The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1943 Page 1 of 4

Great Days are in Store!

“You will be dropping down, in your Helicopter in this garden, every Friday evening to take me for a week-end on Georgian Bay,” predicted Jim.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 26, 1943.

“Hosing the garden,” ruminated Jimmie Frise, as he waggled the hose this way and that, “is a pleasure at the start of summer.”

“But by August?” I suggested.

“Even by mid-July,” declared Jim, “it becomes a fag.1

“Here,” I said, “let me hose this part.”

Jim handed me the hose, which dribbled quite lively at the nozzle and which, about six feet in rear of you, allowed a fine spray to catch you unawares in the seat of the pants if you did not forcibly twist the hose to keep the leak pointed earthward.

“After the war,” said Jim, sitting down in the lawn chair, “among the great changes which are to come, ought to be a system whereby you install a few pipes underground, with nozzles sticking up here and there in the garden, like the nozzles of a fire prevention sprinkler system. All you would do would be to turn on a tap, and all over the garden, little sprays like fountains would spring up.”2

“It will be some time after the war,” I submitted, “before metal pipes become plentiful enough to be wasted on tricks as silly as that.”

“Silly?” cried Jim. “I tell you it is the duty of all thinking men to go silly right now, if that is silly, and start thinking up ways of consuming things. The only way we can prevent a gigantic slump right after the war is by thinking up ways of using all the things that are being produced now.”

“But not foolish things,” I protested, “like fountains in plain people’s back yards.”

“Why not?” demanded Jimmie. “Who is going to decide what is wise and what is foolish? If we let old men do the deciding, they can’t help but struggle to get us back on the mean, mingy, stingy way of life to which they have been accustomed. So, first of all, let us start agitating that nobody over 40 should have anything whatever to do with the peace negotiations, either with the enemy or here at home. Because, don’t forget, not all the peace negotiations are going to made around a table in Paris or Berlin. A lot of peace negotiations have to be made in every city and every town and every home.”

“Are you advocating?” I inquired, “that we enter upon another Bacchanalian era after the war like 1926 to 1929, after the last war?”

“I am advocating,” stated Jim, “that we all start getting used to thinking about consuming. For the past four years, we have thought so hard about producing that, when the war ends, and the excessive production of war comes to an end, we are liable to have forgotten how to consume. The minute the war ends, we have all got to start consuming just as hard as we have been producing. Otherwise, ruin.”

“Such as,” I scoffed, artistically swaying the hose over new patches of garden, “such as installing fountains in back yards?”

For a Flourishing World

“I don’t care how you consume,” said Jim, “so long as you can think up ways of using everything the stepped-up factories of Canada can produce, so that not one man or one girl has to be laid off.”

“Where would we get the money?” I inquired. “After we have spent our few paltry war bonds, what would we use?”

“I see you have no imagination,” stated Jim, “Our national savings are a few paltry hundred millions. But our national income is a great many thousand millions. At present. The trick is to keep those national earnings going. To heck with savings. For centuries, we have been taught that the big thing is to save. For centuries, the world has been in a constant mess. What we are about to learn is, that it is not savings that matter at all. It is earnings. Keep everybody earning and everybody spending, and the world will flourish like a green bay tree.”

“It sounds good,” I confessed, holding the hose a little farther out from me, because the dribble was increasing, “but if it would work, why hasn’t somebody thought of it long ago?”

“It has been thought of long ago,” declared Jimmie, “but the world was in the clutches of financiers and businessmen who found it more exciting and much more profitable to pursue the savings tradition. To them, business and finance was a game, a sort of super poker game. If everybody was busy and everybody happy, if all mankind were producing and consuming and nobody saving, how could these big shots stage their regular ten year financial collapses in which to scoop up everybody’s savings? If the world was always busy, it wouldn’t be like a poker game at all. It wouldn’t even be a game. It would just be like a world-wide dance around the maypole on the village green. And big financiers can’t get any kick out of maypole dances. They like action. They like big killings. After all, the world is the poker table for about one thousand big poker players.”

“That’s awful talk,” I exclaimed.

“It’s true,” asserted Jim. “I bet the big brains who control the world’s finances don’t number more than a thousand. And all that interests them is the game they play and who can scuttle who. They like the mass of mankind to work and save so that there are large numbers of chips available for the grand slam. If everybody had work and nobody had savings to put into the ventures of the big shots, what the Sam Hill would the big shots do for relaxation?”

“You’re cynical,” I submitted.

“Look,” said Jim, “do you remember the big stock crash of 1929? Do you recall all your friends worth twenty thousand, thirty thousand in imaginary stock winnings?”

“Ah, that was just paper,” I pointed out.

“But they all put real money in too,” explained Jim. “They borrowed on their houses. They scraped all their cash up and put it into stocks. They invested, one, two thousand dollars. And it swelled up, like a balloon, to ten, twenty thousand. Then the balloon burst. Away went the twenty, thirty thousand. But away, too, went the one, two thousand. And left them, often, another couple of thousands in the hole, to be paid off in grief and chagrin. Where did all those one and two thousands go? We are all very airy about the imaginary money that went up in smoke. But the real money, my boy, the real hard cash – where did it go?”

“Hmmm,” I admitted.

“It didn’t go up in smoke, me lad,” said Jim. “It went some place. Where do you suppose it went?”

“I see,” I muttered.

“Yes, sir,” said Jim, “there were billions of real money lost in that smash. And I think I know who got it. And it certainly wasn’t you or me or our friends.”

“I can’t think of a single solitary soul,” I confessed, “who made a cent. They all lost.”

“We suckers,” said Jim, “ought to wake up. Why should we serve, forever, as bellhops carrying chips to the big poker game on the mezzanine?”

“If only,” I sighed, “we could produce somebody to lead us who would talk as plainly about economies as Winston Churchill talks about war!”

“If you could see the seat of your pants,” said Jimmie, leaning back in the garden chair, “you wouldn’t think it a silly idea for all of us to have sprinkler fountains in our back yards.”

I felt my trousers and found them beautifully frosted with the spray from Jim’s hose. The act of feeling caused the water to seep through the fabric.

“Here,” I said, “take your hose. Let me do the surmising for a while.”

“Sit down, do,” said Jim rising and taking the hose.

But I preferred to stand.

Travel By Helicopter

“Think of the machine tools,” I proposed, “the thousands and thousands of machine tools this country has got since the war broke out four years ago. How could we ever keep them busy?”

“Making radios,” retorted Jim, “with television. Why do you suppose there has been no advance in television this past five years? Because there was nobody with money to buy them. But now, there are millions of men and women working at machine tools, at good wages, who will buy them.

“Think,” I pursued, “of the airplane industry, the tens of thousands of people working in this country on engines, wings, parts, gadgets.”

“I have heard the rumor,” announced Jim, “that an implement firm in Canada has already got the rights for the Helicopter3, and as soon as the war ends, they, like airplane factories all over the world, are going to start producing small, domestic aircraft for common use. People who will still drive cars will be like people who drove buggies in 1930; old-fashioned. There is still room for buggies. There will still be plenty of room for cars. But the world in general will be using aircraft. And you, my fine feathered friend, will be dropping down, in your Helicopter, right in this garden, every Friday evening, to take me for a week-end on the Georgian Bay.”

“Aw,” I scoffed.

“Before you are five years older,” predicted Jim, calmly, “you will own a Helicopter that can land in a garden the size of this. You will drop it down here as calmly as you back your car out of your side drive. There was a time – do you remember? – when you thought with horror of packing up a motor car. You think with horror of dropping a Helicopter into this garden. But I tell you, the answer to all tomorrow’s worries is in the production of new and known devices for the use and comfort and amusement of mankind. Television and aircraft are only two items which will do for the next 20 years what the motor car and the radio did for the past 20 years.”

“With a happier ending, I hope?” I said.

“The miracle of Radar,” said Jim, “which has enabled the British to see, by radio, enemy aircraft taking off from their airfields in France, will be as common a miracle in 10 years as the telephone was in our youth. You will be receiving air force blue summonses4 for breaking the air traffic laws in another five years. Radar will be checking your every move, as you fly from this garden to Go Home Bay5, on the Georgian Bay. Being a Helicopter, you will have to keep to the Blue Lane, northbound, which is 500 feet high, two miles wide. immediately west of Yonge St. The faster stuff, which your sons will drive, will use the Silver Lane, which is the northbound track. 5,000 feet high, four miles wide, immediately west of Yonge St. As you approach the Radar station at Barrie, they will give you your signals, just like a traffic cop, as to when to turn right or left, depending whether you are going west to the Georgian Bay, or east, over Lake Simcoe.”

“Suppose I can’t see,” I inquired. “Suppose it is raining?”

“Your orders will be spoken into your earphones,” explained Jim. “If you get off your lane, a Radar cop will call your number and warn you to get up or down to your level, or east or west, on to the lane. If anybody tries cutting in on you, you should worry. A Radar voice will hand him a radio summons to land at the next airfield and report to the local air traffic magistrate forthwith.”

“Suppose he doesn’t?” I inquired, watching the hose slowly dying in Jim’s hand.

“Then a Radar speed cop,” explained Jim, “will take off and chase the traffic offender, force him down and his flying license will be cancelled for six months, first offence.”

Life is Certainly Funny

Slowly the hose stream died, and we both turned and looked back towards the house, where the hose was attached to a good old-fashioned tap of about 1917. A new leak had sprung. A large fountain was spraying blithely over the perennial phlox, back near the steps.

Jim dropped the hose and ran back to the tap which he turned off.

“I’ll go and get the electric tape,” he said.

“What you need is a new hose,” I suggested. “One factory that needn’t worry about the war ending will be the rubber hose factory.”

Jim came back in a few minutes with the electric tape. It was a gummy and small roll and after a little while Jim succeeded in picking loose a section of it, with which he wound the leak.

“This stuff is getting scarce, too,” said Jim.

He turned on the tap again and we hurried forward to pick up the nozzle before it had, gouged a hole in the lawn.

“If the war ends,” said Jim, “before we have had time to talk and plan and dream up all the ways we are going to use the discoveries and developments of industry and science for war, we will slip back into our old ways. The same old gang will resume possession of the world. The motor car manufacturers will try to out-bluff the aircraft manufacturers. The radio makers will try to draw to a straight flush to the two pairs of the television boys. The old poker game will be resumed. What we, the people, have got to do is get busy dreaming. We’ve got to dream, of a world that is not a game.”

Again the stream from the hose began to slacken. We turned and looked back along its decrepit length.

From the leak Jim had fixed with tape, a small burble was flowing. But from another place much nearer, a beautiful little spray was curving into the evening air.

“Hold it, Jim,” I cried. “You’ve got the answer. Why worry about burying iron water pipes in your garden? Just keep your old hose and let it sprinkle all over to its heart’s desire.”

For now, three beautiful jets were playing in different parts of the yard, and by a deft twitch to the hose, we could shift the fountains to any part of the garden we liked.

“The funny part of life, Jim,” I submitted, “is that often it isn’t a new thing you need, but an old one. And in this instance, the older the better.”

“Except for the looks of it,” muttered Jimmie.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. In this case, “fag” means a boring or wearisome task. ↩︎
  2. I’m not sure when home sprinkler systems were invented, but certainly after the war. ↩︎
  3. Helicopters were already invented, but the Sikorsky R-4 became the first helicopter to reach full-scale production in 1942. ↩︎
  4. Blue tickets were traffic tickets. ↩︎
  5. Greg’s real cottage was on Go Home Bay, a community where his father was a founding member. ↩︎

She’ll Never be the Same

June 5, 1943

Racqueteers

My good shoe carried me on the top of the snow. But my other leg sank each step to the knee or hip.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 6, 1943.

“How do they do it!” exclaimed Jimmie Frise.

“Who?” I inquired.

“The Russians1,” cried Jimmie. “With the whole resources of Europe – except Britain – against them. With the trained might of Germany, backed by the enslaved production of all the rest of Europe, concentrated on them. With most of the factory owners and moneyed and managerial classes of conquered Europe hating them and really aiding the Germans.”

“And Italy,” I reminded him.

“Phoooie,” said Jim.

“Phooie nothing,” I informed him. “I bet you, when the smoke clears away, that most of the skulduggery in North Africa and the confusion of the French cliques and parties will be traced to Italy. Don’t forget, it was Italy’s fear and hatred of communism that gave rise to the Fascist party. Don’t forget that Italy set up Mussolini long before Germany set up Hitler.”

“Italy,” said Jim. “Phooie.”

“Okay,” I warned. “But when history is written, I bet you it will be Italy’s demonstration of how to set up a boogey man and organize a Fascist party that gave all the rest of the world the idea of setting up another boogey man in Germany as a barrier against Russia. It was Russia the whole world was scared of 10 years ago. It was finagling against Russia that set up this whole devil’s kettle of a war. And now Russia appears to be the savior of the world.”

“Next to Britain,” said Jim.

“Next to us,” I agreed. “Us being whatever we are. Next to the good old U.S., if you are an American. Next to China, if you are Chinese. Next to Malta, if you are Maltese.”

“Don’t be cynical,” said Jim.

“I’m not cynical,” I assured him. “I am merely reminding you that you can’t help having a point of view. And your point of view depends entirely on where you happen to be standing. You wouldn’t deny a Chinese man the right to believe that but for China’s stand against Japan, years before our war broke loose, our war would now be lost.”

“Yes, but never forget we…” began Jim.

“Us?” I cried with passionate patriotism, “we’re wonderful!”

“Well, we are!” declared Jim angrily.

“That’s what I’m saying,” I retorted.

“But I don’t think you’re sincere,” said Jim.

Source of All Troubles

“I’m this sincere,” I submitted. “That so long as you allow Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, Argentinians, Italians and all the rest to believe they are wonderful, we have a perfect right to believe we are wonderful too. The trouble is, however, with us, and Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese, Argentinians and so forth, is, we don’t include anybody else.”

“Aw, well,” protested Jimmie, “it’s human nature you’re complaining about.”

“Never cease complaining about it, Jim,” I pleaded. “It’s the source of all our troubles.”

“A fat lot of good complaining about human nature will do,” said Jim. “Human nature is as unchangeable as the very rocks of the earth. You might as well try to change the shape of the Rocky Mountains as change human nature.”

“Jim, not a day goes by,” I informed him, “but that the shape of the Rocky Mountains is being changed. The everlasting complaint of the winds, the rains, the snow and the ice, is forever changing the shape of the mountains and of the very earth itself. And never forget, one earthquake can change their shape so tremendously, they can be sunk right out of sight under the sea.”

“Are you looking for an earthquake to change human nature?” inquired Jim.

There have been plenty of earthquakes,” I submitted, “that have changed human nature. The birth of Jesus was an earthquake. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The invention of gunpowder was an earthquake. A peasant with a flintlock could destroy a king hedged round with battle axes. It would be a nice way to spend an evening, discussing which events in history were earthquakes that changed human nature.”

“I bet we’re not much different from the men who lived in caves,” said Jim.

“The winds of Shakespeare blew and are blowing on the granite of human nature,” I enunciated. “The rain of Charles Dickens’ tears, the snow of Alexander Hamilton’s logic, the ice of Charles Darwin’s speculations, all have eroded the Rocky Mountains of human nature…”

“See?” interrupted Jimmie triumphantly. “Every name you have mentioned is one of us!”

“When Marco Polo, in the year 1250 A.D., arrived in China,” I countered, “he found a civilization more advanced than Europe’s, and 1,500 years old.”

“Marco Polo!” scoffed Jimmie. “Who ever heard of him!”

“Each nation,” I said, “thinks it has its Shakespeares, its Dickenses, its Darwins.”

“Think is right,” said Jim.

“Well, you can’t help even us thinking,” I asserted.

“Anyway,” proclaimed Jimmie, “I think the Russians are wonderful. And I only wish I could feel we had done more to help them. I’d have more self-respect if I thought we had done something to help them. The performance they have put up, not only without much help from us but in spite of all the opposition we put in their way, across the years, makes it kind of embarrassing.”

“Geographically,” I pointed out, “they are the nearest people to Canadians in the world. We share with Russians the northern hemisphere.”

“I’ve often thought of that, this past winter, reading about the battles,” agreed Jim. “Leningrad is on a level with White Horse, in the Yukon. Lake Ladoga is on a level with Great Slave Lake.”

“Brrrrr,” I said.

“Sure,” said Jim. “Fort Churchill, away up half way on Hudson’s Bay, is south of Leningrad. The northern tip of Labrador, where it juts out towards Baffin Land, is level with Leningrad. Sure, we share the northern hemisphere with the Russians. But we haven’t occupied our share yet.”

“I had no idea,” I gasped. “I thought of Leningrad and Toronto or maybe North Bay or Timmins.”

“In the banana belt,” snorted Jim. “All of them. Even Stalingrad is away down south, about level with Winnipeg. But Leningrad is north of Juneau in Alaska. Remember all the fuss we made about the Alaska highway2?”

“Now who’s belittling us?” I demanded. “Well, I was just thinking about the railroad,” said Jim, “the Russians built over the ice of Lake Ladoga. We quit work on the Alaska highway just as winter arrived.”

“Well, some day we Canadians may have cities and towns up in northern Labrador and along the Hudson’s Bay coast,” I declared.

“There’s two million citizens in Leningrad normally,” retorted Jim.

“One thing we might have done for Russia,” I asserted, “and that is, ship her a few thousands pairs of good Canadian snowshoes.”

“Skis are better,” said Jim. “And skis come from Norway. The Russians will know all about skis.”

“Snowshoes,” I insisted. “Skis are all very well in open fields and for playing around in civilized country. But in the bush, you’ve got to have snowshoes.”

“Slow motion,” cracked Jim.

“You never hear of lumberjacks and trappers wearing skis,” I asserted, “except as a novelty. They use snowshoes. And since much of the fighting in Russia in winter is through vast forests and swamps, I bet you snowshoes would be of the most tremendous tactical importance.”

“Skis,” said Jimmie.

“Listen,” I stated warmly, “long before skis were ever heard of in this country, I was a champion snowshoer. I belonged to a snowshoe club here; and there was a Canadian Snow Shoe Association, with clubs all over Canada. And I may say we didn’t spend our time trying to wear out a couple of local hills. We didn’t wait until somebody cut a trail for us through a couple of local bush lots, either. We got out and travelled. We searched out the wildest regions of the country round about and explored it. The tougher the going, the denser the bush, the wilder the swamps, the better we liked it.”

“Waddling,” said Jim. “Bow-legged. Squish. Squish, squush, squish, squush!”

“Waddling my eye,” I cried indignantly. “An export snowshoer can drift over the ground faster than any skier, on a mile of ordinary rough bush country. Or on 20 miles. Put a skier in ordinary brush country and he’s sunk.”

“Squish, squush,” remarked Jim.

“I won my Winged Snow Shoe in 1914,” I announced. “And if you don’t believe it, I can dig my old Snow Shoe Club outfit out of the attic and show you. I’m entitled to wear a crest and a shield, with the Winged Snow Shoe. I’ve got a ceinture fleche3, too, that I won in a 10-mile cross country.”

“A what?” inquired Jim.

“Ceinture fleche,” I said. “It’s a beautiful sash.”

“Are You Game?”

“In the attic, did you say?” asked Jimmie. “Has snowshoeing gone out of fashion then?”

“Of course it has,” I said. “The young people are no longer interested in exploring and going places. They only want to go nowhere fast, down hill.”

“Now, now,” said Jim. “Don’t be hurt.”

“In a trunk in the attic,” I stated, “I have my whole old club outfit and two pairs of snowshoes. Are you game?”

“Game how?” asked Jim.

“Game to come for a hike,” I said, “right this afternoon, until I show you what snowshoes can do. I’ll take you into bush that no skier can penetrate. And maybe, if I can get you interested, you and I might start something real for Russia. We might launch a campaign to send half a million pairs of Canadian snowshoes to Russia. Great oaks from little acorns grow. You’re complaining about not having had any share in Russia’s triumph. Okay; here’s your chance to do something strategic.”

Along which lines, I persuaded Jim to come along for an old-fashioned afternoon in the open on snowshoes. I got my old club outfit from the mothballs and, though the webbing of the racquettes was dry and the frames slightly warped, 20 years in a trunk had done them little injury.

In the street car which we took to the end of the line, there were many skiers who took a lively interest in our appearance; but Jimmie insisted they were not laughing at us; it was just their youthful and joyous nature.

While the skiers headed straight away from the end of the car line to the nearest hill which they gathered on like ants on a cookie, Jim and I put on the racquettes and steered for the bush. It took me some little time to persuade Jim to let his legs hang loose, in the proper snowshoe stride, and simply drag the snowshoe over the snow, instead of tightening his legs up in a cramped curve.

“Walk,” I explained, setting the example, “with an easy loose shuffle, forgetting the snowshoes entirely. It’s not like skiing, where you have to think of the skis all the time. Just stride ahead, with loose legs, and trail each shoe naturally.”

Jim tumbled several times, because he walked too naturally, toed in, thus stepping on his own shoes, which naturally threw him on his head. But after crossing a couple of fields, he had the hang of it pretty well and we entered our first bush.

It was a dense bush. And we had not gone 50 yards in its pure and secret sanctuary before we picked up the fresh trail of a fox.

“See?” I cried. “He’s never been disturbed by any skiers. In fact, we’re the first to stir him from his security.”

We trailed the fox to the end of the wood lot and finally got a glimpse of him, his tail blowing sideways in the wind, as he raced across an icy open field for a neighboring woodlot.

“Here,” I said, “within the sound of a city’s factory whistle, we have seen a fox. That’s what snowshoers see.”

And we saw also, in the sanctuary of undisturbed bush lots, many birds such as partridges, jays, chickadees, nuthatches and a whole chime of redpolls and siskins, which are the confetti of the bird world. And in the quiet woods, we were sheltered from the cold and we climbed over windfalls and through dark deep cedar swamps where the highways of the rabbit kingdom were worn in the snow; and saw many and delightful manifestations of nature where she hides where man does not come.

Mal De Racquette

And then Jim sat on a log with a sudden exclamation.

“My leg,” he said, grasping the inside of his thigh.

“What?” I inquired.

“A red hot knife seemed to stick into me,” he said.

“Ah; mal de racquette4,” I informed him. “You’ve been walking with your legs tense. You didn’t walk loosely.”

“I walked the way I had to,” replied Jimmie, painfully. “Squish, squush!”

“We’ll have to head for the nearest road,” I said anxiously. “That mal de racquette is pretty serious.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“It ties some people up,” I said, “so they have to be dragged on a toboggan. They can’t even walk.”

Jim rubbed his thigh and then stood up. He sat down again promptly.

“Hey!” he agonized.

“Does it hurt?” I inquired.

“Ooh,” said Jim, starting to sweat.

So we sat for a little while on the log and then I got some birch bark and twigs and started a fire.

“Keep warm,” I advised, “while I go and scout out where the nearest road is.”

One thing about rural Ontario, there is always a road just over the hill. So I took what I believed to be the nearest cut out of the bush lot and found a good sideroad, well packed down with ruts, less than 400 yards away from Jimmie. And as I turned around to rejoin him, my snowshoe caught in a sharp stub sticking up through the snow. I was thrown on my face and what was worse, the dry babiche5 webbing of the shoe was ripped not only in the toe, but right in the mid-section where my foot fits.

The webbing was so old and dry it was like wire. So when I rejoined Jim, I was moving in a rather complicated fashion. My good shoe carried me on the top of the snow. But my other leg sank each step to the knee or hip, depending on how deep the snow was.

Jimmie watched my approach with considerable relief from his pain.

“Now that,” he said, “is something! You look like one of those old-fashioned side-wheeler steamboats.”

“Jim,” I warned him, “it is going to be no fun getting out to the road.”

We extinguished the fire carefully. And then set out for the road. Part of the time Jim wore his snowshoes, and part of the time, he took them off and just waded. But it was more painful to have to lift his strained leg out of the drifts than to swing the snowshoe in a specially bow-legged stride.

But we reached the road and headed, on plain foot, towards the city and the street car terminus.

And when we stamped safely into the street car, in company with many ruddy and happy skiers, Jimmie remarked:

“What do you say if we start a movement to smuggle a few thousand pairs of snowshoes over to the Germans? That would finish them.”


Editor’s Notes:

  1. When this was written, the battle of Stalingrad, considered to be a turning point in World War 2, was just finished. ↩︎
  2. The Alaska Highway was under construction at the time. ↩︎
  3. The ceinture fléchée (French, ‘arrowed sash’) is a type of colourful sash, a traditional piece of Québécois clothing linked to at least the 17th century. ↩︎
  4. Mal De Racquette (Snowshoe sickness) is a term used when a person went lame while using snowshoes. ↩︎
  5. Babiche is a type of cord or lacing of rawhide or sinew traditionally made by Native Americans. ↩︎

Put it in Writing

“I don’t want to even know his reasons,” shouted Jimmie. “I don’t want to even speak to him!” “Very well,” I said. “We’ll make it brief and snappy like this.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 12, 1938.

“Listen,” hissed Jimmie Frise. “Listen to that row.”

I listened. From somewhere came the deep, booming notes of a radio penetrating into Jimmie’s living room.

“Upstairs?” I inquired.

“Next door,” said Jim, bitterly. “Here it is 11 o’clock at night, and that bird keeps his radio going like that until 1 or 2 in the morning.”

“Why don’t you speak to him?” I asked.

“Speak to him?” cried Jimmie. “Speak, to him? I’ve spoken to him. I’ve telephoned him. I’ve even gone and rung his front door bell at 3 am, and threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t turn his machine off. Or turn it lower, anyway.”

“And why doesn’t he?” I asked.

“He just laughs,” grated Jim. “He just shuts the door in my face and laughs.”

“But there ought to be some law,” I suggested. “Why don’t you call the police? What that amounts to is a disturbance of the peace.”

We both sat still and listened. The deep throb, throb, boom, boom of the radio next door beat and reverberated on the ear drums. Not enough to hear the tune or even to follow the rhythm. But just a nerve-racking and muffled vibration.

“I have called the police,” said Jim. “And when they arrived, he shut the machine off. And there sat the cops, right in this room, listening, and they couldn’t hear a sound. It made me feel very silly. And the cops gave me a funny look.”

“Maybe he saw the cops arrive,” I suggested.

“I have no doubt he did,” agreed Jim. “You ought to hear it in the summer. With all the windows open…”

“Does it go all the time?” I inquired.

“No, he is one of those active, outdoor men,” explained Jim “he bowls, plays golf, goes to meetings and movies. He seems to come home about 11 every night, and go straight to the radio and turn it on. Loud.”

“There are never any programs after 11,” I sympathized.

“Nothing but oompa, oompa, night club bands,” agreed Jim. “All the same. Mostly drum and saxophone. And yet that guy turns it up as loud as it will go and lets her rip, oompa, oompa, until he goes to bed around 2 o’clock in the morning.”

“I certainly wouldn’t put up with it,” I submitted.

“What can I do?” protested Jimmie. “I speak to him, and he just laughs and says, why do I live in such a flimsy house? And when I call him up in the middle of the night, he just laughs and hangs up the receiver.”

No Way to Retaliate

“Can’t you think of any kind of retaliation?” I offered. “Can’t you think up some nuisance on him, and get even with him?”

“I’ve thought of everything,” sighed Jim. “Last summer, I got up early one Sunday morning and carried my radio upstairs to a room opposite his bedroom. I opened the window and set my radio pointing straight into his window at 7.30 of a Sunday morning, and let her rip.”

“That’s the idea,” I applauded. “What happened?”

“He didn’t do anything,” said Jim. “But the first thing I knew, a police cruiser was in front of my house and two cops were ringing the door bell furiously, to say that the whole neighborhood was complaining to the police station.”

“It doesn’t seem just,” I confessed, sitting again in silence and listening. Yes, there, more clearly than ever, once I became conscious of it, was the oompa, oompa, of the radio next door.

“Isn’t there anything else you can do?” I wondered. “Couldn’t you put up a spite fence or anything?”

“No,” said Jim, “the only thing that would do would prevent his kids from throwing things over into my garden. Or it might stop his wife from shaking rugs out her window when the wind is just right to carry the dust in all our windows. In fact, I don’t know what to do. I was thinking of moving.”

“Never, Jim,” I cried. “That would be rank cowardice. That would be retreat in full flight. There must be some way you can handle this situation.”

“All right,” said Jim bitterly, “you think up something.”

“Have you written him a letter?” I asked eagerly. “A letter is the real solution to all such difficulties as this.”

“He’d throw it in the waste basket,” muttered Jim.

“Not a lawyer’s letter,” I cried. “You get a lawyer to write him a letter, threatening legal action if he doesn’t put an end to a nuisance that is impairing your health.”

“I’ve looked it up,” said Jim. “There isn’t any law to prevent a man playing a musical instrument in his own house if the windows are closed and all reasonable precautions taken to prevent the disturbance of the neighbors.”

“Well, this is a disturbance,” I pointed out.

“It is,” agreed Jim, “and the worst kind of a disturbance, too, a soft, barely audible thud, thud, that nearly drives you crazy. But when I explained that to the police, do you know what they said? They said that they knew lots of people that couldn’t sleep on account of crickets.”

“Crickets?” I exclaimed.

The cops told me,” said Jim, “that night they were here and couldn’t hear anything, that one time they had a lady call them in and demand that they force her next door neighbor to get out and kill a cricket that was singing in his garden.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed.

“Oh, yes,” said Jim, “she said she had exterminated all the crickets in her property and she demanded that the police abate the nuisance in the neighbor’s garden. But they found there was no law governing the singing of crickets.”

“Did the police suggest,” I demanded, “that your complaint was in the same class as that?”

“They did,” said Jim. “They said that if the man was playing a trombone or something that could be heard in my house, they would take action. But they could hear nothing. And all I could hear, they explained, was a faint oompa, oompa, and that wasn’t enough to base any action re nuisance on.”

“Let’s write him a letter,” I suggested. “Not a lawyer’s letter, but a plain, man-to-man letter, calling upon his decency and neighborly…”

“He hasn’t any,” interrupted Jim. “He’s just one of those big, hearty, laughing men who sleeps like a log. Everything he does is loud and hearty. An appeal to his good nature would just result in suggesting I go and see a doctor.”

“We could try,” I offered, taking my pencil and drawing up a chair to Jim’s living room table. Let’s see.”

So I started and wrote:

“My dear sir-

“Would you be kind enough to give your friendliest consideration to the following appeal? I have spoken to you many times without result, but I feel that if you were to take into consideration all the facts, you would most certainly be disposed to co-operate in a neighborly spirit.

“As you know, your radio is audible in my house, especially in the quieter hours of the night, between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. It makes a faint but fully audible sound, due to the fact that you have the instrument turned on louder than perhaps is really necessary. This faint sound, unaccompanied by any soothing strains of music, is sufficient to beat upon my nerves and to cause me loss of sleep and distress.

“While I have not the pleasure of your close acquaintance, I feel sure from your appearance and general deportment, that you are not the type of man who would willingly cause distress and possibly ill-health to anyone at the price of a slight adjustment of your radio dial.”

“There,” I said; “now listen to this, Jim.” And I read it to him.

Jim listened with an increasingly frozen face.

“Nothing doing,” he interrupted, near the end. “I wouldn’t humiliate myself by writing any such balderdash. That guy! Not willingly cause distress? Why, he gets a kick out of causing distress. He’s a Sadist. He gets a queer pleasure in making other people suffer in some small, intangible, defenceless way…”

“I’ll make it a little stiffer,” I offered. “I believe in letters. A letter demands some action.”

I sat down and started again.

“My dear sir-

“From time to time I have attempted to bring to your attention a little matter of no apparent interest to you, but which is a nuisance to me and is likely in time to affect my health. I refer to the use of your radio at all hours of the night, the sounds of which penetrate my house and disturb my lawful sleep.

“Before taking steps to have this matter settled by process of law, which will doubtless put you to some expense and not a little loss of face in the neighborhood, I suggest that we settle the question in a decent and amicable fashion.

“Any previous attempts on my part to discuss the matter with you have met with complete rebuff. I suggest that if you are not prepared to reduce the volume of your radio to normal strength so that its sound does not disturb the peace of my house, you will be good enough to give me some reason for your attitude towards this matter.”

“I am, etc.”

With suitable dignity and oratorical effects, I read this masterpiece to Jimmie, but at the end, he exploded.

“I don’t want to know his reasons,” shouted Jimmie. “I don’t want to save him any legal expenses. I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I don’t even want to speak to him…”

“Very well, then,” I hastened, “make it brief and snappy, like this.”

And I took a fresh sheet and started again, while Jimmie leaped up and began prowling up and down the living room and above the scratching of my pen, the remote, African thud, thud, thud of the radio next door beat faintly and infuriatingly on the peaceful air.

“Dear sir-

“I give you final warning that if you do not tone down your radio after 11 p.m. so that its sound does not penetrate my home, I shall take steps that will astonish you.”

“There you are, Jimmie,” I shouted. “That’s get it. Listen.”

I read it to him, in a crisp, dangerous voice.

“What steps,” shouted Jim, “will I take?”

“That’s the power of this note,” I explained. “It contains mystery, threat, menace: yet you do not incriminate yourself.”

“I want to incriminate myself,” bellowed Jimmie. “I will take steps that will astonish him, all right. I’ll tell him what I am going to do.”

He snatched his coat off the back of a chair and started to pull it on fiercely.

“Here,” I said, “don’t go and get into trouble.”

“I’m fed up,” cried Jim. “I’m going to take matters into my own hands. I’m going out there and I’m going to ring his door bell and when he comes to the door I’m going to pop him on the nose.”

“Now, now…” I begged.

“Yes, sir,” cried Jim, heading for the door, “that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pop him one on the nose. The minute he opens the door.”

“Wait a minute…” I pleaded, running after him.

The Crucial Moment

But the door bell, at that curious instant, rang, arresting Jimmie in full flight, just as he started to open the vestibule door.

“Thank heavens,” I said, exchanging a very astonished look with Jim, who controlled himself with a great effort and slowly opened the door.

It was a spectacled young man with a brief case.

“Mr. Frise?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you so late as this,” said the young man, “but may I step in, just a moment?”

“What is it?” demanded Jim, still slightly bristling.

“It’s about your radio,” said the young man, stepping inside.

“My,” said Jim, “radio?”

“I am from the department,” explained the young gentleman, politely, opening his brief case and taking a handful of letters out. “It seems all your neighbors have complained about a serious interference emanating from your house.”

“My house?” demanded Jim loudly.

“Our trouble truck,” said the young man, “has traced the source of the difficulty to your house, and they say on their report that it is probably an oil furnace. Have you an oil furnace?”

“Yes,” said Jim.

“Is it a new model or a…?” inquired the tired young government man.

“It’s a model 1912,” said Jim, stoutly, “in perfect shape.”

“May I examine it?” asked the young gentleman. “Or would you, perhaps, prefer that I come back tomorrow?”

“What is this?” cried Jim, angrily. “What’s all this about my furnace?”

“There is a strong static interference,” explained the young chap, “that upsets all the radios in this neighborhood, and it has been traced to the electric motors in your house, probably an oil furnace.”

“Who reported this?” shouted Jim. “Give me his name.”

“Oh, it is no one person,” assured the young man. “It is all the neighbors.”

“All the neighbors?” said Jim.

“Dozens of them,” confirmed the young man. “We have only got around to it now. We’ve been very busy this season.”

“What do you want to do now?” inquired Jim, very subdued.

“May I just take a look at your furnace?” said the young chap, hanging up his hat and setting down his brief case.

So Jim took him down cellar while I stood in the living room, listening to the now fateful African drum, tumpa tump, from the house next door.

When they came up, Jimmie was telling the young man about the problems of the house next door.

“Unfortunately,” the young chap summed up, as he took his hat and brief case, “unfortunately, Mr. Frise, there is nothing in the law that governs situations such as you describe. You will attend to the other matter, will you? The furnace?”

“Tomorrow,” said Jim.

“By the way,” asked the young fellow, “I suppose you have your radio license?1

“I suppose so,” muttered Jim; “the family looks after that sort of thing.”

“I was just wondering, sir,” said the young man, bowing out. “I issue them. So I always inquire.”

“That’s all right,” said Jim

And he softly closed the door.

“Who reported this?” shouted Jim to the young man from the department (November 27, 1943)

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 27, 1943 with the same title.

  1. From 1922 to 1953 individual members of the public were required to pay for annual Private Receiving Station licences in order to legally receive broadcasting stations. ↩︎

Victory Bonds 1943

October 23, 1943 (Perth Courier)

Extra Post! It is extremely rare to see Greg or Jim in the wild in 2023, but CBC News posted an article on the demise of the Perth Courier, which included this “‘victory bonds’ cartoon published in the Oct. 23, 1943 issue of the Perth Courier”. I’ve cleaned it up from the raw microfilm capture.

All – Aboard!

August 14, 1943

Be Keen! Be Fit!

A hearty voice was crying: “Come along, lads; end of the line!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 17, 1943.

“Be alert!” asserted Jimmie Frise. “Be keen! Be fit! Be wide awake! Be on your toes!”

“That,” I agreed, “is our duty. At a time like this, it is not merely our duty; it is very much in our own interest.”

“Correct,” said Jimmie briskly. “When half a million of our fellow Canadians are in the armed services, learning as never before to be alert, wide awake and on their toes, it is only common sense on our part that we do not lag too far behind them. Because one of these fine days, the war is going to end. And we are going to be in competition not with the easy-going, self-centred generation that owned and controlled Canada before the war. We are going to have to compete with a whole generation of men trained to be alert and fit to a degree never dreamed of before in our history.”

“Everybody makes the mistake,” I concurred, “of comparing the return of the veterans from the last war with the return of the troops from this war. They imagine the conditions will be about the same. They picture to themselves a lot of bedraggled old soldiers coming wearily home, glad to accept any little handout of a job. They picture the boys holding meetings, perhaps, veterans’ meetings of protest. But, with the skill and shrewdness with which the business world handled the old soldiers of the last war, they think they can handle them again after this war.”

“In the last war,” agreed Jimmie, “we had no quarter million young men trained in the air force to be Varsity graduates, practically. Our army, in the old war, was just a lot of pack horses. The army coming home now will be trained minds, trained business men, trained technicians and trained mechanics.”

“Last war,” I said, “there was no time for training. We got into the army, were hustled through a little drill, some route marching and some shooting on the rifle range; and then, bang into action. This war, we have had nearly four years of training. A university course is only four years.”

“You would hardly say,” objected Jim, “that the army and air force give a man a university education.”

“Yes, I do,” I declared. “For, after all, what is the bigger part of a university education? Is it the collecting of information or is it the discipline of study? Which does a university graduate use most after he graduates; the ancient history, philosophy and so forth he learns at Varsity; or the habit of concentration and self-control he learns at Varsity?”

“I suppose,” agreed Jimmie, “that is what happens to his mind and character in those four years, rather than the mere facts he absorbs.”

“Then,” I submitted, “since four years of army training puts far more stress on concentration, discipline and self-control than a university course does, I submit to you that the army education our men are getting is much more on a par with a university education than we have so far supposed.”

“We’d Better Wake Up”

“And don’t imagine,” said Jim, “that the boys aren’t picking up plenty of book learning. And don’t imagine they are not attending plenty of lectures. And meeting interesting and exciting people and leaders. And doing a lot of study group work among themselves, even if it is in tents and huts, rather than university classrooms.”

“We’d better wake up to the facts,” I suggested, “and realize that the boys who are coming home from this war are going to be perhaps the most dynamic generation Canada has yet produced. They are going places. They will do things.”

“And there will be plenty to do,” surmised Jim. “Unlike the devastated world, Canada has not had her cities and her industries destroyed. We’ve got far more factories, more great power plants, far greater mines, all equipped with the most modern machinery and laboratories and scientific background, than we had before the war.”

“Hold on,” I interrupted. “That isn’t going to make it easier. That is going to make it harder. All the rest of Europe and Asia will be busily employed rebuilding and re-creating their industries. They’ll have something to occupy their energies the minute the war ends.”

“And we,” said Jim, “will occupy our energies in our undamaged industries, providing the devastated world with materials for its reconstruction.”

“Well, I hope so,” I sighed. “All I hope is, the big business cliques of Canada aren’t busy now planning some painless program for the re-absorption of Canadians back into civilian life. Painless, I mean, to business.”

“Probably they are,” smiled Jim. “But it won’t make any difference. Let us say that Canada’s industry is controlled by one thousand powerful, rich and clever men. They are all in their 50s and 60s. There are mighty few forties among them. Therefore, we will be rid of most of them in the next eight or ten years.”

“Rid?” I cried, horrified.

“Sure,” said Jim. “Rid of them. They’re old-fashioned. They cling to pre-war ideas and ideals. You don’t suppose, do you, that we will have room in Canada for half a million trained and educated men as well as the thousand old-fashioned geezers who happen to have carried over control from before the war? One or the other lot will have to give way. And I bet on the half million as against the thousand, no matter how smart the thousand have been. Because, you see, the half million are no longer ordinary men. They are extraordinary men. Through no fault of the big shots in this war, half a million Canadians are suddenly Varsity trained.”

“You exaggerate the Varsity stuff.” I protested.

“If going to school,” stated Jimmie, “does anything for human beings – and you admit it does – then going to school for two, three and four years in the army has done more than alter the personal situation of half a million. Canadian men. It has also altered the future of Canada. Anybody who tries to scheme the future of Canada here and now is wasting his time. For the Canadians will bring their schemers and their leaders home with them.”

Deciding to Be Alert

“We’re fools then,” I cried, “to be dawdling innocently along at what we call our war effort gait. We, too, should be training. We too, should be on our toes, getting ready to march in step with the boys coming home.”

“That’s exactly what I said at the beginning,” reminded Jim. “We should be forming clubs and societies in every city, town, and village. Not easy-going clubs like knitting and soldiers’ aid clubs which we won’t attend if it’s raining or if there is a good picture at the neighborhood movie. We should have various sorts of clubs, for men and women, for old and young, with discipline and training in them. Athletic clubs that would drill us like soldiers. Technical clubs, in which we would have to master technical arts.”

“Compulsory,” I submitted.

“Exactly,” said Jim. “In the army, everything is compulsory. In civil life, some things are starting to be compulsory. Gas rationing, food rationing. Why not ration our leisure? Why not organize a few compulsory clubs, athletic, technical and mechanical for the men, cooking, household science, athletic and mothercraft for the women? And make every man and woman at home join up and start disciplining themselves.”

“Unless,” I suggested, “the government is deliberately letting us dawdle so the soldiers can come home and take the country over.”

“Don’t be silly,” cried Jim. “Would a government do such a thing?”

“Maybe the government is tired of governing,” I explained. “Maybe the rich, clever, powerful old boys who control the country are growing weary of it all. Maybe they are looking happily forward to a Soldier Party, consisting of half a million trained, keen, alert young men, coming home and assuming control of Canada. Maybe they prefer that to all the Socialist tendencies they feel rising about them these days…”

“Well, my heart,” declared Jim, “is with the soldiers. And if I decide to be alert, on my toes, wide awake and fit, it isn’t to fight the soldiers when they come home, but to be able to stand with them.”

“Are you planning something?” I inquired eagerly.

“I saw in the paper last night,” announced Jim, “that there is a little club forming down in the East End of the city. It embodies exactly the ideas we have been discussing. The organization meeting is tonight.”

“Just another service club?” I inquired.

“Far from it,” said Jim. “It will meet three nights a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

“That’s a lot of nights in one week to give up,” I murmured.

“Excuse me,” said Jim. “It is not giving up. It is taking. This new club has nothing to give. You take.”

“What is their program?” I inquired.

“Fitness, mental and physical,” quoted Jim. “They are going to rent a hall of suitable size, and the meeting each night, which is strictly disciplined, opens with calisthenics, gymnastics and marching.”

“Mmmmmmm,” I complained.

“One half hour of hard physical training,” went on Jim, “is followed by one hour’s hard work on some technical or mechanical problem such as engine repairs, map reading, aerial navigation, carpentry and so forth. This is followed by a half-hour lecture by an outstanding expert on the subject worked on during the previous hour.”

“Sounds a little too earnest and worthy to me,” I protested.

“The newspaper item said,” went on Jim, “that for example, the subject of the hour’s work one night might be repairing a punctured tire in the most expert fashion. So there would be 50 punctured tires at the meeting which the members would have to sit down and repair, under expert garage men’s supervision. The lecture following would be by the president and general manager of at tire manufacturing company.”

“Ah, not bad,” I admitted.

“Another example,” went on Jim. “After the physical workout, the shop work consists of repairing shoes. A hundred shoemaker’s repair lasts are set up in the hall. Everybody lends a hand at soling, nailing, sewing and trimming a shoe. Every member has one of those tasks to do, by hand. At the conclusion, the lecturer, a professional shoe repair man, with a short movie reel, explains the art and science of shoe repairing.”

“This sounds interesting,” I confessed.

“Just discipline,” explained Jim. “Making men centre their minds on small, necessary, precise jobs. But the best part of the new club is the rule about attendance.”

“What is that?” I asked.

“There is no entrance fee,” announced Jim. “No fees at all. Just fines. When you join the club, you sign a legal document, properly drawn up by lawyers, agreeing to pay one dollar for every meeting you miss.”

“Holy smoke!” I gasped.

“Regardless of sickness, business or any other excuse,” stated Jim, “regardless of anything save death, you sign an agreement to attend every meeting or else pay $1 for every meeting you fail to attend.”

“That’s novel, isn’t it?” I exclaimed.

“It is so novel,” said Jim, “that I wouldn’t be surprised if they got a thousand members. Because this whole country is weary of the voluntary spirit. It wants compulsion. It is aching for discipline. In short, the whole country is jealous of the soldiers and is hungry to be kicked around.”

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “But if the whole country is greedy for compulsion, and a thousand members turn up, how are they going to raise the funds to rent big halls and employ lecturers and so forth?”

“Well, explained Jim, “about 500 of the thousand will turn up the first three meetings. And then the greed will vanish from them. Thus, the 500 enthusiasts will, with the others’ fines, pay for the 500 who really want to be disciplined.”

“That’s always the way,” I confessed. “But, Jim, I’m tired of doing nothing. The whole spring, summer and autumn is ahead of us. Three nights a week is nothing…”

So we decided as follows: We would attend the meeting. And if, after looking over the gathering, we felt they were a likely looking crowd, if they weren’t just the usual joiners, if they seemed like people who, like ourselves, were really bent on accomplishing something, we would sign up. For both Jim and I had some ideas about those technical hours. For example, trout fly tying, and rod making, and basket weaving, for making trout creels, and light carpentry such as making Yukon pack frames, boxes for holding camp stoves, etc.

“We might pick up a lot of useful items,” we agreed.

So we had a quick supper and I walked up to Jim’s and we caught the bus that takes us down to the nearest car line at 10 to 7 p.m. and which gave us an hour and 10 minutes to make the journey across town to the East End.

At that time of day the rush hour is over and the street cars are not crowded. Only a few late goers are the passengers. It is a relaxed time. The theatre and evening crowds have not yet started. The car we got on was half empty and grew emptier. Half a dozen war workers with lunch pails dozed in their seats.

“I’m looking forward to this, Jim,” I opened the discussion, “because, if it looks good, we might better organize a similar club in our own end of the city.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, gazing out the window.

It was a lovely soft evening. At every car stop, we could hear the robins singing, even down in the shopping districts. A robin is a great blessing.

“Even that shoe repairing stuff,” I continued, “is good. I think I’ll buy one of those dollar outfits, you know, with iron lasts and awls and needles, to take up to the summer cottage. Somebody’s summer shoes are always ripping.”

“Mmmmm,” agreed Jimmie, resting his elbow on the window sill.

Contrary to the Spirit

Rush hour over, the street car rocked and teetered along, the motorman slumped on his stool, giving it the juice and taking the juice off in a sort of drowsy rhythm that rocked the passengers in their seats.

Traffic was light. The sunlight evening streets floated past.

“One thing I…” I began.

But Jimmy’s eyes were closed, his chin resting on his cupped hand; and by the way his mouth stood slightly ajar, I guessed he was snatching a little snooze.

I relaxed. The motorman was again amusing himself by his off-again-on-again-Finnegan sort of driving, and the motion lulled me.

I swear I did not go to sleep. I merely closed my eyes for a few seconds. We had a long, long way to go to the East End yet.

But I felt a tap on the shoulder and a hearty voice was crying:

“Come along, lads; end of the line!”

Jim leaped to his feet and jerked the bell cord.

“What’s the idea,” he demanded angrily, “letting us sleep past our stop? We stop at…”

And he looked out at the pleasant lawns, sheds and buildings of the line’s end.

“What’s the time?” I demanded of the motorman.

“Eight fifteen,” he said.

“What do we do?” I asked Jim.

“Walk up and put another fare in,” replied the motorman.

And by the time the street car had lazily returned the 20 blocks westward to the street we wanted, it was 8.35.

“What do you say?” I asked Jim.

“Somehow,” yawned Jimmie, stretching, “It wouldn’t seem right to turn up at a meeting to organize a new club for discipline and fitness, mental and physical, 40 minutes late.”

“It would be contrary to the spirit of the thing,” I contributed.

So we sat right where we were and snoozed all the way back to the home bus stop.

Sure, There’s Room in the Attic

It was the biggest chest I ever saw… “Hold on there a minute,” I shouted.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 30, 1943.

“Could you,” inquired Jimmie Frise, with that foregone conclusion air that friends use on one another, “could you stick a few little items of furniture in your attic for me?”

“Jim,” I regretted, “you should have spoken to me yesterday. Do you know what I am doing right this minute? I’m sitting here at the living-room window waiting for my wife’s cousin to drive up with a chest of drawers they want us to keep for them.”

“But I figured with that big attic of yours,” said Jim, possessively, “you wouldn’t mind storing a couple of little items. My house is jammed to the roof. All my relatives and half my friends, due to the housing shortage…”

“Jim,” I interrupted him, “you don’t know the half of it. Look: there are two chesterfields in this room, aren’t there? And three stuffed chairs. And how many end tables do you see?”

Jimmie glanced around my crowded living-room.

“H’m,” he said. “It is pretty full. Why don’t you put a lot of this stuff up in the attic?”

“The attic’s full,” I cried. “Jammed full. A year ago, when any of my relatives or my wife’s relatives made tentative suggestions about letting us keep a little furniture for them, we naturally agreed. But we had no idea that half the population of Canada was going to move out of houses into apartments.”

“Well,” said Jim, “when any of the boys among my relatives joined up, their wives went back home to live with their mothers. And naturally, I couldn’t refuse to help out by taking a few items of furniture to store for them.”

“Exactly my case,” I informed him. “These promises are so easily made. I meet my cousin Tom downtown and he asks if we could store a bed and dresser some time, in case they have to break up their flat. I say sure. But I forget to tell my wife. My wife’s nephew calls her up, and she forgets to tell me that Harry might want to leave a chesterfield and stuffed chair and maybe a chest of drawers with us. And my mother-in-law is a very active church worker, and she collects a few little good-will items. As she says, when you’re a member of a committee and the committee undertakes to look after the storage of some gallant boy’s effects while he is off to the wars…”

“Well, sir,” said Jimmie, “you’re crowded all right, but I don’t think you are as crowded as I am. Even in my upstairs hall, there isn’t room for an end table. And as for what they call occasional chairs, they’re far from occasional around my house. Every time I come home, I think there is either a public meeting or a church social in my house.”

When Promises Catch Up

“There’s a practical side to it, of course, Jim,” I pointed out. “I figure that there is bound to be some items that people will never want back. Storing furniture for your friends, provided you don’t let them pass off any junk on you, is pretty certain to result, in the end, in your getting possession of some of it. They may move away. They may die. Time may pass and they’ll forget about it.”

“Your charity,” smiled Jim, “always has a future in it.”

“Cast your bread upon the waters,” I reminded him, “and some of it may come back buttered.”

“If I help you,” said Jim, “do you suppose we could shift things around in your attic so as to make room for a bed, a dresser, a chiffonier and a dining-room table?”

“My gosh, Jim, a dining-room table!” I protested. “Look. Any minute now, my wife’s cousin is going to drive up with a little chest of drawers. It is the last possible article of furniture this house will hold. And the only reason I agreed to accept it was that it is a little bit of a chest of drawers that I can use. The way he described it, I can stick it in the corner of my bedroom that has two chests of drawers in it already. But it will just nicely hold my hunting clothes, my woollens, mackinaw, flannel shirts and so forth, packed with moth balls.”

“These things I’ve got to find a place for.” said Jim, firmly, “will take up very little space. The bed will all come apart. We can take the mirror off the dresser. The dining-room table is one of those oval ones, and we can take the leaves out of it and stand it upside down on top of other things. I think if you let me come up with you to your attic and help you shift things around…”

“Look here, Jim,” I stated indignantly, “not another thing, not even the precious goods and chattels of my own blood relations, is coming in this house. Let alone any overflow from your public generosity.”

“Greg, look,” pleaded Jimmie. “I’m in a desperate spot. My promises have caught up with me. I’ve got three families absolutely counting on me taking some of their furniture. They’re all people I simply couldn’t refuse, good friends and relatives…”

“What’s that got to do with me?” I inquired.

I should here tell you the best story I know about Jim. When he was a young man still living in Birdseye Centre, he owned a lady hound who was expecting a litter of pups. And since she was a famous rabbit hound, most of the sportsmen of Birdseye Centre asked Jim for a pup. And he promised them a pup without question, until he had at least 20 pups promised. Well, there were only five pups in the litter and Jimmie wanted two. So he had only three pups to satisfy 20 promises. And naturally, a lot of men were very indignant and expressed their indignation to Jim.

“Well,” said the astonished Jim when braced by these disappointed sportsmen, “what kind of a poor toot do you think I am that wouldn’t promise a friend a pup?”

A Matter of Principle

Thinking of this, I eyed Jimmie in his present predicament with some amusement.

“My cellar’s full,” detailed Jim. “Every room in the house has two of everything. I have no attic, but there’s an opening up into the rafters from one of the bedroom clothes closets, and I’ve even shoved a lot of small stuff up through there.”

“Well, Jim,” I consoled, “there is only one thing to do. Get in touch with your friends and tell them the truth. They won’t mind. Tell them you simply haven’t any more room. They’ll just have to make other arrangements.”

“The stuff,” confessed Jim, ruefully, “is delivered. It is right now on my veranda and cluttering up my front hall.”

“Mmmmmm,” I said.

“So you see,” he explained, “I’ve simply got to fall back on my friends, and you’re number one. Couldn’t we just take a peek at your attic? Maybe with a little rearrangement…”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” I stated resolutely. “You should have figured that all your friends were likely in the same boat as yourself with regard to storage of stuff for relatives and friends. There is such a thing as being too big-hearted. You are now finding that out, with your veranda and front hall looking like an auction sale.”

Jimmie walked around my living-room and out into the dining-room, gazing absently around. There certainly was no more room here. Two buffets, unmatched; three dinner wagons; four extra chairs, unmatched; and an orphan china cabinet jammed with the chinaware of my mother-in-law’s cousin’s granddaughter.

And on the wall, a huge, old antique portrait of a side-whiskered gentleman of the period of the Duke of Wellington. My nephew’s wife’s aunt used to say it was her grandfather, and one of the family jokes was that this portrait never was heard of until my nephew’s wife’s uncle got a job with the civil service in Ot- tawa. To strangers visiting at my dining table, I indicate that the old gentleman was my great-grandfather. I suppose this is how most family portraits come into being.

Jimmie studied the portrait absently.

“Gosh,” he said, “he’s certainly got your cold, crafty eye!”

“I resent that, Jim,” I said. “Just because you want to pose as a big-hearted guy and then can’t pass the buck to your friends, you suddenly turn bitter.”

“The last time I saw your attic,” declared Jimmie, coming back into the living-room and knocking over an end table in passing, “there was oceans of room. If you’d only let me, come up with you and reorganize…”

“My attic,” I informed him, “is packed solid. It is like a storage warehouse. I have rearranged and shifted things around a dozen times.”

“Okay, why don’t you let me see it?” demanded Jim.

“As a matter of principle, Jim,” I asserted.

“But good heavens, there’s a war on,” exploded Jimmie. “And we’ve all got to help one another. Here I am in a jam…”

“James,” I announced, “it is everybody’s war. But it is your private jam. I, too, am in a jam. But it is a jam I’ve got control over. And I don’t propose to lose control of it by weakly surrendering to the pleading of a friend whose good-heartedness has now to be underwritten by a lot of other people.”

“Well, what do I do?” snorted Jim.

“Put the stuff in storage,” I suggested.

“And pay for it?” cried Jim.

“Why not?” I inquired sweetly. “Are you unwilling to pay for your reputation for good-heartedness? Or would you prefer me to pay for it?”

“Will you come down,” demanded Jimmie hopelessly, “and take a look at the stuff? See if there is anything, any single item, you could take?”

“I’m expecting my wife’s cousin any minute,” I said. “And in the meantime, I’ve got to shovel off the snow. Then I’ll come down.”

“Good,” cried Jim, affectionately. “Have you got two snow-shovels?”

“Jim,” I informed him, “I’m the kind of guy that always has two snow-shovels.”

So we put on our things and went out and shovelled the snow and had the job neatly done when a moving van came heavily down the street and pulled up in front.

“Some poor guy,” I remarked, “getting a load.”

The van slewed around and started backing up square in front of my walk.

“Hey,” I called to the driver’s mate as he jumped down.

“Mr. Clark?” he inquired, cheerily.

“Yes?”

He flung down the back of the, van. The first thing in sight was a huge chest of drawers.

“Tch, tch, tch,” said Jimmie.

The driver came around and the two of them started heaving the huge chest out.

“Some mistake,” I called. “What initials of Clark did you want?”

“Mr. Gregory Clark,” said the driver, heartily going right ahead heaving the chest.

Instead of a little chest, it was the biggest chest I ever saw. It was bigger than any of the chests already in my house.

“Hold on there a minute,” I shouted, hurrying down the walk.

The boys laid the chest down heavily. Struck with a nasty suspicion, I opened the top drawer. It was packed tight. Packed with what appeared to be curtains, rugs, drapes.

“Look here,” I cried to the driver. “I was expecting my wife’s cousin with a little chest of drawers. I don’t get this.”

“Here, he gave me a note,” said the driver, feeling in his pocket. The note was from Cousin Edward:

“Dear Greg:

“What a grand old sport you are to help Winnie and me out like this! We will never forget you. I am unable to bring this chest myself so have hired a van. Hope you don’t mind taking a couple of other small items you can just stick in a corner anywhere. We hate to impose on you like this but your kind offer was exactly what we might expect of you. Thanks a million. Yours in haste, Ed.”

That’s Just Taffy

I handed the note to Jimmie.

“What are the couple of other items?” I asked bleakly, walking around the back of the van.

“A chesterfield chair,” said the driver, “a dressing-table and a parrot cage, I guess it is.”

“Parrot cage?” I repeated dully.

It was a large pale blue cage on an ungainly big ornamental pale blue iron stand.

The chesterfield chair was the grandma type.

“This chest,” sympathized Jimmie, “won’t ever go in a corner of your bedroom.”

“And what’s worse,” I said, “look!”

And I pulled the drawers of the brute one after another, showing them all packed tight full with moth inviters.

“What do I do?” I demanded of Jimmie.

“You can’t refuse,” he said, holding out Ed’s note. “After a lovely note like that.”

“Aw, that,” I scoffed. “That’s just bunk. Ed always knew I was a weasel. That’s just taffy.”

The driver and his mate had the chest hoisted up and were staggering up the walk.

“Up to the attic, boys,” I said, overtaking them and leading the way.

Well, there is this to be said for attics. There is always a little more room in them. Jim and I went ahead and studied the layout. We shifted things this way and that, piled one thing on another, shoved other things underneath, and by the time the men came grunting and stumping up the attic stairway, we had a good big space cleared.

In fact, after we had the chest, chair, dressing-table and parrot cage stowed, Jimmie offered the boys a dollar to carry the stuff from his veranda up the four doors and in the lane to my place.

And we got in a dining-room table, a bed, dresser, stool, mirror, three occasional chairs and seven framed pictures.

“There you are,” cried Jimmie. “See?”


Editor’s Notes: With a large number of people moving during World War Two for war-related jobs, as well as war-time shortages, there was a severe lack of housing in most cities.

“Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters” comes from the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 11. It means that if a person is generous and shares with others, they will be rewarded.

A chiffonier is a chest of drawers with a mirror or low bookcase on top.

“That’s taffy” at the time would mean “That’s flattery”.

Old-Fashioned

“Sure, sure,” said the constable, taking us by the shoulder. “And is it the Queen of Sheba you are taking out for a sleigh ride?”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 31, 1938.

Have you ever thought of driving in a sleigh to see your friends on New Year’s Day? Greg and Jim tried to get one – and look what happened!

“It seems a pity,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “that all the old-fashioned things have to be junked.”

“When I was a little boy,” I recollected, “I used to be so proud of my home as compared with my grandmother’s home. Mine was bright and vivid, the furniture was light yellow maple and oak; but Grandma’s was full of dark, dull old simple stuff called walnut.”

“Did you have a brass table in your home?” inquired Jim.

“At the parlor window,” I cried. “A brass table with curved legs and a kind of sickly greenish-yellow marble square top with a doily on it. The parlor was full of brightness. A huge red plush rocking chair, Tall buff colored urns and pitchers. One of the biggest pictures in the parlor had a beautiful snow-white frame. And another picture had a red plush frame.”

“I remember,” said Jim. “Ours was the same.”

“But Grandma’s house,” I recalled, “was so plain, so severe. Everything was walnut. It was almost bleak in her house. Every room with just a few things in it, not packed full, like ours. I used to feel sorry for Grandma living in that dim, quiet house. When she died, and all her furniture had to be divided up amongst her children, we had to take some of it, a couple of chests of drawers, a sideboard, some chairs and a tall bookcase. We hid them up in the attic.”

“Then what?” demanded Jim, knowing what was coming.

“Well,” I said, “this just goes to show what happened to old-fashioned things. One day, they suddenly threw out all the maple and the light oak and the red plush chairs, and they brought Grandma’s stuff down out of the attic. Reverently, almost. They had furniture men in to polish and shine and repair knobs. Every single item of Grandma’s simple, glorious old walnut was carried tenderly down. from the attic and we did our best to remember how it used to be placed. We tried to recapture again the severe simplicity of Grandma’s living room. We all got fighting over Grandma’s stuff, 20 years after she was gone. We tried to wheedle, buy or steal from one another the lovely colonial walnut that had been in the family a hundred years. It kicked out all the maple, oak and brass as easily as a snowplow flings aside the snow. If an old-fashioned thing has merit, Jimmie, it can never be permanently thrown away. It comes back down out of the attic.”

“I was thinking,” said Jim, “about the way we used to celebrate New Year’s Day. The way our parents and grandparents did it. You must admit that there is an old fashion that has gone with the wind.”

“I guess it has,” I submitted sadly. “It was a day of visiting.”

“We didn’t sleep in, on New Year’s Day,” declared Jim. “We got up early and got dressed in our best clothes. There was a great dinner to be prepared, but that was only incidental. The great thing was to watch out the window and see the visitors coming.”

“In sleighs,” I recalled, “with sleigh bells.”

When They Went Calling

“All the friends and relatives called,” said Jim, “and from 10 a.m. to nearly 1 p.m., there was a steady stream of visitors. The world was divided into two groups. Those who had small children stayed home New Year’s morning, to receive. And those without children as well as the elderly, did the visiting. Then, in the afternoon, after the great New Year’s banquet, your parents dressed you all up and got the cutter out and went calling in the afternoon on the middle-aged, the childless and so forth.”

“That’s absolutely right,” I agreed. “We had an old Uncle Edward. I can see him yet. He was a big old man with a mane of white hair and side whiskers down around his ears, and he wore an otter fur cap, a black greatcoat with an otter collar and frog buttons of braid across the front. He used to arrive every New Year’s morning about 11 o’clock. He came in a cutter, drawn by two horses with bells.

“He used to hire the cutter, and the coachman, in a big round bearskin hat, would leap down off the front of the cutter, which was all shining patent leather, throw back the buffalo robe, and Uncle Edward would step grandly down, with his gold-headed cane, and walk with lovely dignity up the walk and into our house. We children were shooed into the kitchen and we would peep in to see Uncle Edward sitting there, in the parlor, his hands on the gold head of the cane, talking to my father and mother and any aunts who were visiting us. He would have a glass of port wine and a piece of Christmas cake. He would stay about 15 minutes, then, with kisses all round and strong cries of Happy New Year, he would march out to his cutter, be tucked in by the coachman, and then drive jingling gloriously down the street on his round of all his friends and relatives.”

“Boy,” said Jim, mistily, “wouldn’t it be swell to rent a cutter, with two horses, and sleigh bells, and go calling on all our relatives and friends, New Year’s morning?”

“If we had snow,” I pointed out, “it would be all gone by New Year’s. Toronto has lost many old-fashioned things, but even a big snowfall is gone in a day, in this slush country.”

“I wonder if we could find a cutter in Toronto now?” asked Jimmie. “Just in case. Suppose New Year’s morning is a glorious white, sparkling day. Can you imagine anything dearer to the heart than going visiting our friends, for old times’ sake, in a cutter?”

“Jim, it’s a vain hope,” I submitted.

“Nothing is vain, if you go after it,” cried Jim, getting up and studying the phone book. “Liveries, liveries.”

But there were no liveries in the back of the phone book. And the only horses referred to were horse transport. There were slicing machines and slip covers, but no sleighs. Jim finally telephoned a friend of his who is a school teacher and he gave us the name of a man who owned sleighs for sleighing parties in the winter. We called him on the phone and he said he only had two big sleighs for school sleighing parties.

“Are there no cutters left in Toronto?” Jim asked him.

“No,” said this old-timer, “and no gas street lamps, either.”

Looking For a Cutter

“They have any number of sleighs and cutters in Montreal,” Jim accused.

“Ah, yes,” said the old-timer, “but this is Toronto. We’re up to date.”

“Yeah, up to date,” sneered Jim.

“I tell you,” said the old livery man, “there used to be a fellow I knew in off Yonge street, who had a few relics left, and one of them, if I recollect, was a cutter. He used to keep it all smeared with vaseline to preserve the patent leather.”

“That’s it, that’s it,” cried Jim.

“I haven’t seen him for five or ten years,” said the old-timer, to whom time was a little vague. “But I’ll be glad to describe how you get to where he used to be. It’s up a lane. You go in off Yonge…”

And when Jimmie hung up, he had explicit directions how to locate an ancient livery man who might have preserved, amongst his outmoded souvenirs, a cutter, a great black patent leather cutter, with sweeping fenders and spacious upholstered body, and a high seat for the cabby to sit on while he skitched at his prancing pair, loud with bells.

“It’s a sentimental journey,” said Jim, starting to clear up his desk. So, New Year’s week being a kind of dithery week anyway, we quit for the day and headed up Yonge street. Yonge street, in only a few years, has surrendered many of its antique features. Up around College St., where there used to be, until quite recently, a lot of odd little byways, and lanes, the Parliament buildings, the automotive industry and the hospitals have encroached and expanded. We followed our directions very carefully, but found, in the narrow lane to which we were directed, only the back of a big white garage.

Wandering back and forth amidst these streets that in their time had livery stables every other building, we found at last a lane that certainly appeared to lead to the past. It was dilapidated and awry. Its old board fences staggered, and there were boxes and bins of rubbish. Tracks of horses showed in the slush, and we felt that however forbidding the lane appeared, up here, if anywhere, we might find an old man treasuring an ancient cutter.

We walked rather cautiously up the lane and followed around two turns, each more uninviting than the last.

On turning a sudden corner, we came upon five men, seedy, shabby and obviously under the influence. They had a small fire built of sticks and rubbish and over it were melting a can of something, which they poured into a handkerchief and strained into a dirty bottle.

“Hi-ya,” said the first of the tramps to see us.

The others leaped up and stared at us like startled goats.

“Hi-ya,” they all said.

“Canned heat,” said Jimmie, to me. “What a bunch of cutthroats.”

“Do you men,” I asked, in the better class manner one uses with bums on their own ground, “know of an old livery stable in here?”

One of the five, with purple face and bloodshot eyes, swayed and staggered over and took me unwillingly by the lapel.

“How about two bits, Mack,” he asked thickly. “Two bits, I ain’t had a bite to eat since yesterday.”

“Get away,” I said, trying to detach my coat collar.

“Tell It to the Sergeant”

A couple of the others, impressed with the possibilities, staggered up and one took Jim by the arm and the other took me.

“Come on, Mack,” they said, “join little party. Hi-ya, boys. Little party. Contribute two bits, as all.”

I struggled but Jim gave me a smiling wink, not to resist. The better part of valor, with drunks, is certainly not dignity.

We had just reached the neighborhood of the small bonfire, when from behind us we felt, rather than heard, a crunching and thudding of feet, and around the bend came three policemen, in their greatcoats and fur caps.

The hoboes, with an alacrity that was astonishing, began running in all directions at once, like hens in a barnyard; but since the lane was a dead end, it was only a matter of a moment before the policemen had all five of them by the scruff, as little children are captured by a big brother.

And we were included.

“Stand over there,” said the oldest of the policemen, and he was only a lad.

“Pardon me,” said Jim, “we’re not in this.”

“Oh, you’re not, are you?” said the cop.

And he signalled us to stand back against the fence.

“We certainly are not,” I interrupted hotly.

“A canned heat party,” said the policeman, more to his pals than to us, “sure gathers a queer assortment.”

“Listen,” I said, firmly, “we just happened to come around that bend two minutes ago. Just ahead of you.”

“Oho, is that so?” said the policeman. “And what were you doing promenading up and down a nice little lane like this?”

“We were looking for a livery stable,” I explained.

“A what?” said the policeman, and all the others listened.

“A livery stable,” I stated firmly. “We were looking for a livery stable to see if we could rent a cutter.”

“A cutter?” said the policeman. “What kind of a cutter?”

“A cutter,” I explained, “a sleigh, the kind you go driving…”

“Higher than a kite,” interrupted the policeman, and addressing his mates, he said: “That’s what canned heat does, see? Nutty. Right off the deep end.”

“I beg your pardon, my man,” said Jim, haughtily, “you are making a very serious mistake. I tell you, we were in here looking for a sleigh to rent.”

“Sure, sure,” said the constable, taking one of the bums in one hand, taking me by the shoulder and signalling his mates to gather up the rest, including Jim. “Sure, sure, Colonel. And is it the Queen of Sheba you are taking out for a nice sleigh ride?”

“Jim,” I shouted, “are we going to submit to this?”

“Look here,” said Jim, halting, but the policeman gave his sleeve a little twitch that nearly upended him.

“Tell it to the sergeant,” said all three.

So instead of a sleigh ride, we went for a ride in the policeman’s motor car, the five bums being held at a lamp post by the other two policemen while they telephoned for the black wagon.

“Speaking of old-fashioned things,” said Jim, as we raced through the streets, “it would have been kind of choice to get a ride in the Black Maria.”

With An Eye to the Past

At the police station, we found a young policeman sitting on the high stool behind the counter. Funny how much younger policemen get as you get older. You rarely see a policeman of your own age nowadays.

“What’s this for?” he asked our escort.

“Canned heat,” said our captor.

The young fellow looked us over with amazement.

“Boy,” he breathed, “you never can tell, can you?”

“Look here, sergeant,” I shouted firmly, “we are a couple of respectable citizens who were walking in a lane…”

“Tell all about the cutter you want,” interrupted our young man, “that you’re going to take the Queen of Sheba for a ride in.”

“I tell you,” I asserted loudly and angrily, “that we were in search of a cutter, a cutter is a sort of open carriage in the form of a sleigh. My friend and I were going to see if we could rent one for an old-fashioned New Year’s Day. Do you follow me?”

“Sure, sure,” said the young fellow behind the counter.

“When we were young,” I explained, dramatically, “all our elders used to make New Year’s the occasion of visiting far and wide amongst our friends and relatives, and they drove around in cutters, with sleigh bells…”

There came a loud bump from an inner room, and out walked a tall elderly sergeant in his black badges.

“What’s this, what’s this?” he inquired kindly. “What’s all this I hear about going visiting on New Year’s Day, with cutters…?”

“These are a couple of canned heat babies,” explained our captor, “we picked up in a lane along with a bunch of the regulars who are coming in the wagon.”

The sergeant studied us narrowly. He leaned down and smelt me. He smelt Jim.

“Gentlemen,” he said, politely, “step inside. Take a chair.”

We entered the private office.

“Now what is this?” he asked, tilting back.

So we explained to him that we were just a couple of old-fashioned birds with an eye to the past, who got the idea we would like to find a sleigh, a cutter, with two spanking horses and sleigh bells, and go through the streets of Toronto….

“Why, my dear sir,” cried the sergeant, “I’ve been thinking that very same thing for years. I’ve had the boys keeping a sharp eye out for any old cutter…

So we jumped up off our chairs and sat on the edge of his desk, and I told him about my old Uncle Edward and he told about an Uncle Tod he had back in Ireland, where they rarely had any snow, and Jimmie described what his old home town looked like on New Year’s Day back in the dear olden time, and the sergeant made a pact with us that whoever found the old sleigh first would tell the other, so that we could use it turn about, in the mornings and the afternoons, year in, year out, on New Year’s Days so long as we might live.

“Listen,” I said, firmly, “we just happened to come around that bend two minutes ago. Just ahead of you.”

Editor’s Notes: A cutter is a type of horse drawn sleigh. They tend to be smaller than full sized slieghs.

“…skitched at his prancing pair”. Skitching means being pulled by a horse in this context.

Canned Heat is Sterno, a brand of jellied, denatured alcohol sold in a can and meant to be burned directly in its can. In the Depression (when this was written), hoboes would squeeze canned heat through a cloth to make cheap alcohol.

A Black Maria is a police van.

This story was repeated on December 31, 1943 as “What! No Cutters?”. It’s illustration is at the end.

Typewriter Commandos

Gregory Clark, who says “if you know how we war correspondents work, it may relieve your mind with regard to our shortcomings.”

By Gregory Clark, December 11, 1943.

By Airmail Courier to The Star Weekly from the Isle of Capri.

The greatest advantage of being a war correspondent is that in the midst of battle, when all the world holds its breath, you can send a cable home every day that lets your family know you are whole and safe. True these cables are disguised as news dispatches. But any war correspondent’s family can tell you that the coldest dispatch is a love letter in thin disguise.

This, however, is frankly a love letter because I am writing it in the fabulous Isle of Capri. I came across to Naples for a visit of two or three days to a city I know well, having visited it at the time of the Pope’s coronation in 1939, and in 1940, when I made a cautious retreat from poor bedevilled France and its Maginot line, I came out via Italy and had another meal at the famous restaurant in Naples called Zia Theresa. Now I wanted to see what imperial dreams had done to Naples.

And just across the bay I saw Capri. So I am here in surely the loveliest three square miles on earth (saving only perhaps Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay, Ont.) where not one bomb, not one shell, not one pistol shot has disturbed the incredible peace and beauty of this place. This place from the dreamy terraces of which the dreamy inhabitants have watched the war go by, the ships sunk, the swift, flaming sea battles, and last, the terrible pounding of Naples, across the bay.

But here I have a chance to write about war correspondenting with some reflection. No doubt a number of things about our war news has puzzled and confused you these past three months. And if you know how we work, it may relieve your mind with regard to the shortcomings.

If I were a German general I don’t know which of two things I would most like to know; the number and equipment of the enemy or their immediate plans. Both those secrets can be given away by war correspondents. In the most innocent fashion war correspondents can not merely ruin our own plans, but they can place a good many thousand lives in jeopardy, So a thing called “security” comes into play. What we write is rushed at all speed, by dispatch rider, by jeep, by airplane, to the nearest cable head or wireless station.

There sit a body of field censors, specially trained officers, working for nothing but security. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about us They care only about those tens and hundreds of thousands of lives. And for the plans of our generals. We see the battles. We know both the things the German generals would give their lives, almost, to know: our strength and equipment and also our plans. But we have to write our dispatches, to the best of our ability, revealing nothing of these things.

The censors, back there at the first cable or wireless head, make perfectly sure that the best of our ability is better than best. Some of my dispatches from, say, the battle for Potenza, took six days to get to The Star. Part of that was due to the dispatch riders’ bikes breaking down, the indomitable jeeps bogging in the ruined roads, and partly because the censors simply held the dispatches on the shelf for a couple of days until it was no longer news to the enemy. We correspondents are content. We hope you are.

The life of a war correspondent in this war is both better and worse than that of a soldier. It is better in that he can pretty well come and go as he likes. But it is worse in that a soldier is in the line for a few days or even hours at a time and then is relieved by fresh troops. The poor war correspondent has to see all he can of all battles and all actions, with the result that the great majority of them are in close contact with operations to a far greater extent than the majority of soldiers.

The army does not want a lot of footloose newspapermen wandering about the battle area. So there is set up in all armies what is called the public relations section, which is a small military department of the war office. Officers representing this department are attached to all lesser formations such as army, corps and division. And they take complete control of the correspondents.

We typewriter commandos are virtually sworn in. We have to sign documents placing ourselves under control of the army. We wear regulation officers’ uniform with shoulder badges “Canadian War Correspondent” on our tunics instead of rank badges. We are permitted a little more baggage than officers to allow for our typewriters, paper and other stationery supplies, but we have to be prepared to live, move and have our being as soldiers in the fullest sense of the word.

The major in charge of our detachment has a staff of junior officers, lieutenants and captains, called conducting officers whose duty is to shepherd us wherever we go. One conducting officer to two correspondents is the rule, and with a driver, the four of us move in a jeep wherever we wish. Our detachment is a compact little squad with a lorry and one lighter vehicle to transport our baggage and kits as we travel along in jeeps with the divisional headquarters and work out from there each day in our jeeps.

Whenever the officer commanding us can organize it, he finds a house in a town or village and sometimes we have such a house to come home to at night for a week or ten days on end. It is usually an abandoned house and in a war-stricken area without light, power or water. We set up our safari camp beds on the floor of the bare and often scruffy rooms, saving one good room for a workroom. The cooks of our section do wonders at preparing meals for us from army rations to which we are entitled, eked out by other food bought with our mess fees which we pay out of our own pockets. Early in the morning, we leave by jeep, with our conducting officers, for divisional headquarters where we are “briefed” by the divisional intelligence officer who tells us what the situation is up front, what has happened overnight and what is likely to happen today. We then choose where we wish to go, forward; and two by two with our conductor, we head for the particular sector in which we are interested.

We have our cans of rations, our tea pail, and are prepared to spend the day. We report in at brigade headquarters en route; then call at battalion headquarters to get permission to go ahead of that point. And if we wish to get right into the middle of the picture, we report to company headquarters which normally is far enough ahead for anybody.

But when action is lively, and the division is moving fast, there is no house to come home to at night to write. We camp in the open with the army. We leave in the morning not knowing where divisional headquarters will be the next time we see it. At such times, we often stay with the regiments for days on end, camping with them in open fields, in ruined houses or villages and not infrequently in slit trenches right with the platoons. We never go back to divisional headquarters where our section with its lorry, and cooks and little domestic outfit awaits us; but we do our writing behind walls or in candle-lit cellars, and send the stories back by our jeep driver to our senior officer at division, who forwards them on by whatever means available to cable head.

During the battle for Potenza I had the most memorable experience of my Italian journey when I stayed for eight days right with one outfit in a furious chase of over 60 miles in the closest contact with the retreating Germans. I carried my typewriter slung on my back and wrote whenever a rest presented itself.

All units, all branches look on us as part of the army setup and allow us into all order groups, briefings and roundups. At present there are 12 Canadian war correspondents with the division, not counting the official war photographers who are also part of our little family. Canadian Press, the news agency which gathers the news for all Canadian newspapers collectively, and C.B.C. which serves in the same capacity for the national network, have the largest representation among us; the rest of us being correspondents for independent newspapers.

As for the element of risk in our lives, modern war, with its planes, bombs, paratroops, risky manoeuvres, long-range cannon, furious traffic, offers risks to all mankind, soldier and civilian, man, woman and child, without any element of proportion. Fifty miles from the front, I had a bomb drop on the other side of a house, kill all the Italians in the house and leave me just a little dusty and dazed; whereas 12 hours later I was crawling around in the dark within sound of the coughs of Germans with no risk whatever either to the Germans or me.

One afternoon Bill Stewart of Canadian Press and I spent several hours in a spooky dead village watching through slits and cracks in walls and around the corners of window sills while a famous regiment passed through. German mortar shells crashed about and shellfire sizzled overhead, but we were safe as in church in heavy walled houses and deep narrow streets of stone. There was no sense of risk anywhere, any more than there would be in crossing the street, for in that whole village all that afternoon though 200 soldiers went about their affairs there, not a soul was injured.

Yet on the way home at dark back to our village six miles away where our sweating typewriters champed at their bits, we had to cross a diversion around a blasted bridge. The Germans were shelling this diversion, knowing full well that in the dark our traffic would be bunched up there.

When our turn came to cross the rocky, muddy new road around the bridge, we, like the rest, timed our journey very nicely. We waited until one of the big shells fired from 10 miles away, whistled in and burst around the bridge. Then we started our race across in our jeep. We had plenty of time before the next shell was to follow. But we failed to count on the fact that the Germans had two of those big guns, one of which had not yet started to fire; and which did fire its first just as we were passing the massive abutment of the wrecked stone bridge.

The shell hit the far side of the abutment, a few feet from us, showering us with debris and mud and scaring the stuffing out of us. Those are the chances everybody takes in this war, whether in uniform or out of it, regardless of time, place or anything else. You don’t even have to leave Canada to encounter a share, however small, of this worldwide risk.


Editor’s Note: Greg mentions Go Home Bay as one of the loveliest places on earth. This is where his family had a cottage.

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