Jim created this advertisement for the British American Oil Company, which became Gulf Canada in 1969. In 1985, it’s assets were sold to Petro-Canada and Ultramar. Another advertisement from the series can be seen here.
Tag: April Page 1 of 3
By Greg Clark, April 28, 1934
“What’s up?” asked Jimmie Frise. “You look a little down to-day?”
“Oh, it’s the house cleaning,” I replied. “They’ve started at my house.”
“Dear me,” said Jim. “I had forgotten about house cleaning. I suppose they will be at it at my house any day. Isn’t it funny how you forget it from year to year? Yet every year it bobs up again, in the spring, to rob this most lovely season of all its joy.”
“I honestly believe,” I said, “that women don’t realize how terrible house cleaning is for a man. The coming home from a hard day’s work to a house as comfortless as a barn. With everything topsy turvy. The floors bare. The pictures gone off the walls. Furniture stacked in halls. Rugs rolled up along the wainscot. Ladders and pails and mops leaning up. Supper in the kitchen. Everything smelling soapy and queer.”
“I suppose house cleaning,” said Jim, “is one of those things we have to allow women, the way women allow us to go hunting. It’s a sort of deep instinct with them, dating back a million years.”
“I don’t see the use of it,” I confessed. “They have all day, every day of the year, to do their little chore of sweeping and dusting and washing. I see them at it all the time. What do they want to hit a man’s home like a cyclone for?”
“And can you ever find anything you really want, after house cleaning?” demanded Jim.
“Listen,” I said, “it takes me until June every year to get my books rearranged properly on their shelves. Women have no instinct for arranging books.”
“And I lose valuable things,” said Jim. “Last year, the horns off the deer I got last season had simply vanished. I admit they smelt a little. But nobody had even seen them go. Now you can’t lose the antlers off a big buck just by accident.”
“Take collar studs,” I said. “What man ever could find the little dish with his collar studs on after house cleaning?”
“A man ought to be allowed to go downtown and live at a hotel for a week during house cleaning,” said Jim.
“If he did, he might just as well surrender all his rights to his home,” I retorted. “When house cleaning is on at my house, I make it my business to pop in at lunch and come home early for dinner. Otherwise, they might throw out all my clothes and perhaps even my bed!”
This conversation with Jimmie gave me courage, and that night a certain discussion at my home resulted in my walking over to Jimmie’s after supper and asking for a private interview.
A Man Takes a Dare
“Jimmie,” I said, when he closed his studio door. “Now I’m in for it!”
“Well, you recollect how we were talking about house cleaning this morning?”
“Well, I repeated some of it at home tonight, and I got in hot water.”
“Yes, so my family have announced they are going to drive out to visit Aunt Agnes to-morrow – that’s at Georgetown – and I am to do the living room!”
“Do the what?” cried Jim.
“Sshh,” I said. “The living room!”
“Good heavens!” gasped Jimmie.
“House clean it,” I said. “I said I would I took the dare. I said I could do the whole house in one day. So they said they had heard enough of this for the past twenty years. And they would just go for a drive out to visit Aunt Agnes for the day. And I could do the living room.”
“I’m sorry, old boy,” said Jim.
“You’re more than sorry,” I assured him. “You’ve got to help me. It was you that egged me on.”
“I did nothing–!”
“Oh, yes you did!” I cried. “You egged me on. You sympathized. You agreed with me. Now the least you can do is help me out.”
Right after breakfast the following morning my family piled in the car and drove off. And a little after 9 a.m. Jimmie arrived. I had two aprons and mob caps laid out. Since my family would not even go so far as to explain how much or how little I had to do, and as I had not told them I was getting any help, I had to try to recall what the tools of house cleaning are. I knew that mob caps should be worn over the head. And pails, mops, brooms and numerous rags called dusters were essential. Also, soap, floor polish and, it seemed to me, I dimly recalled tea leaves. Yes, far back in my childhood, I recall tea leaves being strewn over the carpet before sweeping.
Jimmie got into an apron in lively fashion.
“Now,” said he, “who’s to be boss? Shall you direct me or shall I direct you?”
“We will work in harmony,” I said.
First we removed most of the living room furniture into the halls. The chesterfields, chairs, lamps, radio, tables. Then we rolled up the rug and Jim carried it into the yard.
“Where’s your carpet beater?” he said.
“I haven’t seen or even heard of a carpet beater since before the war!” I said, astonished.
I took down all the pictures and ornaments and dusted them. Then Jim and I got a pail of hot water and scrubbed the floor.
“Personally,” said Jim, “I don’t believe you scrub waxed floors.”
“Then where does the smell of soap come from in house cleaning time?” I asked.
“Look how funny it looks,” pointed out Jim.
The living room floor did indeed look pale and blotchy where we had scrubbed.
“I’ll do the windows while you do the floor and rails,” said Jim.
So Jim toiled back and forward from the scrubbing pail to the windows, and made a lot of splashes on the floor and all over the window sills. But he certainly made the windows gleam. Meanwhile, I scrubbed the floor, the floor rails and the plate rail along the ceiling. I am sorry to admit that I was half done with the plate rail before I saw that the scrubbing brush made a lot of awkward stains on the wallpaper. The more you rub them with a cloth, the worse they get.
“Take a look at this,” I said to Jim, pointing out the nasty daubs along the wallpaper.
“Oh, they’ll dry,” said Jim. “But look here. We are doing this wrong. We should first have cleaned the furniture before we did the floors. The dust and dirt from the furniture will only mess up the floor after we are done!”
So we started in on the furniture. We washed the tables and the wooden parts of the chairs. We bent and thumped the chesterfield and upholstery. We shook out the curtains. The tables and woodwork of the chairs turned a funny color from the washing, but Jim said a lick of floor wax would soon put back the pretty shiny finish.
Meanwhile the stains along the wallpaper got worse the more they dried.
And the windows got cloudy.
And the walnut table started to turn gray.
“Jim,” I said, “it is nearly noon and I don’t like the look of all this!”
So we sat down and looked at it for while. Our backs ached, the backs of our necks ached and our arms ached.
“Well, it smells right,” said Jim. “Even if it looks funny.”
The room did look funny.
“Especially the floor,” said Jim.
At that moment the door bell rang.
“You answer, Jim,” I said, “and tell whoever it is the lady of the house is not home.”
I could hear a quick-talking lady chatting to Jimmie. He came back in excitedly.
“Saved!” he whispered. “It’s a lady demonstrating a wonderful new kind of a vacuum cleaner. It both blows and sucks. It inhales dirt, blows down behind radiators, has long arms for reaching up high, and polishes waxed floors, and scrubs, and –“
“Bring her in,” I hissed.
A Magic-Maker Arrives
A very nice lady, a kind of a young forty, came in, carrying a large suitcase. She stared in astonishment at the room, at Jimmie and at me.
“Mercy,” she said.
“Madam,” I said producing the telephone chair.
She sat down.
“Now, madam,” I said, “what have you?”
So she launched into a speech, full of ups and downs of voice with gestures. And at the right place she got up from her chair, opened her suitcase and laid forth the most wonderful nickel-plated collection of tubes, bags, brushes, mops and so forth.
Without interruption, she joined up the machinery and started to work. She dipped the mop in the pail and in a minute, she had made that contraption spin around on the floor until she had a space about a yard square as white as the day the floor was laid. Then she turned on a kind of blower and dried it. Then she spread wax on it and polished it with a revolving brush. A beautiful, glowy, rich tan spot appeared under her magic touch.
“Marvellous,” breathed Jimmie and I.
Then she went around with a long-handled tube and felt high up along the plate rail and into corners and behind the radiators. In about two minutes, she spread out on a piece of white cloth a pound of dust.
“Mercy,” said I. “Don’t tell the neighbors!”
“That really isn’t from your house,” explained the lady. “That is some I carry around in the bag. It is more for surprising the ladies. I wouldn’t fool a man.”
“How about that wet spot around the plate rail?” I asked. “Could it help that any?”
“Certainly,” said the lady, and she blew the hot air on to the wet spots, brushed them with a long-handled revolving brush, and in a minute you could see no stains at all.
“Windows?” I asked.
She took another gadget, fastened it on to the hose, and one by one she made the window panes glitter with a vibrating polisher.
“Chesterfield?” I asked.
She went over the chesterfield and found, besides what dust there might be, five marbles, four bobbie pins, a toothbrush, two dolls, five cigarettes and a pair of scissors.
“Thank goodness,” I cried. “I have blamed everybody over those scissors. They are my favorites on Sunday morning.”
“Now,” said the lady, “let me show you how easy it would be for you to use this machine. This afternoon, you could do the whole floor like that bit I did. You could make this room nicer than if you were married.”
“I am married,” I said.
“Ah,” she said, “I thought I was speaking to a bachelor.”
She handed me the long hose and longest nickel tube.
“Now,” she said, “this is the basis of it all. With this button, you switch the tube to suck if you want a vacuum cleaner, of to blow if you want to operate any of the polishing or scrubbing devices.”
I took the machine. I turned the switch. It blew. And it so tragically or, should I say, happily happened, that the end of the tube was right over the pile of sooty dust which the lady had brought in her bag to astonish my ladyfolks.
And as I turned on the switch, Jimmie, the lady and I all disappeared in a black and suffocating cloud.
“Hiyah!” I shouted, switching the tube to one side. I felt it touch something metallic, and then I knew it was the pail full of soapsuds, because there was a bubbling, burbling sound, and the air was filled with spray.
“Turn it off!” screeched the lady demonstrator from somewhere in the fog. I turned the switch, but I felt it sucking, and it was sucking out of that infernal pail. I returned the switch and it blew again, and blew what it had gathered, like a bathing elephant, all over us three, the room, the windows, the walls.
When the lady finally got it under control, we were all shaking from head to foot. The room was beyond recognition.
“Well?” I said.
The lady started to cry.
“I have a husband to support,” she wept.
“This is pretty terrible,” I said, surveying the disaster.
“I will get some friends to come and help me,” she wept.
“Not at all,” I said. “My friend and I will gladly help you.”
Jim said it was touching to see how magnanimously I placed the blame on the poor little lady.
“Legally,” said the lady, as we sat at lunch in the kitchen, because we decided first to have lunch before starting in, “I am to blame for anything that happens during a demonstration of my machine.”
“Morally,” I countered, “it was all my fault.”
I then revealed the secret of Jimmie and me being shamefully engaged in house cleaning. I said it was as the result of squawking too much and I was being taught a lesson.
“Then I hope,” said the lady, “that if I come back some time when your family is home, you will throw the weight of your influence in favor of this machine.”
I assured her I would
Never Again Such Triumph
After lunch we got busy. Jimmie and A simply did the rough lifting. This lady dried, brushed, polished, vacuumed, blew, until all traces of water and dust had vanished, and by a clever rearrangement of the pictures, the three or four places where soapsuds and demonstrating dust had made too bad a spot, nothing of the tragedy remained.
“I’ll get them off with art gum the night I come to demonstrate for your wife,” said she.
She got away about ten to five.
I persuaded Jim to go home so as to leave me in my glory.
And the family arrived about five-thirty.
Never shall I have such a triumph. I was seated in the chesterfield chair. About me shone glory, in glass, in floor, in wood and fabric.
The family all came in the smiles vanishing from their faces as they climbed on chairs and ran fingers along the plate rail, as they felt the electric light fixtures, slanted pictures to see the glass, looked under the chesterfield and examined in mute amazement the glorious glow on the radio.
“Well,” I said, “it’s the best I could do, but I suppose you’ll have to do it over again.”
“My dear boy,” said the head of the family, with all her supporters gathered around her, “we expected to find you in tears.”
“Ha, ha,” said I.
“You can stay home the rest of the week and help us,” said she.
“No, no,” I cried. “I have simply shown you that even a mere man can do these things smoothly and painlessly, without a lot of fuss. And with no experience.”
The head of the house walked over and looked at the scissors.
“Ha!” she said.
“Yes,” I assured her, “I have already made up my mind to write to your mother and apologize for accusing her of having run off with my Sunday morning scissors.”
Behind the Chinese vase with the lamp on it she picked something up.
“Ah,” she said.
It was a handkerchief. A small handkerchief with the initial M on it. There are no M’s in our family.
It smelt faintly of floor wax.
“M’mmm?” said the head of the house.
So I had to tell the whole story.
And I have agreed not to be silly about house cleaning from now on.
Editor’s Notes: Collar studs can be used now for holding down the collar wings, but can still be used for attaching or fastening a detachable collar. These types of collars were used as one could have multiple collars, but fewer shirts. The same reasoning applied to detachable cuffs. It was during the 1920s and 1930s that separate collars lost their appeal, as it was felt that it made you look “stiff”.
Mobcaps were still worn at this time for maids and those who cleaned.
These two illustrations by Jim appeared on the same page for different articles. The first, above, is from a story by Fred Griffin about people being distracted on the streetcar, with the illustration showing a woman unable to look up while reading a book while paying her fare. Not unlike smartphones today?
This illustration is from “The ‘opkins Rent and ‘aunted ‘ouse” by Edith Bayne. It is a terrible story written in working class slang about a haunted house. The man in the illustration thinks he hears a ghost, but it turns out to be the new boarder who is a telephone switchboard operator who talks in her sleep (5 cents being the cost of a call from a pay phone).
Scrap metal drives continued throughout World War Two for military use.
By Greg Clark, April 16, 1938
Who says it takes no courage to go walking in this machine age?
“Let’s,” cried Jimmie Frise, “go for a drive in the country.”
“Let’s,” I corrected, “go for a walk in the country. You can’t see any country driving.”
“And how far,” retorted Jim, “would we have to walk before we reached the country? Don’t be silly. We’ll get in the car and go out the Centre Road and turn off some of the side roads and just dawdle along, stopping the car at the top of every rise, looking at groundhogs and the greening fields and the woods turning a tawny yellow…”
“To enjoy the earth,” I stated, “you have at least to have your feet on the earth. This sitting your way through the country is ridiculous.”
“Walking,” replied Jim. “is a thing of the past.”
“Unfortunately you’re right,” I agreed. “The more’s the pity. Walking is the contemplative recreation. The age of contemplation is dead.”
“Aw, who wants to contemplate?” snorted Jim.
“Walking,” I continued, uninterrupted, “is associated with all the finest activities of the human mind. Since walking gave way to riding, what can you show me of any greatness in the human mind?”
“Now, don’t get going on that again,” warned Jimmie.
“All right, show me,” I reiterated. “Since the human race took to riding everywhere on trains, on street cars and finally in motor cars and aeroplanes, I can show you a steady decline in human ideas. Draw a graph of the increase in riding, and I’ll draw you a graph showing the exact reverse in human brain and power.”
“Heh, heh,” laughed Jim.
“Look,” I said. “The railway came into general and widespread use about 1860, didn’t it? And about 1860 began all the mad and furious human concentration on wealth. With railways to carry its burdens, the human race started to spread out savagely in all directions, populating vast areas that to-day are destroyed by floods and sand storms; erecting giant cities, filled with tall chimney, under which to-day pallid millions lead lives of desperation and fear. From 1860 to 1900 this vast expansion went on, and then the motor car was invented. And the world simply went nuts. In 1914, the aeroplane was just dawning as a still newer and more effective way of moving fast and effortless and in 1914, the great war, the greatest disaster in human history, began.”
“Ah,” said Jim, “so trains, cars and aeroplanes caused the war?”
The Art of Walking
“The less we have walked,” I declared, “the deeper the trouble we have got into. The faster we could go without walking, the crazier the trouble. If men don’t walk, they don’t think.”
“You’re nuts,” agreed Jim.
“If we had had to walk across the continent,” I demanded, “would we have had vast annual floods? No, there wouldn’t have been enough of us in the Great West to denude it and cause floods and sand storms. If we had had to walk to the great war, would there have been a great war? Would there be 58,000 young Canadians dead, if we had had to swim the Atlantic to get to France?”
“Nuts,” decided Jim.
“No, sir,” I said, “walking demands reflection. You can’t walk down street to the corner drug store without your mind engaging in happy thought. But I defy you to think, sitting in your car and driving to the corner drug store.”
“That’s an idea,” grudged Jim.
“Picture all the great thinkers of the past,” I propounded. “Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, and where do you see them? Walking, deep in thought, in their gardens and along the sea shore. You don’t picture them sitting in an ox-cart, jolting along. Picture the great heroes, Napoleon, Nelson. Napoleon, walking, hands behind his back in the night, planning, scheming. Nelson, pacing his quarter deck, envisioning his great battles. Not sitting in a sea flea, going 40 miles an hour. No, siree. I venture to say all the greatest thoughts that ever came into the human head, came to men as they walked. As they walked along the shores of Galilee, as they paced the ancient streets and courts of London, as they plodded with purpose and courage all the highways, the backroads, the fields and the forests of the world.”
“Still,” said Jim, “it’s a swell day, and I don’t fancy myself going walking. It is a good mile from here to the suburbs. Then we’d have to walk about two more miles through steadily declining suburbs, each more dismal than the one before, the houses getting smaller, and merging into shacks, and then the shacks giving way to the first dowdy run-down farms and market gardens of the city’s edge, and all the roads jammed with cars boiling along nose to tail, honking and snorting in Sunday mood.”
“Yeah,” I cried “Can you imagine anything more absurd than all those thousands of cars, in fury and anger, sputtering and grinding along the Sunday roads. Why do people go driving on Sunday? Don’t they know what it will be like before they start out?”
“Habit,” said Jim.
“Yes, sir,” I agreed. “Habit. The thing that has taken the place of thinking, since men gave up walking.”
“It’s funny, now you think of it,” confessed Jim.
“The Englishman,” I informed him, “is the only man left who has maintained the art of walking. Result: more thinking amongst Englishmen to-day than amongst any other race.”
“Their roads,” pointed out Jim, “are too narrow and twisty for driving. Remember all those tiny little windy lanes around Shorncliffe and Seaford?”
“The Englishman, whatever his reason,” I stated, “has kept alive the art of walking. He wears stout brogue shoes, strong, weatherproof tweed clothes. He carries a cane. He smokes a pipe. And he goes walking. And thinking.”
“He’s rather a decent figure, these days,” admitted Jim. “There is something sort of sound and earthy about him.”
“Naturally,” I agreed. “Because he touches the earth. But riding in cars, what do you get? Earthy? No, oily.”
“Cugh,” protested Jim.
Sporty and Outdoorsy
“Maybe the narrow, twisty lanes of England,” I admitted, “are responsible for the character of the Englishman. Maybe it is the earth that makes the man. But even so, I think an Englishman, in stout shoes, in a rough tweed suit, with a pipe in his jaws, a wool muffler tied, Ascot around his neck, and striding across the wold, deep in such thought as the wind and the sky and the earth inspires, is a more noble spectacle than you and me sitting in a wildcat of a car quarrelling our way up and down paved country roads at 50 miles an hour.”
“Ascot style, what’s that?” inquired Jim, standing up to display to better advantage his new tweed suit.
“You take the muffler,” I explained, and turn it once around your neck, see?” I explained. Then you half knot it once, see? And twist the scarf so that the upper or full end is on top Instead of a criss-cross muffler, the way Canadians usually wear it, you have a sort of square, all-set-with-the-world sort of muffler. It fills the neck of your coat as with a cravat.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen Englishmen like that,” admitted Jim. “It looks sporty, outdoorsy.”
“That’s it,” I said. “Now in that suit you’ve got on there, with a Scotch wool scarf, a tweed cap, stout brogue walking shoes, and a walking stick and wash leather gloves…”
“Wash leather?” said Jim
“Wash leathaw,” I said. “It’s English for shammy.”
“Ah,” said Jim elegantly.
“I tell you what we’ll do,” I cried. “I’ve got that red tweed of mine. Let’s dress up and go for a tramp in the country. What do you say, old chap?”
“Right-ho,” said Jim. “Right-ho.”
“We’ll get one of the kids to drive us out a few miles out of town,” I elaborated.
“One of the young ‘uns,” corrected Jim.
“Quaite,” I agreed. “Quaite. One of the youngstahs will run us a few miles out of town and drop us in some jolly little spot.”
“Quaite,” said Jim. “Some jolly little bit of terrain where we can stretch our legs and inhale a little breath of ay-yaw.”
“Aaaaiiiiaw,” I corrected, “Yaw. A breath of yaw.”
“You haven’t got it right,” protested Jim. “Not yaw. A breath of aw. That’s it. Aw.”
“No, no,” I insisted. “I know my English. I’ve got two brothers-in-law and they’re both English. It is yaw. A breath of yaw.”
“You can’t say a breath of fresh yaw,” argued Jim a little heatedly. “I served three years under an English sergeant-major, see? I tell you it’s a breath of fresh eeeaaaaaawwwwww. You sort of open your mouth just a little bit, draw your chin in, and say eeeaaaaawwwwww.”
“Aw, what the heck,” I protested. “You sound like a dying duck. Never mind the English language. Let us stick to English clothes and English habits. Let’s just go for a walk in the country, that’s all we had in mind.”
“Right-ho,” agreed Jim. “Right-HO!”
So Jim went home and put on his heavy shoes and a tweed cap and borrowed one of his small son’s wool mufflers and I got rigged out in my rusty tweed, with plus fours, and a tweed hat, and I loaned Jimmie a cane. One of Jim’s girls was glad to drop us somewhere in the country, and we drove out the Centre Road until we came to the groundhog country, where, on every knoll, a new-waked groundhog sat in stupid joy, sunning himself.
We went down a couple of side roads, twisting and turning until we came to one side road not unlike an English lane, narrow and wooded, and there we were dropped from the car.
“We’ll walk,” I explained to the young lady, “out to the highway and telephone from some wayside inn about six o’clock. You can run out and pick us up, what?”
“Right-ho,” agreed Jimmie and his family.
“Right, quaite,” we all agreed, waving our sticks jauntily, and lifting our tweed hats and gripping our new-lit pipes in our teeth. Rusty, the water spaniel, scrambled out to accompany us.
And the car vanished and the wide and lovely country stood before a couple of country gentlemen, welcoming.
The sky was soft with April. A gentle haze hung over the world. It was soft, damp, luscious. Fields of winter wheat made vivid quilts of green, flung wide. Darkly the woods stood, tinged with a rusty, russet, faded yellow.
“Yellow is the color of spring,” said Jim.
“In England,” I sighed, “there would be daffodils peeping along our path.”
Getting Down to Earth
We strode forth. The roads were muddy and bog holed, but along their sides were firm dry paths for the foot that sought them. Birds sang in the barren woods, visible and flighting with an ecstasy that would be unseen in another three weeks, when the buds break into leaf. On all the moist mounds, sleazy groundhogs, dark from their winter hiding, perched and slunk. From the farms, aloof, came the hankering of geese, the crow of fowls and the call of cows. We strode along.
“Ah,” breathed Jim, deep and slow.
“What peace,” I said, picking my steps with care amidst the bog. Rusty floundered along the fences, sniffing and exploring and full of vigor.
Not talking much, and not thinking much either, on account of the mud and the having to pick out footing, and all the nice soft lovely feeling of the air, we peregrinated up hill and down dale. We pointed out beauties, exclaiming; we halted and looked with earnest delight at things not really very beautiful, after all, because it is May showers that bring June flowers in Ontario. And it is a little early yet.
We halted, our ears tip-toe, to hear the first birds of spring, the meadowlark, that pied piper, calling forth all the singers, the bluebird calling okalee and the broad-winged hawks wheeling their love dance low over the trees, screeching their fierce love whistle, ignoring the tasty vesper sparrows tilted beak up on every post and stub; the robins with contralto voices, nervous so far from houses and juncos with the voice of tiny sleigh bells fluttering from thicket to thicket on their long way north, too gray and parsimonious, even on so long journey, to miss a single bet along the hedges.
We saw a gander, a farmyard gander, uplift his wings enormously and take a short, swift run and launch himself into the air for a wild and ludicrous flight across a little gulley, and the whole farmyard applauded, pigs, geese, horses, hens, and us. We saw young calves, with stiff tails going for sudden careens around their little pastures. Lambs bounced upon boulders. Sheep with nothing on their minds bleated with all the expression of a nervous breakdown from hill to hill. Horses with fiery airs whinnied from resounding bellies across fences. It was spring.
We had a lovely walk, and we could feel our tissues stretching pleasantly, and our lungs filling clean and full and the pipes smelled fragrantly, even though the earth did not; and it grew duller and mistier until, just at the highest hill we had encountered, and when we were thinking of turning our steps towards the highway, three miles distant, the first small drops of rain fell.
“One thing about English clothes,” I pointed out, as I turned my collar up, “is they are made for weather.”
“I guess we had better head for the highway,” agreed Jim.
And we started east. Rusty had ceased his gamboling and exploring some half hour earlier and had been following to heel. Now he got right under our feet.
The rain thickened. It enriched and enlarged and increased. From little Scotch misty drops it grew to large Canadian drops each about the size of a marble.
“Cugh,” said Jim.
“Get out of my way,” I said to Rusty, who was trying to shelter under me as we walked.
And the rain pounded, and the sky darkened to a dead slate gray, and we could not see the farm houses as we passed, so in sheets did the rain fall, and the road became just a series of great yellow puddles. The tweeds soaked it up, the brogues sponged it up, our hats sagged over our ears and eyes and began to steam mildly.
“What-ho,” said Jim, bitterly and suddenly.
“Quaite,” I responded, with equal bitterness.
“When an Englishman goes walking, explained Jim, wetly, “he knows the climate is lousy.”
“Quaite,” I sogged.
“But in this country,” said Jim, “we expect the weather always to be fine.”
“Quaite,” I squelched.
So we thumbed a truck and got a lift into the suburbs, and from a drug store, called home for them to pick us up.
Editor’s Notes: A sea flea is a type of small racing boat, also known as a Muskoka Seaflea.
I’m not entirely sure where “Centre Road” was located, but it might be referring to the current Hurontaio Street in Mississauga/Brampton. They would not have to travel this far for the countryside in 1938, but it is hard to tell.
This is a pair of drawings by Jim for a story about adults pursuing hobbies.
In the early days of automobiles, it was common for cars to get stuck on muddy roads, and paying as farmer to haul it out with horses was the solution.
By Greg Clark, April, 13, 1935
“This year,” said Jimmie Frise, “I’m going to have a real garden.”
“Me, too,” I admitted.
“A garden full of old-fashioned flowers,” declaimed Jimmie, his eye roving out the window. “Hollyhocks, zinnias, verbenas.”
“Stocks,” I said, “and phlox.”
“Sweet william,” added Jimmie, “and pinks and gillieflowers.”
“What is a gillieflower?” I enquired.
“Hanged if I know,” said Jim, “but I love the sound of them and I’m going to have them.”
“Dianthus,” I said. “There’s a swell name, Let’s have dianthuses.”
“But really,” said Jim, sitting forward and resting his elbows so that he could cuddle right down deep into the very heart of the thought of a garden scented with a hundred perfumes and glowing with color in a June evening, “really, I am going to have a garden. I’m going to put time and thought and labor on it. I’m going to plan it. I’m going to take my time about it. Usually, the way we all do is go out some evening, after supper, buy a couple of dollars’ worth of seeds and a few boxes of infant annuals, and stick them around the garden before dark. Now, this year…”
“Every year,” I interrupted, “I go through what you are going through now.”
“So do I,” confessed Jim, sadly. “But this year I am going to try and really do it. I’m going to hold grimly to my determination.”
“I remember that, too,” I remembered. “But always, some time between the fifteenth and thirtieth of April, a queer change came over me. And by the time the planting was to be done, my heart was In the Highlands or something.”
“This year,” said Jim, sitting back fiercely and crossing his arms tightly across his chest, “I’m going to do my garden in a practical and common sense way. For example, I will spend two or three long evenings digging and turning it over.”
“Like plowing.” I said.
“Precisely,” said Jim. “I was born and raised on the farm. I know the principles of agriculture. The farmer spends weeks plowing. He does not plow and plant all in one day.”
“No, indeed,” I agreed.
“So,” went on Jim, “I’ll spend maybe three long evenings spading and turning over my borders and beds. If the weather is rainy, I won’t desist merely because of the discomfort. I’ll carry right on. Rain or shine, cold or warm, I’ll spend three evenings, one after the other, spading over my garden, burying the top earth and revealing the rich undersoil, exposing it to the life-giving air and light.”
“Good man,” I said, admiringly.
“Then I’ll break it up with my hoe and rake,” said Jim. “I’ll break the lumps, disintegrating them, so that the soft living rain of April may nourish the soil. Why should a man, born and raised on the farm, be afraid of a little rain on him?”
“It’s ridiculous,” I agreed.
Violence is Necessary
“Then, with the spade work well and truly done,” said Jim, making notes on a piece of paper, “I will go out and buy a few boxes of the taller annuals. A few boxes only. It is a mistake to buy the whole works the one night. You have to hurry to get them in. No. Take your time, that is the secret. A few boxes of tall annuals, like zinnias, nicotine, and so forth, the first night. And at great leisure, in comfort and east, so that you can have time to reflect and put them where you want them, you plant them slowly and thoroughly.”
“You do, Jim,” I pointed out. “It is you we are talking about.”
“Quite,” said Jim. “Then the next night, if It is soft and pleasant for planting, get a few more boxes of the less tall annuals, stocks, verbenas, the old-fashioned marigolds.”
He pronounced it the English way, marry-golds.
“Jim,” I said, “you deserve a lot of credit. If everybody in Toronto were like you, what a city this would be!”
“Now, mind you,” declared Jim, “a garden does not consist merely of some plowing and some planting of few square yards of earth. There comes all the long and happy weeks of cultivation. The hoeing of the soil around the young plants. The watering, weeding. The regular spading up of the earth, so that water, air and light may penetrate down towards the roots. I intend, this year, to devote one hour to my garden every night, rain or shine.”
“It is noble of you,” I admitted. “If I hadn’t gone through just what you are going through so often that I have lost faith in myself, by George, I would be tempted to be inspired by you, and try to make the same resolutions.”
“One thing you might do,” said Jim, “just for your amusement, is to come over and watch me do some spading?”
“I certainly will,” I said heartily. “In fact, I might even do a little spading for you myself.”
Which accounts for the fact that two nights later, that particularly soft evening last week, I walked over to Jim’s and sat in the rustic bench while he, looking fresh and healthy, worked with a spade along his borders.
A robin singing and a man spading in April – what more lovely moment is there in all the year?
“Dig deeper,” I said, after watching Jim a few minutes.
“It is the top six inches,” said Jim, pausing in his labor. “There is no need to dig deeper.”
“I disagree,” I said, lighting a new cigarette and signaling to one of the girls in the house to bring me a cushion. “What is true of farming is not necessarily true of city gardening. The open fields of the country are subjected to violence. The great rains pound down, Gales blow across the land. The ice in spring causes great cracks deep into the earth. The freshets belabor and smash the soil. But a city garden, protected by walls and fences and houses, gets no such essential disturbance.”
“Gardening,” replied Jim, delicately spading the earth, “at its best, should be a leisurely pastime.”
“You’re just tickling the earth,” I declared. “Just titivating it, dabbing at it like a lady applying cosmetics. Dig it, man!”
“It is the top six inches,” repeated Jim.
“Now I know the reason,” I said, “why city gardens are such poor, fragile things. They last a week or two: then they are burned up in the first heat of summer. Why? Because you have just dibbled or fiddled the top few inches. You don’t get down deep, the way nature does in the open fields. To make a garden fertile, we have to tear it loose.”
Jim stood leaning on the spade.
“Sail into it,” I admonished him. “Give it what November gives the farms. What March does. Knock hell out of it.”
Jim began to dig with more resolution. He began to enjoy it. He began hurling earth in all directions.
“Now you’re shouting,” I shouted. “Whale the stuffing out of it.”
Jim paused. He jabbed the spade into the earth and came over and sat on the rustic bench beside me. I lent him the cushion.
“I believe you’re right,” he said, “I honestly think what a garden needs is a real shaking up. I never thought of that before. We shelter our garden from nature, and then expect nature to make it bloom as healthy as nature itself.”
“What a garden needs,” I assured him, “is a steam shovel.”
Jim sat up and slapped me on the back.
“Great,” he cried. “Great. I know a guy who owns a steam shovel. And it’s unemployed.”
“Swell,” I exclaimed. “All my life …”
“He was saying a few weeks ago that he wished there was some place he could dig with it just to keep it in shape. It needs exercise.”
“Get him to come up,” I cried. “You could pull it through this back gate.”
“Get him nothing,” said Jim. “I’ll run it myself.”
“Why not?” I admitted. “Go and telephone him.”
And, in five minutes, Jim came out radiant, to inform me that for $2 paid to the caretaker for bringing it up, Jim could borrow the steam shovel any day.
“I said Friday,” Jim exulted, gazing around his garden. “It is one of those self-contained steam shovels. It has its own tractor tread. It’s not one of those great big steam shovels, you know?”
“All my life, Jim,” I said, “I have wanted to run a steam shovel. Just once.”
“Every man does,” agreed Jim. “Why do men stand by the hour watching a steam shovel down in an excavation? A steam shovel is the most fascinating thing in the world. It has power, might, strength. It is power, rude power, all in the hands of one man.”
“Could I help you?” I asked.
“Certainly,” said Jim.
So Friday after early supper I came over to Jim’s in a suit of overalls I borrowed from the garage. One of my boys owned a cap such as engineers wear, and my wife put a gusset in the back of it so it would fit me. Even Jim was astonished and delighted with my appearance.
“Boy,” he said, “you look like the real thing.”
“All I need,” I said, “is a chew of tobacco,”
“We can pretend,” said Jim, shooting an imaginary squirt to one side. “Now let’s look her over.”
The steam shovel, which Jim said was a small one, just about filled the yard. It had a cabin mounted on caterpillar trends. From its top was suspended a giant rusty iron arm on the end of which was a bucket as big as a roadster.
“She works,” said Jim. “The man that brought her banked the fire for me, and I turned it on a few minutes ago. We’ll have a head of steam in ten minutes.”
Jim showed me inside, where, in a little boiler, a fire gleamed brightly and there was a sizzling and a hissing. The steam gauge trembled. There was an air of excitement in the little cabin.
Jim showed me the various levers, throttle and handles, one for hoisting, one for lowering and opening the massive jaws of the shovel. And by this time, the hot and hissing little fire had set the steam gauge trembling at the necessary figure.
“O.K.,” cried Jim. “You get out and stand well over by the corner of the garden.”
Jim tried the various levers. The great arm rose slowly and dropped suddenly with a terrific crash. The cab rattled violently, and the huge creature took half a step forward.
The great bucket descended with a crash to the earth. It fumbled and groped on the ground. It scrabbled and opened and shut. It was like a prehistoric monster mumbling the earth in pursuit of a mole. The engine roared. Steam belched. The arm tightened. The bucket began slowly to rise, rise. It rose twenty feet in the air, slowly swung northerly, and paused, suspended over the middle of the back lawn. Then with another mighty roar of engine, the jaws of the bucket opened, the bucket crashed to earth, and a soup plateful of dirt deposited in the middle of the lawn.
“Hooroo!” yelled Jim, sticking his out of the cab.
In five minutes Jim had mastered the machine. It was a noble sight. One small man the god of the machine. Once he got a little hole dug, it was no time until Jim could sink that steel-toothed, iron-jawed monster into the soil, gouge a hunk as big as a piano, close the teeth on it, hoist it up and swing it into the middle of the yard and dump it. He began to get a big pile on the lawn.
“Why not put the dirt back,” I said, “as you go along?”
“I’ll put it back on the return journey,” hollered Jim, vanishing into the cab.
And with roarings and snortings, the great clumsy pachyderm waddled inch by inch down the border, and inch by inch Jim turned it back, and then, with increasing skill, grabbed scoopfuls of earth from the pile on the lawn and laid it into the border.
“Come on up,” he bellowed from the cab.
I got in. It was hot and steamy and tangled with levers and gears and wires and gadgets.
“Now, watch,” shouted Jim, over the hissing of the engine. “You take this lever, see? Now, slowly, slowly, see? That hoists her. Then this, see? That lowers her. Then you take this one, and it makes it open and grab, see?”
“All right, all right,” I cried, for it was fast growing dark outside.
“Take it slow and steady,” shouted Jim, swinging back out of the cab.
I shoved the second lever. The whole vast contraption began to shudder and stagger. I made a quick grab at what looked like a hand brake. I felt the colossal thing begin to lurch and move.
Jim’s face appeared whitely at the cab door, his mouth open wide. But I could not hear him. I snatched all the different levers and handles one after another. I saw a small dirty rope hanging from the roof. I thought it might be the ignition. I frantically yanked it, and a piercing whistle sounded above the din and drunken clamor of the vastly lurching and staggering machine. The giant arm rose and fell. I felt the cab turning dizzily, as each lever failed to quiet it. I heard crashings and felt crunchings. But in the fumes and the vapor and the staggerings, I dared not look out. My eyes, my soul, my brain were glued to the mass of levers glittering at me in the gathering gloom.
Then, in the midst of a more savage lurch than all, Jim came through the open door of the cab, flung me aside and in an instant all was still.
“Quick,” he gasped. “Get out.”
“What happened?” I asked, friendlily.
“We’re five doors north of my place gasped Jim. “Up a hill. Across five fences. Through one garage.”
“Jim, it went wrong,” I explained. “Suddenly it went wrong.”
“If only,” gasped Jim. “you hadn’t blown the whistle. Why did you blow that whistle?”
“I didn’t know it was a whistle,” I complained bitterly.
“People will be here,” said Jim breathlessly, “any minute.”
But mysteriously, despite all that tumult and crashing and screeching of whistles, nobody came. They must have all been at the movies. Jim had lost his nerve. He would not drive it back to his yard. He telephoned his friend, and, in half an hour, the caretaker came and drove the short away down the lane and off to New Toronto through the dark and shining streets.
“Now,” said Jim, “while I inspect the damage and make an estimate of the cost, the least you can do is shovel that heap of earth out of the middle of my lawn back into the border.”
And it was midnight before I got home, all dirty.
Editor’s Notes: A freshet is flooding caused by a spring thaw.
Titivating means to make small alterations to something.
To older readers, a steam shovel, might be recognized as a generic term for an excavator, but as can be seen in the story, it was a mechanical excavator that was really powered by a steam engine. Actual steam powered machines were being replaced by diesel ones by the time this story was written.
New Toronto was a separate town west of Toronto which was later merged into Etobicoke and eventually amalgamated into Toronto itself.
Margot Asquith was the wife of British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, who was Prime minister from 1908-1916. The poor progress of the First World War was blamed on him and he was forced out of office part way through and replaced by David Lloyd George. Mrs. Asquith was not well liked by the press for her outspokenness during the war, and was considered by some as a partial reason for her husband’s downfall. This illustration by Jim accompanied an article by her about her visit to America in 1922.