By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 17, 1945.
“This is going to be a tremendous year,” said Jimmie Frise, “for maple syrup.”
“It’s going to be a tremendous year,” I remarked, “for various other reasons.”
“Aw, yes,” admitted Jim, “but once history is written what does it matter? Whereas, you can eat maple syrup.”
“What a horrible philosophy!” I protested.
“Now don’t get excited,” soothed Jimmie. “If war was as important as you like to think, why haven’t wars taught mankind anything in the past? Name one war that ever did mankind any good.”
“The Napoleonic war,” I announced. “It halted an earlier Hitler in his tracks.”
“It did nothing of the kind,” stated Jim. “It just delayed the revolution 100 years, until now.”
“What revolution?” I demanded indignantly.
“Why, the human revolution,” said Jim. “The revolution to set men free from monstrous masters. The revolution to bring about the brotherhood of man. It’s been going on for untold ages.”
“Puh!” I said.
“The French revolution,” explained Jim, “was one of the biggest explosions in that never-ending revolution. It shook all Europe. It shook the whole world. And so dangerous did it appear to all the kings and aristocracies of Europe that they felt if they didn’t destroy France immediately the thing might spread and put an end to all kings and all aristocracies. So they ganged up on France.”
“Aw,” I snorted, “you’re just trying to draw a parallel with the way the modern world ganged up on Russia. How did Napoleon come about, then?”
“Napoleon,” stated Jimmie, “didn’t come on the scene as emperor until the new-born republic of France was in danger from every side, and when all the diplomacy of Europe had brought about a league ready to destroy the subversive experiment of France.”
That ain’t the way I heered it,” I scoffed.
“Naturally,” agreed Jim. “All the kingdoms of Europe ganged up and destroyed Napoleon and France. They bottled the world up for another century. And, naturally, they wrote history the way they liked it.”
“Napoleon betrayed the revolution,” I recalled. “He made himself emperor.”
“Of the republic,” said Jim. “And he didn’t do that until the whole of royal and aristocratic Europe had furiously leagued themselves against revolutionary France. Then, to save his country, not the revolution, Napoleon took charge and made himself dictator – or emperor, in those days, because the common people could understand it easier.”
“And where did the great revolution get off?” I inquired mildly.
“Remember the Duke of Wellington?” inquired Jim. “He had quite a hand in destroying Napoleon and France. He went home a hero. He was an iron god to the British. They gave him £700,000 and made him prime minister.”
“A just reward,” I said.
Not Gold, But What?
“But you asked where the revolution got off,” inserted Jim sweetly. “Well, the revolution had got loose all over the world. And the Iron Duke got himself pelted with cabbages in the streets of London. The mob attacked his beautiful mansion, called Number One, London. He was kicked out of office. And the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. That is how you and I, my good man, got the vote!”
“Hmmmmm,” I mused.
“The revolution never stops,” said Jim. “Even in the Golden Ages, and there have been any number of Golden Ages in history, the revolution goes relentlessly on. It isn’t gold mankind wants.”
“I wish somebody,” I complained, “could find out what it is mankind wants. When are we ever going to settle down?”
“Not,” replied Jim, “until everybody in the world loses the notion that they are more worthy than others. It is self-esteem that wrecks each nation, each class, each era. So long as anybody on earth still thinks he deserves more than others, so long as he thinks he works harder, is cleverer, smarter, more industrious, more deserving – you are going to have war. And revolution.”
“Then,” I concluded, “we will never be free of war. Because there ARE people more worthy than others. And always will be.”
“But they shouldn’t collect their worth,” explained Jim, “in money or power. Can’t you imagine, a world in which the worthy people will be content with their worth?”
“In about 1,000 years,” I growled.
“Then wars will end,” decreed Jim, “in 1,000 years.”
“The world is too hard-boiled,” I enunciated, “to swallow that idealistic stuff. Even the labor unions are out for themselves.”
“That is what they have said about all revolutionaries since John the Baptist,” smiled Jimmie. “But whether a revolutionary knows what he is doing or not, he is doing good. Because at the end of all struggle to set one man free, all men will be free.”
“It doesn’t look like it in the world these days,” I submitted. “The whole world divided into half a dozen prison camps of violent opinion.”
“The fiercer the fight,” replied Jim, “the sooner the freedom. You don’t get freedom merely by sitting and thinking. If so, the ancient Greeks would have given freedom to the world four centuries before Christ. Because they stated it completely. There have been no additions.”
“What do you think we will have,” I speculated, “by the end of this wonderful year, 1945?”
“Two gallons of maple syrup,” said Jim. “Each.”
“Back there, eh?” I muttered bitterly.
“This is going to be one of the greatest maple syrup years,” said Jim, “in a long, long time. At least in these parts. Very little frost in the ground and deep snow. That’s the makings of a tremendous maple syrup crop.”
“A lot of good that will do us,” I assured him. “Coupons are required for maple syrup. Sugar coupons. Do you know how many coupons a gallon of maple syrup requires?”
“I’m saving coupons,” said Jim, “and all I want is two gallons. I am not going to use it right away. I am going to put it down in the fruit cellar until the fall.”
“Maple syrup,” I informed him, “is at its best in the early spring, fresh from the sap kettle.”
“Utterly wrong,” said Jim. “It is at its best in fall and winter. On a nasty, cold November day a plate of hot pancakes, slathered in butter and drowned in rich, pale, amber maple syrup. In February, when your spirit fails within you, a couple of crumpets, their holey texture saturated with maple syrup. Or a big hunk of sponge cake, in a fruit dish, sloshed in maple syrup.”
“I like a good gorge of maple syrup in April,” I confessed.
Essence of Spring
“Wasted,” asserted Jimmie. “Utterly wasted. Maple syrup is the essence of spring. It is the very distillation of spring. It has mighty powers. It has a flavor both wild and infinitely bland and tender. It is the very blood of the veins of our native land, Canada. It comes from our national tree. To a Canadian there should be something almost religious about maple syrup. Something festival.”
“That is how I gorge it in the spring,” I explained.
“Ah,” countered Jim, “but in the spring there are so many other forces to revive you – the smell of April earth, the coming warm winds, the green things shooting, the birds returning. I like to keep that vernal juice of April to help me in the darkness of December.”
“Only two gallons?” I inquired.
“Look,” said Jim, taking a letter from his pocket. “Here is a note from my Uncle Abe inquiring if you and I would care to come down and lend him a hand with the maple syrup.”
“We’d have to pony up the coupons,” I protested, “even if we helped make it.”
“My idea is this,” explained Jim. “We run down over the week-end and help Uncle Abe collect the sap. He can run the sap kettles, but it is collecting the sap that is hard for him with his lumbago at this time of year…”
“Yah, lumbago,” I interjected.
“Well, you can’t prove he hasn’t got it,” declared Jim.
“He always gets it,” I observed, “at haying and harvest or whenever there is any real work to do.”
“The point is,” said Jim, “we go down and help him make it. While there, we can gorge ourselves on it. Remember my aunt’s tea biscuits with maple syrup …?”
“Aaaahhhh,” I remembered
“We can get our two gallons for nothing, except the coupons,” went on Jim, “in payment for our work. But in addition, all through the summer and next fall, whenever we get a craving for a gorge of maple syrup, why, we are always welcome at Uncle Abe’s. They can’t refuse a feast of maple syrup when we helped make it. And you know how it is in the fall? When you get a craving for maple syrup it is worse than a drunk craving whiskey. Why, I remember…”
“Okay,” I said, “okay. Just one little thing. How many gas coupons have you got left?”
“Me?” said Jim. “Why, I figured we would go in your car. It’s lighter. And the way the roads will be right now I’d hate to take that old stoneboat of mine. We’d be mired before we ever got there.”
“Jimmie,” I announced quietly, “I have no more coupons. I used my last only Sunday.”
“Hmmmm,” said Jim, studying Uncle Abe’s note.
“Besides,” I suggested, “you’re wrong about a light car being any good in the mud. Your old schooner would bust through a mudhole like a tank. My little job would simply slither to a stop half way through…”
“I,” said Jim solemnly, “have only one coupon left. Three gallons.”
“Any in the tank?” I inquired.
“A little,” said Jim cautiously.
“Let’s go by train,” I offered.
“It’s six miles from the station to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “And he says here the road isn’t open yet. He can’t come for us.”
“We could hitch-hike,” I hoped.
“Nobody goes out Uncle Abe’s way,” said Jim. “Certainly nobody who would give us a lift.”
“If they knew we were going to his place, you mean?” I supposed. “Well, okay, let us call it off.”
Jim read the letter again. He licked his lips and made a smacking sound.
“It’s 29 miles out to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “Twenty miles to the gallon? That’s 60. And a bit in the tank? Say 70 miles of fuel?”
A Buck and a Kick
He folded Uncle Abe’s letter and put it in his pocket.
“I’m going,” he announced firmly. “I can think of no more fitting, no more patriotic, no more spiritual use to put our last gasoline coupon to than to drive out to Uncle Abe’s sugar bush to participate in the festival of the maple. The true Rite of Spring!”
He picked me up at 8 a.m. Saturday – our day off on The Star Weekly.
I looked at the gas gauge and it was very low, between empty and a quarter.
“Good,” I said. “Let’s run until she shows empty. And then load up with our last three gallons at the nearest pump.”
“I got the gas last night,” said Jim.
“Last night!” I cried, as we bowled along, “But she shows almost empty.”
“Aw, that gauge hasn’t worked for years,” said Jim.
“You didn’t do any driving last night?” I inquired anxiously.
“Just a couple of errands for the house,” said Jim. “Don’t worry. I know my own car.”
“How far did you …?” I began.
But Jimmie just speeded up suddenly which is his way of showing his temper. So I let it go.
The highway was fine, despite a little sleet. and when we got off on to the side roads they weren’t too bad. A few ruts. But none of the pitch-holes I had feared.
The whole world wore the look of the Ides of March, the wood lots had a kind of wet glow to them, and we knew the sap was ready to rise if not already rising. And Jim and I regaled each other as we tooled along with reminiscences of the various times we had eaten maple syrup over our long and hearty lives.
Only two miles or a little less to Uncle Abe’s, when the engine bucked.
It ran a few yards, then bucked again.
“Dirty spark plug,” exclaimed Jimmie eagerly.
It ran another few yards, then bucked three or four times, violently.
“Dirt in the fuel line,” said Jim, revving up the engine.
She sputtered and conked. Came on again, and conked again.
“Pull over to the side,” I commanded grimly.
“That timer reeds attending to,” said Jim, in a thin voice, getting out.
He put the ruler into the tank.
He held it up.
“I certainly can’t understand,” began Jimmie.
But there it was. The last drop of the last pint of the last gallon of the 1944-45 issue of AA category coupons by the grace of the Oil Controller of Canada.
On a side road in the sleet, beside a rail fence, and far from home.
“I can borrow a couple of gallons from Uncle Abe,” said Jim blankly.
“You cannot!” I informed him sharply. “That is against the law.”
“But, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jim, “do abandon my car here …?”
“By law, you do,” I enunciated.
“Surely there is some provision…” wailed Jim. “We were bent on patriotic business… maple syrup, from Canada’s national tree…?”
So we walked to Uncle Abe’s. And he got the team out. And we walked back behind the team and towed the darn schooner all the way to Uncle Abe’s shed.
And there she stays until the first of April.
And we came home by train, talking about the Duke of Wellington in the smoker.
Editor’s Note: The Reform Act 1832 introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales.
Ration coupons were introduced in World War Two to ration scare resources.
The microfilm image is reproduced at the end.