to push past Jim up the steps.

“Look,” said Jim, “it’s gone. The guy who took it wouldn’t let it go for anything.”

“Who are you?” demanded the leader darkly. “What business is it of yours?”

“If you want to know,” said Jim. “I’m the householder here.”

“Okay, then it’s none of your business,” said the stranger. “How do you know the guy doesn’t want to rent? I want to see the guy that rented it?”

He marched past Jim and rang the door bell.

“Look,” said Jim, “he’s not in.”

“What’s his name?” inquired the stranger.

“I don’t know his name,” stated Jim. “He just rented the place and said he would be back later.”

“Okay, Bill,” said the stranger to one of his friends. “You sit here while I go on around the other numbers. If the guy turns up, make him an offer. Any offer. But get the room!”

“Suppose,” said Jim. “I don’t want you for a tenant?”

“Oh, is that so?” sneered the stranger. “Since when are you offering a room for rent and then choosing who’ll take it?”

‘Well,” said Jim. “I can tell you one thing, I won’t have you for a tenant, at any price.”

“Aha,” cried the stranger, to his companions, “You hear that? The guy don’t even know he can’t raise the ceiling! Listen, mister, I get the room and I get it for the same rent you was charging before, see?”

Jim took a deep breath.

“Listen, you, mister,” he said. “There is no room for rent here. This is a private home. Due to a typographical error in the paper, a room for rent on Humbergarden avenue was mistakenly represented as my house. To save time explaining to a lot of lunkheads who wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell them it was a mistake, I have merely been telling the stupidest ones that the room is gone.”

The stranger listened intently to Jim.

“Now,” he said, “I don’t believe you even rented the room. Come on, mister, show us up to the room.”

“Will you get out of here,” demanded Jim, or will I call the cops? One, two, three, four …”

“Oh, well, if you want to get tough,” said the stranger.

They went and sat in their car, discussing the matter for a moment.

“Humbergarden, did you say, mister?” called out the leader.

“That’s right,” said Jim.

It’s a Parade

But just as they were about to drive off, another car pulled up and two girls got out and hurried up. So the first car paused and waited to see whether the girls got any farther than they did.

Jim showed the girls the paper and explained the error. They accepted the facts at once and hurried back to their car. And the car with the three fatheads rushed off to beat them to the next stop.

“The world, Jim,” I submitted, “is coming to a pretty pass when a man can scarcely keep strangers from invading the sanctity of his home.”

“Look who’s next,” muttered Jim.

Up the walk came a short, thick-set woman of extremely foreign appearance.

“Room?” she demanded, holding up the newspaper.

“Gone,” said Jim, shaking his head.

“How much?” said the lady.

“Gone,” said Jim, emphatically. “Taken.”

“Aw,” said the woman bitterly. “I know. You don’t like foreigners. You don’t want me, eh? Well, I show you some day.”

And she turned and strode with excessive stiffness down the walk.

Two more cars pulled up and then drove on as soon as Jim called the news to them. Then came, on foot, slowly down the block, an elderly and charming lady.

“Pardon me,” she called from the street, “but is this the house that has the room for rent?”

Jimmie and I both hurried down to explain the situation to her. She was the sweetest old thing.

“Oh, dear,” she said wearily. “I have been to so many places today. When I turned down your lovely street, something told me I had come to the end of my search…”

“Come and rest on the veranda,” suggested Jimmie. “I’ll get a chair…”

“Oh, no, thank you,” said the old lady, pleasantly. “I must keep on. If I don’t get a place by tomorrow night, I will have no home at all.”

“But surely,” I suggested, “your family …?”

“My only son,” smiled the old lady, “a bachelor, not young either, has gone to war. He is in Halifax. On his way over. When he left, I gave up our apartment, thinking it was selfish for only one person to keep a big apartment of five rooms. I thought I could pick up a room, very easily…”

“My, this is bad,” said Jim. “Surely, your friends …?”

“I am afraid,” said the old lady sweetly, “we have been the kind of people who didn’t bother about making friends… I guess people should always go to church, shouldn’t they? But my son did not care for church. He preferred to take me into the country on Sundays. Dear, dear. Now he is gone to war. And I am so anxious to have a nice little place for him to come home to. I had the notion that if you let me have the one room, I could become friends with you, as time went on, and when he returns, you might let me have an adjoining room . . .?”

“But, I’m sorry,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, yes,” she sighed. “You have not even the one room. Of course. Well, gentlemen, I must keep on.”

And she walked slowly up the street, heading back for the bus stop.

“Hang it,” muttered Jim. “We can’t even offer her a lift in the car.”

A screech of tires rounding the corner drew our attention as we returned to Jim’s front steps. Two cars, one almost touching the tail of the other, raced down and drew up with a rush and a bump. And out leaped a man from each.

Neck and neck they raced up the walk.

“Hey,” began one.

“No, you don’t!” grunted the other, giving the first a shove.

And before another word was said, they were swinging.

Haymakers, clinches, short swings and jabs, they batted each other furiously and wordlessly. One tried to get his foot on the lower step of Jim’s veranda and the other grabbed him and dragged him down.

“Here,” I shouted, stepping in to part them.

“Look out,” warned Jim.

“Keep out of this, you little rat,” muttered one of the battlers, giving me the fairest punch so far in the fight – an elbow to the chin.

“Gentlemen,” chanted Jim, from the top step, “gentlemen, I don’t know what’s the matter, but if it is the room for rent you have come about, I want to tell you there is no room. Owing to a mistake…”

And while the two grunted and punched and swung and sweated, Jimmie slowly and loudly outlined the whole circumstances surrounding the typographical error.

Finally, in a clinch, the two exhausted fighters paused and looked up at Jim.

“What’s that you say?” panted one.

Good Luck Omen

So Jim repeated the whole speech. The two still clung firmly to each other until Jim had finished. Then they let go of each other and dusted themselves off and straightened their ties.

“I’m sorry, brother,” said the one who had clipped me on the pin.

“My own fault,” I assured him. “You should never try to stop a fight.

They glared at each other and then grinned sulkily.

“What’s the matter?” inquired Jimmie.

“Well, we apparently have the same list,” said one. “We’ve been running neck and neck for the past five places. I guess we got excited.”

They wiped their brows and necks with their hankies and turned slightly aside and each drew a list from his pocket and consulted it furtively.

“Look, boys,” said Jim, “just up the street, see, is that elderly woman. She’s on foot. She has been all over the city, at her age, trying to get a room. I tell you what. I’ll give good luck to whichever of you gets to her first and gives her a lift.”

“How do you mean?” muttered one.

“Well, getting a room is a case of luck, isn’t it?” said Jim. “And anybody that helps that old lady find a room first is going to have luck…”

The two turned. One leaped in his car and took a short turn into Jim’s side drive to get faced the other way.

But the other just backed. At about 40 miles an hour, he backed up the street and flung the car door open before a very astonished old lady.

And just as the other car came racing, with horn blowing, the old lady stepped into the first car, very gratefully.

“Okay,” said Jimmie, “wish them all luck.”

So we went in and got a large piece of cardboard and Jim lettered boldly on it –

“Sorry. Room rented.”

Which he put on the front steps.


Editor’s Notes: During World War Two, as housing construction was reduced considerably, and there was less construction in the Great Depression that preceded it. As demand increased because of War work, there was considerable housing shortages in major cities and other locations of wartime factories or activity. Renting rooms in private houses, and the creation of boarding houses was common. The story outlined above could have really happened given the situation.

There really is a Humbercrest Boulevard in Toronto near the Humber River, but no Humbergarden now. It may never have existed as I don’t see it on old maps in the area, and I could believe that an editor at the time insisting on a fake street to avoid the slight chance that someone took the story seriously and ended up looking for a room for rent. Many of the Greg-Jim stories implied that they lived near each other (at least a short walk away), and for a time, they really did. Greg lived on Baby Point Road in two different houses during this time. As mentioned in other stories, Greg was a renter while Jim was an owner, so it is possible Jim really lived on Humbercrest at the time of the story.

Off with the Frills!

April 24, 1943

Scrap metal drives continued throughout World War Two for military use.

Blackout

By Greg Clark, April 3, 1943

“Certainly we go sucker fishing,” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Aw,” I begrudged, “what happens? We catch cold. We get wet. We strain our aging muscles. And, if we are lucky, we hoist out two, or maybe three, measly pink suckers.”

“Measly!” protested Jimmie indignantly. “Pink! I tell you, in the spring, just after the ice goes out, suckers are the most delicious fish you can eat.”

“Puh,” I said. “Bones, millions of Y-shaped bones to catch in your gullet.”

“A chicken has bones,” retorted Jim, “but you don’t get chicken bones stuck in your throat; why? Because you take care to eat the chicken in a gentlemanly fashion. You don’t wolf a chicken the way you do a fish. Eat fish as intelligently and genteelly as you eat a chicken, and there won’t be any bone problem.”

“Pooh,” I determined. “Suckers. The very name is nasty.”

“Back in the old days,” said Jim, “when men were going around giving things names, they were just plain common men who named things in the beginning. And if a thing looked like a sucker, they called it a sucker. The scholars and gentlemen came along later and gave everything a much prettier name. But nobody uses those pretty names. They named the sucker Catostomus. Pretty, isn’t it? Catostomus. But we don’t call a sucker catostomus. We call it a sucker.”

“A catostomus by any other name,” I said, “would be as bony.”

“Listen,” protested Jimmie. “I tell you, in the early days, the settlers around here used to put down barrels full of suckers in brine for their spring and summer food, before the harvest gave them all the food they wanted in pork and eggs and vegetables. The spring of the year was a pretty hungry time of it, for the pioneers. This annual swarm of suckers up every creek and river was a godsend.”

“We do things better now,” I pointed out. “We maintain an all-year-round food supply. I can understand the early settlers doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine. But that is no reason why a couple of respectable and comfortable citizens like us have to go wading in the icy rivers.”

“Listen, Shorty,” uttered Jim grimly, “let was never get into the habit of thinking of ourselves as respectable and comfortable. Let us never forget the things our early settlers knew. Because there might come a day when a good many citizens, as respectable and comfortable as we, would go mighty hungry if they had forgotten what their grandfathers knew about sucker fishing.”

“Can you see our wives doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine?” I scoffed. “Why, the smell of fish in brine would cause the neighbors to telephone the health department.”

“Probably the pioneer home,” admitted Jim, “didn’t smell as sweet as the modern band-box we call home does. But the pioneer home was a lot more substantial than the band-boxes we dwell in today. All I say is, we ought to go sucker fishing this year, if only for sentiment’s sake.”

“I never feel very sentimental,” I submitted, “when a gulp of muddy ice water goes over the top of my hip waders.”

“By sentiment,” stated Jim, “I mean – here we are at war. Our food supply is becoming more and more rationed. A faint suspicion is dawning in all our minds that we really are at war. Isn’t it about time that those of us who can’t fight were planning to look out for ourselves? Suppose the government got really involved in the war, so that they had no more time to devote to rationing and controlling and petting the civilian populace. Suppose they had to give all their time and attention to war. Where would the mass of us get off then, my fine feathered friend?”

“We’d manage,” I assured him.

Courses In Woodcraft

At Cornell University, in the States, informed Jim, “and in Buffalo, at the Museum of Natural History, they are conducting public courses in woodcraft. Specialists, sportsmen, mining men and others who have lived part of their lives in the open, with nothing more than they could carry on their backs, are teaching classes of hundreds of city slickers how to live without cities, towns or even villages. How to carry a pack, how to make a camp out of brushwood, how to use an axe, how to cook, how to live off the country …”

“My dear man,” I snorted, “you don’t expect we’ll ever be refugees …!”

“The Russians never expected to be refugees,” said Jim. “The French never expected to be; and I bet there are millions of Frenchmen now who wish they had known how to camp out. It was because they were helpless denizens of cities and towns that they had to surrender when the Germans took their cities and towns. Free men should know how to be free, even in the wilderness.”

“Are you trying to scare me?” I inquired. “I was in France. I saw what happened. I didn’t leave France until the day France fell, mister.”

“Then,” declared Jim hotly, “you above all men should be going up and down the land, teaching people how to live in the bush, how to make a packsack, how to sleep dry in a brush lean-to in the rain …”

“Do you think the Germans,” I scoffed, “or the Japs, are going to attempt to conquer Canada?”

“If it was a question of trying to conquer us,” said Jim, “it wouldn’t be so bad. We know that is a big, tough job they could hardly tackle now.”

“Ah,” I said, resting easy.

“But,” said Jim, “the danger of their making an attack of desperation on us, a bad, violent, inspired raid on some part of North America, grows with every month that they realize they are in danger of losing.”

“But,” I cried, “to what purpose?”

“To grab a base,” said Jim, “to make a bridge-head, however temporary, from which they could bomb our great power plants, our industrial centres, our key factories, the nerve centres of our vast war production.”

“Oh, they couldn’t!” I declared.

“Just a minute,” stated Jim. “What has German aircraft production been doing, this past year, besides producing one new model of the Fokke-Wulfe? What have they been up to? They haven’t raided Britain much. They haven’t used much aircraft elsewhere. They quit trying to smother the Russians with aircraft over a year ago now. They have eased off on Malta. What are they up to?”

“Okay, what?” I demanded.

“Might they,” inquired Jim softly, “have been concentrating on the production of some novel, unforeseen giant new long-range troop carriers and long-range fighter-bombers? Something new-as new and surprising as the tank units they smashed France with?”

“H’m,” I muttered.

“If the Germans can build a 300-foot submarine,” went on Jim, “that can stay months at sea, thousands of miles from a base, they can easily build 600-foot submarines easily capable of each transporting a whole regiment of specialized and light armored troops to America.”

“Oh, yeah,” I cried. “To land where?”

“To land,” submitted Jim, “anywhere along hundreds and hundreds of miles of uninhabited Atlantic coastline, where German submarines, for over two years, have been coasting to our certain knowledge. Look: if we think nothing of landing army and navy reconnaissance officers along the coast of Norway and Africa, why do we imagine the Germans won’t do the same?”

“Do you mean to say,” I grumbled, “that there have been German soldiers ashore in Canada?”

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “Then don’t forget the long range air transports full of paratroopers. Those Germans have had two winters of experience in Russia, of fighting in wild and rugged terrain. Who can tell what new and ingenious machines and devices they have thought up in Russia for use in the wildernesses of North America, from Baffin Land to Florida or Mexico?”

“You’re an alarmist,” I accused.

“Every living Canadian,” stated Jim, “man, woman and child, should have thought these things over months and months ago. It is our common duty to foresee every contingency.”

“Okay,” I said, “suppose they do make some foolhardy landing in the uninhabited wilderness?”

“They seize an airfield,” Jim said insidiously. “It isn’t to conquer America they have come. It is just, in desperation and fury at the way they are losing the war abroad, to come for a few fierce days and destroy and disrupt our war industry, to smash our great power centres, to wreck our nerve centres of war production, our essential factories, and to exploit the panic potential of Canada and the United States.”

“And then what?” I begged.

“And then start talking of a negotiated peace,” rounded up Jim.

“Why, it could happen!” I exclaimed.

“Anything can happen,” declared Jim, “once the Germans and Japs get really aware that they have lost the war. They will attempt anything. And do you think the big German industrialists, who have a lot to do with planning their war, like to sit home at night, in their deep dugouts, thinking of America and all its great cities and mighty industries, all undamaged …?”

“You make my flesh creep,” I stated.

“Good,” said Jim. “Your flesh creeps at the thought of a jugful of muddy ice water slopping over the tops of your hip waders, as you dipnet suckers out of the Humber. Your flesh creeps at the thought of the enemy doing what we might naturally expect them to do. Your flesh creeps easy, doesn’t it?”

“Jim,” I announced anxiously, “I’ll go sucker fishing with you. Not merely to catch suckers. Not merely to add even a few pounds to the food supply of the country, but for the sake of hardness, for the sake of doing something to remind me that I come of pioneer stock, and that like my ancestors before me I can be counted upon, in an emergency, to get tough again and tackle anything, in the wilderness, in the cold, in the discomfort …”

Jim, who has done a great deal more sucker fishing than I, was able to borrow a good big sound dip net. The Humber river runs through the suburbs of the city, and in past years, when we were younger and looking for idle amusement, we have often gone down to the river, in the first flush of spring, after the ice goes out, to dip a few suckers out and distribute them among any of our humbler friends who liked fish; even suckers.

Jim also decided that night was the best time to dip for suckers.

“When I was a kid, back in the country,” he said, “we never dreamed of going sucker fishing in daylight. The big swarms of suckers move upstream from the lake at night. When I was a kid, we used to make torches and stand in the riffles and shallows, and spear the suckers by the light of the torches with pitchforks. We’d get potato sacks full.”

“Besides,” I suggested, “if we light a good big bonfire, we can wade out of the water whenever we like and warm ourselves.”

“Let’s do this in the good old pioneer tradition,” agreed Jim. “We’ll go to that pool we used to fish in, you know the one …?”

So just before dark, we scrambled down the Humber banks, high banks they are and uninhabited, even in the outskirts of the city, and found a couple of lone sucker netters just packing up, at our favorite pool, to quit for the night. We did not advise them of our plans. They were city dwellers, who did not know that the best way to net suckers is by the light of a fire.

When all was quiet, save for the soft rush and chatter of the swollen river, in its full spring spate, Jim and I gathered driftwood and sticks for a rousing big fire.

Long Night Before Us

We got the fire going in a modest way, and enjoyed sitting beside it, in no hurry, since we had the long night before us. In the dancing rays of the fire, we sat with that happy feeling of campers, even though, a couple of hundred yards away, the great city roared about its nightly business.

Along about 9 p.m., we heaped the fire up big and hearty and got the net unrolled and strung on its hoop. And into the river we waded cautiously for our first dip.

Down we sank the net and waited. Up we hoisted. Down we pressed. Up we hoisted. But neither on the first nor the tenth nor the twentieth dip did we raise a sucker.

“Maybe,” said Jim, “the run starts a little later.”

And we waded ashore from time to time, to replenish the bonfire with fresh driftwood and stumps and logs. And a fine leaping fire we had; and the river sang its song into the night.

About 10 p.m., as we stood in the pool triumphantly hoisting out our very first sucker into the air, we heard shouts above the noise of the river and turned to see two men coming out of the brush beside our fire.

“Put this fire out,” shouted the foremost, “instantly!”

We waded in.

On their arms, the men were wearing air raid warden armbands.

“Come on, you,” cried the leader hotly. “Get this fire out!”

“What’s up?” inquired Jim, depositing our fish on the stones flopping.

“Surprise air raid warning,” said the warden crisply. “Come on now, make it snappy, get this fire out as fast as you know how.”

He and his partner were already hauling out the larger chunks and flinging them into the river.

“Jimmie,” I hissed, “maybe–!”

Embers Of Fire Gone

We exchanged a glance in the already dying light of our fire, and set to with a will to kicking and flinging the burning sticks into the darkening stream. With our hats, we dipped up water and poured it on the coals. In less than 30 seconds, our fire was all but out.

“It was only by chance,” said the warden, “that we happened along the crest, there, and saw the glow of the fire. A fine thing that would be, for our section, if this fire was reported. We’d look like fools. Why, you cast a glare all over the country. You could see the river, the banks, and even a faint outline of some of the houses above …”

“It’s dark enough now,” I said hollowly.

Because, with the glare of the fire still in our eyes, an excessive darkness engulfed us, there by the hissing and tumbling river.

With the last embers of the fire gone, we stood in complete and stony blackness.

Gone were the twinkling street lights from along the high banks. Gone, even, were the faint shadows and outlines of the steep cliffs and declivities of the Humber.

“We’ve got to get back up,” said the warden, “to our beat. Do you know the path up?”

“We’ve been here dozens of times,” assured Jim. “Just wait a few seconds until our eyes get used …”

We stood for a few minutes.

“Okay, come on,” said the warden impatiently. “Lead on.”

Jim, a shadowy and ghostly figure, the net over his shoulder, started into the brush.

I got right behind him. The wardens came on my heels. But it was dark, oh so dark. Jim stumbled and cussed. He announced he was leaving the net until morning, when he could return for it.

But with the street lights on the hills gone, with the bridge, a few hundred yards south, also gone, with its kindly lights, with the whole friendly familiar world suddenly blotted out, it was an eerie and alarming world we found ourselves in. Not a landmark remained.

We followed Jim a little way, with many a stumble. When outside the range of the river’s sound, we stood and listened. All was a ghastly silence. Not a car, not a street car, not a voice. Faintly now, we could make out the shape of the hills, but they looked strange. They did not seem at all familiar.

“I think it’s this way,” I suggested.

“Don’t be crazy; we bear right,” asserted Jim.

“We came down over that way,” said the wardens anxiously.

We stumbled on a few yards through brush, over stones, brambles scratched us. We reached the foot of a high bank. It was as steep as a wall.

We wandered along it, finally finding a slope we thought we could climb. But after a few tries, in which all four of us failed to get 10 feet up, and all of us very muddy and scratched, we gave up.

“You’ll hear about this,” warned the head warden angrily. “Taking us down here into this wilderness …”

But by heading southward, to where we knew the bridge was, and after much climbing over boulders and falling over sticks and thrusting through tangled brushwood, we saw, at last, ahead the unmistakable and dear outline of the bridge just as the silent heavens were filled with the baleful yell of the all-clear signal, and the kindly lights leaped on all over the world.

But it just goes to show you. Even right near home.


Editor’s Notes: Sucker fishing seemed to be a common practice in the spring in the country. Jim would often have it featured in Birdseye Center. A dip-net was a long pole with a net on one end that could be used as a lever to dip into the water and raise up with migrating suckers.

Jim referred to “modern” houses as band-boxes, a term used for very flimsy cardboard boxes, often for holding hats.

Focke-Wulf was the name of the German manufacturer of the most common German fighter plane, the Fw-190. It was only around this point, in early 1943, did allied countries feel more confident that the war would be won.

30 Below!

January 16, 1943

This comic endorsed aid for Russia (Soviet Union) during World War 2. It was near the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, a turning point in the war.

Pay Night!

November 27, 1943

In this war-time comic, Eli Doolittle (the laziest man in town) is actually doing some work, because his wife Ruby is off doing war-work.

Stamped Out

By Greg Clark, November 20, 1937

“Since when,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you been a stamp collector?”

“I’m not a stamp collector,” I denied indignantly. “This old stamp album I found in a trunk left with our family about forty years ago by an uncle.”

“It might be very valuable,” said Jim.

“You’re telling ‘me?” I snorted, thumbing through the yellowish pages thickly scabbed with aged stamps. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with my cousins for years to take the old trunk off our hands. I just heard the last of them had died up in Saskatchewan, so I decided to chuck the old trunk out. This was in it.”

“Maybe there’s a good fifty bucks in it,” said Jim, “to pay you for …”

“Fifty bucks,” I scoffed. “Jim, there are old stamps that sell as high as $14,000.”

“What?” said Jim

“Listen, my boy,” I said, as I studied eagerly the rows and rows of faded stamps all so neatly stuck in the album, “kings and queens collect stamps. Millionaires collect stamps the way other millionaires collect Rembrandts or Ming china. A thousand dollars is nothing for a rare old stamp dating back a hundred years, or, better, a stamp of a very small issue that was discontinued for some reason.”

“Your uncle,” said Jim, “wouldn’t have left that album lying for years in an old trunk, if there was any value like that in them.”

“He left it with us forty years ago,” said I, “and I bet he collected them when he was a young man. Look at the writing. That’s a young man’s writing. Maybe this album is sixty or seventy years old.”

“By golly,” breathed Jim.

“Everybody, Jim,” I declared, “is entitled to a little luck, once in his life. Some people get their luck by stumbling on a gold mine. Or some old relative leaves them a windfall, ten times bigger than they ever thought the relative was capable of. This old stamp album may be my luck, at last.”

“A reward, kind of,” said Jimmie, “for all the years you have patiently kept that trunk up in your attic.”

“Exactly,” I said piously, though there were plenty of times the old trunk got kicked around pretty badly, and old Uncle Seth had been called some fancy names.

“How are you going to get the album appraised?” asked Jim.

“That’s what I want to talk over with you,” I stated. There are catalogues that list all the stamps in the world, giving their value. I telephoned two or three stamp dealers and asked about those catalogues, and they all say the same thing. They say that the value of stamps has altered a great deal during recent years, owing to the depression and so forth, and if I will just bring the old album in, they can give me some idea of its value.”

“Oh, yeah?” scorned Jim. “Don’t let anybody pull that stuff on you. If you’ve got something valuable there, don’t let any dealer get his mitts on it.”

“Trust me,” I gloated. “I just laughed at them when they suggested the idea. No, sir, we’ve got to hunt around and get hold of one of those big catalogues and price lists. Or maybe if we make a list of the stamps in here and send it around to a dozen or so dealers.”

Getting Suspicious

“Telling each one,” warned Jim, “that we have sent the same list to other dealers.”

“That’s it,” I cried. “And then we’ll start them bidding.”

“Look here,” said Jim, “I know a dear old fellow; he used to be a postman. He’s one of the greatest stamp collectors in Canada. “If I can locate him, we could go and see him.”

“How could we trust him,” I demanded, “when it comes to a matter of thousands of dollars? Maybe $20,000.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “this old chap is as honest as the day. He hasn’t a cent in the world anyway. This is what we’ll do. We’ll offer to pay him a commission of five per cent for the proper valuation of this album if it is sold for what he appraises it at.”

“Not a bad idea,” I said, closing the album and taking a good tight hold on it. “But I have the queer sort of feeling about stamp collectors, as if it were a secret society.”

“How do you mean?” asked Jim.

“I don’t know,” I said, “On the face of it, it seems so silly, collecting old postage stamps. What’s there in it? It looks to me like one of those mysterious businesses that appear so silly on the outside, yet is full of secrets and mystery inside. Maybe this old postman of yours belongs to some kind of international organization and would value the album at a mere $500 and then split ten thousand with somebody else in the ring who buys it.”

“Aw,” said Jim, “you’re getting suspicious like everybody else that gets his hands on a good thing.”

“Jim,” I said, “when you get your hands on something worth maybe $25,000, you’ve got to be suspicious. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head.”

So Jim did some telephoning and found that his old postman friend would probably be home around 8 p.m. He lived in a room on the third floor over one of those downtown blocks of stores on Queen street.

“I’ll pick you up after supper,” I said.

After supper, we drove downtown and parked the car near the Queen street number and located the place. It was one of those old blocks of stores, with intermediate doors leading up flights of stairs to apartments on the second and third floors.

Third floor we climbed, up dark, steep stairs, passing halls and doors where there were sounds of domestic activity and radios. At the top were two doors, one marked Beautician, and the other blank.

It was a massive door. They built doors in the eighties.

“This will be it,” said Jim, rapping.

Instead of the door opening, one panel in the upper half slid along sideways and a dim face appeared.

“Hello,” said Jim, a little startled.

“What do you want?” asked the face, just a faint blur in the open panel

“We’ve come to do a little business,” said Jim, pleasantly.

“Who sent you?” demanded the low voice.

“It was our own idea,” laughed Jim, as if this, were a game.

The panel slid shut. We waited. In a moment, it slid open again and we could make out two dim blurs in the darkness.

“Well?” said Jim.

“They look,” said a thinner voice than the first one we had heard, “like the type of guys we’ve been trying to get. Let ’em in.”

Something clunked. The door swung open, and we entered a dimly lit hallway, in which there was now only one man, a particularly heavy built individual who looked like a retired policeman.

“Hang your coats and hats here,” said this gentleman, gruffly. I felt his hand slide quickly down my back and up my left side, as he pretended to take my coat off. I clutched my parcelled stamp album tightly.

“What’s that?” demanded the stranger, brusquely.

“A stamp album,” I stated. “An old stamp album. That’s what we’ve come to see about.”

“To see about!” said the big fellow. “Oh, I see. Luck, huh?”

“It sure is luck,” I began, intending to start business without delay.

“Trot along in, then,” said the big fellow, “if the boss says you’re in, you’re in, cockeyed or not.”

He waved us along the hallway.

We opened the door. Instead of one man, there were thirty in the big room. Some were sitting at small side tables. Some were sitting on high benches around the side, like shoeshine parlor benches. And in the middle of the room was a big pool table, sort of, only it was not pool they were playing.

At one end of the table, a man in shirt sleeves was standing with a long hooked stick in his hand. Behind and above him, on a chair six feet high, like a chair on a ladder, was another man, sitting watching the table the way a cat watches a goldfish in its bowl.

A man at the side of the table was rolling big dice.

It was all quiet, smoky, muttery and hushed. As we entered, hardly anybody looked up. One man, who turned out to be the boss walked over and said quietly:

“Make yourselves at home. Buy your chips from the croupier. He cashes.”

“Chips?” said I, but Jim gave my sleeve a little jerk. We strolled over and looked between shoulders at the big table. It was not a billiard table at all. At one end, down by the man with the stick, there was a thick line painted across the green baize. Out in the middle were all kinds of squares, numbered. On the line and behind it were colored chips. In the squares were a lot of other chips.

A regular babble of talk was going on, and they were talking about the “hard eight and the “hard six.” At the far end, the man with the stick was repeating monotonously, “when you crap you double, when you crap you double,” and in return for cash money, he shoved out small piles of chips to the men standing around the table, yet never ceased his monotone, “crap you double.”

At the sides, where the men were putting their chips in the little squares, the battle ceased, and the man with the crooked stick put the dice in a leather tube, about the size of a condensed soup can. He handed it to one of the men on the side. He held it up, turned it around three times, shifted it to his other hand and rolled the dice out on the green baize.

There was an outburst, like “they’re off” when the horses start at the races. Chips went all directions and money was waved, and the man with the crooked stick raked in the dice and shoved chips this way and that. The man on the high chair never even blinked. He just sat up there, staring expressionlessly at the table.

“Jim,” I muttered, “how about my stamps?”

“All right, all right,” hissed Jim. “Wait a minute.”

“Well, what is this?” I insisted.

“Talk about luck,” said Jim, backing me out a little from the crowd. “that old stamp album of yours has led us right into a swell big crap game. One we couldn’t get into, maybe, except by accident, in a thousand years.”

“What of it?” I started.

“Luck,” whispered Jim fiercely. “Luck. Don’t you believe in hunches?”

“No gambling,” I declared firmly. “Not me.”

“How much have you got on you?” demanded Jim, feeling in his own pocket. I had $2.12. Between us, we had $7.40. Jim took my two and went around the end to the man with the stick. He returned with seven white chips.

“A dollar apiece?” I protested.

“Listen,” said Jim. “we’re in luck. The air is full of hunches. Watch me.”

He found an open spot at the table and I wedged in alongside. Jim put two of our white chips on the square marked 8 and two behind the long white line. We waited while the babble subsided, a tall elderly man threw the dice, and out came a nine. There was the outburst, and the swift moving of chips in all directions. Ours were lost in the scramble.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Just a minute,” said Jim, tossing three chips down in the squares, in various numbers.

The tall, thin man rolled again. Another nine.

There was wild, smothered hubbub and our three chips were swept away by strange hands that, as far as I could see, had nothing to do with it. But Jim just looked and said nothing.

“Now what?” I demanded.

Jim backed me out again.

“Let’s see that stamp album,” said he.

“What for?” I cried so sharply that the boss walked quickly over.

“What is it, gents?” he asked.

“Is there anybody around here,” said Jim. “knows the value of old postage stamps? Any stamp collector?”

“Ham up there,” said the boss, “he’s a regular fiend after stamps.”

“Jim.” I said, “be careful.”

We walked around and spoke up to the man on the high stool. As if waking from a trance, Ham looked down and listened while Jim explained about the stamp album. Ham reached down for it and looked through it casually

“Ten bucks?” he said.

“What?” I cried. “It’s worth hundreds.”

“Says you,” said Ham, handing it negligently down to me.

“Maybe thousands,” I repeated heatedly.

Ham’s eyes were fixed glassily on the table again.

“Look,” Jim said, “gamblers are the most honest men in the world. You’ve heard that all your life, haven’t you?”

“Ten bucks,” I said contemptuously, tying the string back on it.

“Look,” pleaded Jim, holding my lapel, “everything is luck. isn’t it? How do we know this dizzy old album …”

“Jimmie,” I warned, clutching the book.

“A bad beginning,” said Jim, “means a good end. If I get ten bucks, I’ll probably be able to clean up $500 here in half an hour. I’ll split.”

“Split!” I snorted.

“Two-fifty in the hand is worth ten thousand in a bushy old album,” begged Jim. “Listen, this is a straight hunch. Why should we stumble in here, with that old book, unless …?”

I handed Jim the album, slowly, painfully. He handed it up to Ham and Ham, never shifting his eyes from the table, handed down a ten.

Jim went and waited at the table until the dice came to him. He put ten white chips on the line, with a regular slap.

He rolled. It was a six.

After the hubbub, they gave the dice back to Jim. He held the tube up and passed it slowly from his right hand to his left.

He rolled.

Seven.

In the hubbub, our troubles seemed to be as nothing. We withdrew to a corner, and the boss came hurrying over.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he cried, “not so loud. No fighting in here, if you please.”

“We’re ruined,” I informed him loudly.

“Ham will always advance you taxi fare home,” said the boss, gently.

“We’ve got our own car, thanks,” I declared.

Which was all.

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Talk About Luck” in 1943 (illustration here).

December 11, 1943

Editor’s Notes: Jim was always portrayed as the one more comfortable gambling, where Greg would be seen as more prudish.

Baize is the material used for billiards tables and casino games.

Gummed Up

By Greg Clark, November 6, 1943 (and December 7, 1935)

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Leak Stoppers” in 1935 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics (though in this case there was little changed).

“You can buy a gun,” said Jimmie Frise, “what they call a caulking gun, and seam up all your windows and doors with it, using a kind of putty or cement.”

“I’ve seen them,” I said. “Like a grease gun.”

“Exactly,” said Jim. “A child can use them. You have no idea how many leaks there are around a modern house. Air leaks.”

“I’m beginning to feel them,” I agreed. “You would think we Canadians would have solved the question of housing a couple of generations ago. Yet the average Canadian home is stifling in summer and freezing in winter; that is, unless you keep a furnace going full blast from October to May.”

“Yes,” pursued Jim, “and what’s more, when you have the furnace going full blast, what are you doing? You are merely squirting 50 or 100 jets of hot air out of 50 or 100 leaks in your house. Through cracks and crevices. Through keyholes and under warped doors. Hot air squirting out of your house, and cold air shooting in. I’m going to get one of those caulking guns. How would you like to go halvers with me on one?”

“Sure,” I agreed.

“The best house for Canada,” said Jimmie, relaxing, “is a log house. It is warm in winter and cool in summer. Our first ancestors who came to this country were a lot more comfortable than we are. They picked a nice spot on the side of a hill for a cabin. A hill that would protect them from the cold northwesterlies.

They left a few tall maples and elms over it, to shelter it in the heat of summer. Out of cedar logs, they built their little cabin, and chinked the spaces between the logs with mud mixed with a little lime they burned themselves from limestone lying around.”

“I often wish I were my ancestor,” I mused.

“The roof,” said Jimmie, they made this way, they laid stout saplings close together, and over them laid what they called cedar splits, like big shingles. Sometimes if they could afford it, they laid couple of layers of heavy paper between the saplings and the shingles. One of my ancestors was called Proudy Frise, because he lined his roof with rawhide deerskins that he bought from the Indians. It was wonderful in the winter, but in the summer, it smelt kind of close.”

“He could stay outside most of the summer,” I pointed out.

“Once the snow fell on the cabin roof,” went on Jim, everything was hunkey-dooley.”

“The fireplace,” I carried on, “was built of stone, with the chimney.”

“As a matter of fact,” corrected Jim, “they built the stone fireplace and chimney first, and then added the cabin on to it. Here and there, throughout Canada, you will find a few weed-grown remnants of these pioneer chimneys and fireplaces. Every true Canadian should reverently lift his hat when he sees one of those small, unhonored ruins. Around those stones, the builders of empire have huddled in the long and bitter winters of their lives.”

“Babies, too,” I said.

“We Could Be Ancestors”

“Let us picture that little cabin,” paused Jimmie. “Never mind the cutting and the hauling of those cedar logs, the finding and hauling of the stones for the fireplace and chimney. They had no horses. Oxen were few and far between and very expensive. I think we may reasonably suppose that our fathers hauled the logs by hand, and carried the stones in their arms. I think I can see everybody in the family, lonely in that small stumpy clearing in the deep forest, hauling, hauling all day. The mother, leaving her baby, to help haul cedar logs. The little boys of 10 and 14, laboriously loosening and rolling stones towards that sacred muddy little spot where soon, before the chill of autumn grimmed to winter, there must rise the stone altar of home.”

“Jimmie,” I said, “you’re a preacher.”

“Day after day, they hauled and notched and piled and plastered with their rude cement,” said Jim. “Then they had to cut and pile firewood, long, ragged stacks of it. But at last, the rough little cabin was made, and the snow fell, and the soft white blanket warmed the little house. And inside, on a big hearth, a far bigger hearth than you will see anywhere today except at golf clubs, burned a bright fire.”

“One of my ancestors, called Great Grandpa Willie,” I interrupted, “had one of the biggest and best-drawing fireplaces in Markham township. They tell that when the fire was drawing good in it, the draught was so strong it sucked great big cordwood sticks up the chimney and threw them hundreds of feet away. In fact, they had to keep letting the fire go out because they couldn’t get any wood to stay on the fire long enough to burn.”

“The floor,” went on Jim, as if I hadn’t spoken, was generally just plain earth, worn hard and smooth by human feet. The beds were rough hewn bunks. A home-made table. The chairs, a couple of stools, and the rest just round pieces of logs set on end. On that bright fire they cooked their meals on spits and boiled their kettles on hobs. All winter long, they hugged the bright fire, never letting it go out night or day. And the only thing that happened was when daddy walked 14 miles through the deep snow to the nearest village, for a bag of flour, to bring back on home-made sled. And maybe a piece of pork he would get from the local missionary, or maybe from United Empire Loyalist, who might live in the village. That is unless your ancestor had been out with Mackenzie.”

“Mine were out with Mackenzie,” I stated proudly. “And they never wanted for a slab of salt pork or a bag of flour. The ones who were out with Mackenzie stuck together a lot longer than the ones who weren’t, let me tell you that. One winter’s night, nearly 30 years after the rebellion, an old man came to the back door of my great-uncle’s farm, and he said he wanted a meal and shelter for the night. The old man came into the kitchen where the candles were burning, and when he saw William Lyon Mackenzie’s picture on the wall, he snatched off his hat and stood in front of it, crying. So my great-uncle sent everybody to bed; and hour after hour the women and children could hear the two old men in the kitchen making speeches and singing, and reading all my great-uncle’s clippings of the sacred newspaper writings of William Lyon Mackenzie. And finally they went out into the winter night, both of them, about midnight or after, and from that hour, my great-uncle was never seen again.”

“Never seen?” asked Jim.

“Never seen again,” I stated. “He had got out his old high hat and his black coat with the silver buttons. His pike, which hung on the wall, a funny old weapon made of a broken scythe blade on a long ash handle, was gone. We say in the family that the old stranger who called at the door was Mackenzie himself or his ghost, and that he came and took great-uncle away with him. I tell you the rebels stuck together, at least in the country.”

“I wish I was my ancestor,” agreed Jim. “They had something to do. Something to fight. Something to believe in.”

“We could be ancestors, too,” I explained to Jim. “By going up north, around Cochrane or out to the far west. And build a little log cabin and go through all the very same things our ancestors did.”

“Yeah,” sneered Jim, “and the minute we began to fail, we’d go on relief.”

Everything Goes in Circles

“Our ancestors went on relief, too, don’t forget,” I stated. “All the Empire Loyalists got what was called ‘assistance’; that is, free seed and potatoes and all sorts of government grants of this and that. And even after the rebellion, the government wouldn’t see you starve. Anyway, your neighbors wouldn’t. And that’s much the same thing as it is now out on the frontiers, where we would go if we wanted to be ancestors, too.”

“Everything sort of goes round, doesn’t it?” muttered Jim. “The same thing happens over and over, only to different people. I guess we had our turn in our great-grandfathers.”

“We’re pretty comfortable,” I confessed. “Except for those leaks around the windows and doors. When do you expect to get the caulking gun?”

“I could get it Friday, and we can do the job Saturday.”

So Jim got the gun and three bags of the powder that you mix up in a pail to make the putty or gum used to fill the cracks.

It was a cold day. In fact, it was so cold I suggested we leave the job over until milder day. But Jim was indignant.

“In the first place,” he cried, “what would our ancestors think of us, passing up a job that takes half an hour out in a little cold? And in the second place, it is a cold, windy day like this we need to help find the leaks.”

We started at Jim’s. Under the downstairs living room windows was a leak that gave you a backache in 10 minutes if you sat in the chesterfield. It was a leak under the window frame and behind the big radiators that filled the front end of the room. So cold was the breeze that cut in across the radiators that it was still freezing after it had passed across practically red-hot radiators.

In a big wash boiler, with water we mixed the gray powder out of the paper bags.

“This stuff,” explained Jim, sniffing loudly, “is sort of like gum. It swells as it hardens. It hardens light and fluffy but strong as stone.”

“Like,” I said, “a sort of asphalt or concrete seidlitz powder.”

Jim and I went and studied the leak from the inside and then from the outside. His family were all away, or we would have had someone stand inside and call out to us where the leak still leaked. Jim did the gun work while I did the mixing and gun-filling. It was an even division of the job, and a cold job at that.

Inserting the flattened end of the gun into the crack below the stone window sill, Jim would press the gun handle and the putty would squeeze inside. Jim shoved and heaved and sniffled, and I crouched down out of the wind, just coughing

A Dreadful Sight

After four gun loads, Jim went inside and reported the cold leak as cold and leaky as ever.

“There must be a hole,” he said, “as big as a piano box inside that wall.”

So I mixed and puddled and Jimmie gunned and heaved, and that one leak took seven pails of putty.

“We ought to have some sort of automatic gun,” declared Jim, “that would connect to a hose. Then we could fill these holes in jig time.”

“My hands,” I said, “are numb.”

“I feel hot chills, confessed Jim. “I bet I am catching pneumonia.”

“Any number of our ancestors must have died of pneumonia,” I offered.

So we broke off, and drove over to the hardware store for another three bags of the gum.

“We’ll fill this leak,” said Jim, setting to, “if it takes all day and 50 bags. Just imagine the kind of man that would build a house with hole like that in it.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, we are filling up hollow wall right to the roof?”

“If we are,” said Jim, “We are. But I going to stop this leak.”

And grunting and sniffing, he leaned on the gun, and shot another two pailfuls of the gum into the chink below the window sill.

“Our ancestors, I coughed, “generally did their wall clinking in the summer.”

“Sniff,” said Jim, heaving hard.

“Our ancestors,” I further coughed, had enough sense to do their chinking from the inside, in winter.”

“There’s an idea,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s find the leaks inside and work from there!”

“For mercy’s sake,” I said, seizing the pail and one of the two remaining bags of powdered gum. “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?”

So we hustled inside through the kitchen, and we paused in the kitchen with all our paraphernalia long enough to brew a pot of tea and drink it neat.

“To be an ancestor,” said Jim, much improved, “you had to have common sense. I bet the bones of amateur ancestors lie thick all over Canada. Men who didn’t use their brains. Men who couldn’t take it.”

“Let’s go find the leak from the inside,” I encouraged.

So we carried the gun and the pail and bags into the living-room.

A dreadful sight met our eyes.

Like candle drippings, like the winter icicles of Niagara Falls, huge stalactites and stalagmites of gray gum draped themselves up and over the big radiator of the living-room, sizzling and smoking. Out across the shining hardwood floor, a great gob of gum, like lava from Mount Vesuvius, bulged grotesquely, pushing a Persian rug ahead of it.

Halvers on the Gun

Jim said nothing. He just dropped the gun and stood loosely, bending at the knees, sort of.

“Jim,” I said, “quick, when are the folks coming home?”

“Ancestors,” said Jim, thickly, “where are you now?”

With garden spade and ice pick, with rags and trowel, we labored. The gum had apparantly been pushing through into the living-room as fast as we shoved it. It had filled the space behind the radiator and finally rose up and flowed over it, so that the radiator was all but engulfed. Where we lifted it, like a great gummy rug, off the hardwood floor, it peeled the beautiful satiny finish off the way a mud pack removes the ageing epidermis of a lady. It smelt rubbery and asphalty. The hot radiator stewed it. It stuck, as gum sticks to your heel. We had the job not quite finished when the family arrived and consigned Jim and me and all our apparatus to the cellar where Jim has a billiard room.

“Will I offer to re-polish the floor?” asked Jim, as we sat there.

“You can if you like,” I said. “If we do the same thing at my house, I’ll offer to re-polish my floor.”

“I see,” said Jim. “I see. You are leaving me?”

“Yes,” I said, “I am all chapped and raw. I feel a bad cold coming on. I have been doing foolish thing.”

“Helping a friend, scorned Jim.

“I have been doing a foolish thing,” I reiterated. “I forgot that my ancestors did all the suffering any family needs to do. They used up in their lives, a basic fund of energy, a sort of family supply of vigor, so that they had none to pass on to me. What they suffered, they suffered for me. And they no doubt were encouraged, as they toiled and suffered, by the thought that their descendants would not have to suffer as they were doing.”

“I bet they thought of no such thing,” said Jim.

“Well, anyway,” I coughed heavily, “there is no call for me to go on suffering when I can hire an ancestor just fresh out from Scotland who will gum up the leaks in my house for two dollars.”

“How about going halvers on the gun?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” I said: “I’ll give you the money the next time I have it.”

So I got up and hurried home and put my feet in mustard bath and put my grand-mother’s Paisley shawl – the one she got for a gift the night the fall of Sebastopol was celebrated in Toronto – round my shoulders and read an old book, a raggedy old book we have, called “The Life and Times of William Lyon Mackenzie.”

December 7, 1935

Editor’s Notes: This is yet another story in the theme of Greg and Jim trying to do some sort of household repair while the family is out, and making a mess of it.

William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, journalist, reformer, and leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. He is consider a hero by many as the failed rebellion eventually led to more local control.

Seidlitz powders is a generic name for a laxative that required mixing of two ingredients.

The fall of Sebastopol was a battle during the Crimean War, which would have been celebrated in the British Empire.

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