The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Do You Cash in on What Gifts Santa Claus Brings You?

January 2, 1926

This is an image from an article by C. R. Greenaway on returning unwanted presents after Christmas.

Christmas Box

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse…. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 22, 1945.

“Watch that guy,” whispered Jimmie Frise.

I glanced around the street car and, observing Jim’s gaze, saw it fastened on a pleasant little elderly fellow opposite us

He had a cardboard box on his knees, which he held with both hands as if it contained the Holy Grail.

On his face was a sweet, faraway, tender look which he lifted above all the rest of us in the car, and his eyes twinkled and gleamed behind spectacles in an expression of intense anticipation.

“What about him?” I murmured to Jim.

“Watch,” said Jim quietly.

The car was fairly crowded but would be much more so at the next big transfer corner. I watched the little man.

He sat, lurching with the car, smiling to himself, a secret, proud smile. His eyes darted from side to side, unseeing, as he pictured something in his mind, something pretty nice.

Quietly, he bent down over the box on his knees. He seemed to be listening. His hands caressed the box.

Jim nudged me.

“So what?” I muttered to Jim.

“What do you suppose he’s got in that box?” demanded Jim softly. “Did you ever see so happy a man?”

“He’s been doing his Christmas shopping,” I suggested.

“Obviously,” agreed Jim, “but what has he got in that box?”

“Is this some new guessing game?” I inquired. “Riding in a street car and trying to guess what all the Christmas shoppers have got in their parcels?”

“He’s got half the people in the car watching him,” said Jim.

I glanced around. Sure enough, everybody who could see the little man appeared to be watching him.

Men with newspapers suspended before them were covertly observing him over the tops of their newspapers. Ladies, with that casual way they have, were fastening the little man with the corners of their eyes.

So I joined the party. I shifted my seat slightly to see around a man standing in the way.

With the fixed, faraway smile on his face, the little fellow let his gleaming eyes wander along the advertisement cards up along the car ceiling. Then, with a sudden recollection of his secret, he drew the box closer on his lap, bent slightly down, and shook the box ever so lightly.

Whatever response came from the box, the little man fairly glowed with joy. I glanced around, and saw that everyone watching him was nearly frantic with curiosity. They shifted their positions in an irritated fashion, and those immediately beside him leaned closer to him as if to try to overhear what he heard; or to peek.

“It wouldn’t be a pup?” I suggested to Jim.

“Box too small,” said Jim. “Might be a kitten.”

“He’d have air holes for a kitten,” I submitted. “Anyway, if it was a kitten, we could hear it meowing when the car stops.”

After a couple more blocks, the little man, cuddling the box close, leaned down and very cautiously raised one corner of the lid and peered within.

Then, lowering the lid, he lifted his radiant face in the same faraway expression and wrapped his hands around the box in a gesture of supreme possession.

Of All the Nerve!

“Darn it,” said Jimmie, “I wish we knew what was in there!”

“It’s none of our business, Jim.” I responded.

But the man sitting next to the little fellow couldn’t stand it any longer either. Leaning close, he spoke. The little man smiled happily at the questioner but did not open his lips. He just shook his head.

The baffled neighbor glanced around at the rest of us as much as to say, “Well, I did my best.”

Before we travelled another block, the little man, overcome with his own curiosity, bent down again, cautiously lifted another corner of the box lid and took a long, lingering peep in through the opening.

By this time, a regular fever of curiosity was in possession of the street car. Those standing began to shift down to the middle of the car in the hope of getting a closer look at the mystery. In fact, they shut off Jim’s and my vision of the little man, so we got up and gave our seats to a couple of ladies who moved down; and this enabled us to stand where we could keep the little man in view.

Oblivious to the excitement and curiosity he was inspiring, he let his absent gaze wander for an instant but immediately it returned to the box on his knees and he seemed to quiver with an inward delight.

“Why doesn’t somebody,” gritted Jim beside me “ask him straight out? A man shouldn’t be allowed to create all this curiosity.”

“It’s his business, Jim,” I asserted, leaning out so as not to lose sight of him. “Just look at this guy butting in in front of me. Of all the nerve!”

“Push him over,” ordered Jim.

I tapped the interloper on the shoulder.

“Pardon me,” I said, “but you pushed right in front of me.”

“It’s a crowded car,” replied the interloper.

“Yes, but you don’t have to jam right in front of me,” I insisted.

He reluctantly moved to one side, affording me a view under his elbow.

“Of all the vulgar curiosity,” I muttered to Jim. “Bulging in like that!”

“It’s the Christmas rush, you know,” reminded Jim. “Look! He’s peeping again!”

The little man was hunched down, lifting the box lid and taking another long, fascinated peep within the box.

The people beside him, behind him, in front of him, fairly coiled around in their desire to see what was in the box.

He restored the lid, patted the box tenderly and resumed his flushed and excited gazing at space.

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” exclaimed Jim under his breath, “why doesn’t somebody do something about it? Just standing there!”

A lady standing over him hanging to at strap – I had seen her sitting farther down the car only a moment before – leaned down and spoke smilingly to the little man.

He smiled bashfully up at her and said:


The lady leaned down and said something more, but the little man simply shook his head, beamed and cuddled the box more closely.

“Four what?” Jim passed the question.

And from both directions, “Four what?” was eagerly passed to the lady who had done, the interrogation.

“He just said four,” the lady announced to us all generally. “He didn’t say four what.”

“Ask him four what?” called Jimmie.

“Ask him yourself,” retorted the lady, but not relinquishing her place directly over the little man.

“Maybe he’s hard of hearing,” suggested the gentleman who had crowded so vulgarly in front of me.

“Here,” said Jim, “let me in there! I’ll ask him.”

The car had stopped at the big transfer point and a heavy Christmas crowd was shoving from the front end. Jim got in next to the little man. Putting on his best salesman smile, Jim leaned down and said very distinctly:

“You’ve got a surprise there, eh?”

“Four,” replied, the little man gently beaming.

“Four what?” Jim said more loudly.

“Yes, SIR,” agreed the little man enthusiastically. “Beauties!”

The Christmas crowd was making it tough for Jim, shoving.

“I say,” cried Jim, leaning low, “what are they? Four WHAT?”

“Only two bits each,” replied the little man agreeably. “Two bits. It’s a bargain.”

“WHAT are they?” persisted Jim, though several newcomers had jammed their way this far down the car and weren’t aware of the mystery that had all the rest of us in its grip. They shoved Jim rather roughly.

“Don’t mention it,” replied the little man amiably. “It’s a pleasure, I’m sure.”

Jim was shoved three seats back.

And for about six blocks, I lost my view, and Jim, tall as he is, could not crane far enough to see the little man either.

But by the time enough people had got off the car to allow us to resume our vigil, even the newcomers had been caught in the spell, and very grudgingly indeed they made room for me to peer under their elbows, and for Jim to stand tip-toe to look over their shoulders.

But there, lost in his happy maze of anticipation, was our little friend in the very act of lifting the box lid again for another wonderful peep at whatever was inside.

Long and craftily he gazed into the open corner. And when he replaced the lid, it was a starry gaze he listed, to turn and look out the car window to see where he was.

“Has anybody found out what he’s got?” Jim inquired those who had been lucky enough to stand close for the past few blocks.

Everybody shook their heads and ventured various opinions.

“It’s something alive,” decreed a lady with her arms full of Christmas parcels.” I heard him sort of whistling at it.”

“A canary, I bet you,” suggested another.

“No, canaries come in small wooden cages when you buy them,” announced another.

“I don’t think it’s anything alive,” asserted a third. “I think it’s some kind of toy he’s taking home to his grandson. Maybe an airplane.”

The little man was entirely indifferent to all this conversation right in his face. His hands enfolded in the box lovingly and he smiled inscrutably and happily at the coat front of the gentleman leaning right over him.

“I don’t think anybody,” declared Jim warmly, “has any right to create all this disturbance. Especially at this season of the year.”

“I suppose,” I said bitterly, “we should pile on top of him and rip the cover off the box and satisfy our curiosity.”

“If he’d only keep still,” protested Jim, “and not keep peeping all the time! If he’d only not look so excited!”

“My dear Jim,” I scoffed, “has it come to this, in cities, that nobody can have any private thoughts any more? Must we all wear dead pans? Even at Christmas time, can’t a man look happy and eager? This gentleman is taking something home to his little grandson. He is very delighted with his purchase. Maybe it’s a doll…”

When the Lid Came Off

“He said there were four,” corrected Jim.

“Maybe it’s four dolls,” I suggested, “for his little granddaughter.”

“He said they were two bits each,” pointed out Jimmie. “You can’t get dolls for two bits.”

“Jim,” I announced, “I’m prepared to move back to the far end of the car and forget it. I never saw such an exhibition of nosey idle curiosity in my…”

But I was cut short, because the little man was again bending slowly over, and with a delicate finger lifting one corner of the box for another peek.

We all surged close. We shoved, elbowed and shouldered one another for a closer look.

He raised the corner of the box lid about a quarter of an inch and then, lifting the box, put his eye to the hole and seemed transfixed by what he beheld. His hands shook. He heaved a sigh. And then, lowering the box and replacing the lid, gazed ecstatically from face to face of us all glaring above him.

“CANARY?” suddenly yelled the lady with all the parcels.

“Pardon me!” cried the little man.” I didn’t think! Of course you may have my seat. I’m terribly sorry…I…”

And as he scrambled to his feet, the lid of the box popped off and slid to one side, out leaped four white mice so fast and so twinkling, they seemed to vanish like blobs of quicksilver.

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse. Ladies shrieked and men yelled encouragement at them. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder and powdered its nose. The lady, perfectly upright, fell perfectly horizontal, with three men easing her down. The little man had darted after his pets and on hands and knees shoved and dived amid the ankles of passengers all retreating in the two possible directions.

The car came to a stop. The doors slid open and there was a wild stampede for the exit, ladies fairly vaulting over the backs of those ahead, gasping and giving small squeaks or screams, while gentlemen soothed and shouted courage to them, at the same time assisting them out the car doors.

In a matter of 20 seconds, the car was empty, save for the little man and about five of the more valiant of the men, including Jim and me, who were forming ourselves into a posse to round up the mice.

“Shut the doors!” we commanded the motorman.

“What’s cookin’?” he called.

“White mice got loose,” shouted one of the posse.

“You’d think it was lions or tigers,” called the motorman.

“Hold everything, and they can get back on again,” commanded Jim.

“Who, the mice?” called the motorman.

“No, the passengers,” said Jim.

“To heck with that!” retorted the motorman, starting the car. “I’ve got a schedule to meet. If people want to get off my car, they can.”

So while the car made the next few blocks, the little man with his posse rounded up three of the four. Jim caught two in his hat. Another of the posse lapped his mitt over another. And after he had searched all over for the fourth, and had almost decided it had got off with the passengers, maybe in some lady’s hat, the motorman sang out:

“Aw, here’s the little darling up here! Right on my window sill.”

So the little man went up and snapped it into the cardboard box.

And we all shook hands with him, all flushed and beaming.

“It’ll be a great surprise,” he cried happily.

“It sure will,” we all agreed, slapping him on the back.

And we all got off at our corners.

Sweet and Low

“In less than 30 seconds, the first of the intruders were pushing in our door.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 19, 1942.

“Well sir,” said Jimmie Frise, “I never felt less like Christmas in my life.”

“Maybe this is the way our folks felt,” I submitted, “on the fourth war Christmas in the last war, when we were over there.”

“Fourth Christmas!” exclaimed Jim. “Is this the fourth war Christmas?”

“Thirty-nine was the first,” I reminded him. “This war has been a lot longer than you think.”

“The counterpart of this Christmas, then, “figured Jim, “was Christmas, 1917.”

“And a pretty grim one it must have been,” I recalled. “The Germans were still lodged solid in France. We had staged a couple of battles, like Vimy and Passchendaele – how small they seem now. On a front of a couple of miles, we hammered and raged, and advanced a mile. In a whole battle.”

“We were proud of those battles,” declared Jim.

“Yet on Christmas, 1917, which was the fourth Christmas, like this one,” I said, “it looked as if the war might go on forever.”

“I wonder if we dare hope,” sighed Jim, “that next Christmas will be like Christmas, 1918?”

“Well, if those of us who want the war to end,” I proposed, “will work and fight harder than those who don’t want it to end, it might well be over by next Christmas.”

“Those who don’t want it to end?” demanded Jimmie hotly.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “We must not overlook the fact that there is a pretty powerful element, all over the world, in all countries, who will look with regret on the war’s end.”

“What monsters!” scoffed Jim. “Surely…”

“Oh, they’re not really monsters.” I explained. “They don’t consciously want the war to keep on. They don’t deliberately plan to keep the war going. It is a passive thing in them, not active. But scattered and hidden though they be, in all countries, they are a power and a force to be reckoned with.”

“Fifth columnists,” muttered Jim.

“Not at all,” I countered. “For example, in all armies, everywhere, among the generals and big shots are a few who are having the time of their lives. They were insignificant squibs before the war, they have risen to be persons of great importance now. And they know in their hearts that the minute the war is over, they are going right back to obscurity. They look with dread on peace.”

“It can’t be,” Jim exclaimed.

“Oh, yes,” I assured him. “Then, consider all the people, in all countries, people of importance and power, who are afraid of what is coming after the war, socially, economically and industrially. Those people are mighty worried. It looks, right now, terribly unsettled to them. They are talking about it, this very hour, in clubs and board rooms, in offices and mansions, trying to see into the future, trying to organize their security. Do you imagine such people would not, in some quiet, unconscious way, try to prolong the war a little while until they can see a little farther?”

“Utter monsters,” declared Jim.

Winds of Opinion

“They didn’t get rich and powerful,” I pointed out, “by fretting about the mass of mankind. But besides them, there must be people, in all countries, who are definitely far better off than they ever were before, due to war industry. The minute the war ends, they feel, in their hearts, that they are going back to the weary, tricky, hazardous life of unemployment and insecurity. These are people drawn from all classes, professional, managerial, workers. To suppose that a number of such people does not exist is simply silly. And it is the job of all of us who want the war to end victoriously as soon as possible to be alert for them. Because, sooner or later, at some stage of the victory, circumstances might arise that would allow these people to gang up and actually interfere. Public opinion is a funny thing. It is like the breeze. Mostly it is a vagrant breeze, idly flowing this way and that. Often, it sets strongly in one direction, like a west wind or an east wind. Sometimes it blows a gale. But there are also little unexpected winds of opinion that blow -like, on a fine day, an east wind rises, and in no time, there is a thunderstorm. Or. on a pleasant summer day, suddenly a sharp gust sweeps up, and canoes and sailboats out on the shining water are upset, and tragedy stalks in our midst.”

“That is exactly,” agreed Jim, “like public opinion. Each part of the country has its different prevailing winds; like Ontario, Alberta, and so forth.”

“In this strong gale of war,” I concluded, “we’ve got to keep our eye skinned for the little currents of adverse wind that might deflect it. In the hearts and minds of people there are areas of high and low pressure, just the same as in the atmosphere, which make the winds of opinion.”

“People who would try to keep the war going, so much as by one hour, one minute,” said Jimmie, “are monsters.”

“The tragic part is,” I explained, “they are utterly unconscious of their influence. They believe themselves to be as true patriots as anybody. No man ever really knows what he is up to, any more than the wind knows where or why it is blowing.”

“I wish,” said Jimmie, “I knew how to celebrate Christmas this year. Should I have a Christmas tree? Should we decorate our houses?”

“Oh, I think so,” I offered. “After all, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. In untroubled times, we forget all about that and make Christmas the high celebration not of Jesus’ birthday but of our own prosperity. We’re pretty humbled these days, so maybe if we keep in mind what Christmas really is, we can decorate our houses modestly and go ahead with as much of the spirit of Christmas as we can decently afford. This might be the chance to revive a whole lot of the forgotten and old-fashioned Christmas customs.”

“Like waits1,” said Jim.”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Each family could organize itself into a little choir and practise up a few carols and go and serenade its friends and neighbors.”

“Isn’t it a pity,” said Jim, “the modern family has no musical talent, like when we were kids. The radio and the phonograph finished that. But when I was a youngster, every home had one or two musicians amongst the kids. My first great possession in this world was a saxophone. Do you remember the saxophone craze around 1910?”

“I once owned a cornet,” I confessed.

“Well, well, well,” cheered Jimmie. “I had no idea we had musical interests in common.”

“I played in the school band,” I announced.

“And in Birdseye Center2,” stated Jim, “we had a very snappy little dance orchestra of five pieces. I played sax.”

“When I got home from the war,” I said, “my kid brother had been using my cornet as a bugle, playing soldier. It was wrecked.”

“I sold my sax,” related Jim, “to get enough money to come to Toronto and try to get a job as an artist.”

“It would be a nice thing,” I mused, “to be able to play some instrument. How changed the world is! Everything is specialized. We leave music to the professionals.”

“Wouldn’t it be fun,” said Jim, “if we could borrow a sax and a cornet off somebody and go around and serenade our friends Christmas Eve?”

“That is exactly the sort of thing we ought to do, this war Christmas,” I admitted. “We haven’t the right to celebrate it as usual, with the whole world in flames. What Christmas ought to be this year is the greatest religious festival in history. It should be a day of prayer and atonement. The churches should be filled. We should gather our families together not for a feast and a hullabaloo but for a conference and a discussion of the war, of ourselves and of the future. It should be a day of meetings, public and private, of men gathering humbly together to take stock of themselves and the world.”

“And I can’t think of anything,” declared Jimmie; “more fitting than that people like us should forget our proud and foolish ways and go out, as simple, honest men did centuries ago, to sing and play to one another the carols of Christmas.”

“I’m thinking of it,” I protested, “in a broad, general way.”

“And I’m trying,” asserted Jim, “to get down to brass tacks. How about you and me borrowing a couple of instruments and practising up? Maybe there are half a dozen others in our neighborhood who can play horns and things. We might get a regular community band going in time for Christmas.”

“You can’t find musical instruments these days for love or money,” I informed him. “They’re right off the market. And the only people who own them are using them professionally.”

“I saw a sax in a second-hand store window on York St., not three days ago,” declared Jim.

So at lunch hour, we strolled up York St. and looked in the second-hand store windows, and sure enough, not only did we find the sax Jimmie had spotted, but as we stood outside the window, we could hear the strains of a violin being played inside.

The second-hand dealer, when we opened the door, was sitting in a chair at the back of his congested and cluttered emporium, a fiddle under his chin and a sheet of music propped up. It was Brahms’ Lullaby he was playing. He nodded to us and went ahead to the bottom of the page. Then he laid the fiddle down reluctantly and came to meet us.

“Gentlemen?” he said.

“We were wondering,” asked Jim, “if we could rent that saxophone in your window?”

“Ah, it’s not for sale,” said the dealer, “or rent. It is being bought on the instalment plan by a young man who comes every night and practises here on it. He has only $12 to pay until it is his. Meantime, he and I have very pleasant concerts here, each evening.”

“So you’re interested in music?” I inquired.

“It is my life,” said the second-hand dealer. “My passion, my blood, my very existence. But I don’t play very good.”

“We,” said Jim, “were thinking of renting or borrowing a saxophone and a cornet to practise up for Christmas. We were going to serenade our friends and neighbors this Christmas, as an old-fashioned reminder of the lost spirit of Christmas and what it stands for.”

“That is a most delightful fancy,” said the dealer. “Especially this year, since all the regular musicians who go about playing cornets from door to door are more profitably engaged in war work.”

He reached in the window and handed Jimmie the saxophone.

“Please play a few bars,” he invited courteously.

“I haven’t had one of these in my hands,” said Jim bashfully, “for 30 years.”

But he hurriedly took off his gloves and cuddled the clumsy instrument and after a few hot blows on the mouthpiece, puffed out his cheeks and ran up the scale.

He did it fairly well, with only a few blurts and a couple of squawks.

“Good,” cried the dealer. “After 30 years that’s good. What do you play, mister?”

“I used to play a cornet,” I informed him modestly.

He went out through the back and came in with a very large and slightly battered instrument that looked like a cross between a cornet and a trumpet.

“A beautiful Yugoslavian instrument,” he said, “that my late wife used to play.”

I tried it. It was not the same key as Jim’s saxophone and it took some pretty fancy puckering on my part to sound Jim’s A.

Serenaders Practice

The dealer hurriedly picked up his violin and set the Brahms Lullaby up before all three of us.

“One, two…” he said, waving the fiddle bow.

But of course, you couldn’t expect much under such circumstances, and after a bar and a half of riot that caused a policeman to open the shop door and look in anxiously, the dealer rapped with his bow in the approved maestro manner.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “I tell you what we do.”

For the sum of $1 each we could borrow the instruments for the afternoons, with the understanding that we could have full possession of them Christmas Eve and all day Christmas.

There were no cases for the instruments so we wrapped them in newspaper and carried them back to the office, entering by the freight door and up the freight elevator. Nobody noticed us smuggle them into our room. We shut the transom and the window and hastily unwrapped our prizes.

“Softly, now,” I warned.

“Do scales first,” suggested Jim.

But only an artist can play softly. And in less than 30 seconds, the first of the intruders were pushing in our door. And in two minutes, half the staff was crowded outside, until the assistant city editor arrived, with the managing editor’s compliments, and suggested that the paper storage vaults down in the basement might be a better place to work.

So that is where we are practising now, half an hour each afternoon, not counting a few bars of Brahms’ Lullaby up at the second-hand dealer’s each lunch hour and each evening as we return the instruments.

“John Peel3” is our most successful number so far, all except that high note.

But by Christmas Eve, we hope to have “Holy Night.”

And maybe it will be us outside your door.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Christmas waits were bands of street musicians who formed during the holiday season to play carols around their community in hopes of raising money. ↩︎
  2. In stories, they often said that Jim came from Birdseye Center, rather than give his actual birthplace (Township of Scugog). ↩︎
  3. “Do you know John Peel?” is a famous Cumberland hunting song written around 1824 by John Woodcock Graves. ↩︎

Second Best Turkey

Finally we came back to the good one Jim had spotted in the first place; and bought it.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 24, 1938.

All God’s children have wings… Christmas is like a pair of glasses that allows us to see them

“I’m heading for the market,” said Jimmie Frise. “Want to come?”

“What’s doing at the market?” I inquired.

“I’ve got to buy a turkey,” said Jim, “the best turkey in the market.”

“A turkey?” I exclaimed. “Then what was that enormous nude figure I saw hanging up in your back kitchen this morning?”

“Ah, that’s our turkey,” explained Jim. “But this one I’ve got to buy is for an old friend of the family, an old lady I’ve been giving a Christmas turkey to now for nearly 20 years.”

“That’s kind,” I submitted. “The true Christmas spirit. We should always remember the poor old ladies.”

“Poor old lady my foot,” laughed Jim. “This one is no poor old lady. She’s got a lot more dough than you and me together. She’s a very comfortable old party, very comfortable indeed.”

“Aha,” I laughed back, “Rich old lady gets Christmas turkey, Jimmie Frise gets ten thousand dollars.”

“No chance,” said Jim. “She gets the income from an estate and every cent of it goes to her children when she dies. But she’s such a lonely old soul, we just started this turkey business after the war and now she expects it, as regular as her cheque from the trust company. She wouldn’t buy a turkey if we didn’t send her one.”

“What kind of a person is she?” I protested. “Some kind of old crank?”

“Oh, no, she’s all right,” explained Jim, “but she just doesn’t get on with people. Her children and so forth. But it doesn’t hurt us to send her a turkey and she gets a tremendous kick out of it. It gives her the Christmas feeling, I guess.”

“It’s funny,” I said, “the people who think they are entitled to feel the Christmas spirit.”

“I always get her,” said Jim, “the finest and biggest turkey I can find. It gives me a queer feeling to send her such a turkey. She can’t ever use it. A little turkey, even a little chicken, would be enough for her. But being reasonable at Christmas seems sort of blasphemous to me. To really feel Christian, you ought to overdo things. You ought to carry things to excess. It’s a form of humor. The divine humor that sent hosts of angels to sing and shout the good tidings of great joy, not, up the main streets and into the better-class residential districts, but to shepherds minding their flocks by night, out on the cold and lonely hills. How about it? Would you like to come?”

So we went to the market, and a great place it is, Christmas week. So crowded with provender, there is hardly any room for the buyers. And it has a great country smell to it, and the cold is so sharp and the sense of bounty so lavish. It is not like going into a store, where the turkeys are in one section and the cabbages in another. You can see all kinds of separate and distinct exhibitions of turkeys, as though it were an art show, and each man had his own chef d’oeuvres by themselves. You struggle slowly through the narrow crowded aisles, gazing upon great displays of hung turkeys, some pallid, some rosy, some bloated, some lean, some neatly killed and some killed as though by a sledge hammer on the head. And all of them aloft above an earthly array of every conceivable vegetable and fruit, offered in country simplicity without guile or art.

Red Ribbon and Gold String

“Don’t let’s be in a hurry,” said Jim. “I want to buy my turkey, knowing it is the biggest and best in the market. That is a most important part of this gift.”

“I can’t understand you going to such bother over a cranky old lady,” I submitted. “It is cold and it’s damp in here. Let’s get going. There’s a dandy big bird, right there.”

“Too old,” said Jim. “Tough as shoe leather. Dry as punk.”

He thrust his way down the aisle and I followed in the wake he made amidst the crowd. He stopped and studied every turkey display, large and small. He leaned out and felt the bulging breastbones. He squeezed their meat, pinched the skin.

“There’s a beauty,” he admitted at last. “There’s a real Christmas turkey. Look at it. Look at the shape. The color. Feel the skin.”

“O-kay, take it,” I said, adjusting my muffler better, because the market chill was penetrating me.

“Not until I’ve been around and made sure,” said Jim.

“Aw, what the heck is this?” I called sharply.

“It’s a ceremony,” said Jim. “An old lady who doesn’t deserve it, is getting a lot of attention. And the best of it is, she will never know about it. All she gets is a turkey. But look what I get out of it.”

“I don’t see it,” I declared, following him again.

“Plenty wouldn’t,” agreed Jim.

So round and round the market we struggled, in the far corners, down the main aisle, and finally, after most thoroughly scrutinizing every turkey on display, we came back to the good one Jim had spotted in the first place; and bought it. At a price that was considerable. The farmer wrapped it with the special care farmers take in wrapping things up, and always vainly. For when he handed the monstrous package over the rough counter, turkey was protruding out of it in sundry places. But that’s the best part of parcels from the market.

Out to King St. we labored our way and into the car and back to the parking lot near the office. Jim locked the car doors carefully and we went back to the office for such work as a man can do Christmas week, with everybody coming in to see us and everybody telephoning from home to remind us what we have to bring home, and nobody’s mind on work anyway.

And at 5 p.m., we proceeded out into the night to go home in Jim’s car. There was mighty turkey, safely at rest upon the back seat.

“Let’s see,” said Jim, “did we have anything else to get before we go home?”

“Not me,” I stated.

And Jim, as though there was something on his mind, slowly got in behind the steering wheel and we drove down to the Lake Shore.

Half way home along that crowded and wintry highway, Jim suddenly cried:


“Stickers,” I retorted.

“Hang it, I was told to bring home ten yards of red ribbon,” said Jim, as we bowled along in the traffic.

“And I was told to bring home a packet of Christmas stickers,” I confessed.

“We’ll turn up to Queen St.,” said Jim. “There are lots of little stores along there.”

So we edged our way out of the homing traffic and turned up one of the northerly exits from the Lake Shore and made our way to Queen St., at one of the sections of it filled with little stores, no less bright and gay than downtown.

“Get me ten yards of narrow red ribbon,” said Jim, as I got out at the first space we came to.

I entered a little shop and got the ribbon and two packets of assorted stickers, when the door opened with a jangle of bells and Jim came in.

“Gold string, too,” he said. “I forgot. A ball of gold string.”

So we got that and crossed the jamming traffic to our car and got back in.

“The turkey!” shouted Jim.

The turkey was gone.

Yes, sir, in less than three minutes, that turkey had been snaffled right off the back seat of the car. With the streets jammed and bright and roaring.

We leaped out and looked furiously in all directions. In a doorway, an elderly lady, who was sweeping slush off the step, signalled us:

“A young boy took a package out of that car,” she called. “I spoke to him but he said he was to deliver it across the street.”

“What did he look like?” Jim demanded.

“A nice young chap,” said the woman. “About 18 or so. A very nice-mannered boy.”

“Which way did he go?” I cried.

“Why, he walked right across the street, heading a little off that way,” said the lady, indicating east with her broom.

“Come on,” commanded Jim.

“He can’t be far ahead,” I submitted, as we dodged across the street.

“He can’t run with that parcel,” gasped Jim, running, “but we can.”

So we ran, ducking and nipping in and out of the street crowds, and keeping a sharp eye in all directions and in the store windows.

At the first corner, we asked a newsboy if he had seen a young fellow going by with a big parcel.

“Sure,” he said, “a guy just went up there in a hurry. With a turkey, I think.”

“That’s him,” shouted Jim, and up the dark little old street we galloped. Ahead, we made out a few pedestrians going and coming and a long way up, one figure in particular, a half-running figure and in his arms some kind of a load.

We ran. As we gained on him, he turned sharply into a sidewalk, and as he did so, we stopped running instantly, and made note of which house he was entering. When he disappeared, we began to run again until we came abreast, approximately, of the place he had turned. It was a shabby little narrow house, one of a dozen alike.

“I think it’s this one,” panted Jim.

“Take it easy, get our wind,” I gasped. So we walked up the pavement and stood in the shadow of the front door, and shadowy it was.

“The thief,” I muttered. “The dirty snatcher.”

“Young toughs,” panted Jim, “pinching Christmas turkeys right out of cars….”

“Will we turn him in? Should we get a cop first?” I asked.

“Get the turkey, before he hides it,” corrected Jim in a low voice. “Then we can report it. Probably some young gangster. Our word will be enough.”

Jim, peering and finding no bell, rapped loudly on the old blistered door.

No answer. He rapped loudly again.

“Footsteps,” whispered Jim

A light came on in the vestibule, there was a fumbling at the lock; and the door opened. There before us, silhouetted against the light, was a young fellow of about 17, still in his overcoat.

“We’d like to speak to you, me lad,” said Jim, sternly, pushing in. The young fellow backed ahead of him and I followed.

“Where’s the parcel?” demanded Jim, quietly, for fear of bringing tough reinforcements from the back of the house, where, from behind closed doors, sounds of excitement came. “Where’s the parcel you carried in here a minute ago?”

“What,” said the young scoundrel, in thick, husky voice, “what kind of parcel, mister?”

“A turkey,” said Jim, “wrapped in newspapers.”

The young fellow stood motionless in the pallid light and his head was hung so we could not see his face. It was a thin face. A thin, rather fine looking face on a young man so shabbily dressed, in coarse work clothes.

“Come on,” I said sharply.

“I’ll,” he said, barely audible, “I’ll go get it.”

“Make it snappy,” I repeated.

But still he stood, motionless, as if his legs were turned to lead. Still his hand was on the doorknob, clenched and white. And slowly he lifted his face. I do not suppose I should say it was a beautiful face. It is not right to say thieves have beautiful faces. But slowly he lifted it, not to us, but as if to God, maybe, and on it was a strange, white, thin, terrible expression of agony that I seemed to have seen before, somewhere, perhaps in old paintings was it, or maybe on little wooden carvings…

“Here,” said Jim, “what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” gasped the boy. But tears we soaking down over his thin checks. “Nothing.”

He let go the door knob and tried to turn and walk down the shadowy and narrow hall.

“Look here, a minute,” said Jim, grasping the boy’s sleeve. “Just a minute, kid. What’s all this? What did you pinch our turkey for?”

As if he hated to go down that hall, as if to open that distant door was to enter the presence of death itself, though sounds of life and joy came from behind it, he paused and turned, wearily, weakly.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. “I guess I went crazy.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded, to see if my voice would still work in the presence of that thin and beautiful young face.

“We had a raffle, at the plant,” whispered the boy.

“Oh, you’ve got a job?” Jim asked.

He nodded.

“What wages?” I inquired, for a stall.

“Six,” said the boy, “six dollars a week, in the shipping.”

“Go on,” I said, making it stern, but it came out cracked a little around the edge.

“We had a raffle at the plant. It was for a turkey, and I told them I was going to win it for sure,” said the boy, wearily. “We had the draw today, and I didn’t win.”

“Who’s they?” asked Jim.

“My mother,” whispered the boy. “My mother and kid sister, in there.”

He nodded heavily back down that dim and terrible hall.

“So….,” he leaned against the wall. “So, on the way home tonight, I happened to look in that car…. I don’t know what happened to me. I just don’t know, I guess. I don’t remember. I looked in… it seemed to be a turkey, a great big turkey…. I opened the door, I grabbed it….”

And suddenly his head fell down on his chest, his hands went to his face and Jim’s arm was around the boy’s shoulders and I had hold of his arm, tugging at it to get his hands down from his face; and in a little while, for fear of disturbing anybody down that long, long hallway to death and disaster, we went out in the cool and reviving night; and stood on the dark steps and waited, not with many words, but with a lot of pats and slaps on the back and little swear words men use to show that they have hearts like steel; and when he was all straightened up and tidied, we shook hands a with him as man to man, since all God’s children have wings, and only by the grace of God are we not all thieves nailed to little crosses. And much slower than we came up, we went down that street and got into the car and drove to Sunnyside before either of us spoke.

Then Jimmie spoke first.

“The old lady,” he said, “gets the second-best turkey.”

Editor’s Note: $6 a week in 1938 is only $121 in 2022.

This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

The White Hand

…So gently did the white hand drop the curtain that for a long, unbreathing moment, the three within poised themselves in time and space as audiences poise after a song is ended

By Gregory Clark, December 23, 1939.

It is a perilous business for three wise men to get together Christmas Eve. Curious things are likely to happen, or so goes a very old legend.

Of course, in war time, strangeness is everywhere. It is as if we swallow our tears and they intoxicate us. In this tale, which most soldiers have heard in one form or another, the three wise men were in a concrete machine-gun pillbox. It was just east of the village of Feuchy, where there was a chapel dating back so far, that some of the stones were said to be 10th century. And that is half way back, isn’t it?

Whether some of those old stones were used in the construction of the concrete pillbox is not mentioned in the story. But the suggestion is offered now. If anything can carry the touch of bygone things, it is a stone.

Brown, the lance-jack on the Lewis gun, was the first wise man. He was, he asserted, the most expert chicken thief in Frontenac county. Abell, the Number One on the gun, was wise in a chuckling, slant-gazing fashion. But MacPhedran laid claim to no wisdom, and therefore was the wisest of them all.

“Well,” said the lance-jack, very authority, “it’s Christmas Eve.”

And he twitched the rubber sheet aside from the concrete doorway and glanced out as if to prove it.

“Modern war,” said Abell. “And they can’t even get the rations up. Did you see the sergeant?”

“The sergeant,” said L.-Cpl. Brown, “was very sympathetic. He said nobody had no rations. And if we preferred to come back into the ditch, he would gladly give our pillbox to three other guys.”

“We’re really cut off, aren’t we?” said MacPhedran.

“Everybody’s cut off,” said the L.-Cpl.

“Well, boys,” said Abell, “I’ve got a little surprise for you, if you can take it. You know that busted estaminet back here, at the corners? Where we had the gun yesterday? Well, sir, I found three bottles of vin blink in there.”

“Where are they?” hissed L.-Cpl. Brown.

“They’re still there, sweetie,” said Abell. “I shifted some of them blocks of chalk and in a cubby hole, there they was – three bottles, vin blink, shiny and yellow.”

“Why didn’t …” began the L.-Cpl. hotly.

“With a thousand guys looking?” said Abell. “Mind the house, and I’ll sneak back for them now.”

“Just a minute,” said the L.-Cpl. “Before you go, I might as well come clean. So you’ll take care and not get sniped off by some of our own gang. Look.”

Reaching into his packsack in the corner, the L.-Cpl. dug deep into the tangled depths and slowly drew out a package, a slightly bloody package wrapped in the French edition of the Daily Mail.

“A rabbit,” said Abell.

“A chicken,” sighed the L.-Cpl. softly. “It’s cackling kept me awake. I can hear a chicken cackle for two miles. So I just quietly….”

A Very Curious Face

“I could kick in my iron ration biscuits,” said MacPhedran rather timidly.

“As your superior officer,” stated the lance-corporal sternly, “I forbid you to employ your iron rations at this time.”

“There’s a fellow in B company owes me half a loaf of bread,” said MacPhedran.

“You eat on us tonight, Mac,” advised the L.-Cpl., rather magnificently. “It’s Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner combined. There always has to be a guest.”

“I’ll get some bread,” muttered MacPhedran earnestly.

By which time Abell was leaving and the L.-Cpl. ordered him to be careful and not to be long. You might wonder how these men could come and go. Well – armies dissolve at last into their least common denominator, which is the section. Once war really starts, generals hand over the command to the lance-corporals in charge of the sections of six men. These three were all that were left of a Lewis gun section. Ahead of them a front line company hid in battered trenches. Behind them, a support company had dug itself shelters of earth and planks from the vestiges of villages. Between the two lines, these three were stationed in the recently captured Germen concrete box. In 10 seconds, they could be outside, aiming their little chattering gun. So that was their job. In time of need, to leap outside and aim their gun.

Abell was gone less than 15 minutes. When he returned, he bore a heavy sandbag in which reposed three bottles of vin blink. Out into the candle light he drew their glossy greenish yellow forms, with the gestures of a magician.

Already the pillbox was rich with the odor of chicken. On the brazier, the L.-Cpl. had started to fry the skilfully dismembered chicken in fat army bacon. When Abell sat down, MacPhedran quietly departed and in five minutes was back through the concrete door, half a loaf of army bread in his fist.

“How did you do it?” cried the L.-Cpl.

“A fellow in B company owed it to me,” said MacPhedran simply.

“Will miracles never cease?” said the L.-Cpl., busy with his pan.

And at that moment, they heard someone’s step outside and the rubber sheet across the entrance was drawn aside. This was no hour for visitors. Especially hungry sergeants.

“Could you direct me to Feuchy-Chapelle?” asked a quiet voice.

“Feuchy-Chapelle?” said the L.-Cpl., who loved pronouncing French names. “Why, it’s just about 400 yards straight west. If you wait a minute until Fritzie fires a star shell, you can see the ruins….”

The rubber sheet was drawn further aside and a face looked in. Under the steel helmet, it was a very curious face to see in France. It was so different.

“Come in,” said MacPhedran.

The stranger entered and stood with his back to the entrance, smiling at the scene before him. Even the L.-Cpl. was in doubt as to whether the stranger was an officer or not. He wore a private’s coat, but lots of officers did in the line. He had no rank badges, but his air was more … more delicate, somehow, than a private’s.

“Feasting?” said the stranger.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” explained the L.-Cpl. “No rations came up. But we’re all wise guys. Even MacPhedran there was able to scrounge a half a loaf of bread. How about a touch of vin blink?”

“No, thanks,” said the stranger.

“Vin blink!” cried the L-Cpl. “Aw, come on. Imagine Christmas Eve and Abell here finds three bottles hidden in an old estaminet back on the pave. Just a touch?”

“No, thanks,” said the stranger. “I won’t have anything. It’s enough just to see the feast.”

“Have some chicken, it’s done in five minutes,” said Abell.

“Nothing, thanks,” said the stranger. “I have eaten and have drunk.”

In a Star Shell’s Light

MacPhedran was kneeling at the box cutting the bread with his clasp knife. When the stranger turned to smile at him in turn, Mac held up the bread. And the stranger shook his head.

“What’s your outfit?” asked the L.-Cpl.

“It’s a long way from here,” said the stranger.

“Engineers?” asked the L.-Cpl., sizing up the stranger, looking at his clean hands, his thin, untanned face.

“It is associated with the chaplain services,” said the stranger kindly.

“Ah,” said the L.-Cpl., setting the vin blink bottle back with its fellows in the shadows.

The chicken was hissing in the pan, Mac had the punk nearly all cut into six thick slabs, Abell was toying with the corkscrew of his army knife. Outside, in the night, far-off mutters of machine-guns and lonely moans of high shells quilted in all the silences.

“Sure you won’t join us?” said the L.-Cpl. conclusively.

“No thanks,” assured the stranger. “It was good to see you, though. Good luck.”

“Feuchy-Chapelle is about 400 yards straight that way,” said the L-Cpl., indicating with his knife.

Mac had not moved. With motionless face, fixed eyes, his lips open, he stared at the stranger, the bread held lifted in his hand.

“Good night,” said the stranger, thrusting aside the rubber sheet and bending out through the concrete. He paused an instant, his white hand holding back the sheet. “Ah,” came his voice, quietly, out there in the night, “a star shell.”

In the opening past the rubber sheet, the three wise men saw the pallid light of the star shell lobbing and fading.

“Did you see the ruins?” demanded the L.-Cpl.

“Yes,” said the stranger; and so slow and deep was that one word, and so gently did the white hand drop the curtain that for a long, unbreathing moment, the three within poised themselves in time and space as audiences poise after a song is ended.

It was MacPhedran spoke first, and he still held the bread out, as in the act of giving.

“Did you,” he said unsteadily, “notice his hands?”

“They were white,” muttered the L.-Cpl.

“They had a round scar in the back of each,” whispered MacPhedran.

“And when he shoved his helmet back,” said Abell, “there was a ring of white scars around his head…”

So all three rose to their feet, set down the pans and the bread and knives, and followed the L.-Cpl. out through the concrete entrance and stood in the night, watching off west and south to see any figure creeping amid the ruins towards Feuchy-Chapelle. But all they could see was the night and the stars, and hear the mutter of far-off machine guns and the lonely murmur of high shells going far back.

And when a star shell popped from the German trenches, to hang magically in sky for an instant, MacPhedran said, “God help us,” and they bent and crawled back into the pillbox and ate their Christmas supper without any conversation, but looking long and strangely into one another’s eyes.

Editor’s Notes: The Canadian Armed Forces abolished the rank of lance corporal on their creation as a unified force in 1968. It is the equivalent of a master corporal.

An estaminet is a small café in France that sells alcoholic drinks.

“Vin blink” is probably a corruption of “Vin blanc”, white wine.

A star shell is a shell that on bursting releases a shower of brilliant stars and is used for signaling.

Do It Early

The doors spread wider and wider as the ash cans rose higher…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 14, 1935.

“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “are your legs this year?”

“For what?” I inquired.

“For Christmas shopping,” said Jim. “If you recollect, you said last year you were never again going to get caught in this last terrible crush.”

“I’m glad you reminded me,” I said. “I must get busy at once.”

“It’s too late,” decreed Jim. “Too late. Already it is as much as your life is worth to go shopping. Yesterday, even I, big as I am, nearly got massacred trying to buy a leather book cover to send away to a friend in B.C. What a little man like you will do, when you get caught in the jam, I can’t imagine. It must be specially embarrassing at Christmas time to be small.”

“What do you mean, specially embarrassing?” I demanded. “I’m not embarrassed by my size. I find it an advantage just as often as you find your extra length an advantage.”

“Sorry,” soothed Jim. “But if there is any way I can be of assistance to you, this next few days doing your Christmas shopping, I’ll be glad to render it.”

“Thank you so much,” I replied.

“If I were you,” went on Jim, “I’d employ rugby tactics. In these hard times you could go to any employment agency and hire, say, four big huskies, ex-Varsity rugby players even, for three hours a day. At prevailing wages, say fifty cents an hour, there would be only $6 expenses additional to your Christmas bills. Yet, with two good line plungers ahead of you and two behind, with you in the middle like the quarterback, I bet there isn’t a department in the whole city that you couldn’t get to.”

“It’s not a bad idea, Jim,” I said. “Not a bad idea at all.”

“It is time that somebody thought up some practical use for rugby,” went on Jim. “Here are hundreds of our bright young men taking their academic degrees in rugby, yet when they get out into the world they find no practical use whatever for their learning. I suggest you get a bodyguard of four ex-rugby players, Varsity men preferred on account of their good manners. And with these before and aft you can finish up your Christmas shopping in one wild morning. The whole business. Just blast your way into the markets of the city.”

“I have half a mind to do it,” I declared.

“It would take just about half a mind,” agreed Jim. “Anyway, I don’t charge anything for bright ideas like that. You can have it free.”

“Thanks,” I said. “On the other hand, I don’t see why, in a free country, I have to go to extra expense to enjoy my rights. I have as much rights on the streets of this city as any man living.”

“Or any woman,” helped Jim. “It is the women that butt you around worst in Christmas shopping.”

“Quite right,” I confessed. “But what I am getting at is this business of freedom. All men are free and equal in this Canadian democracy. Then why do I have to hire four pug-uglies to help me do my Christmas shopping, just because people resort to violence? Must I meet violence with violence?”

“My Hard-Won Rights”

“Democracy is funny,” said Jim. “It is fine so long as everything is quiet and pleasant. But just let a little urgency come into the scene and in a flash of a second, phooie goes democracy and we are right back where we belong, that is, the victory to the strong.”

“It’s outrageous,” I stated. “For what have all my ancestors died, then?”

“Now don’t go dragging in your ancestors,” warned Jim.

“Well, I mean all our ancestors,” I explained. “For what have they fought and struggled all through the ages but to give us greater freedom? And yet, every Christmas, I get butted and bumped and elbowed and bellied, I get shoved and pushed and stepped on, I head for the glove counter and a stampede catches me and I end up at the neckwear counter. My hat is pushed over my eyes or knocked off altogether. I have several times lost my hat entirely during the Christmas rush. Why? Because people forget what our forebears bled and died for, and they resort to just plain brute force again.”

“I don’t see anything for it,” said Jim, “but for you to hire a gang of rugby scrimmagers.”

“I’ll be jiggered if I will,” I cried. “It would be surrendering my rights. My hard-won rights. Where do we get off if we all thus easily surrender the rights won for us by freedom-loving men? I tell you, we ought to start an agitation. We ought to remind people of their rights.”

“You mean,” said Jim, “that if we reminded everybody of their rights everybody would stop pushing.”

“I mean my rights,” I shouted. “I want to remind everybody of my rights, and then they’ll stop pushing.”

“Pushing you,” mused Jim.

“Exactly; it’s me I am worried about. I don’t care if they push one another. All I want them to do is stop pushing me. And I tell you I am not going to put up with it. I’m going to make a case of it. I’m going to stand my ground. And I’ll do it, by George, without any rugby players to help me. If there were a few more men like me in this world justice would not be so feeble. Robert the Bruce and Wallace who bled didn’t let people shove them around, by golly.”

“No,” said Jim, “but they had a few rugby players with them.”

In the afternoon, when I put on my hat and coat with grave determination, Jimmie looked up from his drawing board.

“Going shopping?” he asked.

“Right,” I said.

“I’ll come along,” said he. “I’ve a little to do myself.”

And we went north into the battle zone together.

At each intersection with lights, jams of harried-looking people massed to wait the crossing. At the first of these, Adelaide St., a large, shabby man, with an absent and faraway expression on his face, came from behind me, and with the utmost unconcern elbowed me aside and thrust himself to the front of the crowd.

“Here,” I shouted, “what do you mean, shoving me aside like that!”

And I seized his sleeve.

The crowd all went tip-toe to see. The big, shabby man turned a flushed and startled face to me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, really apologetic. “I didn’t even see you.”

“Haw, haw,” said the crowd. And then the lights changed.

I let most of them go ahead, and when Jim and I fell in the rear of the procession Jim argued:

“There you go; the poor chap really didn’t see you. And his retort was far more crushing to your dignity than the shove he gave you. Nobody noticed him shove you, but twenty people heard his come-back.”

“Skip it,” I requested.

Like Logs in a Wild River

 We proceeded up Bay St. By lingering as we came near the intersections we escaped the jams. But none the less, as we slowed down, no fewer than two men went by us with big, hurried strides, both of whom gave me slight but none the less impatient little butts with their shoulders or elbows as they went by.

“Maybe,” said Jim, “we are infringing on the rights of the public by walking so slow at this busy season.”

“Nonsense,” I said. But at the same instant an elderly man gave me a quite deliberate butt, as he passed, and he turned indignantly and growled:

“If you have no place to go, why clutter up the streets?”

“Thooop,” I instantly responded, being a raspberry I gave him. I find a raspberry from a middle-aged gentleman is the most surprising of all retorts, and I use it extensively on those more-middle-aged than myself.

The old man purpled and thrust ahead angrily.

Thus we came to the main corners and flung ourselves, without principle or belief, into the maelstrom and got across. In the store I let Jim go first, until he lost me. When I caught up to him he said I had better go first and he would defend the rear. But this was worse, as we now had no wedge or advance to crash our way into the throng. So Jim and I eddied along until we came to a sort of alcove, and we rested there.

“They don’t seem to be going anywhere,” I snarled as the mob surged by, like logs in a wild river. “Look at them. Just waddling along, with six-inch steps, and all craning their necks. They don’t even know where they are going.”

“Maybe this is the herd instinct we’ve read about,” thought Jim. “And nine-tenths of them aren’t doing any shopping at all, but just revelling in the fleshy thrill of being herded together with their kind.”

“Well, anyway,” I said, “I am not going to stand here like a fool. How humiliating, to be just eddied off into this alcove, like scum in a backwater. Let’s go.”

“Where?” asked Jim.

“Gloves,” said I.

“Hold to my coat tail,” called Jim, leading on.

Above me, I could see Jim towering, his head and shoulders weaving from side to side as he labored and toiled, like a man caught in deep snowdrifts. Beside me, I saw and felt a living, writhing mass of human legs, hips, elbows; I heard the frantic cries of unseen little children; the grunts of men, the groans of women. I felt us heaved, as in a volcanic eruption, far to the left; then, far to the right, I saw bits and glimpses of the tops of high piles of merchandize, colored cloths, handbags, kimonos; I heard the insistent din of a vast market place, with its hum, its roar, its high cries cutting across. I closed my eyes. I suited my pace to Jim’s, slow and fast, and clung to his coat tail.

We came to a stop.

“Gloves?” I muffled.

“Neckwear,” said Jim.

“Let’s,” I shouted, leaning back so my voice was clear of his enshrouding coat tail, “get the heck out of here.”

And after a few timeless moments of heaving, slowly waddling, shoving, pressing, we gained a door and burst out into God’s free air.

“Your face,” said Jim, “is purple.”

“Please,” I gritted. “Don’t speak.”

“Have you ever noticed any apoplexy in yourself?”

“Please,” I hissed. And we started back along for Bay St.

“Jim,” I said, in a voice quivering with emotion, “if this is civilization, I am through with it.”

“Do your shopping in November,” replied Jim.

“People,” I stated, “have no right to behave like that. It is inhuman.”

“I didn’t mind it,” said Jim, lightly. “I kind of enjoyed it. You should have seen some of the funny things. The faces, the expressions. One fat lady, talking to a salesgirl and being relentlessly shoved along the counter, farther and farther, until she was pushed right out of the department, and her yelling back at the sales girl.”

“Very funny,” I said.

“The general expression,” said Jim, “is one of abject resignation. A sort of dumb suffering.”

“To think that Adam and Eve have come to this,” I snorted.

“Look out,” said Jim.

“Look out,” sharply snapped young bit of a kid dressed in a white coat and apron.

“Look out what?” I demanded haughtily.

“Get off that,” shouted the boy, disrespectfully.

“Get off that,” repeated Jimmie, pointing at my feet.

Five or six people all stopped and looked.

I looked, too, and saw I was standing on a sort of iron double door set in the pavement. As I looked, I felt it quiver.

“Why,” I asked the saucy youth, “should I get off it? What right have you to ask me to get off …”

I felt the iron doors under me give a heave.

“Get off,” shouted Jim, snatching at my coat sleeve.

“I won’t get off,” I roared. “This is the pub …”

“Quick,” yelled the boy in white. “Snappy!”

It seems the man underneath the iron doors heard, through the small crack now widening, the command to make it snappy, and he thought it was meant for him. So whatever he was doing to make the doors open, he did faster.

With this result. The doors, on which I was standing, one foot braced firmly on each side of the crack, like any Britisher worth his salt would do, especially when his rights were being challenged, suddenly burst wide asunder, and a sort of elevator from below, laden with large ash cans, thrust powerfully upward.

Thus my two feet were spraddled rapidly farther and farther apart, the gap yawning enormously, until my legs could reach no wider, and as the ash cans rose up, I was dropped, heavily, on top of them.

And a vast cloud of dust rose up, as the elevator popped to street level with a clang, and it took Jimmie several seconds, fumbling about, to locate me and assist me to my feet.

By this time, there was a big crowd of people. The saucy youth was loudly demanding witnesses to the fact that he had warned me off the iron trapdoors.

“What is the matter with him?” asked two elderly ladies, as Jimmie dusted me off vigorously.

“Too much Christmas,” said Jim.

“I wondered,” said the kindlier-faced of the two ladies. “I saw him straddle that door. I have often been unable to sleep at nights for thinking of this very thing happening to me. But I understand. He’s such a nice-looking little man, too. Do you know his family? Can you get him home?”

“Madam,” I shouted, “mind your affairs.”

“Mercy me,” said the lady, and she and most of the others gradually lingered away.

We reached Bay St.

“I,” I stated, “am going to take this matter to law.”

“I think,” said Jim, “you will find there is a city by-law governing those trap doors. And it will provide that so long as a man is stationed above to warn pedestrians off the doors, they have a perfect …”

“Warn me off,” I laughed bitterly. “Order me off. Chuck me off the public highways. Push me about, shove me, elbow me, shout at me, and finally drop me into an ash can!”

“Christmas will soon be over,” soothed Jim.

“Liberty,” I laughed hollowly. “Justice. Freedom.”

“Just a few more days,” admonished Jim.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I sneered.

Editor’s Notes: Robert the Bruce and William Wallace were well known for their role in the First War of Scottish Independence.

Jingle All the Way

It was a raggedy little boy I found staring up into my whiskers … He had his teeth clenched and his jaw set.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, December 13, 1947.

“Let’s,” urged Jimmie Frise, “let’s go up and see Santa Claus!”

“Awff …!” I groaned.

We were wedged in the main-floor Christmas crowds of the big department store. Up on the fifth floor, Santa Claus was holding court for hundreds and hundreds of kids.

“Jim,” I puffed, as a large lady with bundles butted me aside, “we don’t want to get tangled up in that melee.”

“We can take the escalator,” persuaded Jim, “and we won’t get hurt.”

“What on earth do you want to see Santa Claus for?” I demanded, taking shelter up against a solid pillar.

“I always like to see Santa Claus,” said Jim cheerily. “I wouldn’t think I had done my Christmas shopping unless I’d gone up to the toy department and stood for a little while, watching those kids filing along past Santa Claus, with that lovely, innocent look of awe.”

“You’ve got two weeks till Christmas,” I pleaded. “You come up some other day – by yourself.”

“Look,” said Jim, bracing himself against the butting, shoving, trampling horde that stampeded around us. “We’ve got an hour with nothing to do. We’re here. Let’s get it over with.”

“I’ve given up believing in Santa Claus,” I submitted. “In fact, I find myself leaning a little in the direction of these new fangled psychologists who believe it’s wrong to teach children myths, like Santa Claus.”

“Okay, then,” declared Jim, taking me by the coat sleeve firmly. “Come and have one farewell look at the old boy. Every day from now on it will be harder to get in here.”

I permitted myself to be good-naturedly bundled through the mob toward the escalators.

The stupor of Christmas was already in full possession of the multitude in the big store. The stupor of Christmas. It begins to show itself even earlier than this. You can detect the first faint symptoms of Christmas stupor as early as the first of December, both on customers and store clerks. By mid-December, the stupor is such, that often you will see both customer and clerk standing staring absently at each other across a counter, the customer having forgotten what he just asked for, and the clerk having apparently lost consciousness for a moment.

You find Christmas stupor most evident in the actual traffic of the store. In the walking, shuffling, wandering throngs of customers and store employees, you note that expression in the eye that is characteristic of a herd of cows moving along a country road. A look of wonderment. A look of anxious preoccupation, as if the cow or the customer didn’t know where it was going, or what it was going for. And like a cow or a steer wandering along the road with the herd, the customer often takes a sudden idea to turn to the right or the left, without any particular purpose.

Christmas stupor, of course, is part of Christmas. I we didn’t get stupid, we would all stay home the month before Christmas. Thus business would get the biggest black eye in the biggest period of sales in the year. Business would fail. A slump would begin. We’ve all got to be stupid at Christmas.

Jimmie steered and propelled me ahead of him resolutely through the fighting throng. Being taller than I, he could set his course with greater advantage. Where he could see ahead of us a mass of young, middle-aged or healthy customers, he would make a quick detour or tack to the right or left, choosing children, feeble old ladies and unsuspecting women of the frailer sort, with their backs to us, whom we could butt, trample or ricochet off; making our progress much faster and more skilful than the average. I figure the average speed of a person in a Christmas crowd to be at the rate of 40 feet in five minutes, or one-eleventh of a mile per hour.

We reached the escalators and entered the crowd, jammed there awaiting their turn. We finally shuffled and inched our way on to the escalator and began the slow, rumbling upward journey of five storeys. One of the pleasantest places to be in the big stores at Christmastime is on an escalator. Nobody can really get a jab or a gouge at you there. About the only thing that can happen is to have your hat knocked off by the skis or the ironing board the lady in front of you is carrying.

“Ah,” I sighed with relief, as the pleasant ascent began.

“I’ll tell you another reason,” began Jim, in the conversational isolation of the escalator, “why I want to go up and see Santa Claus and the kids. It’s for my soul’s sake. It’s for my intellectual reassurance. In this day and age, when so many beliefs are toppling, it is mighty heartening to behold ONE belief that is standing fast against the rising tides of unbelief.”

“Even if it’s a myth,” I agreed, “like Santa Claus.”

“Well, most beliefs,” pointed out Jim, as we swung round and took the escalator from second to third floor, most beliefs contain a certain element of myth. Every generation, or at least every century, we see our beliefs shedding some of the mythical elements they used to contain. For example, my old grandfather used to believe that his ‘betters’ had the right to govern him. He was always referring to his ‘betters’. The preacher, the schoolteacher, the local banker, the owner of the sawmill – all these were his ‘betters’; and he frankly acknowledged them as such. Today, the guy who runs the elevator doesn’t look upon the president and vice-president of this store as his ‘betters’. He looks them bung in the eye. And the president and the vice-president say ‘Hi, Bill!'”

“Would you call that a myth?” I questioned. “That belief in your “betters’?”

“It’s the Santa Claus myth in adult form,” explained Jimmie. “For the kids, we have Santa Claus. For ourselves, we have had – until quite lately in human history – a mythical belief in our rulers, emperors, princes, lords, bosses, who would be Santa Claus to us and shower us with blessings.”

“The Santa Claus myth,” I pondered, “in adult form!”

“Sure,” pursued Jim. “There isn’t an employee in this whole city, who, this week, isn’t hoping and praying that Santa Claus, in the shape of their boss, is going to give them a Christmas bonus.”

“Er …” I argued.

But we had come to the top of the escalator at the fifth floor; and we knew by the different tone of the din, by the higher, shriller hum, that we were close to the toy department, with Santa Claus enthroned on high.

It is easy for adults to progress with fair rapidity in the toy department. By a judicious use of knees, feet, elbows and the flat of the hand, an adult can really push, kick and shove children out of the way with a freedom that is denied him in other departments of the big stores at Christmas.

We worked our way through the pandemonium to a position square in front of Santa Claus’s throne, where we could observe the pantomime at its best.

Santa Claus sat in a throne raised on a platform about 10 feet high. A ramp of planks, prettily painted, led up to and past Santa Claus, so that the little ones could file past him in endless queue.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie, relaxing. “Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that touching?”

Santa Claus, dressed in scarlet, gold and white, with a mass of white beard and hair surrounding his ruddy face, reached down and lifted a darling little girl on to his knee. Up to him, she turned her trusting and adoring little face, her eyes ablaze with faith. We could not hear Santa, of course, because of the din of the toy department – electric trains rattling, horns blowing, dirty little boys playing tag with store detectives and maiden lady clerks, toy dogs yelping, mamma dolls mewing and disgruntled small children screaming while being yanked by their mothers through the press.

Nor could we hear what the little girl asked for. But we could see dear old Santa nodding his head emphatically to the darling little girl, and she went right on rapidly lisping her requirements, with bright upturned face, until Santa Claus laid her down off his knee and reached for the next supplicant.

“Greedy little brats!” I remarked.

“Oh, oh, OH!” protested Jimmie, anguished. “You miss the whole spirit of Christmas.”

“Just a minute, Jim,” I interrupted. “Look at Santa Claus, would you! Look at the way he’s twisting and turning…”

Santa, in between bending down to listen to the children on his knee, kept twisting and writhing on his throne, casting what seemed to be anguished glances to the right and to the left, back of the wings of the throne on which he sat.

“By golly, look at his face!” agreed Jim.

Looking narrowly, you could see, through the white clouds of whiskers, an expression of agony.

And at this instant, I heard my name being called!

“Oh, Mr. Clark… Mr. Clark!”

It was my old friend Bob Brittain, the assistant manager of the toy department, and he was clawing his way through the kids toward me, beckoning. He came up and stood breathless for a moment, controlling himself.

“Look,” he gasped, “I saw you in the crowd… how would you like… I mean… this is an extraordinary request… but you know…”

“What is it, Bob?” I asked cautiously,

“Santa Claus,” went on Bob, “has got an awful attack of indigestion. Tight indigestion. He’s simply got to get some baking soda and lie down for a few minutes… 10 minutes…”

Bob looked at me with intense meaning.

 “You…” he said, “you’ve got the build, the jolly red face…”

“You mean…?” I inquired stiffly.

“It would be an unforgettable experience for you,” explained Bob Brittain eagerly. “Only for a few minutes…

“But the kids,” I protested, “the kids would be willing to wait a few minutes, if Santa Claus went and lay down…”

“Oh, you can’t do that!” cried Bob. “You can’t let the kids know Santa Claus gets indigestion. Besides, the department is jammed with kids wanting to speak to Santa Claus. Their parents are waiting impatiently. We can’t let them down, keep them waiting…”

“Isn’t there somebody on the staff of the store?” I inquired, though Jimmie was pushing me with little nudges.

“I’ve been all over the place, we can’t spare a single clerk. The department is rushed off its feet!” said Bob.

“Okay,” I condescended, with a chuckle. “Where’s the harm?”

Bob led us back of the scenery behind the throne. At a whistle, Santa Claus came staggering off the stage, holding his stomach.

In a jiffy, he had whipped off his costume, whiskers, wigs, hat and all. An anguished little fat man with perspiration on his face stood revealed.

Jim, Bob and half a dozen others stuffed me into the costume. Slammed the whiskers and wig on me. Helped me into the boots.

Just talk deep and hearty,” hissed Bob, “and laugh ho, ho, ho! And promise them everything.”

I was shoved on to the stage, where I hastily took my throne.

The queue of children were yelling, the mob on the floor were waving and screaming. I reached out genially and picked the first child in the lineup onto my knee.

“Ho, ho, HO!” I bellowed in a deep voice.

It was a raggedy little boy I found staring up into my whiskers. A raggedy little boy with a dirty face and gimletty gray eyes. He had his teeth clenched and his jaw set.

“Ho, ho, ho!” I repeated. “And what would my little man like…?”

“Yah!” screeched the dirty little boy, reaching and grabbing a handful of my whiskers. “This ain’t the real Santa Claus! He ain’t got a voice like that! He’s a fake… a fake… a fake…!”

And with a jerk, he had my whiskers, wig and beautiful hat off, and gave me a nasty kick in the shin as he jumped and ran.

I made a grab at him. It was to get my whiskers back. But Jim, who was watching from the wings, said it certainly looked more like a swift uppercut I aimed.

At all events, the next children in line apparently were chums of the dirty little boy. For they jumped me, yelling “fake” and even worse. And before Jim or Bob or anybody else could come to my rescue, the whole department full of children seemed to be piled on top of me, tearing and kicking and scratching.

“Just,” I huffed, as they undid me from my costume back stage, “just another myth exploded!”

Do Your Christmas Shopping Now!

“Pardon me,” said Jim. “We are doing our Christmas shopping. We were wondering if there were any new things we should see.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 5, 1933.

“Let’s,” said Jimmie Frise, “do something.”

“We are always doing something,” I snarled, “and getting nowhere.”

“By doing something,” said Jimmie, “I mean something unusual. Something we ought to do. Something that has to be done anyway.”

“Such as paying our bills, you mean?”

“Never!” cried Jimmie. “I mean just the opposite. Let’s buy something. Let us, for instance, do our Christmas shopping.”

“In August?” I cried. “With our collars wilted and our shirts creeping up our backs?”

“Let’s do our Christmas shopping early,” said Jim. “Let’s shop early and avoid the rush.”

“The heat has affected you,” I said.

“Why wait until the last mad rush?” cried Jimmie. “Now is the time to do your Christmas shopping, when the stores are not crowded and the salespeople are at liberty to attend to your wants.”

“You sound like an advertisement.”

“Buy now and put your gifts away until Christmas,” went on Jimmie, who really did look as if the heat had touched him.

“The salespeople would think we were nuts,” I said.

“Not at all,” cried Jim. “It would be a treat for them. Think of all those salespeople, fifteen thousand of them in the big stores alone, all toiling away from morning to night with nothing much to amuse them. Then, along we come, doing our Christmas shopping.”

“You can’t amuse salespeople in the summer,” I submitted.

“Listen,” said Jim, tensely, “I’m tired of doing the same old thing. I’m going out and do my Christmas shopping. Are you coming or aren’t you?”

So we went and did our Christmas shopping.

“Where do we start?” I asked Jim.

“We will walk around the stores,” said Jim, “and get some ideas. Take a general survey first.”

We strolled through the big stores. It was a hot day and everything was moving at a pleasant gait. The customers had faraway expressions on their faces, as if they were thinking of canoes and verandas. We walked through the basements and saw screen doors and frying pans, trunks and overalls. We walked through the main floors and saw carving knives and underthings, as Jimmie calls them, and silver trays.

Upstairs we walked through miles and miles of colored cloth, dresses, coats, scarves, bathing suits, furniture, floor coverings, live pets, plumbing fixtures.

“I haven’t seen anything for Christmas yet,” I said.

“Take your time,” said Jim. “Let’s ask one of the managers for some ideas.”

We came upon a gentleman standing in the middle of the main aisle, hands behind his back.

“Pardon me,” said Jimmie. “We are doing our Christmas shopping early. We were wondering if there were any new things we should see. Any novel Christmas gifts on display.”

The gentleman looked sharply at the nearest window. Took out his watch and looked at the time. Then stared shrewdly at us.

“Christmas goods?” he asked. “Did you say you are doing your Christmas shopping?”

“Yes,” said Jim, eagerly. “We are avoiding the rush.”

“I see,” said the manager, “now there is a nice cool place over here where you can sit down and rest while I get somebody to attend to you.”

He led us, walking slightly sideways so as to watch us, over to a bench and left us.

“He’s gone to get the doctor or the store detectives,” I said to Jimmie. “Let’s get out of this.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim. “He’s gone to get one of those shopper’s advisers they have in all the big stores. A pretty girl to guide us.”

But in the distance we saw the manager talking to a man in a derby hat, so we quietly got up and took the stairs down one floor.

“Well,” I said sarcastically, “how about it? Where do we go from here?”

“Let’s sit down somewhere and write out a Christmas list,” said Jim. “Here’s a bench. Now, first the wife.”

And the two of us wrote down the usual list, wife, children, mother-in-law, Bill, Margaret, Art, the Old Man, and so on.

“We’ll do it together,” said Jim. “I buy my wife’s present and you buy yours, and we will be a big help to each other. We will do it methodically. Now I’ll start. I think I’ll get my wife one of those sets of scissors. You know, a leather thingummy, with about four or five assorted sizes of scissors in it. We never can find the scissors in our house.”

“That’s hardly a personal gift,” I commented. “How about mauve silk underthings?”

“You think up your own gifts,” said Jim. “I know my wife’s tastes.”

We found the scissors department and there was a magnificent display of all kinds of scissors, razors, knives, forks.

“We are doing our Christmas shopping,” smiled Jim at the Old Country gentleman in charge of scissors. “I want a nice set of scissors in a leather case.”

The gentleman looked us over and before getting the scissors he stopped to lift four or five carving knives off the showcase and set them out of reach on the back of the counter.

There were sets of three, made in the fashion of storks flying. There were cold, clever-looking sets of four in various sizes. Jimmie looked them over, but said as they were to be a Christmas gift he would like a little fancier leather case. As we walked along the counter we came to the hunting knives.

“Ah,” cried Jim, “here’s the very thing! A beautiful hunting knife! The very thing. I never go anywhere with my wife in the out-of-doors that she doesn’t borrow my old hunting knife. She ruins the edge. She breaks the point. I’ll get her her very own hunting knife.”

Using the Sign Language

The Old Country gentleman lifted two or three carving forks off the counter and stood well back.

“Jimmie,” I cut in, “a hunting knife is hardly a present for a lady.”

“Well, I could give it to John,” said Jimmie.

John is not yet two.

“Jimmie,” I reproached him.

“That is when he gets older,” said Jimmie.

So we took a fine $3.50 hunting knife in a bright leather scabbard, and Jim struck his wife’s name off the Christmas list.

“Now,” said Jim, “your wife next.”

“Underthings,” I said. “Mauve.”

We proceeded to the underthings department, at the back of which is a special sort of half-secret place where the very finest of underthings are kept by the most discreet and understanding of young ladies. They understand what you want by signs. You hardly have to speak. I have been dealing there for fifteen years and they know me and understand my sign language, so that in twelve of those fifteen years I have never said more than good-day and thank you to them.

“You aren’t going in back there?” exclaimed Jimmie.

“Come on,” I commanded.

We marched right into this soft and quiet sanctum and one of the girls remembered me and came forward making signs.

“Christmas,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows.

“Usual,” I said. “Two sets.”

“Color?” asked the girl.

“Mauve,” I said.

She went away and Jim said:

“Gosh, if it’s easy as this I’m going to do it, too.”

The girl came back with mauve things over her arm.

“Christmas,” I repeated.

The girl raised her eyebrows again.

“November,” she said. “New stock. This pretty light. Summer stock. Get later.”

“Right,” I said.

She went away with the mauve things and came running back.

“But,” cried the girl, “have you seen the silk for men? Just new. It’s quite all right to talk about men’s things, isn’t it? We don’t have to make signs now, do we?”

“I think reticence applies only to the ladies’ things,” I said.

“Then come on down here,” cried the girl. “I’ve got some stuff just in from England. Men’s silk. It will be going downstairs to the men’s shop to-night. But it was in our shipment and I want you to see it.”

Scarlet, green, blue shorts of slithery, slippery silk. Orange, polka dot and purple shirts to disagree with the shorts.

It did not take me two minutes to pick three suits, because like most men doomed to wear drab on the outside I like a little color on the sly.

“Will I send it?” she asked.

“Nobody home,” I said. “Our wives are away, so we will have to carry our parcels.”

So I struck my wife’s name off my list.

The next thing we did was the toy department for the children. Jim got his four girls some of the finest fishing tackle any girl ever received, and he got Baby John a dandy little fly rod. I got my boys a silk tent between them, a thing we have always needed. My daughter I got one of those bright umbrellas for the garden, and while she is only two the salesman said the color was a fast dye and would keep.

My mother-in-law I bought a huge set of copper ash trays, each one about as big as a dinner plate, because she is always complaining that I overflow the ash trays at home. Jim tried to get his Aunt Agnes an umbrella, but he couldn’t choose one from so many, so he got her instead one of those sit-down canes for the races.

“I can borrow it from her,” said Jim, “when I go to Thorncliffe.”

By this time our load of parcels was growing and the heat was not diminishing.

“Hadn’t we better leave some of the things till later?” I asked.

“Let’s get it over,” said Jim. “You can never tell when the rush will start.”

So Jimmie bought his cousin Harry a pair of cheap field glasses in case Harry ever got interested in racing, and I got my fishing partner, Bill, a beautiful red cedar canoe paddle.

“Has Bill a canoe?” asked Jim.

“No, but I’ll keep this in my canoe for the times Bill visits us,” I explained.

“There’s one thing about summer shopping for Christmas,” said Jim. “You can think of far more sensible presents for everybody. Near Christmas, you sort of get carried away by the Christmas spirit and you buy the silliest things.”

I got my brother Joe a book on wild birds and their music just to inspire his interest in this beautiful subject, and anyway I would have all summer, autumn and early winter to read it thoroughly before having to give it up. My brother Art I got a new novel I had read some thrilling reviews of in the paper. Jim doesn’t care for reading much. It tires the back of his neck. So he got two sets of “Famous Race Horses of the Past,” twelve handsome colored lithographs of world-famed thoroughbreds.

“I can give half of one set to Jake,” explained Jim, “and the other half of the other set to George. Six is a nice present. Both will be different. Then I’ll have the complete set for myself. You would never pause to figure things out like that in December.”

We were by this time pretty well loaded and our lists were practically exhausted. Jim still had his Cousin Pansy and an old uncle on his list, but try as we would we could think of no suitable gift for either of them. I had one or two on mine, but they were the sort of people you could leave to the last minute and then give them a box of cigars when they called on you Christmas afternoon.

Everybody was very helpful. It was extremely hot and we dropped things quite a bit as the afternoon wore on, but, as Jim said, how much nicer to get this over with now, even with the heat, than suffer all that struggling and bumping and hey-ing of sales girls in December.

With our families away, there was none of that hiding and concealing. For example, we set up the colored umbrella in my garden and then we tried out the silk tent. As the children wouldn’t be home till September we decided to leave them up, as with the tent you could get quite a kick by pretending you were camping.

Especially as Jimmie brought over his wife’s hunting knife and his daughter’s fishing tackle to try out, with Baby John’s rod.

“I’ll just keep them in my own tackle box,” said Jim, “so I’ll know where they are.”

With the paddle and the field glasses and the sit-down cane and so forth draped around the tent and us sitting under the striped umbrella, I reading and Jim gazing lingeringly at the lithographs of the horses, you could easily see how much better a thing it is to do your Christmas shopping in August.

Editor’s Notes: A store detective, was much more common in the past. They would walk around the store (usually big department stores) on the lookout for shoplifters.

Thorncliffe Park Raceway existed from 1917-1953. It used to exist in the location of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood in Toronto today.

Who’s Got Christmas?

We could find no sad young men. We saw any number, in fact hundreds of young fellows in uniform, brown, blue and navy. But they were far from looking lonely.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 24, 1943.

“Do you realize,” demanded Jimmie Frise, “that this is the fifth war Christmas?”

“I not only realize it,” I stated, but I have been worrying about it more than I can tell you.”

“I wonder how many million men – and women,” pursued Jim, “will be absent from their homes this fifth Christmas! Millions of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Canadians, millions of British, millions of Germans, Russians, Japs – not that they care….”

“I’ve been very uneasy this past few weeks,” I submitted, “watching Christmas approach. I’m a superstitious guy. All these December sunsets we’ve been having. I have looked at anxiously for fear I might see a fiery chariot come riding down.”

“We’ve got this on our side,” pointed out Jimmie, “that at least we are fighting to preserve Christmas on earth. If millions of us are blaspheming Christmas by merely being absent from our homes and hearths, at least it is because we are fighting the forces that have openly announced their intention of destroying all that Christmas stands for.”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” I stated, “I can’t agree with you. We did our blaspheming against Christmas in the 20 years this war was brewing. Back in those ugly terrible days when we sat fat and cosy in our little world letting all the rest of the world go to hell. Back in the days when we could not raise enough public funds to give more than a dirty little dole to our own unemployed, right here in this very city. We could not find a few of our soiled millions to give work, in government-owned projects, to a million Canadians quietly starving.”

“Just a minute,” said Jim.

“Just a minute you,” I insisted. “We had our Christmases then, remember? We who were comfortable – and eight million of us were comfortable – arranged through public charities for Christmas banquets for the homeless, down in the big empty hostels in the warehouse district. We gave to the public funds for Christmas gifts and Christmas hampers. But we had our own Christmases! Sure, sure. Around our sacred little burning trees, we cherished our children, and our wives, and the old, old tradition.”

Who’s Hiding It?

“Just a minute,” said Jim.

“But where,” I cried, “have all these billions come from, in little Canada alone, these billions, not millions, these billions and billions of dollars to be poured out into war? Who had those billions? Where were they in 1933, 1935, 1937?”

“You don’t understand,” said Jim. “It is a problem of economies. It is a question so complicated….”

“So complicated,” I sneered, “that even our greatest brains can’t grasp it. All right then, if you can’t say who had all those billions that we have found for war, can you say who has got Christmas? Where is Christinas? Who’s hiding it from us?”

“How do you mean?” inquired Jimmie indignantly.

“All I say is,” I muttered, “that wherever there is an absent man or an absent girl in a house in all this world today, there is no Christmas. We had our Christmases back in those years when we did not care a pin for all the rest of the world. Now our Christmas is taken away from us to pay the debt. Because Christmas is not a thing for individuals. It is not for you and me. Is it for one family and not for another? Christmas is for all mankind. And all I say is, those of us who presume to make Christmas our own personal and private affair are blaspheming it.”

“You mean,” said Jimmie, “that all this mess we are in is our own fault? Our own fault, each and every man.”

“Nothing comes of itself, Jim,” I explained. “Everything is brought. This Christmas is a tragedy to millions of us on earth today only because it was not a little tragic to us in the Christmases past. We celebrate the birth of Jesus in the greatest and most selfish and personal and private holiday of the year. We forget, on Christmas, to remember the death of Jesus.”

“It is not what He was born for,” suggested Jim, “but what He died for that is important.”

“Yes, and so long as we forget that,” I submitted, “I guess we too will keep on dying, on crosses of a kind, through all time.”

“What do you think!” inquired Jim, since we are both old soldiers who have never had much time to think about religion, “what do you think was the one essential thing Jesus taught?”

“That God is our father,” I submitted, “we are his beloved children.”

“The brotherhood of man,” muttered Jim.

“No other faith” I said, “can save us, forever.”

So again we sat and thought, about socialism and Communism and the C.C.F. and the labor movement and all the religions and all the social service enterprises and the Rockefeller Foundation and the countless, countless things men have tried, in centuries past, and in this bloody and grimmest of all centuries, to figure out the brotherhood of man. But we are so choosey.

“One thing,” said Jim slapping his knee, “we’ve got to do some little thing, no matter how late it is, to make Christmas a little less personal this year. For example, soldiers. There are sure to be some kids marooned in town this Christmas in the army or air force. We ought to look after two or three of them.”

“I keep thinking,” I said, “of the kids who have been five Christmases away.”

“That doesn’t make it any less lonely for these kids away for the first one,” said Jim. “How do we go about finding them? Could we call up the ‘Y’ hut at the camp or the Salvation Army hut?”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” I said. “Downtown it will be jammed and crowded. Among the throngs will be sure to be some kids in uniform wandering about pretty forlorn, trying to capture, from the very multitude, some feeling of Christmas – maybe looking for one face from back home. Do you know what my hunch is? Let’s drive downtown and walk in the crowds and pick up two or three of them and bring them home.”

“On Christmas Eve?” inquired Jim. “I thought of having them to share Christmas dinner tomorrow.”

“Christmas Eve is the best,” I explained. “Don’t you remember Christmas Eve when you were a kid? Let us go and pick up two or three of these youngsters and use them as symbols for all the others in the ends of the world. It was Christmas Eve, mister, that there was no room at the inn.”

“H’m,” muttered Jim.

And into the night we backed Jim’s car, which is in better shape than mine, besides he having seven more gallons left than me, and we drove down along the waterfront and up Yonge St. into the last-minute throngs of Christmas shoppers. We parked and went on foot into the midst.

But such is the mystery of human nature, eternally in hunger for whatever joy is offered, we could find no sad young men. We saw any number, in fact hundreds of young fellows in uniform, brown, blue and navy. But they were far from looking lonely. Most of them had a girl on one arm and a pile of parcels in the other. For all the war, there were no unhappy faces here. Up at the main corner between the two big department stores, we saw two soldiers leaning against the wall watching the throngs boil by. We spoke to them.

“How are you boys fixed for Christmas?”, I inquired heartily.

“Pretty good,” they said. “Why?”

“Well, we are a couple of old soldiers,” explained Jim, “and we just thought we’d take a last-minute look around downtown to see if we could find any of the boys that were left out in the cold that we could give a little Christmas cheer to.”

“Thanks very much,” said one of the two “But the fact is, we’ve been sent down by our families to try and pick up somebody the same way.”

“Good hunting,” said Jim.

“Good hunting, sir,” replied the boys.

It is pretty tough going in these Christmas Eve mobs, so Jim and I took the inside track along the store fronts, and shoved our way patiently along, because after all, a high resolve is not to be so lightly abandoned. And presently, I leading against the wind and hastening herd, we were held up by a small figure flattened against the bricks of one store front.

“Christmas cards,” he said, in the gloom. “Christmas cards.”

We, too, flattened ourselves against the bricks.

“Christmas cards,” said the weak voice. “Christmas cards, five cents.”

We could see him now, a small elderly ragged little man, his hat pulled down and his collar up so that he seemed to be calling out from a cave.

“Christmas cards.”

Nobody but us paid any attention.

“Speak up, man,” I said to him quietly. “Make them hear. Like this: CHRISTMAS CARDS!”

And I let it go good and round.

But nobody even looked.

“There’s Your Answer”

I saw the little man smiling out at me from the cave of his hat and his collar.

“See?” he said.

“Well,” I said, “anyway, I’ll take a few. How many have you got?”

“A dozen,” said he.

“I’ll take the whole lot,” I said, “I was just going in to buy some. You always forget somebody at the last minute.”

“They’re not much good,” said the little man, drawing a frowsy packet from his pocket.

“Call it dollar,” I said, handing him the bill.

“Thanks,” said the little man eagerly. “Thanks a million.”

We could now see him quite distinctly as the three of us huddled in the falling dusk amid the whirling throngs. He opened his ragged overcoat to secrete the dollar somewhere within his clothes and my eye caught a glint of a button on his lapel.

“Hey,” I said harshly, seizing the old boy’s coat. “What’s that!”

But I knew what it was. It was the bronze button with the Union Jack in the shield, the proud old bronze button that we got in that other war, and which marks us as veterans…

“Old soldier?” demanded Jimmie sharply.

“Oh, yes,” said the little man, buttoning his coat. “Oh, yes.”

“Listen,” I said, dropping my grip from his coat front, “we’ve got a proposition to make to you, brother. We’re old soldiers ourselves. We’ve got an idea….”

But just as I started to fumble with the idea, a great, a strange, a hard, a disturbing Idea, an idea shaking my Christmas to its very core, from the white Christmas table cover, from the bright candlesticks, the red crackers, the steaming turkey on the blue platter, the little man, like a gnome, vanished. Somebody jostled us. And when the jostle ended, he was gone.

“Hey, Jim….”

Jim fought upstream, I fought down. I ducked in and out of the mob. I came back along the curb, outside the throng. I heard Jim call me.

“He was gone,” said Jim.

Together we hurried up the block and watched. Together we went and watched the main corner. But he was gone.

“Mister,” and Jim to me, “there’s your answer, whatever it is.”

Editor’s Notes: The C.C.F was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which became the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961. It was a socialist-labour party in Canada.

The Rockefeller Foundation is an American private foundation for philanthropy that was created by the Rockefeller family in 1913, and still exists today.

They used Jimmie’s car since he had more gas, as gasoline was rationed during the war.

Those Other Christmases

By Gregory Clark, December 20, 1919.

The regiments are disbanded.

Their banners droop in the dusty shadows of silent churches.

Forty-eight battalions of infantry and a thousand guns, Canada’s historic army, scattered and stilled; and the comic lords of Peace decree it shall never assemble again, that it was a temporary army for a temporary war; and that its memories and its comradeships must be washed out, to make way for the gallant militia–

But to-night, and the coming four nights till Christmas Eve, those mighty battalions and shouting guns live again in the hearts of three hundred thousand men.

In the little homes and the great homes, men are sitting by the firesides, seeing visions.

They see again the narrow thoroughfares of Houdain, or Mazingarbe, Poperinghe, or Camblain l’Abbe.

The winter evening is falling. The little grey shops begin to glow with furtive lights. There is snow on all the steep roofs.

Men in khaki, muffled in greatcoats or leather jerkins, stamp over the frosty cobblestones. At the door of a crowded estaminet, a little group, amid much laughter and jovial profanity, gathers in a circle to sing a Christmas carol, entitled “Mademoiselle from Armentieres,” or perhaps “I Want to Go Home.”

A French girl, muffled in a huge scarf, with a basket on her arm, shuffles down the cobblestones.

“Merry Christmas, mamzelle!” cry all the troops

A limber comes clattering out of the darkness. It is laden with huge sacks. Atop sits the post corporal, who shouts:

“Nothing but parcels, boys! Seventeen bags of parcels from home!”

“Merry Christmas!”

Suddenly, a bugle thrills the crisp air. It is not “retreat,” nor “last post.” It sounds the “fall in!” But this unusual call seems to be expected, for the estaminets empty as if by magic, the cobbled street is crowded with men hastening to their company parade grounds.

The street becomes deserted. A silence descends. Then, from down at the village square, the sudden clear music of the regimental band rises up.

Presently the band comes closer in the darkness, and swings past, playing a rousing march. Behind it comes “A” company, and then “B.” The men are singing and laughing as they pass. They are without arms or equipment. To the French people who have come to their doors to see the sight, the boys cry out greetings, “Oo, la lal” and “Voulez-vous promenade?”

The battalion marches to the far end of the town. Spirits mount. There is a note of expectancy over all.

Band still playing, the battalion halts outside a great red-roofed barn rising out of the dusk. And, forming single file amid much loud, confused shouting of commands, the troops begin to enter.

Inside is fairyland. A thousand candles light up the scene. Long tables fill the great barn. The padre has garnished the bleak walls and cross-beams with evergreen. Flags and bunting drape the corners. And a smell, O! an overwhelming smell of roast pork and apple sauce, of plum pudding and rum punch, fills the cold bar with warmth.

Then up jumps the padre on a barrel. Silence is called for. And the padre, says that brief Army grace: “For what we are about to receive, thank God!”

The band plays “God Save the King.” In tumble the sergeants and corporals laden with steaming dixies. And the Christmas banquet is on.

Faint echoing crashes come from afar, but are drowned by the band and the singing. Green and white flashes flicker along the eastern sky, but the boys are safe in the light of the thousand candles.

There is pork and apple sauce and music. There is rum punch and speeches and more music. Then the band plays some of the old tunes and everybody sings. The smokes are passed around. A boy from “C” company with the voice of an angel sings “Roses of Picardy,” and everybody, even the old regimental sergeant-major, harmonizes on the refrain–

Outside, a pallid moon smiles down on the wintry little grey village, and the old village smiles back. For in a thousand years these two have looked upon many a company of soldiers singing by the wayside; not the same songs, but the same sentiments with the same hearts and the same high fellowship of romance.

Down this cobbled street Francois Villon has ridden, soldier, adventurer, poet; and Villon, four hundred years ago, sang-

“Where are the comrades of yesterday?

The winds have blown them all away.”

Have they? Not to-night!

Editor’s Note: This story comes a year after the end of World War One, with a few popular songs of the time mentioned, Mademoiselle from Armentières, I Want To Go Home, and Roses of Picardy.

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