There was a huge shortage of farm workers during the Second World War. Help came from various groups. These groups included the Farm Girls Brigade (composed of women under 26), the Farm Cadets and Farmerette Brigade (summer students and teachers), the Women’s Land Brigade (volunteer housewives), the Farm Commandos (part-time adult helpers), and the Children’s Brigade (youngsters under 15).
Tag: 1943 Page 1 of 2
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June, 19, 1943.
“What a waste,” cried Jimmie Frise, “of valuable energy.”
“Where?” I inquired, glancing about the passing countryside.
“Right here, in this car,” declared Jim hotly. “You and me.”
“I can think,” I stated, “of no more honest use of our few gasoline coupons than visiting an old friend who is perhaps on his deathbed. Sam is one of our oldest friends.”
“What I mean,” cut in Jimmie, “is, we could have killed two birds with one stone. Right back there we crossed another trout stream.”
“I wish, Jim,” I said sternly, “that you would give up this eternal struggle to carry on your life as usual. We have entered into a solemn pledge not to waste our time, energy, money or gas on idle sport. Okay, let us stick to it, in the letter and the spirit.”
“Look,” pleaded Jim. “If one thing is going to hamper the war effort of this country, it is being stupid and stodgy. Never in our lives has it been more important that we use our imaginations, that we remain flexible and intelligent and alert, so that our every act, our every dollar, our every calorie, shall be fully spent to the best value. What is our situation right now? Sam, our lifelong friend, is very ill and has sent word that he would love to see us. We couldn’t get to his place by bus. And to go by train would be difficult, tedious and expensive of time. So we decide to use four of our precious coupons in driving out to visit him. Okay. After all, the human factor still survives, even in the midst of total war.”
“Total,” I asserted.
“Now,” said Jim, “in going to Sam’s, we know we have to cross at least seven famous trout streams.”
“Aw, Jim,” I snorted impatiently.
“Wait a minute,” insisted Jim. “We are both expert trout fishermen. Not many men in this country can get as many trout, in as short a time, as you and I. In certain respects, you and I are fish hogs.”
“Pardon me,” I stated. “I resent that.”
Just a Line of Talk
“Well, what I mean,” said Jim, “is, we could be professional fishermen, if we had to. There are not many tricks about taking trout out of a stream that you and I don’t know, are there?”
“I haven’t been really skunked,” I confessed, “in the past 15 years.”
“Okay,” pursued Jimmie. “There is, at the moment, a food shortage throughout our country. Every pound of meat we eat, every sausage, every chicken, is just another cipher added to the shortage.”
“Mmmmm,” I muttered, seeing his line.
“We have,” said Jim, “in the past half hour, crossed half a dozen trout streams. In each of them are several hundred pounds of speckled trout, the finest, if I may suggest, the finest meat in the world. And we have stupidly, ignorantly, pig-headedly passed right over them, though they were ours for the mere asking. Why? Because of a wholly unintelligent pledge we made with each other not to indulge in sport. It’s criminal, that’s what it is!”
“Jim,” I stated wearily, “it is just such a line of argument as you are using that is the curse of our war effort right now. What you have just said, in relation to our little problem, is being said by men and women all over Canada, only in relation to their own lives, habits and desires. Big industrialists, bankers, financiers and members of the board are sawing off, just the way you want us to saw off, about trout fishing. Before them is the straight, grim hard road of war. But every one of them is seeking the rational, the sensible course by which they can follow that straight, hard road and at the same time take a little shortcut to pick a few daisies. Each of them is searching for the ideal system by which they may give their all, and at the same time keep as much as possible.”
“Hah, the usual cynical line,” cut in Jim.
“If it were cynical,” I assured him, “it would not be so bad. But it is here, right in this car, with us. It is in great big factories, where, for all the furious war activity, the deepest thinking around the place is being done for the future salvation of the factory. Not a worker in the factory but spends some minutes of every day talking or thinking about his private rights and privileges, and how to improve or secure them.”
“Rightly so,” declared Jim.
The Pharisees of War
“We are the Pharisees of war,” I submitted. “It is more important that we appear to be in the war effort than that we are in it. Great and terrible as are the demands of war, our own little private concerns are deeper in our hearts.”
“There are exceptions,” said Jim.
“Yes, I admitted. “There are, after all, a few really good people in the world. But, like white pine, they are usually far back from the railroads. I am speaking about us all, as a whole.”
“Still,” said Jim, slowing the car at the top of a long slope from which we could see a great dark valley full of cedar swamp, amidst which we knew one of the finest little trout streams in Ontario chills its secret course, “still, I think this case is different. We have to visit Sam. We have to use gas. We have to cross over these streams where, in maybe one hour you and I could take, for the alleviation of the food shortage, ten pounds each of the finest food…”
“Jim,” I said, closing my eyes so I could not see the valley, “you cannot temporize with life, much less with war. You have to set a hard and often grim rule. And stick to it as you would the ten commandments.”
Slowly down the mile long slope we coasted.
“I’m saving gas,” explained Jim, eating up the valley with his eyes.
When we entered the first fringe of the cedars, it was cool and fragrant, and Jim drove even slower. And when we reached the bridge over the stream, he stopped the car altogether.
We sat and looked at the beautiful dark, hurrying water. There is no water on earth as beautiful as a trout stream’s. There is a majesty about noble rivers. The St. Lawrence, below Quebec; the Ottawa above Mattawa, a noble river little known to millions of Ontarians: the Fraser, amid its mountains, a drama all unto itself. Certain lakes are incredibly beautiful. The sea is often so mighty in its beauty that it leaves you shrivelled and shrunken from that hour forth. But a trout stream, to be a trout stream, has to come from pure springs. It must travel in cool ways, avoiding the warmth of the open sun. It must be broken with riffles and rapids and falls, it must be alive and full of air, to be a trout stream. It must be secret and aloof in its character.
Jim got out the far side and I got out my side and we walked cautiously to the edges of the bridge and peered down under. Dark, quivering shadows darted this way and that, and suddenly a large trout, the size of a stick of stove wood, swung majestically around and hung poised in the shadows, its orange and milk edged fins fanning.
“You,” grated Jimmie, “and your temporizing! If it hadn’t been for you, there would be a fly rod in the back of my car.”
“Do you mean to say,” I demanded bitterly, “that you haven’t a fly rod in the back of your car?”
Jim just gave me a long, cold stare, as if he had never seen me before.
“In the back of my car,” I stated indignantly, “there is always an old fly rod. I always keep an old rod and a box of flies …”
Jim jerked so violently, the big trout vanished and all the small ones darted in all directions frantically. He walked off the bridge and wandered up the streamside amid the cedars, pausing to look cautiously into each pool. I went downstream, peering into the log jammed pools and seeing many a trout of good size, half a pound and up. In about 10 minutes, over 50 yards of water, I saw my 10 pounds of potential wartime emergency provisions.
By the time I got back to the bridge, Jimmie had cooled out, and he was signalling me eagerly from a clump of cedars up the stream.
When I reached him, he led me, stepping as soft as possible, to the edge of a pool. A spring came in there, right in the stream bed, and its golden sand whirled and eddied not only from the current but from the billowing up of icy fresh water from the earth. There, alert and filled with the lightning of their species, five glorious speckled trout circled and poised, ready for instant flight. They were all of a size, which would be about 16 inches each, or say a pound and ten ounces per.
“There,” hissed Jim, “is war effort!”
And after a good quarter hour of fascination, we wended our way back through the brush to the car, Jimmie not speaking at all.
He got in and slammed his door. I got in and shut mine politely. Jim stepped on the starter. It growled.
It continued to growl.
“Wait a minute, maybe she’s flooded,” I suggested.
Jim rested her a few seconds, and then impatiently tramped on the starter again. At the end of five minutes, we knew something was wrong with the engine. We had the hood up. We examined the carburetor. We checked the wiring to the spark plugs. We did all the things we could think of. But the engine was very hot. And very dead.
“What time is it?” demanded Jim.
“It’s just noon,” I replied.
“We were to be at Sam’s at noon,” said Jim pettishly, “and it’s another 30 miles to Sam’s.”
“Let her cool for a little while,” I suggested.
A Treat For the Eyes
So we stood around and studied the stream some more. I went back up to the spring hole and sat down and soaked my eyes in those five lunkers. Jim kept fiddling about the car. He put a hatful of the icy stream water into the radiator. I heard him grinding the starter again, and I came out.
“Don’t wear your battery out,” I warned.
In reply to which, Jim gave the horn a short, sharp snort.
“Well,” he cried, “are we going to spend all day here? If we only had a trout rod…”
“Let’s walk up the road,” I suggested, and find a telephone. Maybe in the next village there is a garage.”
Which we did. The valley was wide, maybe half a mile, and just at the far edge of it, where the cedars began to give way to hardwood, we saw a little cabin set back in the woods.
In the doorway, an elderly man was standing and he waved cheerily at us.
We walked in his path to inquire where we could get the nearest telephone.
He was a genial old boy. Apparently he was just cooking his lunch, for he had an old tea towel in his hand, and from the door came the most ravishing odor of cooking.
“No phone,” he said, “within two miles. Abbott’s used to have a phone, just over the top of the hill, there. But they took it out about 12 years ago.”
“Two miles,” we sighed, for it was a warm day and a long hill ahead.
“Stay right here,” suggested the old boy, “and in about an hour, Jake the mail man comes by. He’ll give you a lift to the nearest phone.”
“Mmmm,” I said, “we don’t want to interrupt your dinner.”
“Come on in,” cried the old boy, “and share it. I don’t often get visitors. It’ll be a pleasure.”
“Is it trout?” I inquired eagerly.
“No, I’m fed up with trout,” said the old boy. “I’ve ate enough trout this year to last me. What with the prices they can get, the farmers around here even haven’t any eggs, let alone a bit of meat. But sit down, I’ll have a dish fit for the king in another 10 minutes.”
We came inside the tidy cabin and the old boy went to the stove and forked the frying chops which sizzled with the most punishing of savors.
“No woman here?” I asked.
“Never had a woman here,” said the old boy above the frying, “women, are too pernickety for me. I like to lead my own life, always have.”
New Kind of Chops
We had arrived at the psychological moment, for the chops were just done, the potatoes were boiled and a small saucepan full of some fragrant sauce was simmering on the back of the stove. In a few exciting minutes, the old boy had three tin plates all neatly portioned and laid before us.
“Aaaah,” he said, “that sauce is made of things I picked up in the bush right handy here. Pepper root, wild garlic, tansy mustard and sweet cicely! Have plenty.”
And from the saucepan he poured liberal helpings of the sauce over the golden brown chops.
We set to.
“Gosh, that’s good!” I exclaimed.
“Lamb?” inquired Jim.
“You’d be crazy to eat lamb now,” said the old boy, stuffing it in. “Conserve your lamb, brother. Mutton will bring a good price next winter.”
“What on earth is it?” I asked, for the chops were not chops at all, but neat little sections of tender and delicate steak. I even got a miniature rib on one of my pieces.
“What do you say it is?” the old boy asked Jim.
“Well, sir, it’s mighty good, whatever it is,” said Jim. “Would it be chicken?”
“Guess again,” laughed the old boy, stowing away, and mopping up the wild herb sauce with his potato.
So we tasted and tested and guessed. And by the time we had tasted it all and tested and rolled it about and savored and sniffed, and gave up, the old boy sat back, with a heavy sigh.
“The red ones,” he said, “are no good. Only the gray ones. The grayer the better…”
“Squirrel?” I cried.
“No, groundhog,” said the old boy, picking his teeth. “Young choice groundhog. I call it the Brown Market.
Jim and I could not think of anything to say so we just looked at him.
“It stands to reason,” he said, “that a groundhog should be choice victuals, because it eats only the best. From early spring to late autumn, only the finest shoots of young wheat, garden vegetables, Brussels sprouts, only the finest.”
“I thought it would be kind of soft…” ventured Jim, trying his voice.
“Not it,” said the old boy, “Only use the good gray ones, cut out the little kernels from under the fore legs, boil him for an hour to remove any flavor there might be, and then fry him. You’ve got a dish for the king.”
I felt all right. I felt good, as a matter of fact, except spiritually. Moses did not mention groundhogs in his instructions to the Chosen People; but somehow I felt I had just offended against Holy Writ.
So we thanked the old boy. And on Jim’s suggestion, the mail man not having come by, we walked the half mile back to give the car one more try before deciding to walk the two miles over the hill.
At the first growl, the starter took, and the engine leaped to life.
“There you are, Jim,” I said. “If we had had trout rods with us, we would never have tasted groundhog.”
“Erp,” said Jim, giving her the gun.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 13, 1943
“Meet me,” instructed Jimmie Frise, “at exactly 10 to 5.”
“Make it 5,” I suggested.
“No, sir, not by a jugful,” cried Jim. “I don’t want to get torn to pieces, and clawed and trampled into the bargain.”
“I beg your pardon?” I inquired.
“If you’re not there by 10 to 5,” stated Jimmie, “I’ll go on. Ten to 5 on the dot.”
“What is all this?” I insisted. “Why the exact specifications?”
“If you get on the street car,” explained Jim, “at 10 to 5, you can get far enough back in the car to have a fighting chance. But at five minutes to 5, the women are already on the run. And at 5 exactly, the stampede of the women is on. Your life isn’t worth a cent if you get in their path.”
“Women!” I protested. “How do you mean?”
“Don’t tell me,” said Jim, “that you haven’t been on a crowded street car lately. Don’t tell me you haven’t observed the Wartime Woman.”
“Jimmie,” I enunciated, scandalized, “the womanhood of Canada has risen to a man…”
“Yah,” cried Jim. “You hit it on the head. Risen to a man. That’s the trouble.”
“Why, Jimmie,” I protested. “If it weren’t for the women who are helping in industry, in the factories and munitions plants, where would we be right now?”
“It’s not the munitions girls I’m talking about,” asserted Jimmie. “They’re wonderful. They’re real he-men, to the core. They’ve got all the best traits of the men whose work they are doing. They have all a man’s innate courtesy and consideration for his fellow mortal.”
“Then who …?” I demanded.
“Wait till I finish with the war worker,” said Jim. “Those girls demonstrate a curious fact: give a girl a man’s work to do, and she develops the character of a man. I think the sight of a street car crowded with tired munitions girls going home from work is one of the most moving spectacles of our time. Weary to the bone after a long day’s toil, free by reason of their work clothes from that awful self-consciousness which the ancient laws of style and personal beauty have imposed on women, they sit relaxed, their faces untouched by make-up, with a softness and naturalness that a man somehow associates only with his nearest and dearest, like his mother or sister; those munitions girls are far more lovely to look at than they dream.”
“I agree,” I said.
The Wartime Woman
“If girls only knew,” sighed Jim, “how much more attractive and truly appealing they are when they are tired, a little dishevelled and unconscious of themselves.”
“A man,” I said, “hardly ever falls in love with a girl, no matter how hard she slaves over her make-up and clothes and pretty ways, until suddenly one day he catches her in tears, or scared to death or all mussed up and bewildered. That’s when a man falls in love.”
“When he sees,” summed up Jim, “what a girl really is, not what she is trying to be, he feels it safe to fall in love with her.”
“That’s it,” I declared. And I bet you some of the happiest marriages this world has ever seen are being framed up right now, when all those beautiful girls in the factories and war plants are being too busy to be anything but themselves.”
“Isn’t it a pity so many of the boys are away at the war,” Jim muttered. “The best guys may be missing their match.”
“Never,” I cried. “What these girls in the factories are learning about being natural they will never forget. And the wisest of them know that one fine day, a quarter of a million young unmarried men are coming swarming home from war, fuller of love of home and all the things that really matter to a happy life than any of the canny lads who have stayed home, no matter how valuable their services here may be. Those girls will wait for their boys to come home, don’t fear.”
“It’s not the munitions girls I’m scared of,” declared Jim.
“Then who’s this Wartime Woman you referred too?” I inquired.
“War,” detailed Jim, “due to the absence of a huge percentage of the male population, places new and unaccustomed burdens and duties on women. Those who enter men’s work, like in factories, are brought under men’s discipline. But of those who remain women, though brought out of the home into business and affairs, some become a problem.”
“How?” I inquired.
“It has taken men centuries and centuries,” explained Jim, “through contact with one another in the market place and the factory, to learn public manners. I grant you, men’s manners are still a long way from perfect. But you rarely find a man who will act in a crowded street car the way too many women do.”
“Jim,” I cautioned him, “you are on very dangerous ground. One of the oldest traditions in the world is the tradition of the gentler sex.”
“Gentle my elbow,” snorted Jim. “Women are lawless, untamed. For centuries, we have had to keep them tied up in the home while we men went out into the world to try and work out a system of civilization.”
“If women are so untamed,” I demanded, “how did we weak, sentimental men succeed in keeping them tied up in the home?”
“By refusing to marry any but the kind who would stay home,” Jim explained. “We men glorified the soft, feminine, gentle characteristics of an imaginary ideal womanhood. We hoped, by the process of natural selection, to eliminate the lawless woman. It worked to some extent. For a few centuries, we kept them tied up with domestic duties, family cares, trying to get them all worn out before they could break loose. We’ve always known they were untamed. We built up our civilization, in the hope that it would be too strong for the women to destroy even if they did get free. Then, 40 years ago, about the start of the 20th century, they got free. They entered business. Next they got the vote. Now they are loose upon the world. And look at it.”
Ladies in a Hurry
“For mercy’s sake,” I protested, “you don’t blame the women for the mess the world is in today!”
“The 20th century,” stated Jim, “is already known to history as the Bloody Century. Two of the most savage wars in all human history have taken place, and the century’s not half over yet. Now, what is the other thing the 20th century is notable for? What basic thing, different from all others? The emancipation of women.”
“Why, Jim, this is terrible,” I cried. “To accuse womanhood of any share in the things they hate and detest most …”
“Who hates and detests?” demanded Jim. “Is it that ideal woman we men have been dreaming up for a couple of thousand years? You just wait till we get on the street car after 5 o’clock. Anyway, I make no accusations. I draw no morals. All I do is go into the forest of speculation and bring out a few logs of fact. You do the building any way you like. I say the century of the emancipation of women happens also to be the Bloody Century. Maybe there is no connection.”
“The 20th century,” I cried, “has seen the greatest strides in social reform in all history. And the influence of women is to be credited with much of that reform.”
“The 20th century,” announced Jim, “is also the bloodiest century in human history. No other century can hold a candle to it.”
“But how could women be involved in that?” I shouted.
“Good grief,” shouted Jim, “it’s five to 5! Come on!”
So we grabbed our coats and hats and hurried out to the elevator. The elevator was full of girls, all with very determined expressions on their faces. The girl operating the elevator said:
“Room for one only.”
And as I tried to squeeze in beside Jim, she threw the lever that automatically slides the door shut, and I was very nearly sliced like a ham.
“Wait for me,” I yelled to Jim as the elevator door slammed.
The next elevator had a couple of men in it, along with about twice as many girls as the elevator would hold. The men held their breath and drew in their stomachs to allow me to squeeeeeeze in.
As the elevator door opened on the ground floor, and I stood aside to let the ladies out first, the lady behind me gave me a shove in the back with her knuckle.
“Okay, lady, no hurry,” I mumbled.
Jim was standing over by the pillars and we joined forces and fought our way out the revolving doors. Girls are nimble. They have grace. They can nip through revolving doors. But a man likes to approach a revolving door deliberately.
It was spinning too fast for me; so I paused. Two spaces whizzed round empty.
“Come on, Grampaw,” said a commanding voice behind me, and a young lady bunted me into the next vacancy and came round with me.
“Young lady…” I said indignantly as we popped out on the street and I caught my hat.
But she was gone in the throng.
“See?” said Jim, coming pop out after me.
When we reached the street car stop, there was a big crowd, about equally men and women. Three cars arrived in a bunch. The second one was our choice. We ran for it.
So did about five determined looking men and about nine women and girls. The men won.
They grabbed the hand rails and clung on the steps.
The girls panted behind us.
“How about this, Jim?” I inquired, my face buried in the coat tails of the gentleman ahead of me.
“Aw, we have to get on first,” explained Jim, “because the girls have to hunt through their handbags for their street car tickets. It is always best for the men to get on first, because they always have their tickets in their hands.”
“I see,” I said, hoisting myself another step up.
And more by luck than good management, Jim and I, poke checking a couple of men ahead of us, and executing a sort of echelon movement familiar to students of naval battles, got an empty seat together.
“Aaaaah,” we breathed, in a sigh familiar to all street car riders.
The warlike women poured in after us, nabbing seats with agility and speed until the seats were all filled and they scattered themselves down the aisles. None of them paused near Jim and me until, near the last of the load, a lady of about our age, obviously not a downtown worker but a shopper, came and grabbed the handrail of the seat with a very heavy sigh and a slight groan.
And she leaned back slightly and stared expectantly at Jimmie and me.
“How about it, Jim?” I murmured, when she shifted her fierce gaze off us for a minute.
“We come to a factory in two or three blocks,” said Jim out the side of his mouth. “Save our seats for a couple of war workers.”
“Okay,” I said firmly, and stared with intense interest, like a stranger in town, out the window.
The lady in the red-feathered hat and handbag, swayed alarmingly as the car started and stopped. She braced herself in the aisle against all who attempted to squeeze down the car to make room.
Her handbag caught Jim a couple of suggestive cracks on the ear. She continued emitting heavy sighs and faint groans and occasionally seemed to be muttering to herself. But I kept watching out the window with unabated interest.
Then we came to the factory street stop which we knew by the merry sounds of laughter and of crowds outside the car doors.
“Move down, lots of “room at the back,” cried the motorman heartily.
“Umffff,” snorted the lady beside us, holding her ground.
But despite her efforts, half a dozen of the slim war workers managed to eel their way past and at the sight of the first of them, Jim and I leaped dutifully to our feet and with the detached courtesy that becomes grizzle-headed old gents, gave them our seats.
“When We Stop Idealizing”
I could feel the lady’s breath hot on the back of my neck. For an instant, I feared for myself.
“Mashers,” she muttered; but I heard her.
The car started.
I lurched back. My foot came down on something softish and lumpish.
“Ow-ooooo!” screeched the lady with the red handbag.
And giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.
“Clumsy fool,” she grated.
I limped down the car and Jim followed, screening my confusion from the eyes of those who had witnessed the little contretemps.
“See?” murmured Jimmie in my ear, when we found a spot to cling.
I was too busy suffering to continue the debate. But after about 30 blocks, the crowd thinned in the car and I saw the lady in the red feathered hat get off the car and shake herself with all the grace of a horse getting up after a roll in the stubble.
“She didn’t get a seat all the way,” I gloated.
“Now you see what I mean about women,” said Jim. “No man would deliberately stamp on your foot like that.”
“But my dear sir,” I exclaimed, “she was only one. Look at all the rest of the fair sex in this car. All quiet and feminine and self-effacing. You can’t base a whole philosophy on one woman in a carload.”
“How’s your foot?” inquired Jim.
“I think,” I said, wriggling them cautiously, “she broke one of my toes.”
“Well, it wasn’t any man did that,” argued Jim.
“The thing is too complicated for me, Jim,” I pleaded. “That lady belonged to our generation. She was brought up to expect a seat in a car, no matter how crowded. It wasn’t my accidentally stepping on her foot that made her sore. She felt insulted.”
“Maybe,” said Jim, “we were at fault in idealizing them. If that dame is a sample of what idealizing does, we were wrong. If all the rest of the girls in this car are a sample of what letting them work in factories does, we sure were wrong.”
“Maybe keeping them tied up at home,” I submitted, “made them bad tempered, like tying up a dog.”
“Maybe,” rounded up Jimmie, “when we stop idealizing all things for our own comfort and security, even wars will end.”
And then a couple of dopey looking downtown business men, who had been sitting like two potatoes all the way, got up.
And Jimmie and I, like two potatoes, sat down for the remaining seven blocks.
Editor’s Note: A lot of creative writing had to go into this piece to both praise and complain about women on the home front during World War Two. I can picture their editor being very careful to ensure that women working would not be offended.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 2, 1939
“What,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “do you know about rats?”
“Rats,” I informed him, “are my meat. What I don’t know about rats isn’t in the encyclopaedia. I have killed thousands of rats. Black rats, gray rats, brown rats, fat rats. In the army they called me the Pie-Eyed Piper.”
“There are rats,” stated Jim, “under my garage. They’ve tunnelled down under the concrete floor. You can see the two entrances. From this dugout they come at night and forage in the garbage cans of the neighborhood. Members of the family coming home at night see them scuttling. They are huge.”
“It will be no trick to get rid of them,” I assured Jim. “You can use traps, poison, fumigation or a ferret. Maybe a ferret would be the best fun.”
“I was thinking of sitting up some night,” said Jim, “with a pleasant companion, both of us armed with .22 rifles. I thought we might spend a very amusing evening popping off rats.”
“It would bring back the old days,” I admitted fondly. “Many’s the long night, in the war, I have whiled away potting rats with my revolver. I often thought that officers carried revolvers for no other purpose but rat shooting.”
“Gosh,” mused Jim, “did you ever see so many rats as we had in France, especially around the Vimy sector?”
“There were millions,” I agreed. “Great big scaly-tailed brutes as big as tomcats.”
“You might say,” said Jim, “that after dark you could look in any direction, at any spot on the ground, and within one minute a rat was sure to cross that spot.”
“They got so plentiful,” I submitted, “and so bold, that they no longer confined their activities to the night. They moved freely about all over the place in broad daylight.”
“And why not?” said Jim. “Nobody disturbed them. They had that vast silent world to themselves, especially by day. No human stirred. No man showed a head. It was at night that rats had to take care. At night we humans were abroad. We shared the night with the rats.”
“As soon as night fell, in the trenches,” I told, “and all the sentries were posted and all the working parties detailed, an officer had little to do but walk up and down and see that all was well. So presently he would pick a suitable spot, a bit of trench or a sap preferably near an old ruined house or barn. And there, sitting on the fire-step of the trench, he would unlimber his revolver and wait.”
“So that,” cried Jimmie, “was what all the shooting was about? We artillery used to sit away back with our guns, wondering what you gallant infantrymen were doing all the popping at.”
“Mostly it was rats,” I admitted. “I used to sit in the dark, motionless. In a few minutes, along the trench, on the parapet or from a rat hole in the wall of the trench, out would come a rat, secret, silent, sliding his head down, his back arched, seeking, sniffing. Quietly, the revolver comes up. Bang.”
“You must have made an awful mess of them with that army gat,” said Jim.
“If we hit them,” I provided. “The best way of hitting a rat was known as fishing for rats. It was mostly done in old dugouts that were rat infested. When it became so bad that the boys could not sleep owing to the rats running over them and fighting and squeaking all over the place, the boys would declare a fishing trip. All the men in the dugout would leave their snug beds on the damp cold planks of the dugout floor and go and sit on the stairways of the entrances. Then the expert would extinguish all the candles stuck along the plank walls and sit on the floor. Extending his legs, he would rest his rifle on his legs, the muzzle resting between the toes of his boots. Out from the end extended the bayonet; and on the end of the bayonet a piece of cheese would be impaled. There in the dark the fisherman sat, finger on trigger. When he felt a nibble on the cheese he fired. Seven times out of ten he blew the rat against the far wall of the dugout.”
“Rather nasty,” muttered Jim.
“What were sanitary corporals for?” I retorted.
“You wouldn’t get many that way,” said Jim.
A Major Problem
“The rats were so plentiful and so greedy,” I assured him, “that no sooner was one rat blown to pieces and the candles doused and the fisherman in position again before the rats, with a secret, soft, scuffling sound and squeaks and scutters, would be coming from their holes again amidst the planks of the dugout walls and ceilings, snuffling for that cheese. I have seen Corporal Cutsey Smith, now with God, get one dozen rats in one hour by this method.”
“But it was a hopeless business,” submitted Jim.
“It was,” I agreed. “And I have often wondered since how France and Belgium got rid of all those countless rats after the war. It must have been one of the major post-war problems.”
“When I close my eyes and try to recall what dugouts were like,” said Jim, “I can smell the queer sour smell of them, and the smell of coke gas and wood smoke. I can see again the dimness, the quietness, the men lying in their matted gray blankets and greatcoats on the muddy plank floors, see the two or three sitting up awake, in dim candlelight, writing letters; but most of all I can feel the silence, amidst which, ever and always, goes on the quiet scuffling and scratching of the rats behind the plank walls and ceilings, a sound that went on day and night.”
“I woke up one night,” I said, “with two rats fighting furiously on my chest.”
“I have had a rat,” countered Jim, “exploring in the dark come to me, lying on the ground, and place his two hands on the bridge of my nose to look over.”
“Ugh,” I surrendered. “What puzzles me is, if men hate rats so badly, how is it we haven’t exterminated them ages ago, like all the other animals we hated and killed off?”
“I figure,” said Jim, “there is a family of six rats under my garage.”
“Right,” I agreed. “The problem is, how can we deal with the present situation. I suggest poison.”
“Too many dogs in the neighborhood,” said Jimmie. “I would sooner put up with rats than poison a dog.”
“We can pump gas down the hole,” I suggested. “Put a tube from the exhaust pipe of your car and carbon monoxide them.”
Plan of Battle
“Wouldn’t you kind of like to sit up tonight, with .22 rifles, and do a little shooting?” wheedled Jim.
“It’s too risky,” I declared. “And too cold.”
“Very well, a ferret then,” said Jim. “Let’s get some fun out of this. I don’t like the idea of putting poison or fumes down the hole and letting them quietly die down under the concrete floor of the garage. They might smell. I’d like to get a whack at them. And a ferret would chase them out and we could stand at the hole with clubs.”
“Where would we get a ferret?” I demanded. “And besides, we’d have to have somebody handle the ferret. I don’t want to be partly responsible for a ferret getting loose in our neighborhood.”
“Well, I’ve got some rats,” said Jim, with pride, “and I want to find some sporty way of dealing with them.”
“I tell you,” I cried, “we’ll drown them out. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Of course, drown them out. How many holes have they got?”
“Two,” said Jim. “One under the corner of the garage and another at the back. We can block one hole up and turn the hose into the other and they’ve got to come out.”
“You’ve got it,” I agreed. “I’ve often drowned rats out. They hate water.”
And we went home a little early so as to deal with the rats before darkness came to their aid. Jimmie got his son’s baseball bat and we brought the hose up from the cellar, where it had been stored for the winter. We turned on the water at the outside tap that had been turned off for fear of frost, and we proceeded to study the terrain.
Just under the south corner of the garage a hole about the size of a milk bottle led downward steeply. At the back of the garage a much smaller hole served as an emergency exit. Trust a rat for emergencies.
“It looks as if a whole army of rats used this front entrance,” I said, as we examined the larger hole. “They probably hold meetings here. Maybe this is a public hall.”
“They’ve got a great cave under there,” said Jim. “I bet it’s tunnelled into a regular apartment. An apartment with a concrete roof. The floor of the garage gives them an ideal bombproof shelter.”
So we took sticks and gravel and cinders and filled up the smaller emergency exit at the back. We shoved all the stuff deep down, packing it in, so as to prevent any possibility of the rats digging out by that route.
Then we turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness.
“You’ve got to be ready for fast work, Jim,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come all in a bunch.”
“Don’t fret,” said Jim, “I can hit with this bat faster than they can fight their way past that stream.”
And indeed it was a dandy stream, because in winter the water pressure is good. No other hose owners are watering any lawns. A powerful jet of water bored into the hole and we could hear it gurgling and swishing deep in the dark cavern of the rats.
“They may come any minute,” I warned. And Jimmie stood poised and tense.
“What do you suppose is going on down there?” I chuckled, as the water gushed. “I bet there’s a commotion.”
“They were likely asleep,” said Jim, “and about now they are getting anxious. This is no ordinary rainstorm.”
“Heh, heh, heh,” I laughed, and squatted down to aim the icy water deeper and more vicious.
“They probably have galleries and upper levels,” said Jim, “into which they are already fighting their way. How long do you suppose it will take to flood ’em?”
“Well, there’s probably quite a large space,” I submitted, “counting all the rooms and galleries. It may take several minutes. The earth is soft under there and will naturally soak up quite a lot of water.”
“It’s sand under there,” said Jim. “It sure will soak it up. This may take half an hour or more.”
“Relax,” I said, seeing Jim still poised with the bat. “Take a look around the back at that escape hole and see there is no sign of anything being tampered with.”
Jim skipped around to the back and returned eagerly to report that the hole was thoroughly stopped.
Still the water from the hose hissed and bored into the hole, which consumed it without any sign of filling. No sound of gurgling came from below any more though I put my ear down.
Jim made several trips around to the rear to see that the exit was properly secure. It was chilly work holding the hose, and when I suggested Jimmie take a turn at running the water in, he said I would be too cramped to do a proper job of execution in case the rats came out.
“Look What You Did!”
And suddenly there was a most extraordinary result. With a loud crash, something inside the garage fell. We could hear the car inside bump heavily against the front doors of the garage, and bulge them outward.
“The floor,” bellowed Jimmie, “the cement floor, you sap!”
I ceased firing with the hose and ran around to the front of the garage with Jimmie. Very carefully, Jim unlatched the bulging doors, and when he opened them, there was his car sunk down on its left rear wheel, its front end high in the air, one-half of the cement floor of the garage having collapsed into a huge dark hole in the ground.
“Look what you did,” shouted Jim.
“The rats did it, not me,” I retorted hotly.
“That water ate away the sand,” accused Jim.
“The rats had dug the hole,” I countered. “The whole foundation of your garage was honeycombed with rat tunnels.”
“It would have held forever, if you hadn’t bored in there with that hose,” concluded Jim. “You and your drowning out methods.”
It was a mess, all right. The car was tipped down at least three feet on its rear end, and securely wedged into the hole.
“Did you see any rats?” I inquired, incidentally.
“I certainly didn’t,” said Jim.
“Well,” I assured, “I bet you’re rid of them. That’s what I undertook to do, at your own request – rid you of the rats.”
“A fine mess,” said Jim.
“Now you can put a proper foundation under your garage,” I pointed out, “and never be troubled with rats again.”
“Any child would have known,” muttered Jim, “that you can’t run a hose for 20 minutes into sand…”
“Look, Jim,” I interrupted, “did you or did you not wish to be rid of the rats? Well, you’re rid of them.”
So Jim phoned for the garage man come with his derrick and hoist out the car. And the garage man’s brother-in-law was the cement business; and before supper, whole situation was well in hand.
And Jimmie is rid of rats.
Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 20, 1943, under the title “Rat Catchers“. The illustration for that story appears at the end, and you can see that the microfilmed copy was very poor. There was no difference in the story, except that references to the war were changed to the “old war”.
This story also appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).
“Pigskin” Peters was in the Army during World War Two, and you had to recognize that packages could take a while to reach their recipient. The post office would suggest deadlines if you hoped for your packages to make it by a certain date. It almost feels like this was also a public service announcement, just to make sure the reader knew the deadline too.
The following are various advertisements created by Jim Frise for Pepsi that ran between 1942-43. They feature a smart kid thinking philosophically about Pepsi, and two other regular kids.
By Greg Clark, June 5, 1943
“If you’ve nothing to do,” bitterly came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “walk down here and lend me a hand.”
“What’s gone wrong now?” I inquired.
“By a typographical error in the want ads,” said Jim, “my house is supposed to have a room for rent.”
“What can I do about that?” I asked. “I’m hoeing the potatoes right now.”
“Listen,” said Jim, “I’ve warned you before. Leave those poor potatoes alone. They’ll never grow if you keep niggling at them. Come on down and help me sit on the front steps and steer the crowd to the right house.”
“Crowd?” I inquired.
“Ever since three o’clock,” declared Jim, “an endless procession of excited house hunters have been swarming up our walk. You never saw such a mob. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor. By the time I got home for supper, my family was exhausted answering the door bell. So I’ve taken over. I’m sitting on the front steps. Before they get out of their cars, I just yell at them that it’s a mistake. It isn’t Humbercrest. It’s Humbergarden avenue they’re looking for.”
“Aw, well, Jim,” I said, “you don’t need me for that. I’ve got one row of potatoes hoed. I’m just starting …”
“Look, I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie. “I have hoed enough rows of potatoes in my life to reach from here to Duisburg. And I tell you that silly little patch of potatoes you have planted, about the size of a dinner table, will die of worry if you don’t leave it alone to grow …”
“I beg your pardon, Jim,” I informed him. “It is 18 by 11 feet. I expect two bags of potatoes …”
“I’m telling you,” stated Jim. “you want to come down here and see this phenomenon. Dozens, scores, hundreds of people trying to rent a room that doesn’t exist. I yell at them as they stop their cars out in front. I call to them as they start up the front walk on the run. Poor old ladies, utterly exhausted and perspiring. Young men newly married or just about to be married. Kids of 15. Old men of 90. All streaming down the street on a vain quest. And even when I warn them that there is a mistake and it’s Humbergarden, they keep coming right on up the walk. They won’t give in even when I explain that there is a mistake. They insist on seeing the room. So now I am simply yelling out that the room is rented. Even if there isn’t a room.”
“I’ll come down,” I said, “I’d like to see this.”
“You’re Holding Out!”
So I went and gave the potato patch a few farewell and loving pats with the hoe and then walked down to Jim’s.
As I hove in sight, I could see Jimmie sitting on his steps arguing with couple of ladies.
As I drew near, a car rushed up and drew to a stop with a man leaping out waving a newspaper.
“Hey,” he shouted, as he ran up the walk, “I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key!”
“Sorry,” said Jim, “the place you are looking for is on Humbergarden avenue. It’s a typographical error in the ad…”
“Come off that stuff,” said the man, placing himself in front of the two women who were also loath to depart. “Let’s see the room, mister. I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key, see?”
“Look, stated Jim angrily. “I tell you there is no room for rent here. It is a mistake in the paper, see? You’re wasting your time.”
“Seventy-five bucks for the key!” said the stranger insinuatingly. “Seventy-five. I like this district, see? I’ll pay a hundred bucks for the key. Come on, show us the room.”
“I tell you,” announced Jim, standing up and bristling, “there is no room for rent here. It is on another street, about a mile from here. It’s a mistake.”
“Aw, I know you guys,” the stronger snarled. “Holding out. I’m on to you. Holding out. How much do you want for the key? Name your price.”
“There is no room,” shouted Jim.
“Oh,” said the stranger. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
And he rushed down the walk and leaped into the car.
“Humbergarden, did you say?” he yelled. And away he raced.
“You’re quite sure, sir,” said one of the two ladies, softly, that there isn’t a room for rent here? You live here, do you? This is your residence?”
“Ladies,” said Jim, raising his hand in a kind of Nazi salute, “so help me, Hanna, there is no room for rent here.”
Sadly, reluctantly, the two ladies turned and walked away.
“Can you beat it?” Jim whispered jubilantly.
“What’s all that stuff about seventy-five bucks for the key?” I inquired.
“The law says you can’t raise the rent of a room from what it has been,” explained Jim. “So they try to get around that by offering a bonus, a cash bonus. They buy the key.”
“Aha,” I saw. “But isn’t that illegal?
“There are loopholes in most laws,” said Jim. “But the government is now plugging loopholes in wartime laws by sticking its finger not in the loophole but in the offender’s eye.”
Wham came another car to a violent stop and out jumped three men.
Up the walk they ran.
“Room for rent here?” panted the leader. “I’ll take it.”
“It’s gone,” said Jim.
“Who took it?” panted the leader. “What’s his name? Is he in? I want to speak to him.”
He started to push past Jim up the steps.
“Look,” said Jim, “it’s gone. The guy who took it wouldn’t let it go for anything.”
“Who are you?” demanded the leader darkly. “What business is it of yours?”
“If you want to know,” said Jim. “I’m the householder here.”
“Okay, then it’s none of your business,” said the stranger. “How do you know the guy doesn’t want to rent? I want to see the guy that rented it?”
He marched past Jim and rang the door bell.
“Look,” said Jim, “he’s not in.”
“What’s his name?” inquired the stranger.
“I don’t know his name,” stated Jim. “He just rented the place and said he would be back later.”
“Okay, Bill,” said the stranger to one of his friends. “You sit here while I go on around the other numbers. If the guy turns up, make him an offer. Any offer. But get the room!”
“Suppose,” said Jim. “I don’t want you for a tenant?”
“Oh, is that so?” sneered the stranger. “Since when are you offering a room for rent and then choosing who’ll take it?”
‘Well,” said Jim. “I can tell you one thing, I won’t have you for a tenant, at any price.”
“Aha,” cried the stranger, to his companions, “You hear that? The guy don’t even know he can’t raise the ceiling! Listen, mister, I get the room and I get it for the same rent you was charging before, see?”
Jim took a deep breath.
“Listen, you, mister,” he said. “There is no room for rent here. This is a private home. Due to a typographical error in the paper, a room for rent on Humbergarden avenue was mistakenly represented as my house. To save time explaining to a lot of lunkheads who wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell them it was a mistake, I have merely been telling the stupidest ones that the room is gone.”
The stranger listened intently to Jim.
“Now,” he said, “I don’t believe you even rented the room. Come on, mister, show us up to the room.”
“Will you get out of here,” demanded Jim, or will I call the cops? One, two, three, four …”
“Oh, well, if you want to get tough,” said the stranger.
They went and sat in their car, discussing the matter for a moment.
“Humbergarden, did you say, mister?” called out the leader.
“That’s right,” said Jim.
It’s a Parade
But just as they were about to drive off, another car pulled up and two girls got out and hurried up. So the first car paused and waited to see whether the girls got any farther than they did.
Jim showed the girls the paper and explained the error. They accepted the facts at once and hurried back to their car. And the car with the three fatheads rushed off to beat them to the next stop.
“The world, Jim,” I submitted, “is coming to a pretty pass when a man can scarcely keep strangers from invading the sanctity of his home.”
“Look who’s next,” muttered Jim.
Up the walk came a short, thick-set woman of extremely foreign appearance.
“Room?” she demanded, holding up the newspaper.
“Gone,” said Jim, shaking his head.
“How much?” said the lady.
“Gone,” said Jim, emphatically. “Taken.”
“Aw,” said the woman bitterly. “I know. You don’t like foreigners. You don’t want me, eh? Well, I show you some day.”
And she turned and strode with excessive stiffness down the walk.
Two more cars pulled up and then drove on as soon as Jim called the news to them. Then came, on foot, slowly down the block, an elderly and charming lady.
“Pardon me,” she called from the street, “but is this the house that has the room for rent?”
Jimmie and I both hurried down to explain the situation to her. She was the sweetest old thing.
“Oh, dear,” she said wearily. “I have been to so many places today. When I turned down your lovely street, something told me I had come to the end of my search…”
“Come and rest on the veranda,” suggested Jimmie. “I’ll get a chair…”
“Oh, no, thank you,” said the old lady, pleasantly. “I must keep on. If I don’t get a place by tomorrow night, I will have no home at all.”
“But surely,” I suggested, “your family …?”
“My only son,” smiled the old lady, “a bachelor, not young either, has gone to war. He is in Halifax. On his way over. When he left, I gave up our apartment, thinking it was selfish for only one person to keep a big apartment of five rooms. I thought I could pick up a room, very easily…”
“My, this is bad,” said Jim. “Surely, your friends …?”
“I am afraid,” said the old lady sweetly, “we have been the kind of people who didn’t bother about making friends… I guess people should always go to church, shouldn’t they? But my son did not care for church. He preferred to take me into the country on Sundays. Dear, dear. Now he is gone to war. And I am so anxious to have a nice little place for him to come home to. I had the notion that if you let me have the one room, I could become friends with you, as time went on, and when he returns, you might let me have an adjoining room . . .?”
“But, I’m sorry,” said Jim.
“Oh, yes, yes,” she sighed. “You have not even the one room. Of course. Well, gentlemen, I must keep on.”
And she walked slowly up the street, heading back for the bus stop.
“Hang it,” muttered Jim. “We can’t even offer her a lift in the car.”
A screech of tires rounding the corner drew our attention as we returned to Jim’s front steps. Two cars, one almost touching the tail of the other, raced down and drew up with a rush and a bump. And out leaped a man from each.
Neck and neck they raced up the walk.
“Hey,” began one.
“No, you don’t!” grunted the other, giving the first a shove.
And before another word was said, they were swinging.
Haymakers, clinches, short swings and jabs, they batted each other furiously and wordlessly. One tried to get his foot on the lower step of Jim’s veranda and the other grabbed him and dragged him down.
“Here,” I shouted, stepping in to part them.
“Look out,” warned Jim.
“Keep out of this, you little rat,” muttered one of the battlers, giving me the fairest punch so far in the fight – an elbow to the chin.
“Gentlemen,” chanted Jim, from the top step, “gentlemen, I don’t know what’s the matter, but if it is the room for rent you have come about, I want to tell you there is no room. Owing to a mistake…”
And while the two grunted and punched and swung and sweated, Jimmie slowly and loudly outlined the whole circumstances surrounding the typographical error.
Finally, in a clinch, the two exhausted fighters paused and looked up at Jim.
“What’s that you say?” panted one.
Good Luck Omen
So Jim repeated the whole speech. The two still clung firmly to each other until Jim had finished. Then they let go of each other and dusted themselves off and straightened their ties.
“I’m sorry, brother,” said the one who had clipped me on the pin.
“My own fault,” I assured him. “You should never try to stop a fight.
They glared at each other and then grinned sulkily.
“What’s the matter?” inquired Jimmie.
“Well, we apparently have the same list,” said one. “We’ve been running neck and neck for the past five places. I guess we got excited.”
They wiped their brows and necks with their hankies and turned slightly aside and each drew a list from his pocket and consulted it furtively.
“Look, boys,” said Jim, “just up the street, see, is that elderly woman. She’s on foot. She has been all over the city, at her age, trying to get a room. I tell you what. I’ll give good luck to whichever of you gets to her first and gives her a lift.”
“How do you mean?” muttered one.
“Well, getting a room is a case of luck, isn’t it?” said Jim. “And anybody that helps that old lady find a room first is going to have luck…”
The two turned. One leaped in his car and took a short turn into Jim’s side drive to get faced the other way.
But the other just backed. At about 40 miles an hour, he backed up the street and flung the car door open before a very astonished old lady.
And just as the other car came racing, with horn blowing, the old lady stepped into the first car, very gratefully.
“Okay,” said Jimmie, “wish them all luck.”
So we went in and got a large piece of cardboard and Jim lettered boldly on it –
“Sorry. Room rented.”
Which he put on the front steps.
Editor’s Notes: During World War Two, as housing construction was reduced considerably, and there was less construction in the Great Depression that preceded it. As demand increased because of War work, there was considerable housing shortages in major cities and other locations of wartime factories or activity. Renting rooms in private houses, and the creation of boarding houses was common. The story outlined above could have really happened given the situation.
There really is a Humbercrest Boulevard in Toronto near the Humber River, but no Humbergarden now. It may never have existed as I don’t see it on old maps in the area, and I could believe that an editor at the time insisting on a fake street to avoid the slight chance that someone took the story seriously and ended up looking for a room for rent. Many of the Greg-Jim stories implied that they lived near each other (at least a short walk away), and for a time, they really did. Greg lived on Baby Point Road in two different houses during this time. As mentioned in other stories, Greg was a renter while Jim was an owner, so it is possible Jim really lived on Humbercrest at the time of the story.
Scrap metal drives continued throughout World War Two for military use.
By Greg Clark, April 3, 1943
“Certainly we go sucker fishing,” cried Jimmie Frise.
“Aw,” I begrudged, “what happens? We catch cold. We get wet. We strain our aging muscles. And, if we are lucky, we hoist out two, or maybe three, measly pink suckers.”
“Measly!” protested Jimmie indignantly. “Pink! I tell you, in the spring, just after the ice goes out, suckers are the most delicious fish you can eat.”
“Puh,” I said. “Bones, millions of Y-shaped bones to catch in your gullet.”
“A chicken has bones,” retorted Jim, “but you don’t get chicken bones stuck in your throat; why? Because you take care to eat the chicken in a gentlemanly fashion. You don’t wolf a chicken the way you do a fish. Eat fish as intelligently and genteelly as you eat a chicken, and there won’t be any bone problem.”
“Pooh,” I determined. “Suckers. The very name is nasty.”
“Back in the old days,” said Jim, “when men were going around giving things names, they were just plain common men who named things in the beginning. And if a thing looked like a sucker, they called it a sucker. The scholars and gentlemen came along later and gave everything a much prettier name. But nobody uses those pretty names. They named the sucker Catostomus. Pretty, isn’t it? Catostomus. But we don’t call a sucker catostomus. We call it a sucker.”
“A catostomus by any other name,” I said, “would be as bony.”
“Listen,” protested Jimmie. “I tell you, in the early days, the settlers around here used to put down barrels full of suckers in brine for their spring and summer food, before the harvest gave them all the food they wanted in pork and eggs and vegetables. The spring of the year was a pretty hungry time of it, for the pioneers. This annual swarm of suckers up every creek and river was a godsend.”
“We do things better now,” I pointed out. “We maintain an all-year-round food supply. I can understand the early settlers doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine. But that is no reason why a couple of respectable and comfortable citizens like us have to go wading in the icy rivers.”
“Listen, Shorty,” uttered Jim grimly, “let was never get into the habit of thinking of ourselves as respectable and comfortable. Let us never forget the things our early settlers knew. Because there might come a day when a good many citizens, as respectable and comfortable as we, would go mighty hungry if they had forgotten what their grandfathers knew about sucker fishing.”
“Can you see our wives doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine?” I scoffed. “Why, the smell of fish in brine would cause the neighbors to telephone the health department.”
“Probably the pioneer home,” admitted Jim, “didn’t smell as sweet as the modern band-box we call home does. But the pioneer home was a lot more substantial than the band-boxes we dwell in today. All I say is, we ought to go sucker fishing this year, if only for sentiment’s sake.”
“I never feel very sentimental,” I submitted, “when a gulp of muddy ice water goes over the top of my hip waders.”
“By sentiment,” stated Jim, “I mean – here we are at war. Our food supply is becoming more and more rationed. A faint suspicion is dawning in all our minds that we really are at war. Isn’t it about time that those of us who can’t fight were planning to look out for ourselves? Suppose the government got really involved in the war, so that they had no more time to devote to rationing and controlling and petting the civilian populace. Suppose they had to give all their time and attention to war. Where would the mass of us get off then, my fine feathered friend?”
“We’d manage,” I assured him.
Courses In Woodcraft
At Cornell University, in the States, informed Jim, “and in Buffalo, at the Museum of Natural History, they are conducting public courses in woodcraft. Specialists, sportsmen, mining men and others who have lived part of their lives in the open, with nothing more than they could carry on their backs, are teaching classes of hundreds of city slickers how to live without cities, towns or even villages. How to carry a pack, how to make a camp out of brushwood, how to use an axe, how to cook, how to live off the country …”
“My dear man,” I snorted, “you don’t expect we’ll ever be refugees …!”
“The Russians never expected to be refugees,” said Jim. “The French never expected to be; and I bet there are millions of Frenchmen now who wish they had known how to camp out. It was because they were helpless denizens of cities and towns that they had to surrender when the Germans took their cities and towns. Free men should know how to be free, even in the wilderness.”
“Are you trying to scare me?” I inquired. “I was in France. I saw what happened. I didn’t leave France until the day France fell, mister.”
“Then,” declared Jim hotly, “you above all men should be going up and down the land, teaching people how to live in the bush, how to make a packsack, how to sleep dry in a brush lean-to in the rain …”
“Do you think the Germans,” I scoffed, “or the Japs, are going to attempt to conquer Canada?”
“If it was a question of trying to conquer us,” said Jim, “it wouldn’t be so bad. We know that is a big, tough job they could hardly tackle now.”
“Ah,” I said, resting easy.
“But,” said Jim, “the danger of their making an attack of desperation on us, a bad, violent, inspired raid on some part of North America, grows with every month that they realize they are in danger of losing.”
“But,” I cried, “to what purpose?”
“To grab a base,” said Jim, “to make a bridge-head, however temporary, from which they could bomb our great power plants, our industrial centres, our key factories, the nerve centres of our vast war production.”
“Oh, they couldn’t!” I declared.
“Just a minute,” stated Jim. “What has German aircraft production been doing, this past year, besides producing one new model of the Fokke-Wulfe? What have they been up to? They haven’t raided Britain much. They haven’t used much aircraft elsewhere. They quit trying to smother the Russians with aircraft over a year ago now. They have eased off on Malta. What are they up to?”
“Okay, what?” I demanded.
“Might they,” inquired Jim softly, “have been concentrating on the production of some novel, unforeseen giant new long-range troop carriers and long-range fighter-bombers? Something new-as new and surprising as the tank units they smashed France with?”
“H’m,” I muttered.
“If the Germans can build a 300-foot submarine,” went on Jim, “that can stay months at sea, thousands of miles from a base, they can easily build 600-foot submarines easily capable of each transporting a whole regiment of specialized and light armored troops to America.”
“Oh, yeah,” I cried. “To land where?”
“To land,” submitted Jim, “anywhere along hundreds and hundreds of miles of uninhabited Atlantic coastline, where German submarines, for over two years, have been coasting to our certain knowledge. Look: if we think nothing of landing army and navy reconnaissance officers along the coast of Norway and Africa, why do we imagine the Germans won’t do the same?”
“Do you mean to say,” I grumbled, “that there have been German soldiers ashore in Canada?”
“Why not?” demanded Jim. “Then don’t forget the long range air transports full of paratroopers. Those Germans have had two winters of experience in Russia, of fighting in wild and rugged terrain. Who can tell what new and ingenious machines and devices they have thought up in Russia for use in the wildernesses of North America, from Baffin Land to Florida or Mexico?”
“You’re an alarmist,” I accused.
“Every living Canadian,” stated Jim, “man, woman and child, should have thought these things over months and months ago. It is our common duty to foresee every contingency.”
“Okay,” I said, “suppose they do make some foolhardy landing in the uninhabited wilderness?”
“They seize an airfield,” Jim said insidiously. “It isn’t to conquer America they have come. It is just, in desperation and fury at the way they are losing the war abroad, to come for a few fierce days and destroy and disrupt our war industry, to smash our great power centres, to wreck our nerve centres of war production, our essential factories, and to exploit the panic potential of Canada and the United States.”
“And then what?” I begged.
“And then start talking of a negotiated peace,” rounded up Jim.
“Why, it could happen!” I exclaimed.
“Anything can happen,” declared Jim, “once the Germans and Japs get really aware that they have lost the war. They will attempt anything. And do you think the big German industrialists, who have a lot to do with planning their war, like to sit home at night, in their deep dugouts, thinking of America and all its great cities and mighty industries, all undamaged …?”
“You make my flesh creep,” I stated.
“Good,” said Jim. “Your flesh creeps at the thought of a jugful of muddy ice water slopping over the tops of your hip waders, as you dipnet suckers out of the Humber. Your flesh creeps at the thought of the enemy doing what we might naturally expect them to do. Your flesh creeps easy, doesn’t it?”
“Jim,” I announced anxiously, “I’ll go sucker fishing with you. Not merely to catch suckers. Not merely to add even a few pounds to the food supply of the country, but for the sake of hardness, for the sake of doing something to remind me that I come of pioneer stock, and that like my ancestors before me I can be counted upon, in an emergency, to get tough again and tackle anything, in the wilderness, in the cold, in the discomfort …”
Jim, who has done a great deal more sucker fishing than I, was able to borrow a good big sound dip net. The Humber river runs through the suburbs of the city, and in past years, when we were younger and looking for idle amusement, we have often gone down to the river, in the first flush of spring, after the ice goes out, to dip a few suckers out and distribute them among any of our humbler friends who liked fish; even suckers.
Jim also decided that night was the best time to dip for suckers.
“When I was a kid, back in the country,” he said, “we never dreamed of going sucker fishing in daylight. The big swarms of suckers move upstream from the lake at night. When I was a kid, we used to make torches and stand in the riffles and shallows, and spear the suckers by the light of the torches with pitchforks. We’d get potato sacks full.”
“Besides,” I suggested, “if we light a good big bonfire, we can wade out of the water whenever we like and warm ourselves.”
“Let’s do this in the good old pioneer tradition,” agreed Jim. “We’ll go to that pool we used to fish in, you know the one …?”
So just before dark, we scrambled down the Humber banks, high banks they are and uninhabited, even in the outskirts of the city, and found a couple of lone sucker netters just packing up, at our favorite pool, to quit for the night. We did not advise them of our plans. They were city dwellers, who did not know that the best way to net suckers is by the light of a fire.
When all was quiet, save for the soft rush and chatter of the swollen river, in its full spring spate, Jim and I gathered driftwood and sticks for a rousing big fire.
Long Night Before Us
We got the fire going in a modest way, and enjoyed sitting beside it, in no hurry, since we had the long night before us. In the dancing rays of the fire, we sat with that happy feeling of campers, even though, a couple of hundred yards away, the great city roared about its nightly business.
Along about 9 p.m., we heaped the fire up big and hearty and got the net unrolled and strung on its hoop. And into the river we waded cautiously for our first dip.
Down we sank the net and waited. Up we hoisted. Down we pressed. Up we hoisted. But neither on the first nor the tenth nor the twentieth dip did we raise a sucker.
“Maybe,” said Jim, “the run starts a little later.”
And we waded ashore from time to time, to replenish the bonfire with fresh driftwood and stumps and logs. And a fine leaping fire we had; and the river sang its song into the night.
About 10 p.m., as we stood in the pool triumphantly hoisting out our very first sucker into the air, we heard shouts above the noise of the river and turned to see two men coming out of the brush beside our fire.
“Put this fire out,” shouted the foremost, “instantly!”
We waded in.
On their arms, the men were wearing air raid warden armbands.
“Come on, you,” cried the leader hotly. “Get this fire out!”
“What’s up?” inquired Jim, depositing our fish on the stones flopping.
“Surprise air raid warning,” said the warden crisply. “Come on now, make it snappy, get this fire out as fast as you know how.”
He and his partner were already hauling out the larger chunks and flinging them into the river.
“Jimmie,” I hissed, “maybe–!”
Embers Of Fire Gone
We exchanged a glance in the already dying light of our fire, and set to with a will to kicking and flinging the burning sticks into the darkening stream. With our hats, we dipped up water and poured it on the coals. In less than 30 seconds, our fire was all but out.
“It was only by chance,” said the warden, “that we happened along the crest, there, and saw the glow of the fire. A fine thing that would be, for our section, if this fire was reported. We’d look like fools. Why, you cast a glare all over the country. You could see the river, the banks, and even a faint outline of some of the houses above …”
“It’s dark enough now,” I said hollowly.
Because, with the glare of the fire still in our eyes, an excessive darkness engulfed us, there by the hissing and tumbling river.
With the last embers of the fire gone, we stood in complete and stony blackness.
Gone were the twinkling street lights from along the high banks. Gone, even, were the faint shadows and outlines of the steep cliffs and declivities of the Humber.
“We’ve got to get back up,” said the warden, “to our beat. Do you know the path up?”
“We’ve been here dozens of times,” assured Jim. “Just wait a few seconds until our eyes get used …”
We stood for a few minutes.
“Okay, come on,” said the warden impatiently. “Lead on.”
Jim, a shadowy and ghostly figure, the net over his shoulder, started into the brush.
I got right behind him. The wardens came on my heels. But it was dark, oh so dark. Jim stumbled and cussed. He announced he was leaving the net until morning, when he could return for it.
But with the street lights on the hills gone, with the bridge, a few hundred yards south, also gone, with its kindly lights, with the whole friendly familiar world suddenly blotted out, it was an eerie and alarming world we found ourselves in. Not a landmark remained.
We followed Jim a little way, with many a stumble. When outside the range of the river’s sound, we stood and listened. All was a ghastly silence. Not a car, not a street car, not a voice. Faintly now, we could make out the shape of the hills, but they looked strange. They did not seem at all familiar.
“I think it’s this way,” I suggested.
“Don’t be crazy; we bear right,” asserted Jim.
“We came down over that way,” said the wardens anxiously.
We stumbled on a few yards through brush, over stones, brambles scratched us. We reached the foot of a high bank. It was as steep as a wall.
We wandered along it, finally finding a slope we thought we could climb. But after a few tries, in which all four of us failed to get 10 feet up, and all of us very muddy and scratched, we gave up.
“You’ll hear about this,” warned the head warden angrily. “Taking us down here into this wilderness …”
But by heading southward, to where we knew the bridge was, and after much climbing over boulders and falling over sticks and thrusting through tangled brushwood, we saw, at last, ahead the unmistakable and dear outline of the bridge just as the silent heavens were filled with the baleful yell of the all-clear signal, and the kindly lights leaped on all over the world.
But it just goes to show you. Even right near home.
Editor’s Notes: Sucker fishing seemed to be a common practice in the spring in the country. Jim would often have it featured in Birdseye Center. A dip-net was a long pole with a net on one end that could be used as a lever to dip into the water and raise up with migrating suckers.
Jim referred to “modern” houses as band-boxes, a term used for very flimsy cardboard boxes, often for holding hats.
Focke-Wulf was the name of the German manufacturer of the most common German fighter plane, the Fw-190. It was only around this point, in early 1943, did allied countries feel more confident that the war would be won.