By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 24, 1943.
“Hey,” came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “what’s all this on my front lawn?”
“Okay, what is it?” I inquired.
“Don’t you know about it?” demanded Jim. “It’s two full loads of fertilizer. The best I ever saw. I thought maybe that uncle of yours had come through.”
“By George, he may have!” I exclaimed. “He’s been promising us a load of fertilizer every spring for 10 years. But why would he deliver it at your place instead of my place? He knows where I live. And I don’t think he knows where you live.”
“Well, it’s swell stuff, anyway,” said Jim, enthusiastically. “Come on down and have a look. It’s beautifully rotted. And it seems to have loam mixed right in it. Boy, will it ever make my garden grow!”
I got my hat on and trotted down to Jim’s house at once. There was Jim, with a spade and a wheelbarrow, already in action.
“I was born on the farm,” declared Jim, fairly radiant with April glee, “but I never saw better fertilizer than that. Look: it oozes. And it’s all blended in with a kind of rich, black loam. That uncle of yours must be a real farmer.”
“I can’t understand,” I submitted, “why he would dump it off here instead of at my place. There are two loads, at least, there. Why would he dump both here?”
“Maybe your folks were out,” suggested Jim.
“No, they were in all day,” I said. “And Uncle Pete has been at my house no end of times.”
“Well,” sighed Jim happily, “my folks were out all day. So I can’t explain it. All I know is, we came home. And here she was. Two huge loads.”
“It must be Uncle Pete, all right,” I said. “Or have you dickered with anybody else about any fertilizer?”
“No,” replied Jimmie. “I’ve always counted on your Uncle Pete coming through with this. Every autumn, when he is down for the Winter Fair, he has promised us a load of fertilizer in the spring. Year after year, something turned up to prevent our getting it….”
“Last year,” I recalled, “he put 10 more acres under cultivation and couldn’t spare us any.”
“And the year before,” reminded Jim, “the roads were so bad.”
“This’ll be it,” I said confidently. “But I wish he had dumped my half up at my place.”
“Probably,” explained Jim, “he sent a driver with it. And the driver forgot the address and maybe he could remember my name; it’s an odd name, Frise. So he looked it up in the phone book and …”
Two Busy Spreaders
“Okay,” I agreed. “Now, how do we do? How can I get my half up to my place?”
“Let’s do this,” suggested Jim. “You help me spread mine around and then I’ll help you wheelbarrow your half up to your place. It won’t take half an hour to spread mine. And it’s three hours before dark.”
“Okay,” I submitted. “Let’s get going.”
“I’ve wheeled in three loads,” said Jim. “You wheel three, while I load you up. We’ll take turn about, three loads, eh?”
“Correct,” I said, seizing the barrow handles.
And Jimmie spaded up large gobs of the rich, globby fertilizer and dumped it in the barrow. And when it was full, I wheeled it in the side drive and dumped it along the garden borders. Jim had dumped his barrow loads at intervals of about 10 feet. So I followed the pattern. From these barrow loads, Jim could skite the stuff in all directions, over the garden borders, over the lawns, around the perennial bushes.
When I wheeled the empty barrow out to Jim and rested while he filled it, I said:
“Jim, are we making a mistake in putting this precious stuff on our flower gardens? Should we not make victory gardens? For potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, and other simple garden food plants?”
“A city back yard,” stated Jim, heaving with the spade, “is not really suited to the growing of vegetable crops.”
“This is the fourth spring of the war, Jim,” I reminded him. “Nineteen forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three. The fourth spring. We have talked every spring of making some economic use of our gardens. In 1940, it was a whimsical suggestion. In 1941, we thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea. In 1942, we very seriously considered it, as an aid to the war economy. This year, by golly, we are rationed, a food shortage actually looms. And here we are, spreading precious fertilizer over your lawns and flower beds.”
“Well,” said Jim, resting on his spade, “in the first place, city soil is sour and dry and sterile. City yards are shaded by neighboring buildings and trees for many hours of the day. Besides, we are away in the summer at the very time the crops need special attention regarding weeds and bugs.”
“I venture the opinion,” I said, seizing the barrow handles, “that if we got up 20 minutes earlier than usual each summer morning, we could do all the work necessary to make a success of a little market garden plot in our own yards.”
“All you’ve got to do,” replied Jim, as I headed off up the side drive, “is get out any summer morning early enough to see the market gardeners on the outskirts of the city. You’d change your mind. For they are up at dawn and still working at dusk, all summer through. We city gardeners spend one Saturday afternoon raking up and digging our flower beds. We spend two or three evenings, after supper, planting a few seeds and a few seedlings bought at the corner store. And then, except for an occasional grass cutting and a little weeding whenever the spirit moves us we sit back all the rest of the year and gloat amidst the profusion of our flowers and shrubs. But that isn’t the way crops grow. That isn’t the way the farmer makes his hard-earned money.”
I went on in the yard and emptied the barrow in another calculated pile. When I got back out to Jim, I had another angle.
“It seems to me,” I stated, as Jim proceeded to fill the barrow, “that if the food controller really wanted us city people to help produce food, he would have spent the winter organizing the city into gardening societies. Each city block should elect a chairman and a committee. What is a city block but a little community unto its self? It encloses anywhere from 20 to 100 gardens. A city block is a walled village. Within its walls are acres and acres of arable and productive land. Under proper management, those acres could produce valuable crops. But leaving us to our individual resources, we get nowhere.”
“You’ve got a swell idea there,” agreed Jim, shovelling. “Each block elects a committee of its own. The committee inspects each garden within its confines and decides which will grow potatoes, which cabbages and carrots, which corn and so forth. Each householder is then instructed by the committee how to prepare his garden. Then the committee secures the seeds or seedlings, and under expert advice – for there are always one or two good amateur gardeners in each city block – the householder plants his allotted portion.”
“And during the growing season,” I took up, “the committee would inspect and check up on the development of each garden in the block. If any of us are away, we could organize a system whereby our neighbors would look after the stuff. And we could take our turns looking after others when we’re here: Boy, it would work out magnificently.”
“We could add tons and tons, hundreds of tons,” Jim cried, “of invaluable food products to the nation’s food supply. All we need is organization.”
And I wheeled away for the side drive, as Jimmie said:
“The food controller is a man of no imagination.”
And while I dumped this load in its proper place, I thought up a new angle.
“Jim,” I enunciated, as I returned the barrow to the pile, “do you notice how intelligent and full of ideas we are tonight?”
“I was just standing here,” declared Jim, “thinking the same thing. It is as if merely breathing in this fertilizer, we were enriching our brains.”
“It may be that, Jim,” I submitted, “or it may be the way we are debating these questions. We talk together. Then I go in with the barrow for five minutes. That gives us time to reflect. Then I come out again, and we’ve both got bright ideas to communicate. I think the secret of intelligent conversation is being here revealed. The secret of intelligent discussion is in having pauses to reflect.”
“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “Too much discussion is begun and ended at one session, without pausing for reflection.”
“Parliament,” I declared, “ought to work the way we are working right here. Instead of meeting for 12 weeks at a stretch, they ought to meet one week a month, every month of the year.”
To Improve Parliament
“H’m,” said Jim, shovelling. “That would be kind of hard on the members of parliament, wouldn’t it?”
“How?” I demanded. “The reason parliament sits for 12 weeks at a stretch is because when parliament was first invented, there was no means of transportation except the slowest of stage coaches. Members of parliament had to come by horse, or on foot, from all over the British Isles. But why should we be handicapped by outmoded systems based on several hundred years ago? All the government has to do is employ a few airplanes to bring in the really outlying members. I bet 75 per cent of the membership of the House of Commons could get to Ottawa in less than 24 hours by train. And those in Vancouver could hop by airplane from the coast to Ottawa, leaving there at breakfast and would be in Ottawa for late dinner.”
“H’m,” said Jim, having filled my barrow.
“Operating on the principles employed in the time of Queen Anne,” I asserted, “our members of parliament meet once a year for a sort of gabfest. If they had to turn up each month for one week, we would get far better service from them. They would be up to date. They would have three weeks to reflect on last week’s discussions and have thought up their next line of action. There are only 245 of them. It’s time we modernized them. Our government is operating on a system as antique as the feudal system. We should adopt modern business methods, and employ the modern equipment that is everywhere at hand. If we are going to have representative government, we should be represented, not at an annual convention but at a monthly progress meeting.”
“Wheel it away,” said Jim.
So I wheeled it back up the side drive and planned my next subject of discussion.
“Jim,” I declaimed, as I laid the barrow down beside him for the next load, “did it ever occur to you…”
“This ought to be the last load,” interrupted Jimmie. “It looks as if I had my half about now.”
“By George,” I said sharply. “I was so busy thinking. Of course you’ve got your half. In fact, I don’t think we should take another barrow full…”
“Yes,” said Jim, firmly, “one more barrow full will make it about an even half.”
“But Jim,” I cried. That pile is not half the original pile! You had three borrow fulls in before I arrived.”
“I know the original size of the pile,” stated Jim calmly. “I tell you, one more barrow load and it will be evenly divided.”
So Jim loaded her up, taking, I thought, some pretty hefty spadefuls, at that. And just as I started to wheel away, several small boys came racing up the street, shouting and yelling.
“Here it is, Mr. Andrews. Here it is!”
And up the street came a panting gentleman in his shirt sleeves and very moist with exertion.
He stooped down and took a quick look at the texture of the fertilizer. He turned a bit of it over with his foot.
“Where did you get this?” he inquired indignantly.
“A friend of ours sent it to us from the country,” said Jim.
“I ordered two loads,” announced the stranger indignantly stretching his neck and looking down the side drive, “and when it didn’t arrive today, I phoned and discovered it had been delivered.”
“Ah?” said Jim.
“Delivered to the wrong address,” said the stranger, his voice rising. “The man I bought it from is a market garden specialist out in the suburbs. He can’t get in touch with his hired man to see where it was delivered. But I just thought…”
Jim looked at me and I looked at Jim, and we both thought of Uncle Pete and his past performance in regard to long promised fertilizer. And I imagine the stranger must have guessed something from our expressions.
“This fertilizer I ordered,” he said quietly, “is a very special grade. It is mixed with the finest loam and humus. It costs $10 a load.”
“Ten…” said Jimmie.
“I am using it in a victory garden,” explained the stranger. “I have turned my whole garden into a victory garden. I spent $20 on fertilizer. It’s terribly hard to get. I practically had to bribe this guy to get it. And now it has been delivered to the wrong address.”
“Don’t pay for it, then,” I said stoutly. “If a man delivers goods to the wrong address, is that your fault?”
“I have paid for it,” said the stranger, eyeing me coldly. “And besides, it’s the fertilizer I want. Not the $20.”
“Well, an uncle of his,” said Jim, indicating me with the spade, “sent this to us.”
“I just thought,” remarked the stranger, showing no intention of leaving, “that if you had this fertilizer by mistake, you wouldn’t want to have to rake it all back and put it out here again. The man I ordered it from is trying to find his driver. They may be along any time….”
“Jim,” I said, resting the barrow, “could I speak to you a minute in the garden? I want to show you where I’ve been dumping the barrow…. Excuse us, sir.”
“Certainly,” said the stranger, standing guard over my half of the pile.
Might Have Been Worse
“Jim,” I muttered, as we walked down the side drive, “we’re in a mess.”
“It looks like it,” agreed Jim. “Whew! Ten dollars a load.”
“I suggest we tell the guy.” I submitted. “Explain all about Uncle Pete and everything.”
“I’m glad we didn’t get it all spread out,” said Jim, looking at the several neat barrow loads piled around his yard.
“I’m sorry we didn’t,” I submitted. “Because even if we had to rake it all up, stuff as good as this fertilizer would do our gardens good, if only for a few hours.”
“It’s a pity it isn’t raining,” sighed Jim, “to wash some of the good out of that pile on to my front lawn.”
“Let’s go and tell him,” I concluded.
So we walked out and explained the whole situation to the stranger. He was very decent about it, especially when we walked him into the garden and showed him the several piles heaped about.
“If I had a load left on my lawn,” he agreed, “I’d naturally think some of the people who had promised me fertilizer had come through. Almost everybody in the world has been promised a load of fertilizer by their country friends, at one time or another.”
“Especially,” I said, “in the fall of the year.”
We heard a truck snorting out in front. And sure enough, it was the market gardener from out Islington way, with his confused and embarrassed driver.
All three of us took turns wheeling the small piles back out of Jim’s yard while the driver forked the main pile back on to the truck.
And when we all shook hands and they drove off, Jim said:
“Well, it was nice to have had it, if only for a little while.”
“Yes,” I reminded him, “and it seemed to fertilize us into some very brilliant ideas.”
“M’hm,” mused Jim. “I forget. What were they?”
Editor’s Notes: In this context, “to skite the stuff” means to move it quickly.
Victory gardens were vegetable gardens that people were encouraged to grow during wars to augment the food supply during times of rationing.
$10 in 1943 would be $165 in 2022.