Tag: 1944 Page 1 of 3
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 18, 1937.
“Old home week,” cried Jimmie Frise, shaking open a large pink poster that had come in his mail.
“Where?” I asked.
“My old home town,” said Jim, tenderly, holding the poster up so we could look at the huge type. “Reunion. Monster street parade. Trotting races. Fall fair. Eighty- seven classes of agricultural and livestock exhibits.”
“Including quilting, pastry and preserves,” I muttered.
“Streets lavishly decorated,” read Jimmie. “Illuminations at night, including firework displays.”
“Dust,” I said, “dry burnt grass and a strong smell of hogs.”
“Revisit your old home town,” quoted Jim, loudly, “and meet your childhood friends again.”
“New friends are best,” I stated. “They are more suited to your present tastes.”
“Ah,” said Jimmie, “you weren’t born in a little town. You will never know what you missed.”
“I missed the long walk into the city,” I informed him. “I got to know my way around the city real young.”
“Mmmmmmm,” said Jim, tenderly. “Every once in a while, I get so darn homesick for the little town. It gives me a lump in my throat. The warmth of it. The simplicity and naturalness of it. Sometimes, when I look at a mob of people in the city, I think they are crazy. Living like bugs. All jittery with meaningless motion, hurrying, excited, full of purpose going nowhere.”
“It’s because,” I explained, “being a small town boy, you are at heart a stranger among us. We love it.”
“The little towns,” said Jim, lyrically, “are so human. Life is slow and easy. There is a meaning to every hour. Every day has its different shape and form. You can sit back, in a small town, and taste each passing hour of your life. In the city, all hours, all days, are the same. In the small town, they are every one different, with plenty of time to include humor and kindliness and reflection and retrospect. In cities, the time rushes by so fast you have no time to pause and reflect on what has just happened. Something else is happening each new hour.”
“That’s life,” I informed him. “Life is action.”
“In the little town,” said Jim, “you roll time around your tongue and taste it. In the city you gulp time whole.”
“Then why didn’t you stay in your small town?” I demanded.
“Because it got a little tiresome,” said Jim. “But I think I’ll go back for a visit during this old home week.”
“I’ll expect you the following morning,” I scoffed.
“It will be great to see the boyhood chums again,” said Jim. “Some of them are still there. Fatty Pollick. He runs the shoe store. Fatty and I have been in many a scrape together. And Red Rowan.
“The last I heard of Red, he was the village cut-up. I’d just like to have one night with Red. The night of the monster street parade will suit me fine. Dear old Red. He and I were the leaders of a chicken supper club. We used to steal chickens from the neighbors each week and take them to a hide-out down by Turtle Creek and roast them at a bon fire. There were twelve members of the club, and we never were caught.”
“I often wondered about you,” I said. “You have a sort of chicken stealing look.”
“I wonder whatever became of Gum Smith?” mused Jim. “Gum Smith was the best cook of a chicken there ever was. Isn’t it funny the way the friends of your boyhood seem to vanish right off the earth? I knew Gum Smith so well, he was like my brother. We were closer than brothers. All through the formative years of my life, Gum and I were inseparable. And do you know, I don’t believe I have even thought of Gum, not even thought of him, for the past twenty years.”
Jim leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling.
“My, my,” he said, almost embarrassed. “Isn’t that a funny feeling? Gum Smith and Red Rowan and Fatty Pollick. And Joe McConvey and Pete Boyle., Why, where are they? Where have they gone?”
He sat up, startled, as if he had only lost them this minute.
“They must have slipped out the keyhole,” I said sarcastically,
“Don’t you ever recollect your boyhood friends?” demanded Jim, injured. “Have you no emotional remembrances…”
“In cities,” I explained coldly, “there are so many kids, you have a new chum every week. We’re not plagued with any soft and sentimental recollections. Of course I see them. They’re getting old and potty. Their noses are much larger. They’ve got a sort of bloated look. That’s all.”
“Ah,” sighed Jim, “I wish you’d come and see a real small town reunion. You’d see some- thing that would open your eyes. It would give you some understanding of life as it used to be and ought to be. Not this dreadful hive, this swarming mass, this cold, mechanized…”
“I’ll go with you,” I laughed. “Just for the fun of it.”
Which I did. Jimmie went and ordered a new suit, a snappy worsted with pleated back, that made him look young and sporty. He got a special haircut, asking the barber to leave it a little long around the temples, so that he could give it a distinguished swirl with the hair brush. He got brogues and a college stripe tie. He had his car polished and a few spots touched up with paint. He borrowed my good walrus suitcase.
And with as much excitement as if it had been a fishing trip we were going on, we set forth for Jim’s old home town on the afternoon of the gala day which was to end in a monster street parade, with illuminations and fireworks.
I must confess that, as we came within a few miles of our destination, things did begin to look up. There were wayside signs, bright and very well executed, cheering us on our way to the great reunion. There were long bunting streamers and signs suspended across the highway, gay and exciting. And in the traffic coming and going, there was a festive air.
“The best looking girls in Canada,” said Jim, “come from my old town.”
“Come from, is right,” I agreed.
An open roadster loaded with young ladies in fancy dress with pink tissue paper hats on their pretty heads, raced along side of us and heaved into our car a raft of leaflets, on bright colored paper, detailing the program of the old home week. With every mile of our approach, the road became more alive with cars, trucks, wagons, farmers driving buggies, leading vast prize horses with ribbons, steering brightly painted agricultural implements drawn by brand new tractors.
“This isn’t so bad,” I admitted. “Not so bad at all. It’s a sort of pageant. It’s kind of old-fashioned and lovely like shepherd’s hay or a country dance.”
But Jim just swallowed and grinned sheepishly, for there were tears in his eyes and over the next hill, lay home.
The town was aglitter. Its streets festooned with colored electric light bulbs. Hundreds of cars angle-parked filled all the possible parking space and outer rows of cars straight-parked left only a narrow lane done which with loudly roaring horns, trucks, cars and buses struggled in a hopeless heap. And the sidewalks, with bunting and flags flaring above, were jammed with a grinning, wide-eyed multitude, filling the world with a great hum.
“Who would ever have thought,” was all Jimmie said, as we surveyed the scene and Jim took a side street to avoid the central confusion. We found a parking spot.
“We’ll,” said Jim huskily, “we’ll first take a walk in the crowd.”
And back to Main street we strolled, and A entered the milling, smiling, greeting throng. Idling and shouldering and butting our way, past knots and crowds we wandered down the densely packed street, and everybody smiled and nodded at us and we nodded and smiled at everybody. But they did it as much to me as to Jim.
“Everybody very friendly,” I said. “But I don’t see you doing any black slapping.”
“I’ll see them,” said Jim. “I’ll see them in a minute. Never fear.”
And I could see him eyeing hungrily each group and knot as we walked. He would turn and look back at them all narrowly.
“The stores,” he said. “All changed. A lot of new stores. And they altered the fronts on a lot of them. That, for instance, used to be a bakery.”
“It’s an electric refrigerator store now,” I said.
“First,” said Jim, “we’ll call at Fatty Pollick’s shoe store down here. There’s sure to be a gang gathered there.”
And thrusting and shoving through the smiling multitude, we came to the shoe store and went in. All was cool inside, and two young ladies were in attendance.
“Mr. Pollick in?” asked Jim.
“Mr. Pollick?” said the girl, eyebrows lifted. “Mr. Pollick isn’t here any more. He sold out about five years ago.”
“He’s in town, though?” said Jim.
“Noooooo,” said the girl, tucking in her hair, “he went to Montreal, I think, or Vancouver.”
“Could you tell me,” said Jim to the friendly young lady, “where I would likely find Mr. Rowan?”
“Mr. Rowan?” said the girl.
“We used to call him Red Rowan,” smiled Jim. “You’d recollect him by his red hair.”
“I can’t say,” said the girl, embarrassed.
“A tall, red-haired man, Rowan,” persisted Jim. “Why, he was the town cut-up. Surely you have heard of Red Rowan?”
“I’ve only lived here five years,” said the young lady, turning to the other one. “Ella, do you know of a Mr. Rowan in this town?”
“Rowan? Rowan?” said the other young lady. “I seem to have heard the name. Oh, no, it’s the Anderson’s I’m thinking of. No, I can’t say I ever heard of a Rowan here.”
Jim turned and I followed him out.
“Well,” he said, cheerfully, “we’ll just have to join the merry throng until we meet some of them.”
And nodding and smiling we entered the mob again, slowly pushing and meandering up the street, while Jimmie peered and craned and turned to look back at every face as we passed.
“Psst,” he laughed happily. “Look. Gum Smith. As I live.”
Jim was eyeing a tall, well built man dressed very smartly, with a gray fedora, the centre of a lively group that were laughing and shouting together.
Jim and I edged in.
“Hello, Gum!” shouted Jim, slapping him tremendously on the shoulder.
The gentleman turned and looked joyfully at Jim. But his eyes blanked.
“Remember me?” cried Jim, pumping his hand. “Jim Frise?”
“Frise?” said Mr. Smith. “How do you spell it?”
“Frise, Frise,” cried Jim, heartily. “You’re Gum Smith, aren’t you?”
“That’s what they used to call me around here,” admitted the gentleman.
“Well, I’m Jimmie,” laughed Jim. “Jimmie, remember? The chicken supper club? You and me and Red Rowan and all the gang?”
“Red who?” said Mr. Smith, eyeing Jim eagerly but uncertainly.
“Red Rowan?” cried Jim, “and Fatty Pollick? Don’t you remember?”
“I’ve been away so long,” said Mr. Smith. “In the States. You other boys may remember…?”
But the gang Mr. Smith was talking to looked at Jim with pleasant but uncertain gaze. Jim looked from face to face anxiously, but saw nothing in them he could recall, nor any recognizing glance.
“Well, so long,” said Jim, weaving back into the throng. I followed.
“Jim,” I said, “maybe you’ve got the wrong town.”
He turned into the comparative quiet of a side street and slowed his steps. His head was bowed.
“Maybe you only think you lived here,” I said. “Maybe you are a foundling, brought up in an orphan’s home, and you only heard these names of boyhood. Come clean, Jim. Own up.”
“I did live here,” declared Jim, halting and staring strangely around at the night. “I did live here.”
“You can’t prove it,” I laughed.
“I can prove it,” he cried. “I can name every family that lived in every one of these houses… if… if I can just remember their names.”
“Heh, heh,” I said.
“I can prove it,” Jim shouted. “I did live here. I was born here. I spent the longest, happiest, merriest days of my life right here. Down this street. Every tree and fence and bump in the road, the way it used to be…”
“Ah,” I cheered, “the way it used to be.”
“What a strange feeling,” breathed Jim, staring about at the darkness. “The way it used to be. The way I used to be.”
Night had fallen. Behind us, under its glaring colored lights, the main street glowed and hummed and rang with the tumult of reunion. In a few minutes the monster parade and illuminations would begin.
“The old school,” shouted Jim suddenly. “The old school!”
And he started to run down the dark street. We came to a school. But it was no old school. It was a new school. Yellow brick, with a stone carved door, and a beautiful grill iron fence around it.
We stood in the night, staring.
Along the street came a man in a peak cap.
“Pardon me,” said Jim, “but is this where the little red, school used to be?”
“Yes, sir,” said the stranger heartily. “She’s still around at the back. A sort of annex.”
“Can I see it?” cried Jim. “Do you know how I could get inside? I want to see my old desk. I’ve got initials carved on my old desk.”
“You couldn’t enquire of a better person,” said the stranger. “I’m the caretaker.”
“Great,” shouted Jim, and we hurried around the flower-bordered walk to the rear, where, when he saw the little old building in the gloom, Jim let out a joyous and broken cry. It was only an instant until the caretaker had unlocked the door.
“Second desk from the back, far corner,” hissed Jim, feeling his way down the dim little school room. The janitor started lighting matches for us to see.
“Here it is,” cried Jim, huskily, seizing the little desk in his hands, gripping. In the light of the match, Jim bent over.
“J.F.,” whispered Jim, pointing.
There, sure enough, dim and worn by the years, were the initials, J.F.
“My initials,” cried Jim.
The caretaker spoke up sharply.
“Them aren’t your initials!” he stated.
“What?” cried Jim. “Those are my initials. I cut them myself.”
“Them aren’t your initials,” said the caretaker grimly. “Them’s little Jimmie Frise’s initials.”
Jim slowly straightened, in the light of the dying match. His face was joyous.
“Who are you?” he whispered, peering into the heavy face of the caretaker.
“My name’s Boyle,” he said. “Pete Boyle,” They stared at each other until the match went out.
“Jimmie,” said the caretaker, in the dark. And while I lighted matches, those two staged the craziest, silliest dance up and down the little aisles of that old schoolroom, shouting and stamping and kicking and leaping, and slapping one another and pushing and laughing as if their foolish heads were cracked.
So we went back out to Main street and watched the monster street parade go by and Pete took Jimmie by the arm and found for him all the lads.
Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on September 30, 1944 as “Home Town!”
“Behind their laughter is the dark curtain of sound, the guns miles away where our comrades labor at the day that never ends”
By Gregory Clark, August 5, 1944.
AN ADVANCED CANADIAN AIRFIELD IN NORMANDY
One of our little jokes over here is that we go racing all over Normandy looking for war while watching the time carefully so as not to miss the war news on our portable army radio back in our tent. It reminds us how insignificant after all is one man’s view of the war. I envy you the front page of your newspaper where, in a few bold strokes of black ink, the sum and the total for the day is set forth, while I, in Normandy, are only the little digits which often add up to nothing at all. Therefore, with your kind indulgence, I will set down a few digits and no longer pretend to be a chartered accountant. From our station a few days ago, a pilot did not come home in his Mustang, though his friends came away from the supper tent and stood at the landing strip’s edge, pretending they were looking at the fine sunset. But night came.
A few days later a flight lieutenant took his bicycle and in his battledress went, for a wander across these curiously Ontario-like byways of Normandy. He took the little roads to avoid the traffic and the eternal brown of the thrusting, shoving army. He saw fat cattle and great French farm horses as gentle as fawns. Then he came to a solitary traffic control soldier who looked lonely and the flight lieutenant slacked the pedal and let his leg down.
“Air force?” asked the traffic man. “One of your boys is lying up on the hill there.” The flight lieutenant pedalled up the hill and beside a Normandy cottage found a new heaped grave. There were five different sets of flowers on it, five different stages of withering revealing five friends, though the pilot, like a meteor, had come to earth amid this lovely verdant land. On the crude cross were the particulars. Atop the cross was a flying leather helmet. As the. flight lieutenant stood with his bicycle, looking down, out of the cottage came the woman of the house.
“I would like to take his helmet,” said the flight lieutenant.
“No,” said the woman of Normandy.
And there in the sun and the rain sits the pilot’s helmet, jauntily.
Rev. Father Norman Gallagher of Swift Current is our Roman Catholic padre, a young man of only 27. I have an awful time in argument with him, though I have been to Rome and he has not. Capt. Freddie Boyle is the auxiliary services’ officer and also a Catholic. Freddie’s large marquee tent is usurped by Father Gallagher for mass every day at 5.30 in the afternoon.
On the road, this being the Sabbath, Padre Gallagher, all full of saintliness, encountered Mme. Le Grand, who owns the big farm where our tents are laid. She asked the chaplain where he said mass and the padre indicated the large Knights of Columbus marquee and in his excellent Canadian-French foretold the hour. At mass that night were 15 of Mme. Le Grand’s family and friends whom she had gathered together, four of the party being very pretty young ladies. Padre Gallagher had one of the largest congregations of his R.C.A.F. experience.
Mme. Le Grand has many curious impressions. For example, she refers to the Germans and the Gestapo as though they were separate enemies. The Germans were nice boys who helped about the farm – the Gestapo were very bad men. She also has a perfectly clear impression of Dieppe as a reconnaissance in force, though the Germans drilled into all her people the idea that it was an invasion thrown back into the sea. We dropped leaflets from the sky a few minutes before our invasion this time. But the wind carried them back to the Caen area. None fell around here. And so the German boys, encamped on Mme. Le Grand’s farm, laughingly told her it was just another Dieppe and their officer loaded them into trucks and took them off toward Caen, where they would be in reserve.
“I was very proud,” said Mme. Le Grand, “that it was Canadians who came through my farm. My late husband always spoke very highly of Canadians beside whom he fought, at Amiens in the last war. He had always hoped that if any rich relative died he could visit Canada. No Germans being on my farm, the Canadians came through without any damage to my property whatsoever.”
P.O. H. T. Weenie is only three months old – but he has one hour’s operational flying to his credit already. He is a small, bad-tempered, brown dog belonging to Flt.-Lieut. Malcolm Brown of the City of Toronto squadron, though 23 other pilots of the squadron lay equal claim to him. It was in Mac Brown’s Spitfire, however, in contravention of K.R. air, not to mention the public health and quarantine laws of the Republic of France, that Ben – which is P.O. Weenie’s name for short – came to France. Right now he is chewing my artistically bagged, blue battledress pants and I am too old to be patient with pups.
Into our mess a moment ago, very pale and quiet, came F.O. Ron Knewstub of Winnipeg and F.O. J. L. C. Brown of Vancouver, who, none the less, have the honor to belong to the City of Toronto squadron. I angled up to them and asked them what was amiss.
“We have just been flown over from England in a Dakota,” said Ron Knewstub, a gaunt flier. “It was pretty grim.”
“Why, what happened?” I demanded.
“Oh nothing,” said Ron, “but I hate flying. I always get sick.”
I should mention that Ron and his pale, quiet friend Brown are two of the pilots of the City of Toronto squadron who, for months past, have gone out in their high altitude Spitfires that come off the ground like a bullet and whistle up to a height of seven or eight miles. There were not enough Spits for all the squadron pilots to fly their tooth brushes over to France so some of them had to be ferried over in that loveliest of passenger planes, the Dakota. No fighter pilot can travel with any degree of comfort behind another pilot.
“I felt I was going to be sick, said both Brown and Knewstub. “So I just looked out the window all the way over.”
After their harrowing experience of flying the channel in a Dakota along with 20 other passengers, they will take off joyously to seven miles high in their little canoes.
Well, there are the digits. In the tent under an apple tree in Normandy, so like an apple tree I know on Indian Grove in Toronto, I set them down, while the radio roars Charlie McCarthy and the front of the tent is crowded with my R.C.A.F. friends. Pilots, mess waiters, dispatch riders and lorry drivers at the long day’s end laugh uproariously at the little wooden bad boy, and behind their laughter is the dark curtain of sound, the guns miles away where our brown comrades labor at the day that never ends.
Editor’s Notes: Some of the abbreviated ranks are: P.O. = Pilot Officer, Flt.-Lieut. = Flight Lieutenant, F.O. = Flying Officer.
“K.R. Air” refers to King’s Regulation’s that were issued with regards to all R.C.A.F. regulations. These were regularly updated and were likely last issued in 1940 at the time of this wiring.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 22, 1935.
“That chap,” said Jimmie Frise, indicating a young fellow desperately juggling with a jack and a flat tire and a spare, “has been fifteen minutes already, and he looks as if he were going clean crazy.”
“Why,” I asked, as we sat on Jim’s porch, “doesn’t he telephone for a garage man to come and do it? He’s all dressed up.”
“He’s going to a party or something by the look of him,” said Jim. “He has a white carnation in his buttonhole.”
“Maybe,” I said, excited, “he’s on his way to a wedding.”
“Maybe he is,” admitted Jimmie.
“Look at him,” I hissed. “He’s talking to himself. I believe he’s crying.”
“Holy Moses,” said Jimmie, deeply touched. “Suppose we go across and offer him a hand.”
So we both got up and hurried across the street.
The young man, all perspiration, in a brand-new dark suit, with a white carnation and a white tie, was moaning.
“Oh, oh, oh,” he kept moaning. “Oh, oh,” oh.”
“Let’s give you a hand,” said Jimmie kindly.
The young chap looked at us with glazed eyes.
“I’m late already,” he said, his mouth, trembling. “By now I’m 6 minutes late.”
“Give us the wrench,” said Jim, taking the tire wrench from the hand of the bewildered youth, who fell back limply against the polished fender of the car.
So while Jim undid the nuts I chatted with the boy.
“Going to a wedding?” I smiled.
“Yes,” he whispered, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
“We’ll have the tire off in a jiffy,” I reassured him. “Where’s the wedding?”
“The church is on St. Clair Ave.,” moaned the young man.
“Ten minutes will do it,” I comforted him. “You won’t miss much.”
“They’ll be waiting,” he gasped. “Waiting.”
“Are you taking part in it?” I inquired.
“Yes,” he said; “I’m getting married.”
“Jim,” I shouted, “make it snappy. This young man is getting married 10 minutes ago.”
The boy looked at his new wrist watch.
“Eight minutes ago,” he corrected. “Oh, oh, oh.”
I ran around to help Jimmie with the nuts, which were sort of varnished on.
“Snappy, Jim,” I begged. Then I went around to keep the boy company.
“Dear, dear,” I said, “why didn’t you telephone a garage man to come and fix this?”
“I thought I could do it quicker,” moaned the boy. “But I seemed to be all thumbs. I – I -I -“
“I understand,” I soothed him. “I’m a married man myself.”
“Besides,” said the boy, “I haven’t a cent of money.”
“No money,” I cried. “And on your way to be married. My dear chap.”
“Oh,” he said, “it’s one of these stylish marriages. Everything organized. My best man has the ring and my wallet, so that I won’t forget anything. He was to pick me up, but we decided at noon that I would drive my car instead and meet him at the church-“
“I see your plight,” I said, looking anxiously back where Jimmie was wrenching for all he was worth. “What a muddle you must have been in, and us sitting there on the porch looking at you.”
“Ah, you never know,” said the young man, with a tragic face, “what trouble people are in, do you?”
“You’ll be all right,” I laughed, slapping his back and starting to dust off his nice dark suit. “Straighten your tie a bit.”
His hands were dirty and they left a smudge on his tie and shirt. I said nothing.
“I can just see them,” the boy groaned. “Waiting. My mother-in-law. Oh, oh, oh.”
“Now, now, don’t get the mother-in-law trouble before you come to it,” I consoled him.
“She arranged everything,” the boy said brokenly. “All this was arranged by her. I don’t mind Margery so much. She’ll be all right. She’ll just wait. But her mother!”
“Let her stew,” I encouraged the boy. “Let the old lady stew.”
“We just wanted to be married at home,” the boy said, trying not to look at his wrist watch, “but her mother made all the arrangements. You’d have thought this was her wedding.”
“They are always like that,” I told the boy. I heard a loud snap, and then Jimmie came round from the back.
“Nut bust,” he gasped. “See? Broke right off.”
“Oh, ho, ho, ho,” wept the young man, banging his fist against the fender.
“Here,” shouted Jim, “we’ll drive you. And listen, tell me what church it is and I’ll telephone from my house to a garage near here, and they’ll fix this up and have it at the church by the time the ceremony is over.”
“Oh, ho, ho,” bellowed the young man, giving us the name of the church on St. Clair.
So Jim rushed into the house and phoned, and then backed his car out, and we shoved the boy into the back with me.
“Thirteen minutes,” the young man said, looking closely at his watch.
“We’ll be there in less than ten minutes,” Jimmie called over his shoulder.
“I was to be in the vestry,” the young fellow said hollowly, “at fifteen minutes to three.”
He pulled a slip of paper from his breast pocket and studied it.
“Yes,” he said. “Be in the vestry at 2.45 p.m. These are the orders. My mother-in-law wrote them for me. She had everything so perfect.”
“Aw, to heck with her,” I cried. “You’re not marrying her.”
“She started arranging this,” the boy said, “last November. She was training the best man in January. At Easter we held a rehearsal in the living-room.”
“Don’t worry, boy,” I said. “Inside of an hour you can tell her to go chase herself.”
“Oh, ho, ho,” went the young man.
“I always say,” said Jim cheerfully from, the front seat, “I always say, pick your wife by your mother-in-law. In seeking a wife a man ought to look at the mothers.”
“Watch these corners,” I said to Jimmie loudly.
“By looking at a girl’s mother,” went on Jim brightly, “a fellow can tell what his girl will be like in due time.”
“Oh, ho, ho,” moaned the young man, burying his face in his hands.
Reaching forward, I poked Jim violently.
“What’s the matter?” he demanded. “It’s true, isn’t it? A man is a fool that just looks at a girl. As if she was a thing all by herself.”
“Watch your driving, Jim.” I commanded. “Don’t bother talking. I’ll talk.”
“Well, I was only saying,” said Jim, “that men are fools. They get so infatuated with a girl-“
“What speed are we making?” I interrupted.
“Forty,” said Jim. “A man gets so infatuated with a girl he can’t see anything else. I tell you, a girl is only part of a scheme of things, an arrangement, a system.”
“Oh, ho, ho,” put in the young man, leaning back limply, with his eyes shut.
“Jim.” I gritted, “how about a little quiet driving?”
“What I mean to say,” insisted Jim, “is, life is life. A girl is only a biological item. She’s the daughter of her mother. See? Life goes on. That’s what I always say. Life goes on. Birth, marriage, death. And if a young man will just take the precaution to size up the mother-“
I got up and leaned forward I hissed into Jim’s ear.
“Shut up,” I hissed.
So as we did the first few blocks eastward along St. Clair, at forty, we had a little silence, and I took a narrow look at the young man, leaning limply back in his nice suit, with his smudged tie and shirt front. And I saw his mouth was set in a grim line.
“Well,” I cried gaily, “we’ll soon be there.” He opened his eyes slightly and looked at the passing streetscape.
“I see the church,” I announced. “I can see the steeple from here.”
The young man sat up.
“Oh, oh, oh,” he said, clenching his kneecaps with his hands. “If only-“
“See,” I cried. “In the distance you can see the cars lined up in front.”
“Drive right past,” gasped the young man. “Drive right past. Let me think.”
“Aw, don’t be scared of a little excitement,” I laughed. “They’ll be so glad to see you. And it will be all over in a few minutes. Come, come.”
“Drive right past,” repeated the young man in a sort of breathless voice. “I’ll crouch down.”
He started to get down on his knees on the floor of the car.
“Jimmie,” I ordered, “pull in there by the open space at the awning.”
Waiting at the Church
Cars were lined for a block and a crowd of people were standing on the steps and along the awning in front of the church.
“Please, please,” wept the young man, crouching down on the floor.
“Pull around to the side door,” I hissed to Jim, and we swung down the side street. “Drive down a bit and turn around, till we pull ourselves together.”
Jim drove down the street and turned in at sidedrive, while I frantically tried to soothe the young chap and get him to sit up.
“He’s just scared of the old dame,” said Jim. “Get out and run and get his friends, and I’ll watch over him.”
So Jim parked down from the side door of the church a bit and I ran for help. The side door was open and I took off my hat and sneaked in. Everything was hushed, though I could sense a crowd out in the church through a door with red cloth on it.
I tiptoed around, looking in little rooms with folding chairs leaning up against the walls and all deserted. Then I heard steps out in the hall and I dashed out. A minister and two men were anxiously walking toward me.
“The bridegroom,” I said breathlessly.
But they all just jumped at me, as if I were a church burglar, and before I could say Jimmie Frise or anything else they hugged me against their gowns, smelling of moth balls, and dragged me back through the hall and through the red cloth doors, and there they shoved me forward, with about a hundred people sitting in the sunny front pews.
“The bridegroom,” I hissed, trying to back away, “is -“
But the organ started to play and the three men behind me started shoving me.
In a haze I saw everybody stand up and a large woman in a blue and silver dress and a big hat ran at me with arms outstretched and palms toward me.
“No, no,” she shrieked. “No, no.”
Behind her I saw a beautiful girl in a white suit, and people running in all directions around her, helping to hold her up. I fought past the minister and the two other men, and with the large lady in blue and silver following I led them out into the hall, through the vestry door, and pointed down street.
“In that car,” I said weakly.
I could see Jimmie struggling with the young man. We ran down and opened the car door and out came the young man, flushed and tousled, but as soon as he saw the big lady he quieted right down.
“I had a flat tire,” he said sweetly.
But the lady just took his elbow and they walked quickly to the side door of the church, and in a minute we heard the organ start playing loudly again.
“How about going in and seeing it?” asked Jimmie.
“No,” I said, “I saw enough. Let’s go back and sit on your veranda.”
“Was that big lady the mother-in-law?” asked Jim.
“I assume it,” I replied.
“I always say,” said Jimmie, as we started off, “I always say -“
But you know what he always says already.
Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on May 20, 1944, as “Trouble Plus”
By Gregory Clark, By Special Cable to The Star Weekly from Algiers, January 29, 1944.
When 99 Canadian women standing in the corridors of a ship beside their stateroom doors listening to the whack and thud of the ship’s guns suddenly feel a great shock deep in the very belly of the ship, and know the worst had happened, you would expect at least one squeak. One scream out of 99? But the 90 and nine young Canadian women of a famous general hospital who were torpedoed in the Mediterranean by German aircraft are to go down in history as the hospital that never let a squeak, never lost its head and went over the side in lifeboats and up the tall sides of a rescue ship by rope nets and rope ladders without aid beyond the cheers of those on board hoisting them vocally to their safety.
Of the 99, four of whom were Canadian Red Cross nurses, the rest being nursing sisters of the general hospital, 63 were landed by the rescue ship, the balance, including the commander of the sisters, Major Blanche Herman Montreal, being taken aboard warships and landed elsewhere.
The 63 I saw land with nothing but the battledress they had on when sunk, and the next day in a lovely old building where they were being rested while a new kit was being secured for them, I talked to them at length. Lieut. Nursing Sister Cecil MacDonald was in charge of this group, nearly all of whom were from Montreal and its neighborhood, though a few Ontario girls were among them – Lieut. Frances Skead of Ottawa, Lieut. Margaret Mowat of Toronto, Lieut. Phyllis Weiker of Merrickville, Lieut. Evelyn MacTavish of Fort William, Lieut. Margaret Kennedy of Toronto, Lieut. E Cocker of Hamilton and Lieut. Frances Hanchet of Ottawa.
I have often wanted to interview just such a company of nurses as this, because most women who suffer shipwreck are women trained to the sea. Nobody who thinks of nurses in the war can help but wonder just how a woman faces up to these stark tragedies of war, which men are supposed to be specially equipped for by some special manly attribute. On the tile balcony of the old house where they were resting, overlooking a bay, nursing sisters, lieutenants all, and old comrades after many months of training in Britain, told the story of which this is a composite, but I will break it down later.
Always on Alert
You can’t go aboard a ship without doing a little quiet thinking about the possibilities,” said the battledress-clad girls. “Right the start there are boat drills, carried out in deadly earnest, and nobody goes anywhere in the ship without his life-preserver over his shoulder. Down the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean we had plenty of boat drills and three or four actual alarms when our convoy sighted enemy aircraft.
“We were only two or three days out of our destination and we had had our evening meal. The ship was crowded. When our dinner was over we went on deck as usual for a stroll, and dusk was just falling when suddenly the alarm klaxons sounded. By this time in a voyage you begin to feel you are a veteran and you do not hurry when the alarm goes. But to the squawk of the klaxon this night in dusk was added something we had not seen before – the red beads of anti-aircraft fire streaking obliquely skyward from the destroyers guarding our convoy.
When attacked our duty was to go to our stateroom corridors and there the 99 of us assembled in corridors on opposite sides of the ship.
“It was pretty quiet, not much talking, just nurses and others hurrying to their places below deck while the ship shook to the whack and thud of our own anti-aircraft guns firing. We had only been there a few minutes, maybe two or three, when suddenly the ship jarred and shook from a terrific blow, seemingly right in the belly. It seemed to be under us, though we know now it was a torpedo fired by an attacking German plane, which a moment later crashed into the sea itself.
“If anybody said anything at that moment, it was just ‘This is it!’ A few of us ducked into staterooms to grab something, but most of us obeyed the next signal on the klaxon, which was boat stations. There wasn’t even any excitement. We all had our battledress on, which we had been issued for the first time on leaving England, and we all rather fancied it and were wearing it in the evenings which were cool. Thank goodness we did.
“As we moved along the corridors toward the staircases of the ship, people lined the corridor walls calling quietly ahead, ‘Make way for the sisters; make way for the sisters.’ It was more like a boat drill than the boat drill itself. On one side of the ship the lights had gone out, but on the other the lights remained. As we reached the boat deck and stood by our stations, we heard a very chatty voice on the loudspeaker telling us that the ship was barely damaged and was good for a long float yet. Behind us lined up the kitchen help, cooks and dining-room stewards, who were to be our comrades in the boats, according to the rules of the seat. For all the others it was jump for it.
“On command, and all very quietly, like getting into a boat at a summer resort dock, though it was now almost dark, we got into the boats and were lowered calmly, down the steep sides and unhooked adrift.
“Some of the cooks and kitchen help were pretty poor hands at the oars and in several of our boats we nurses took the oars and helped row around in circles in the gloom, which we followed until we were rescued about two to three hours later.
“It was just dark when we were lowered away, but we could already see the scramble nets flung down over the sides of our ship and people swarming down the clifflike sides of the ship, where they clung until the liferafts were lowered into the sea and then they jumped from the nets and swam to the rafts.
“We knew we had to keep out of the way, but it was fascinating to watch them slowly swarming in the almost dark down that net over the ship’s side and leaping into the sea. From the bridge we could clearly hear the commands to us to row free and head for a destroyer who would pick us up.
“But the destroyer had such a list to it, with its already large load of survivors, that we pushed away from its sides and waited until a larger ship, with engines off, slowly steered into the swarm of us, rafts and boats alike. It was now really dark. We could see, half a mile off, our own ship still fully afloat and on an even keel. Then into our scum of rafts and boats pushed the other ship, very nearly running some of us down with her immense nose.
“Then the great thing began. From her high sides, an awful height to look up at from a rowboat, and in the dark with a slow swell on the sea, they had lowered those rope scramble nets as well as rope ladders. They had also lowered their boats, which were picking men off the rafts and bringing them to that ship’s awful sides.
“As our boat drew near we could see men already going up those rope nets hand over hand. It was awful. But suddenly word was shouted that here were nursing sisters and from high up on the top deck came a tremendous cheer and cries of encouragement. Some of them actually came over the sides to help us, but that was stopped since there were so many others out of the sea on the nets to help. We went up as best we could.
“Out of the whole 99 of us, only two slipped and neither was hurt the least. One fell from a few feet up and one fell from near the top. By a miracle she was not hurt and a Chinese cook from the ship dived after her when he saw her slip and was the man who actually grabbed her in the sea and held her until others could help her to the net again. Nobody envies her double trip up that net. For her family’s sake we won’t tell which of us it was.
“The kitchen crew people in our boats helped us over the worst part, which was the jump from our lifeboats on the heaving sea to grab on to the sagging nets. These nets do not lie close to the sides of the ship; they sag out and swing with the roll of the ship. It’s awful. But we made it and made it in jig time, too. The great majority of us made it without one stop, and as fast as we could move our arms and legs.”
Now there is the composite story, made up from dozens. A few individual stories must be added.
Lieut. Louise Shepherd of Montreal tells of her lifeboat drawing alongside the rescue ship and being unable to get and hold a proper position against the massive sheer walls of the ship’s side. All around them in the night sea were people swimming to the ship and starting up the nets.
All of a sudden, over the side scrambled a young lad, a mere boy, who with loud, cheerful laughter and reassurances took charge, brought the boat steady and helped every one of the sisters to the nets, helping them get a hold and cheering their ascent, while others emerged out of the sea and took their places alongside to help and cheer and jolly the nurses on their climb.
Lieut. Betty Jamieson of Montreal, sister of Bruce Jamieson, head of the Red Cross in London, said that it would have been impossible except for battledress. They could not have done it in skirts. She started alone up the net and found herself with a row of four nursing sisters, all silently and steadily climbing like a party.
Lieut. Frances Skead of Ottawa remembers most the cheers high above, growing closer and closer as she climbed. She still thought she had another 20 feet to go to those cheers when strong arms seized her and hauled her on to the deck below that from which the cheers came.
On board they were taken in hand, along with the others, every one of whom was rescued in one of the fortunate events of this war, and they were given British Red Cross ditty bags, with comb, soap, towel and candy, which was all they had to come ashore with.
So that is what can happen to a girl who goes to war. And when I came on to the terrace they all came wandering on to the terrace from the gardens and hillocks with hands full of the little wild cyclamen that blooms in November all round the Mediterranean – girls in battledress with hands full of miniature cyclamen and a story to tell.
Editor’s Notes: Scramble nets are nets made of rope that were lowered from the side of ships to allow for sea rescues.
“Made it in jig time”, means “very quickly”.
Female battledress would have pants, rather than their usual uniforms which would have skirts.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 21, 1937.
“This,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the worst year for fishing we’ve ever had.”
“Is it any wonder,” I demanded, “with fresh thousands taking up fishing every year and fresh miles of highway being built farther and farther into the wilds every season?”
“All our old haunts are ruined,” said Jim.
“Yet we,” I accused, “thought it was swell when they completed the cement highways to all our favorite spots.”
“Even Algonquin Park has a highway into it now,” sighed Jim.
“Canada’s richest asset,” I declared, “is the tourist traffic. It’s the strangest export business in the world. It brings in three hundred million dollars per annum net cash. And all it takes out is snapshots.”
“We’re selling our birthright,” pronounced Jim solemnly, “for a mess of pottage. When we have ripped our country wide open for the tourist trade, when we’ve criss-crossed it with highways and looted all our lakes and made hot dog groves of all our forests and nothing remains but an empty fraud, and all the annual three hundred millions have vanished, as millions do, into thin air, what will we have left?”
“We’ll have had a good time while it lasted,” I pointed out. “Three hundred million a year is mighty sweet money.”
“We’ll have rotting highways running through barren and useless waste,” said Jim. “Our tourist trade goes into a country unfit for anything but playing in. It has no soil for farming. It is no good for reforesting. When the fish are gone and the wild aspect vanished, the tourists will leave us holding the empty bag.”
“Why, Jim,” I laughed, “within ten years, the American tourists are going to be working their way into our Arctic. Already, hundreds of Americans are going every summer into the Albany watershed, running into Hudson Bay. Already, thousands of Americans are taking hunting trips into the Yukon and the northern Rockies. Our tourist trade is good for another hundred years, with that wild, unexplored Arctic up there.”
“And what about us poor guys,” demanded Jim, “that can’t afford to go two thousand miles north? Is fishing in Canada only to be for wealthy Americans?”
“Oh, they’ll stock up the local waters,” I assured him. “It’s all a question of demand. As soon as the fishing gets bad enough, there will be a violent uproar, and the government will go nutty planting fish. They’ll plant fish the way they have been building highways lately, or the way they do anything else to please the public. A government’s real job, after all, isn’t governing. It’s pleasing the public. They govern for a couple of years. Then they wake up with a violent start and realize that pleasing the public is the whole thing. That’s the way we’ll get fish down around these parts. The day is coming when it won’t be safe to go for a paddle on any water in the older part of the country. The fish will be a menace.”
“Tame fish,” sneered Jim. “Liver-fed fish.”
“You’ll be glad enough to hook them,” I assured him.
“I’ll be an old man,” said Jim. “Too feeble to go fishing.”
Reaction in Pioneering
“If we had any gumption,” I stated, “we’d not be sitting here letting the Americans have all the fun going up to the Albany and the Winisk. We’d be going ourselves. What’s the matter with us Canadians? Why do we insist on puddling around near home, when there is simply incredible wild fishing a day or two north? Are we getting soft? Where is the pioneer spirit that, only fifty years ago was part and parcel of every Canadian’s character?”
“I guess,” said Jim, “that there is a sort of reaction in this pioneer spirit business. Pioneering gets kind of exhausted after three or four generations. We belong to one of the two or three generations that are resting up after the ordeal. Then maybe our grandchildren will feel the pioneer spirit creeping back into them again.”
“By which time,” I pointed out, “the good fishing will be exhausted in the Arctic.”
Then our grandchildren,” said Jim, “will run across to fish in Siberia and northern Russia as carelessly as we go up to Lake Nipissing.”
“Ah, boy,” I sighed, “I wish I could go to a lake my Uncle Ed took me into when I was a kid. I was about sixteen, I guess. Talk about bass fishing.”
“Where was the lake?” asked Jim.
“It is the most lost lake,” I declared, “imaginable. In fact, we called it Lost Lake. It’s still there. It is miles from any human habitation. It is a twenty-mile walk over the wildest, rockiest country anywhere in Canada.”
“Twenty miles,” said Jim. “Whew! Your Uncle Ed must have been a tough guy.”
“Tough is right,” I agreed. “He was a pioneer. I can see him yet, with his great big packsack on his back, full of tent and grub and tackle, climbing over those wild rocks like a goat. I’ve never been so weary in all my life, yet I was a strong husky kid of sixteen.”
“What about the fishing?” asked Jim.
“Lost Lake,” I began happily, “is about half a mile wide and four miles long. It is a great bed of glacial gravel set down amidst the most God-forsaken rock in the world. It never was lumbered because there isn’t anything but scrub will grow on it. There isn’t half an acre of soil within 30 miles. Yet that long, narrow lake, full of bright gravel and boulders and reefs, is simply alive with bass up to six pounds.”
“Oh, oh,” said Jim.
“Jim,” I said,” my Uncle Ed was a fly fisherman. No bait, no worms, crawfish or frogs for him. Just common trout flies, on little four-ounce rods. He taught me to fly fish. We made a raft of cedar logs. We drifted about that heavenly lake for five days. Every cast, with those tiny little trout flies, a great whacking big bass, from four to six pounds. We put on two flies. We got two bass to a cast. We filed off the barbs of the fly hooks. We caught hundreds of bass and threw them all back except the ones we needed to eat. We never even brought any out.”
“Have you never gone back?” demanded Jim.
“I intended to go back the next year,” I said, “but I started to Varsity. Then I kept putting it off year by year, as I got into that silly age around 20, when you never seem to be able to keep your mind on anything really important. Then the war came. And then Uncle Ed got rheumatism.”
“Engraved on My Memory”
“Is it far away?” asked Jim.
“Far enough,” I said, “You go to Sudbury, and then in by train about 30 miles. You get off at a section man’s house and then walk in 20 miles. No road, no trail. Just across the wild barren rock, working by landmarks.”
“You’d have forgotten them,” thought Jim, “by now.”
“Never,” I cried, “to my dying day. It’s engraved on my memory like the path I took to school as a child. Every once in a while, over the long years, I have renewed my memory by going, in my imagination, over every foot of that trip. First you head for a distant sort of ridge or pinnacle of rocks, far in the distance. You can’t go wrong. Then, from this pinnacle, you can see, miles ahead, a series of great muskeg swamps with broken ridges of rock rising between them. You follow that series of ridges between the muskeg swamps as straight as Yonge St., and they bring you smack out on to Lost Lake.”
“Boy,” said Jim grimly. “Let’s go. Let’s go.”
“Jim?” I cried, “will you?”
“Let’s go,” repeated Jim with a sort of anguish.
“It’s a terrible walk,” I said, “twenty miles. With all our duffle. Tent and grub and tackle and pots and pans.”
“Man,” shouted Jim, “a lake like that, lost amidst all this exploitation and ruin of lakes. A lake like that, within an overnight journey in a sleeping car with hordes of people going hundreds of miles beyond to fish waters already overrun with other fishermen. How do you know it hasn’t been found out by now?”
“How would it be found out? I demanded. Nobody but Uncle Ed and two other men knew of it. And who would walk 20 miles nowadays in this age of satin-smooth highways and motor cars and outboard motors? This is a soft, padded age. The modern sportsman won’t go any place he can’t sit on a cushion all the way.”
“One good fill of fishing,” crooned Jim, “one regular orgy of fishing, and I’ll be content to hang up my rods and let my grandchildren go to the Arctic.”
“It’s a go,” I announced.
And we sat straight down and proceeded to examine the calendar and then drew up lists of duffle and supplies.
We decided to spend four days on the lake. One full day to walk in and one full day to walk out. We debated whether to take Jim’s little wedge tent or my big silk one, and we concluded that as we were no longer chickens, it might be as well to be comfortable.
“This business of going light,” said Jim, “is all very well in your twenties. But at our age, we’ve got to get our rest.”
So we wrote and rewrote our camping lists, which, as anybody knows, is the better part of camping. The tent and our two sleeping bags would go into a joint dunnage bag which we would carry between us. Each of us would have our packsacks, containing clothes, tackle, and all the things needful to a happy outing. Pots and pans we would distribute between us pro rata. The grub we would divide equally and stow in our packsacks.
And Saturday night, we left for Sudbury by sleeper, arriving early in the morning and continuing by day coach some miles out to the section men’s shack where the unmarked trail to Lost Lake began.
The section man’s shack, which had been young and red and fresh when I was sixteen was now no more than a worn old shed in which some railway ties were stored and even the rusty old tin cans in its neighborhood looked as if this had been no human habitation for many a long year. It was no longer even a section house, just a relic of a shanty, faded and old.
“Jim” I declared, as the train sped off leaving us alone with our duffle bags, “this is wonderful. I feared we might even find a village where this section house had stood. But look – it’s only a ruin. Lost Lake has stayed lost, for sure.
From a little rocky eminence handy, we could see the remote whitish rock ridges or pinnacles far to the northwest, just as I had described them.
“It’s a good ten miles to them, Jim,” I said. “By keeping to ridges and high ground, we never lose sight of them. We’ll take all morning, just to reach them.”
But it took more than the morning. I don’t know how far a lumberjack carries his packsack. Probably from the railway station to the boarding house, maybe. A distance of 75 yards in most lumberjack communities. Even the pioneers didn’t carry packsacks. They used oxen. Certainly, no pioneer ever carried a packsack ten miles. Or else why did it take a hundred years for the pioneers to work north a hundred miles?
As I said before it was a wild and rugged country, and a number of swamps had moved or side-slipped, during the past 30 years, for I found any number of swamps where there had been none the last time. A swamp is a thing you have to go around. And often you have to feel your way around it, making many false tries, this way and that.
At noon, the delectable white pinnacles were still white and remote. We halted for lunch and got out our sleeping bags to lie on for a little rest. We rested until four o’clock and then pushed on. By six p.m., the pinnacles were less distant and less white, but none the less too far away for a couple of pioneers without oxen to reach by dark. So finding a pleasant little swampy pond in the middle of a muskeg, we made camp and boiled muddy tea and went to bed on ill-made brush beds, and muttered each other awake all night. In the morning, we went through our packsacks and made a cache in a tree of all the articles, many of them costly if not valuable, to lighten our loads and to be picked up on the way out They are there forever, I fear.
Thus lightered, we struck camp and pushed on, over ridge and fully and around swamp and over ten thousand dead trees until at noon we reached the high ridge from which, stretching far to the west, we beheld, as I had foretold, the series of dark swamps between which wended bare bleak wastes of rock. But these wastes of rock were open and grim and barren and easy, and in slow stages between heavy rests, during which our eyeballs protruded and our kidneys ached and our legs grew numb and our arches fell and our toe-balls scalded, we went out across them, hog-backs of rock amidst endless wasteland swamp, straight as a ship sails towards Lost Lake.
“It’s a Mirage – a Delusion”
At five p.m. from the highest of these heaves of rock, we glimpsed a bit of blue.
“Water,” I cried, “It’s Lost Lake.”
And with a sort of spiritual, if not physical, second wind, we pushed on. Jim holding one end of the tent bag and I the other, and clanking with our pots and pans like Mrs. Finnigan’s Cows, and over seven last great hills of rock we came at last to the very last, and there at our feet, half a mile wide and four miles long, lay Lost Lake.
“What’s that?” gasped Jim, softly lowering his packsack from his long and limber back.
It was music.
We eased our weary baggage down and listened.
“It’s ‘Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em,'” I said, “This week’s number one the Hit Parade.”
“Look,” said Jim pointing.
In the gloaming, lights twinkled at almost regular intervals along the distant shores of Lost Lake.
“Cottages,” I said huskily. “It’s a mirage. It’s a delusion. We’re suffering from explorer’s exhaustion.”
Around the point we stood on, a canoe came, and from it the music we had heard rose with increasing volume.
It was a boy and a girl with a portable victrola between them in their cushioned ease. When they beheld us in the semi-dark, frozen beside our packsacks and dunnage bags, festooned with our pails and pans, they too froze, staring.
“Hello,” I called hollowly.
The boy paddled cautiously nearer.
“Is this Lost Lake?” I demanded hoarsely.
“No, sir,” said the boy. “This is Golden Sand Lake.”
“It used to be called Lost Lake,” the girl piped up, “before the highway came by. I’ve heard my dad speak of it by that name.”
“Highway?” croaked Jimmie.
“The highway,” said the boy, “just along the other side, see?”
Three cars, lights just turned on, sailed smoothly along the far side of the lake, headed inexorably northward, northward.
“Any bass in this lake?” I asked lightly.
“Not now,” said the girl, “but my daddy has one stuffed in our cottage, he got the first year we were in here before I was born, and it weighed six pounds.”
“Do you suppose,” I inquired, “we could get a lift across the lake to the highway side?”
“I’ll go and get our launch,” said the boy, immediately. “I’ll take you across and you can get a bus. There’s a bus every two hours. both ways.”
“That’s swell,” said Jim.
So we sat down on our duffle and waited for the launch, watching the car lights streaming past on the far side, and not speaking at all, but just thinking and thinking.
Editor’s Notes: The Winisk River and Albany River are in the Kenora area of Northern Ontario.
Varsity was the old name of the University of Toronto.
Railroad section men lived in section houses, and were responsible for the maintenance of a particular section of the railroad. These jobs were phased out over time.
I’m not sure who Mrs. Finnegan’s cows were.
“Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” may be referring to the song “Love Me or Leave Me“.
The story was repeated on August 19, 1944 as “Found – Lost Lake”. The image at the bottom is from that reprint. It is also reprinted in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).
“No more fooling,” said Jimmie Frise; “you’ve got to come down with me this week-end to visit Uncle Jake and Aunt Minnie on the farm.”
“What crop are they gathering this week?” I inquired bitterly.
“I picked this week specially,” said Jim, “because there are no crops. The hay is in. The farm is at rest for a little while now. You will see the farm at its best. The cattle fat and clean. The fields bright and heavy.”
“Three times,” I stated firmly. “I have visited the farm with you. Once there was threshing. Once there was haying. And the third time Uncle Jake had the lumbago.”
“That was in my mind,” said Jim apologetically. “My idea in going down this week is that there is nothing whatever doing on the farm. I haven’t heard from Uncle Jake since Christmas. That means he is in good health. The only time he writes is when he is in pain. It relieves him to write a letter when he has something wrong with him.”
“I’ve never visited a farm in summer,” I confessed. “In summer we’re always summer resorting. We visit farms in autumn, when they are forlorn.”
“Exactly,” said Jim. “More than three-quarters of the people of the world live on farms. The whole basis of human civilization is the farm, not the shop or the factory or the town. I think we owe it to ourselves, as seekers after the truth, however silly it turns out to be in the end, to know something about farms other than what we can see jazzing along highways at fifty miles an hour.”
“You’re quite right,” I agreed.
“Sometimes,” said Jim a little wistfully, “I sort of half regret having left the farm to become a cartoonist. There is a false glamor to town and city life. It doesn’t pay, in the end. You run away from the farm to escape manual labor, driving horses, handling forks, steering plows. You imagine it is a far better thing to be a mechanic in a factory, standing beside a machine. Or sitting on a stool in an office. You see a city’s street cars, its pavements, its lights and conveniences, its gaiety, its endless activity. And what do you give away in exchange?”
“I don’t like getting up at 5 am,” I pointed out.
“Pah,” said Jim bitterly. “It isn’t that. It is the peace and freedom you lose. It is the quiet and the gentleness. The patience and the kindly waiting. You plow, you plant and you tend and watch. All things come home. The wheat ripens in due season. The calves are born to the very day. Morning comes and night drops down. It is a life of order and beauty, and it is ordered not by the will of man but by the serene and eternal laws of nature. We are a long step nearer to Heaven on the farm; and in cities it’s a long, long step the other way.”
Chicken and Rhubarb Pie
“When a city man comes into my office to see me,” I confided, “he sits down on the edge of the chair and is half risen to go all in the same movement. But when a friend from the farm comes in, he enters slowly, waiting to see the impression of pleasure and delight on my face, reflecting his own. He looks about to see where to hang his hat. He selects a chair and draws it forward to a pleasant and comfortable position. He relaxes. He is there for an hour. And I, who love him, must sit, all strangely and uneasily relaxed, wondering how I can tell him I must hurry, that work is pressing, that I am a squirrel in a cage and must run, run, run round and round. I dare not relax. In cities it is fatal, it is terrible, it is painful, physically painful, to relax.”
“How,” demanded Jim, “can we ever solve the troubles of the world while the human race is so divided into two races? Two species as distinct as hawks and chickens? Three-quarters of the human race look upon life from the sweet reality of the farm. The other quarter, the deadly, scheming, clever, achieving quarter, look upon life from the dread artificiality of the city?”
“The way it is going now,” I suggested, “we are slowly starving a pretty big percentage of people out of the cities. Unemployed. If we keep up the present tendencies the number of people in cities is going to grow less and less until presently the control, the direction of human affairs, will pass out of the hands of lawyers and promoters and get back into the hands of the majority, the people on the farms.”
“Uncle Jake,” said Jim, “will be glad to see us. Aunt Minnie will give us a rousing welcome and fly to the kitchen to get some of those famous rhubarb pies of hers into the oven and a chicken on.”
“Fried chicken?” I offered.
“Roast chicken,” cried Jim, “boiled chicken, fried chicken, young chicken fried American style, chicken fricassee, chicken hash. The times I’ve been at Uncle Jake’s and Aunt Minnie’s I eat chicken till I bust, yet I never tire of it. Nobody knows how many ways there are of doing chicken until he has visited a farm in July.”
“Cold roast chicken,” I gloated.
“Chicken jellied,” said Jim, “with thick green lettuce, not the pale kind, but the rich dark green kind with a tang.”
“Will we leave Friday night or Saturday morning?” I asked.
And in due time we were headed out the highways for Uncle Jake’s, amidst the city-fleeing throng of week-enders.
“Just look at them,” cried Jimmie, as the cars filed away ahead of us and honked their horns wildly to pass us from the long stream behind, “rushing away from the city for just a few hours’ taste of what they might have forever on the farm.”
“Don’t they look silly,” I agreed.
“I picked up an Englishman,” related Jimmie, “on the Lake Shore road the other morning. Do you know how he spends his week-ends? There are some of these dinky tourist camps right on the outskirts of Toronto. They are meant to accommodate tourists coming to or passing through Toronto, in lieu of hotels. This Englishman, on Saturday afternoons, goes out to one of these suburban tourist camps, hires a cabin for Saturday and Sunday nights, $1 a night, and gets into his bathing suit.”
“I can see him,” I admitted, “tall and knobby.”
The Gipsy in Human Nature
“And there he is, ten minutes outside of the city,” continued Jim, “in the green country, with a beach nearby, with people in holiday mood all around him. He bathes in the sun and the lake. He has the camp owner bring him tea and toast Sunday morning, while he lies in bed in the little cubby. He has a swell time for about $2.50, counting car tickets. And he wants to know why people have to rush off a hundred miles for a week-end?”
“Not a tourist camp, Jim,” I begged. “Don’t suggest that we forego a lovely week-end visit to the Muskoka Lakes in favor of a visit to a tourist camp.”
“They say they’re not half bad,” submitted Jim.
“My dear man.” I protested, “ridiculous as all these cars look, streaming in all directions madly from the city at this hour, they look far less ridiculous than people going 10 miles from a comfortable bed to cramp themselves into a tourist cubby.”
“Think it over,” advised Jim. “This tourist cabin business is on the increase. This whole trailer cabin idea is growing by leaps and bounds. We are just seeing the beginning of it now. In winter, all over the southern part of the states, there are whole cities of trailers and tourist cabins. Mark my words, in the summer, we are going to see whole cities of them up here.”
“It isn’t human nature,” I informed him, “to live in a shack. Human nature craves property, space, room.”
“Wrong,” cried Jimmie. “Like so many other ideas about human nature, that one is utterly wrong. Human nature is tired of property, tired of possessions that anchor them down. Men are discovering that to be anchored to a house is like being anchored to a mountain.”
“Jim, that’s heresy,” I stated, “What would real estate men and trust companies say to that?”
“You can’t change human nature,” insisted Jim. “You can twist it out of shape for a century or two, maybe, but it works itself back to normal in time. And I tell you the natural man likes a shanty, a shack, a cubby, a cave, one room, just enough to keep him warm and dry and space to store his hunting tools. That is the natural man, not this queer jackdaw, this collector of trinkets and baubles that is supposed to be the normal man today.”
“You’re subversive, Jim,” I warned him.
“We must try one of those tourist camps some time,” said Jim.
“Not me,” I assured him. “Not me. With people jammed in all around you, people you don’t know, never saw before and never will see again, yet your most intimate neighbors for a night. And kids yelling and snores from both sides shaking the flimsy walls. No, sirree! And early birds on their way at daybreak and people coming in late stumbling and banging against your cabin at three a.m. No, sirree!”
“I’d like to have a try at it,” repeated Jimmie, and we both craned our necks to look at a handsome array of brand new tourist cabins at a road corner as we sailed along. There were merry groups of people amidst the aisles of the cabins, and cars half unloaded and children romping and women doing washing and hanging clothes on tiny lines.
“It’s the gipsy in human nature coming out,” said Jim.
“Ah,” I cried, pointing to a farm all lush and green, the white farm house bowered with bending trees, aloof, serene. “But look at that. There’s the real thing.”
“Plus chicken,” admitted Jim. “Plus chicken hash on toast.”
“Cold roast chicken,” I corrected, “broken apart by hand. Not sliced. Just broken into gobbets.”
“Mmmmmm,” we harmonized. I pushed down a little on the gas and joined with the endless streams of those escaping from Nineveh and Tyre, nor ever looking back.
And in a couple of hours of this stewing and grinding, we left the beaten path and took the second-class road that led to Uncle Jake’s. It was still a beaten path, however, for few and far between are the roads nowadays that are not beaten.
“Hurray,” we yelled when we topped the last hill and saw ahead the cluster of elms and maples that are the symbol of the peace and plenty amidst which Uncle Jake resides.
“There’s somebody there,” exclaimed Jim. “See the cars in the lane.”
“Maybe he’s holding a sale of stock,” I offered.
“There’s nobody to be married,” muttered Jim. “I hope it isn’t a funeral.”
And with every yard we grew nearer to Uncle Jake’s lane, the more anxious we felt. Because there was certainly something going on at Uncle Jake’s. We could see cars parked not only in the lane but around the house.
“Good heavens,” shouted Jim, so suddenly that I took my foot off the gas and coasted. “Tourist camp.”
And now we could see the back of the house behind which was a bright array. A vivid and bright avenue of little tourist shacks, amidst which a quiet population moved in the supper time light.
“Are you sure it’s Uncle Jake’s place?” I enquired.
“Did I never spend my happy boyhood here?” said Jim brokenly.
As we turned in the lane, we could see Uncle Jake politely and ceremoniously waving us onward, a true greeter.
“Oh, ho, ho,” cried Jim, tragically.
I drove slowly in. Children romped and leaped, a man with a banjo played whanging tunes, folks were at supper and Aunt Minnie greeted us in a great swither of excitement and joy.
“Chicken dinner, 50 cents,” said a sign on the gate as we rolled funereally through.
“Welcome, strangers,” cried Uncle Jake, stepping on the running board. “You’re just in the nick of time. Only one cabin left. And a dandy at that. Turn left.”
We turned left and drove along the turf.
“Here you are,” said Uncle Jake swinging athletically off and waving a hand at just another of the gaudy little shanties.
“Uncle Jake,” said Jim, “my friend here is troubled with hay fever and asthma. He isn’t allowed to sleep in cabins. How about that room I used to be in, when I was a kid? The one with the sloping ceiling and the big red flowers on the wallpaper?”
“Aw, Jimmie,” said Uncle Jake, “that’s let. We’ve got some semi-permanent guests up in that room.”
“There’s nothing but these?” asked Jim earnestly, as a nephew to an uncle.
“Why, what’s the matter with these?” cried Uncle Jake. “A dollar a night? Paid in advance? A dry, well-built, cosy little kumfy kabin like this?”
“How about it?” asked Jim turning to me.
“Where else would we go?” I retorted grimly.
We got out and Uncle Jake helped us with our stuff.
“I hate to charge you boys,” said he, confidentially when we got inside. It was hot and smelt of new wood. “I hate to charge my own kinfolks, but you see how it is. I’m in business. I got to get my income from the investment. Now, if you had come during the week, I might have let you off. But the week-end is my busy time…”
“It’s all right,” said Jim, “what’s a dollar between relatives?”
“Well, it’s quite exciting,” said Uncle Jake, patting the walls and door admiringly. “Farming is no good any more. This is the line of business everybody ought to be in on the farm. I figure I won’t be doing any plowing or sowing next spring at all, at the rate it’s coming in now.”
‘We’re Living At Last”
“Well, one thing.” said Jim, sitting down on the narrow stretcher on the side of the cabin, “we’ll have a chicken dinner. And has Aunt Minnie got any rhubarb pies.”
“Oh, shoot,” said Uncle Jake, snapping his fingers, “we’re just out of chickens. This crowd ate up the whole supply we had ready and I haven’t another on the place that ain’t laying.”
“No chicken?” I said. “No cold bits left over?”
“Not a scrap of chicken,” said Uncle Jake. “I only got a few layers left. I got to buy my chickens in town now, the whole neighborhood is fresh out of chickens due to this kind of business.”
“How about rhubarb pie?” asked Jim. “One of Aunt Min’s famous brown-top rhubarb pies?”
“Jimmie,” said Uncle Jake, part way out the door and all ready to fly in answer to a car horn tooting in the distance, “Minnie is that busy looking after the place we’ve had to get a girl in specially to do the cooking. She’ll put you up a nice feed, though. When you’re set, come to the kitchen and see her. Fifty cents only, for supper.”
He vanished, his boots crunching hurriedly.
Jim leaned his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. He sat a long time so, while I arranged my belongings around the camp stretcher on my side of the cubby.
After awhile, he sat up and we went to the kitchen where a large strange girl laid us out a nice meal of potted meat and mashed potatoes, pickles and buns. But it seemed as if neither thought nor imagination had been given to the meal. The girl just took the stuff off the pantry shelves as her hand found them. They were not viands aimed at us, as individuals. They were food for anybody.
Aunt Minnie swept furiously through the kitchen several times, all flushed and full of vim. She embraced Jim heartily.
“Oh, Jim,” she said, “we’re having the grandest time!”
“The old place is all changed,” said Jim.
“And wasn’t it time?” cried Aunt Minnie. “Why, we’re living at last.”
After supper, Uncle Jake told us to walk around and look the old place over. In the barn were three cows and a horse. A couple of pigs had the look of being fed on chocolate bars and sandwiches. Jim showed me where there used to be 15 cows that he had helped milk. He walked me over fields where he had hunted wary groundhogs as a boy: and now the groundhogs whistled at us scornfully.
We came back at dusk and found two trailer cabins had joined the community, just for company. We sat on the step of our cubby and watched the strange phenomenon of neighbors for a night, this weird society based on hours instead of years. There was music and singing and children yelling to bed and banging and engines and a game of horse shoes. There was advancing night and a gathering quiet. There were snores and mutters and the going out of lights.
“When it is all quiet,” whispered Jim, under the stars that were over the brooding elms, “we’ll get the heck out of here.”
Which we did.
Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on July 15, 1944, as well as appearing in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors, 1979.
Nineveh and Tyre are both described in the Bible as capitals of mighty empires. Both were reportedly wicked places and had their destruction foretold by prophets.
Viand is an archaic term for food.