This illustration by Jim accompanied an article on how Prohibition made some unscrupulous doctors money as they could give “prescriptions” for alcohol for “medicinal purposes”. The text indicated that one doctor issued 2005 prescriptions in one month. This abuse resulted in limits on how many prescriptions doctors could issue.
Tag: January Page 1 of 3
By Greg Clark, January 22, 1944
“Be honest,” said Jimmie Frise.
“I flatter myself,” I said, “I am honest.”
“Honesty,” said Jimmie, “is a curious thing. If you were absolutely honest, you would be clubbed to death by an infuriated mob before you had been honest for three hours.”
“Honesty,” I agreed, “must be tempered by common sense. For example, if you were honest, you would tell your friends the truth. You would tell them that never, by any stretch of the Imagination, will they ever be good singers. Yet if you told them that, it would be wicked and cruel.”
“How come?” demanded Jim. “It would save them a lot of grief. And a lot of trouble. It would spare them years of struggle, trying to be good singers. It would put an end to a lot of suffering on the part of people who have to listen to them trying to sing.”
“Yes, but,” I said, “there are really so few things to do in this life. You think at first there are a lot of things to do. But after a while, you discover life has only two or three things to do. And one of them might be singing. Or so you think.”
“That’s what makes life tough,” agreed Jim.
“So, if a man thinks he can sing,” I pursued, and he starts singing, wouldn’t it be wicked, cruel and terrible to deprive him of that belief? He thinks he can sing. It sounds beautiful to him, as he lets his voice blow through his throat. It has a nice, strong feeling. It fills him with a sense of power, of beauty.”
“Yet,” said Jim, “he might be inflicting suffering on five, ten, or even two hundred people, if for example, he were singing in a church choir.”
“Quite so,” I said, “but it is easier to bear the defects of others than to know your own defects.”
“That’s quite a wise saying,” admired Jimmie.
“It’s an honest saying,” I said. “It is more honest than telling a guy he can’t sing.”
“Then we should go about lying,” said Jim. “Lying to our friends by not telling them. Swallowing the truth is the same as lying.”
“Then believe me, we are all liars,” I said. “Or should be.”
“Don’t you think the world would be improved,” asked Jim, “if, instead of kidding one another, we all told the facts and got down to brass tacks? If we all knew our faults, wouldn’t the world be a happier place to live in, a more sensible and practical and business-like place to live in?”
“We would all be dead,” I replied. “There would be no object in living if we had not our dreams and our hopes and our false expectations.
You certainly make a virtue out of dishonesty,” admitted Jim.
“The best thing to do is not think about honesty at all,” I pointed out. “Just take life as It comes and help your brother.”
“It’s a good philosophy,” concluded Jim.
This conversation took place in Jim’s car as we drove to what they call the Annex, which is a district of Toronto north of the parliament buildings, a district where nearly everybody in Toronto was born but from which nearly everybody that was born there has moved away. It is filled with happy grandfathers and grandmothers; thousands of civil servants and university students dwell in it; it has a comfortable air but hardly any side drives. More bachelors and old maids reside in the Annex than in any other concentrated neighborhood of the city, with the result that the lights are out in the Annex earlier at night than in most neighborhoods. Panhandlers do not think very highly of the Annex because bachelors are always saving for their lonely old age.
But Jim knew some people who lived in one of the handsome apartment houses of the Annex. They had an uncle die who had been a great sportsman. He had left behind him great piles of fishing tackle and guns and mackinaw clothes and expensive hunting boots from Scotland. And we were on our way to buy some of the tackle for the benefit of the heirs. At least, that it what you say to your wife. Ah, we sportsmen are so devoted to one another!
“Despite our honesty,” said Jim, as we drove up in front of the beetling apartment house, I wouldn’t put it past us to control our expressions very carefully in case there are a couple of Cellini rods in this collection of junk we are going to see. I could do with a four-ounce Cellini.”
“The only thing to do,” I said, “is to bid one against the other. If there is a rod I want, I’ll say right out how much I’ll give for it. Then you say how much you’ll give. It will be a sort of private auction.”
“You’d never make a business man,” sighed Jim. And we walked up to the apartment house entrance.
Apartment houses always embarrass me. The embarrassment I feel on entering any strange house is multiplied exactly by the number of families living in the apartment. If there are forty apartments in the place, I am forty times as embarrassed. And further more there is, in a few of the better-class apartments, a sort of commissionaire standing in uniform in the front hall. Almost Invariably he is a veteran not of the Canadian but of the imperial army, and he has a high and snooty look.
There was such a one as we entered the foyer of this magnificent apartment house. He had a small red moustache and small bright brown eyes. He eyed us grimly.
Mr. Grimbleberry’s apartment?” asked Jim sweetly.
“Third floor, number thirty-four,” said the imperial, haughtily.
We went up the self-serve lift. It was an upholstered, creepy lift, like a coffin going heavenward.
On the third floor we got off and started to look for apartment thirty-four. Soft plush carpet, soft lights, soft music and soft odors of food lingered in the long corridors.
We went down the corridor and turned to the left, where we met a large, extra-stout gentleman in a derby hat coming to meet us.
“Ah,” cried the gentleman in the derby delightedly. “By Jove, you’re just the men I’m looking for! I’ve done a very silly thing.”
We paused politely. He was well dressed, obviously one of the better-class tenants of the high-class apartment.
“I’ve done an absurd thing,” he giggled, shamefacedly. “I’ve just snapped the door shut and left my key on the inside!”
The sergeant-major downstairs will fix it for you,” I suggested.
“Nonsense! That man!” giggled the gentleman in the derby. “He would merely start in motion an act of parliament to have the caretaker appoint somebody in the course of the coming week to make an adjustment of the matter. Look here, chaps, I want your help. I forgot an important matter, my wife’s wrap. I’m just rushing to meet her at a party. Do help me!”
“Certainly,” we both said. “How?”
“Through the transom,” he said. “The transom is slightly ajar.”
We walked along the corridor until we came to apartment number thirty-eight. It had, in fact, a transom. The transom was ajar.
“Better still!” cried the derby one. “I’m so big. You are just the size to go through a transom, by jove! Would you mind, I say?”
He was patting me on both lapels.
“I’m still athletic,” I agreed, taking off my overcoat and handing it to him.
Jim and the derby joined hands and I stepped on their palms and was hoisted aloft.
“You’ll see a sort of cotter pin,” said the derby-hatted one softly. “Just give it a smart pull. Then the transom will drop open. Don’t bang it. The people on this floor are very fussy about a little racket. Mostly old women.”
I drew a cotter pin holding the transom rod to the frame. The transom dropped and I caught it and let it softly down. With a few struggles and a wiggle or two, I got through, dropped to the floor and opened the door.
“There’s no key,” I pointed out. “It was just locked. The catch had sprung.”
“Good heavens, where’s my key, then?” cried the gentleman in the derby hat. “However, I won’t detain you. Would you care for a drop of something, raspberry vinegar or ginger cordial?”
“No, thanks,” said Jim. “We’ve an appointment.”
“Well, cheerio and thanks a lot,” said the gentleman in the derby.
So we went and found apartment number thirty-four and the Grimbleberrys were in, and they laid out the piles of their late Uncle Billie’s sporting gear. He had three Cellini rods, all about four ounces. Jim and I paid no attention to them. We just picked them up and laid them aside, as it to see more interesting exhibits. There were fly books crammed with fresh and untouched dozens of flies and boxes loaded with dry flies. There were precious fly lines rolled carefully on storage spools of cork. There were English reels with agate line guides. There were Scotch waders and brogues of leather. Baskets and rod carrying boxes of Spanish walnut with brass fittings and locks. There were English guns in leather cases. There were Harris tweed fishing coats with immense pockets that were just made to order for Jimmie. Nets, gaffs, fly oiling bottles and silver-cased pads of amadou for drying the fly. Pigskin valises and canvas kit bags of the wide-mouth English pattern, trimmed with genuine leather.
In fact, it was a sensation.
“Is That a Fair Price?”
We pawed casually amongst it all. I could feel Jimmie trembling every time he leaned against the table. I coughed loudly, and complained about a raw throat.
“Errumph,” said Jim. “Now one thing you have got to bear in mind, Grimbleberry,” said he, “there are plenty of rogues around who wouldn’t give you a fraction of the value of these things.”
“I’m sure there are,” said Mr. Grimbleberry.
“I’m sorry there isn’t much here that interests us,” I added. “We have so much stuff now our wives think we have gone crazy. In fact, I have to smuggle anything I buy into my own house.”
“Ha, ha,” we all laughed, including Mr. and Mrs. Grimbleberry.
“There are a few little items here,” I admitted, “that I think I could pick up, things I’ve worn out, and so on. But the great majority of the things are second-hand, of course, you see?”
“I wouldn’t mind one of these rods,” said Jim with a faint quaver in his voice.
“Oh?” I said, surprised. “I wonder what condition they are in? How long did your uncle have them?”
“I couldn’t say,” said Grimbleberry. “You see, I don’t fish, none of the family does. It’s just so much junk to us. I was hoping you chaps would take the whole shebang. Give us a lump sum for the whole works. That’s what I was hoping.”
“”Mmmmm,” said Jim and I together, like a duet.
I jointed up one of the Cellinis. It was like a living thing. It was like a jewel, like Aaron’s rod, pulsing with sensate life, a gorgeous, vital, leaping creation of bamboo yet weighing only four ounces for all its nine feet of length. It was worth every cent of the seventy-five dollars Uncle Billie, now with God, had paid for it new.
“Mmmmmm, not bad, Jim,” I said. “Feel that. Isn’t it a bit loggy to you?”
“Mmmmmm,” said Jim. He had actually to wrestle his gaze loose from that rod. He laid it aside doubtfully.
“How about twenty dollars for the lot?” asked Mr. Grimbleberry. “Is that a fair price? Ten dollars from each of you.”
I didn’t breathe. Jim cleared his throat.
“Or fifteen?” asked Grimbleberry. “I don’t want to impose on the fact that I know you two gentlemen.”
What was worrying me was how Jim and I were going to divide the loot. Who was to get the odd Cellini, for there were three. And who the pigskin bag? And that solid copper dry fly box?
At that terrific moment, there came sounds from the corridor outside the apartment. Excited voices and thudding feet. Grimbleberry hastened to his door, saying “There’s been a pants burglar working this neighborhood.”
Grimbleberry opened the door and a buzz of excited voices rose from the outer hall. Above all rose the irate and commanding voice of an imperial. He was saying:
“Two of them, a small one in a bright brown coat and a tall one. I spotted them the instant they came in.”
Jim strode to the door. “Are you looking for us, sir?” he demanded sharply.
The commissionaire from downstairs came and stared dubiously at Jim and me.
“These are guests of mine,” said Grimbleberry. “They have been here at least half an hour.”
“Beg pardon, sir,” said the commissionaire stiffly.
He told how the Bunthorpes in apartment thirty-eight had come in and found their place ransacked, their transom open and valuables stolen.
“It was a small man done it,” stated the commissionaire shrewdly. The only stranger I’ve seen here tonight was a big stout man in a derby hat, and carrying a club bag. But he couldn’t have got in through no transom, no, sir. Not him.”
He went away to pursue his criminal investigations.
We went back to the Grimbleberry’s dining room table were Uncle Billie’s collection of a lifetime – and a connoisseur – was spread out.
“Mr. Grimbleberry,” I said, stoutly, this stuff is worth more than twenty dollars.”
“In fact,” said Jimmie, “just one of these rods alone is worth a great deal more than twenty dollars.”
Mr. and Mrs. Grimbleberry looked at us with open mouths.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” I put in.
“That pair of waders with brogues is practically new,” said Jim, “and they sell, new for about forty dollars.”
“Good grief,” said Mrs. Grimbleberry casting a look around her apartment at the curtains and the rug with an appraising eye.
“One has to be honest,” said Jimmie. “Especially as, in this world, you are so often dishonest without knowing it. So I suggest this. I suggest you have a clerk from a fishing tackle store some night come up and set a fair valuation on all this stuff.”
“A great idea,” said Mrs. Grimbleberry.
“On an off night, have him come up,” I added, “and he can list all this stuff and put a fair second-hand value on everything.”
“And then we’ll come up again and bring some of our friends,” said Jim, and we can have a sale, eh?”
“Beautiful,” cried Mrs. Grimbleberry. “How much do you think it might come to?”
“Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea, I said.
“One hundred? Two hundred?” asked Mrs. Grimbleberry eagerly, and I saw Mr. Grimbleberry suddenly give her a sharp look.
“It wouldn’t be wise to say.” I suggested. “But it would bring you more than you’d get from a casual sale.”
So Jim and I left them and went down and as we passed through the foyer, the commissionaire saluted us respectfully.
“Ah,” said Jim, as we got into the car, “it pays to be honest.”
“Especially,” I agreed, “when it is within your power.”
Editor’s Notes: A Transom is a window that exists over a door frame. It was not uncommon for these to open on the horizontal in offices or homes.
Amadou patch is primarily composed of a mushroom, and its purpose is to squeeze a wet fishing fly between the two pads which sucks the water out, restoring its ability to float.
“Pants Burglar” was literally someone who stole pants. I guess the object was to also get money or a wallet that might be left in them, but there are historical newspaper references to people who just stole pants. It was a term used primarily in the early 20th century.
This is an illustration by Jim for a story by Merrill Denison, who he often illustrated for in the pre-Greg-Jim era of the early 1930s. Denison moved to New York to become a playwright and would still occasionally publish a story in the Star Weekly, usually about his dog, Boo Boo.
By Greg Clark, January 16, 1937
“No more fooling,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to take up skiing. It’s the rage.”
“It came,” I regretted, “just ten years too late for us.”
“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “There’s thousands of men our age skiing.”
“They started when they were younger,” I countered.
“It’s as easy as easy,” Jim informed me. There is no trick in it. You keep thinking of skiing as jumping off high ski jumps. That isn’t skiing, any more than high fancy diving is swimming. Skiing is like sailing. Or swimming. Nine-tenths of all skiing is just floating along over lovely levels and slopes, and one-tenth of it is sliding down pleasant hills with a sense of grace and speed that no other sport can give.”
“It looks the clumsiest sport I ever saw,” I protested. “Any I’ve ever seen skiing were either waddling or sprawling. In fact, outside the movies, I may say I have never to my knowledge seen a skier standing up.”
“It goes to show you,” groaned Jim, “just what prejudice can do to a man. We’ve had a couple of unfortunate experiences on skis. That settles it, as far as you are concerned.”
“It sure does,” I confirmed. “I’m not one of those who have to eat a whole egg to know it’s bad. Any game that makes me look and feel like a fool, that bumps me and bruises me and robs me of all my self-control isn’t going to get a second chance at me.”
“I know you are not a bigoted man,” said Jim, “so that is why I now ask you to keep an open mind in this matter and consider a few more points.”
“My mind,” I agreed, “is slightly ajar, but only slightly.”
“Skiing,” said Jim, “has come to stay. It is not a fad. It is as natural born a Canadian sport as it is possible to conceive.”
“It was born in Norway,” I corrected, “as a quick way for coming down a mountain. The Norwegians have never yet invented as quick a way for going back up the mountain.”
“Canadians, you admit,” said Jim, “are an outdoor people. They have more outdoors than most countries. Millions of square miles of Canada are nothing but outdoors. Good for nothing else forever.”
“Hence,” I agreed, “three hundred million dollars’ worth of tourists per annum.”
“Why leave it to the tourists?” asked Jim. “Now, in summer, we all go to summer cottages or camping. We fish and boat and swim. We are an outdoor people. But come winter, we hole up, like bears. Why? Because, except for skating, snowshoeing and tobogganing, there is nothing outdoors in winter to attract us.”
“I like holing up,” I stated. “Beside a bright fire.”
“Skating and tobogganing,” went on Jim, are restricted by the amount of clear ice and the hills available. Snowshoeing is a dreary business of picking them up and setting them down. But now comes skiing.”
“Hooray, slither, thud,” said I.
“Once You Get the Hang of It”
“Skiing, once you get the hang of it,” said Jimmie, “is the most fascinating, alluring, glorious sport there is. Unlike golf and tennis, it can be enjoyed by young and old. You can go as far as you like with it. Like fishing. You can restrict yourself to just floating around near home, enjoying the simple pleasure of sailing over the bright snow, amid the woods and fields. Or you can go as far as you like into the countless intricacies of the sport, learning to go with speed, with ever increasing style, over hills, over jumps, rushing at wind speed through forest aisles, as fully in control of your graceful movements as though you were walking, and all the time in the glorious pure winter air.”
“It costs money,” I pointed out.
“It is one of the few sports,” replied Jim, “that costs no more than the initial outlay. If you play golf, after you’ve bought your golf clubs you have to pay fees forever. If you ski, you just run outside the city and start skiing. It costs no more than walking.”
“There’ll be some catch in it,” I argued. “Or if there isn’t, somebody will soon put one in it.”
“They can’t,” said Jim. “Right now, all around the city for miles and miles there are the loveliest ski trails winding over the countryside, and what do they cost? Nothing. Because they are simply the trails left by others who have gone ahead. You just climb out of your car, find good trail clearly defined where plenty of other skiers have gone, and follow. Where the many have gone is the finest country, the best slopes, the prettiest scenes.”
“It sounds,” I said, “a little too good to be true.”
“All the best things in life do,” said Jim.
Thus, reluctantly, Jim persuaded me to go and shop around the ski stores with him. There were outfits from $8 up. But there were also boots alone that cost $28, and skis alone that went to fifty dollars. And of all the garments, gadgets and accessories to be seen in these ski stores, only a modern motor car emporium could show any greater diversity.
We ended up by buying $10 skis, and $4 poles; boots at $7, and three dollars’ worth of wax, klister, blister and blung or some such names, meaning wax for wet snow, medium snow and dry snow.
One thing about skiing, once you let it take hold of you, even by the tips of your fingers, it gets a grip that is worse than strong drink. Before Jim and I got home, we had bought ski pants and ski spats, ski coats and ski neck scarves, ski belts and ski lunch bags, ski garters and ski socks; ski berets and ski goggles; in fact, both of us had to leave our purchases out in the car in the garage until our families went to the movies after dinner.
To Live Up to Costumes
Part of any sport is the costume. The big thing, with thousands of horse addicts, for example, is the smart riding togs, in which they can drape themselves gracefully around fences and fashionable barnyards. Shooting and fishing call for a certain style, even if it is no style. Skiing certainly has costume. Jim and I dressed up in our new outfits and we visited together. These clothes give you a rugged feeling a sort of wide-legged, heavy-footed, glint-eyed Scandinavian feeling.
Saturday noon, in a keen and platinum-skied weather, we sortied out and joined the northward parade, on all highways, of cars bristling with skis. Less than an hour’s run north, we joined one of the numerous side road processions of cars seeking the white open spaces. And on a hill top, of pine and cedar, dark against the glorious white, we parked in the ditch along with dozens of other cars. And out over the wholesome world, traced with snake fences and etched woods, we could see hundreds of skiers, like dancers on damask….
“To-day,” said Jim. “we’ll try no hills. No fancy steps at all. Nothing but elementary straight sliding on the level.”
“We’ll have to live up to these clothes a bit,” I reminded him.
On the running-board, we sat to adjust the heavy clever harness of the skis.
“Will we be warm enough?” I asked, the keen stinging wind rattling spumey snow against us.
“As soon as we get going, we’ll warm,” said Jim.
And then we stood up, and started with slow, easy skids of the skis, to proceed to the sloping field edge, and enter on that far-flung dance of winter. It was, as Jim said, as easy as easy. No steep slopes, but slow rolling fields, down which it was a curious thrill to propel ourselves with ski poles and up which it was no trick at all to climb.
“It is like sailing,” I shouted to Jim, as we drifted from one fair field to another.
“Wind in the face,” cried Jim, “crisp snow under foot, blood tingling …”
“It’s warm,” I confessed.
“I was just thinking,” admitted Jim, veering nearer me, “we put on a little too much clothing. I often marveled at those ski costumes in the store, so flimsy.”
But we rested frequently and took it easy and cooled off wherever we felt like it. And presently, even the far-off hilltop where we had left our car dropped from sight behind the rolling hills of York county.
On fences, we saw coats and jackets hung. Haversacks and scarves and even caps were suspended from fence posts, such is the comradeship of the ski world, nobody fears to leave their possessions about.
“If I could take off this jacket,” I told Jim. “I could enjoy it a lot better.”
“Me, too,” agreed Jim, sliding for a little piney copse where against the dark green shone the colors of sundry garments where fellow skiers had hung them.
With jackets off, we took a new lease of life. A valley sloped away from the little copse, and into the valley ran a regular highway of ski tracks. Into the valley slid Jim and I, and amongst beautiful trees, we guided our points, slow slopes being followed by short steep climbs, and valleys branching off valleys, and all along the way we found garments and lunch bags suspended from the branches. And the gayer we went, the more we shed, Jim hanging up on one small cedar tree his cap, scarf, mitts and belt, so flushed and tingled were we with this rejoicing little valley.
All Hills Are Up
A little later, at the top of one of the steep short climbs, I shed my outer integuments, and Jim even removed his shirt.
“My underwear is perfectly respectable,” he retorted to my shocked glare. So I took off my shirt, too, and we turned into a more enticing valley than any we had yet seen, while from before and behind came little volleying parties and doubles and singles of skiers, all with such look of pleasure on their bright faces, it was like being a boy again.
But presently, even bereft of all extra garments, we began to tire.
“Jim,” I said, resting against a tree that fortunately presented itself, “we shouldn’t take it too hard or too far the first time. I bet we’ll ache to-morrow.”
“We can turn back any time,” agreed Jim, puffing.
So after a little rest, we turned and headed back through the valleys.
But, imperceptibly to the human eye, especially the human eye on skis, this valley sloped just the least little bit. And by the time we came out into the next valley, we were pretty weary.
“Tchah,” said Jimmie, as we rested.
“Pffffff,” I agreed.
We started up the next valley. It too had a gentle, an almost imperceptible, slope. Valley led into valley, like the joints of a clothes dryer. Sometimes we came to a fork in the valley, but I left the choice of the fork to Jimmie, who is taller and therefore can see farther.
In all the valleys were these glittering trails of ski tracks, and along all the trees were the garments shed.
“Jim,” I said, “we ought to be coming to that little cedar with our shirts on it.”
“Next bend, I think,” said Jim.
“Funny how chilly it is,” I remarked, “when you stop.”
“Funny how much oftener you stop going than coming,” said Jim.
But we did not come to the little cedar tree, and the next bend was a valley full of large gray boulders through which the trail led windingly.
“We certainly,” I declared, “did not come down this valley.”
But rather than go back and correct our bearings, Jim decided it would be easier if we climbed out of the little valley on to the level and struck overland for the right one.
We found one valley, and two valleys, cutting overland, but neither of them did we recognize. We then found a deep valley and then another shallow one. They were full of skiers both coming and going, who could not, even when we halted them, tell us if they had noticed on a small cedar tree a blue shirt and a green shirt and sundry caps, scarves and fancy woollen belts.
But nobody had. So I borrowed a pair of gloves off a tree, but Jimmie wouldn’t. And we went up valleys and across fields and down valleys, asking everybody if they had seen a cedar tree with blue shirts and green shirts on it.
So we abandoned the search and headed over hill and dale for what Jimmie said was the direction of our car. And we came at last to a side road where a skiing party took us into their car and drove us at dark to the highway, where, we were able to hire a taxi cab with blankets and go finding our own car.
“We still have our skis,” said Jim, as deeply wound up in rugs and cloth things Jim found under the back seat, we headed for home.
“And our pants,” I added gratefully.
The first lesson in skiing,” said Jim, don’t wear too much clothing.”
“And the second lesson,” said I, “is, all hills are up.”
By Greg Clark, January 8, 1938
“Do you realize,” said Jimmie Frise, more to make conversation than anything, “that right now, in the dead of winter, there are more than 40 different kind of birds living right around us here in Ontario?”
“Song birds?” I inquired.
“Yes, song birds,” stated Jim, “although they aren’t singing just now.”
“The silly things,” I said.
“Ah, they’re quite happy,” said Jim. “You see, a bird’s normal temperature is over 130 degree. They don’t feel the cold the way we do.”
“The silly things,” I repeated. “When they’ve got the means to go south. When all they’ve got to do is up and fly away, and in about a week’s easy going, be in Mexico or Yucatan.”
“Well, you see,” explained Jim, “these are northern birds. They nest up in the Arctic. They think this is real balmy to-day. They’ve come a thousand miles south already. They think this is down south.”
“Huh,” said I.
“It’s all a matter, “elucidated Jim, “of relativity. The birds that nest here go south. The birds that nest in the Arctic come down here.”
“And the ones that nest in the south?” I inquired.
“They go right into the tropics,” said Jim. “Birds are very discontented.”
“Discontented?” I scoffed. “You mean smart. They grew wings. And what did we grow? Just legs. Fat, slow, lumbering legs. And where can we go on legs?”
“Ah, but we grew brains,” pointed out Jim.
“Well,” I maintained, “a bird has brains too. All it needs. And when a bird thinks, with its little brain, that it wants to go to Mexico, all it does is get up and fly there. But when we, with our big, fat brains, think we want to go to Mexico, what do we do? Can we get up and go there? No, sir. We can just sit here and think about it. I think humans are saps, if you want to know.”
“We stay here,” argued Jim, because we’ve got the ability to build houses and be warm. A bird can’t protect itself against the winter, so it has to leave.”
“Still, the more I think of it,” I insisted, “the more I think humans are saps. If instead of wasting time learning how to build houses we had grown wings, we’d have been better off in the end. Now that we have chosen to remain in one place and dig ourselves in, what good does it do us? Are we any better off, sitting here like slugs in a cave, than if we were skittering hither and yon? I mean, use your common sense, Jimmie. Who decided for us that we would be better off stuck down in one spot, the way we are? That’s what I want to know. Who chose for us all this living and dying in one spot, like a lot of cabbages?”
“Good heavens,” said Jim, “you can’t rebel against human nature.”
“As a matter of fact,” said he, “it takes a long time to alter human nature or any kind of nature. It takes ages of time and countless generations. One thing is sure, we two can’t change. Each of us is like a coin stamped out in a mint. All that ever happens to us is that we grow a little worn and faded. But the imprint stays on us to the end.”
“It’s cruel,” I said.
“And the comical part of it is” went on Jim, “that for countless ages to come, there will be guys exactly like us, thinking the same silly things, yearning and dreaming, but never changing a whit.”
“It’s dreadful,” I muttered. “I’d like to meet up with those birds, about two million years ago, who decided to be us.”
“There is only one thing to do,” said Jim, a little importantly. “And that is, make the best of it. Instead of running away from life, attack it. Instead of cringing from cold and dark and fear, stand up and walk right into it.”
“Ah,” said I. “Hero stuff.”
“Not at all,” said Jim. “Life in the end is just one slow, steady defeat. Nobody ever wins. We lose our strength. We see all our works crumble. Our friends fall away. We die. We can’t possibly escape, so why run? Why always be cringing and whimpering and running like hell?”
“Who’s running?” I demanded.
“Why,” cried Jim, “you were even wanting to fly.”
“I was merely wanting,” I stated with dignity, “to be comfortable.”
“Comfort,” stated Jim, “is relative. Here we are sitting in a comfortable house, slouched down in a couple of easy chairs, with soft music coming from Los Angeles, across five thousand miles of blizzard, and there isn’t a thing we want, from a drink of water to a heated sixty-mile-an-hour vehicle out in our heated garage, that we can’t have. On a night of storm and tempest, here we are as snug as a couple of bugs in a buffalo rug. Yet in five minutes, without the slightest effort, we can be in a beautiful theatre looking at the greatest actors and most beautiful actresses culled from America, England, Germany, Sweden. Or, in ten minutes, we can be sitting at a silver cluttered table, in a swell cafe, eating chicken sandwiches made by a French chef.
“Mmmm,” said I, sitting up.
To Escape From Comfort
“Yet,” said Jim, “I am willing to bet you that there are men, at this very hour, lying in a little silk tent in a deep excavation in the snow, a thousand miles north of us, with their husky dogs snuggled around and a fire burning gaily: and those men, miles from any human habitation, lost in a wild blizzard raging, are more comfortable than we are.”
“What will they be eating?” I inquired.
“Bacon,” said Jim, “and flapjacks smothered in maple syrup.”
“Mmmm,” I repeated, sitting up higher and scratching my head
“You see?” said Jim. “The less comfort you have, the more you enjoy comfort. The trouble with us is, we never escape from comfort. To really enjoy life, we ought to expose ourselves to discomfort a little more than we do. We ought to take up skiing, or go for long tramps in the open. We ought to suffer our climate occasionally, so as to appreciate how cleverly we have skunked it.”
“To tell the truth, Jim,” I confessed, “I’ve often looked at those pictures of winter camping in the outdoor magazines with a curious impulse. I’ve darn near gone on winter camping trips.”
“Darn near isn’t near enough,” retorted Jim.
“Many’s the time,” I assured him, “I’ve thought of having a winter house party up at our cottage.”
And Jim, with a joyous glitter in his eye, slowly rose from amongst the cushions of the big chair, and looked at me with open mouth. And that is how it came about.
Our first idea, then and there talked out and elaborated for a lovely and enthusiastic hour, was to take all our families. We even got to the list of provisions. We even telephoned long distance for forty cents to the postmaster at the little village, seven miles from the summer resort, to ask how the roads were at this time of year. And he told us they were swell. Plowed every day.
But our families were all tied up. Jim’s had skiing party engagements and Sunday teas; mine had all promised themselves in various ways for at least three week-ends to come.
But those lists of provisions fairly burned in our pockets. And when Jimmie took me up to his attic closet and emptied out old dunnage bags full of mackinaw coats and hunting pants and oil-tanned moccasins that hadn’t been used for fifteen years, the family side of the enterprise began to fade anyway.
“They’d turn it,” said Jim, “into a taffy-pulling, dish-washing, community-singing sort of thing. We’ll make it stag. We’ll just go up and spend the week-end tramping over the hills and visiting the settlers in their snowed-in cabins. Will they be surprised?”
“And,” I said, “we can take along our guns in case we jump a cottontail.”
“And,” contributed Jim, “I’ll bring along that Bird Guide of mine and we can identify some winter birds.”
“Swell,” I agreed.
A White Vastness
Really, the drive up was beautiful. The highways are kept scraped as clean as the pavement. The vast white country, miles and miles, is utterly new, despite all the years we have passed through it in summer. A thousand interesting and old-fashioned interests attract the eye, the farmers in sleighs, the villages and towns so steamy and quaint-looking under their mantles of white. Except for Jim’s anti-freeze having got thin and a little boil-up we had south of Severn Bridge, we made as good time as we do in July. But the engine boiling halted us a good hour on the road and then we had to go by easy stages until we got to a garage; and in all a couple of hours were lost. But even the visits to garages were interesting in winter. Everybody up north has a different air, in the off season.
At last we reached the gravel road that goes east towards “the Lake,” as we call it, and here the plowing was not so governmental as on the highways. In fact, we slowed down to about 15. I think all those country drivers you see bumbling along at 15 in summer practice most of their driving in winter.
It was dusk when we passed through the village, the last outpost of civilization. We stopped in to see the postmaster and storekeeper and had a jovial chat. It was dark when we started the last seven miles in to the cottage. But the headlights threw a glorious beam on the fantastic and wholly unfamiliar scenery of the road we knew in summer. And when we reached the lane that leads down to the lake, by the cottage, the snow-clad boards pointed down two deep ruts between enormous lake-blown drifts, and we knew we could take the car no farther.
Shouldering our packs and provision boxes we left the car at the corner and walked down the ruts. Under the stars, a white vastness stretched afar where in summer the dark lake lay. With merry shouts and scrunching feet and not a little leaving of boxes of provisions to be come back for later, we followed the ruts past the last settler’s house its lights glimmering in the distance, and waded through drifts along the abandoned road, past strange shuttered cottages of neighbors, utterly foreign now and came with a feeling of Commander Peary, to our own cottage, memorable despite the masses of snow, crouched amidst its tapering firs.
We unlocked the door. It was bitter. I lit a match and fumbled up at the iron switch box that turns on the power. It clicked. But no light came.
“H’m,” I remembered. “They cut off the power into here at the end of the season.”
“There’ll be lamps?” said Jim.
With matches, I hunted lamps in remote back shelves of closets. But careful housewives had emptied lamps.
“Get the fire on the hearth,” I cried cheerily, “while I find the coal oil.”
So Jim, with matches went out and scratched up kindling at the woodpile against the house and I went seeking. All the tins rang hollow. In vain. I searched drawers for candles, looked along the mantel for colored candles in silly summer candlesticks. There were none. Jim was kneeling at the stone fireplace, and faint flames fluttered uncertainly.
“The kindling is wet,” he said. “Frozen. You never should pile wood against the house, on account of the autumn drip. It soaks it”
“Get her going,” I said. “This house is like a tomb. It’s colder than outside.”
Jim struggled and burned leaping flares of newspaper, and piled and repiled the kindling but got no fire.
“Here” I said, “You go and pick up those boxes of provisions we left and at the same time drop in at the settler’s. It’s only couple of hundred yards beyond, and borrow a bottle of coal oil. I’ll show you a fire.”
A Losing Battle
So Jim went out into the starry night and I got to work on the fire. But it was true. A woodpile that does fine against the house in hot summer is no good for winter. All the wood was frozen. I went out and floundered about breaking twigs off trees I got a little fire going but the larger wood refused to take hold. I went out and tore down the woodpile to get at some of the under sticks. But autumn’s drip had saturated them all. Jim was a long time coming home.
In the intervals of making the fire blaze a little, I pulled cots out of the adjoining rooms and set them in front of the fireplace. I put the dunnage bags on them. Spread out some of my stuff.
I heard Jim coming in. At the moment, the fire happened to be just failing for the tenth time
“I called at the settler’s,” said Jim, “but there was nobody home but a big black dog who wouldn’t let me look around the woodshed or anything.”
So we went out and floundered in the drifts and collected two or three large armfuls of twigs and what we hoped were dead branches, and I found a couple of pieces of loose board on the back veranda, and we got enough fire going to light the room enough to spread out our blankets. But the chunks of maple we leaned up so invitingly in the blaze would not take fire. They hissed. They sizzled. But they would not take fire.
“Let’s get into bed,” said Jim, “while we have enough light to see.”
Which we did. And it was good, with all our clothes on, to snuggle down amongst the blankets and lie watching the little fire fight and struggle and snap and crackle in its valiant battle for existence. But even as we drowsed, we knew it was a losing battle.
In the night, a moaning waked us, and on the window, we could hear the sound of snow. The room was dark, the fire was dead.
“Blizzard,” said Jim, heavily.
As host, I went into the adjoining room and brought out a couple of mattresses to lay on top of us.
In the morning, gray and terrible, the window was snowed up and a drift had blown in unseen cracks. The floor was inches deep in places and our boots lifted pathetic mouths up out of it, as though gasping. Jim crouched out of bed and hastily burned some more newspapers.
“We can go out,” he said, “and find some wood now. We’ll be eating in half an hour.”
“Jim,” I said, emptying my boot, “how about eating at that Chinese restaurant we had supper in last night?”
“That’s 30 miles,” stated Jim.
“Even so,” I suggested.
So we got dressed stiffly and packed up our stuff and carried it out to the car, which was all but drifted under; and, it being Sunday, no snow-plow came by this early, so it was a long, anxious drive the seven miles out to the postmaster’s, where we had breakfast and bought shovel and waited until the snow-plow came by, and enjoyed a long, pleasant conversation about the old pioneer days with plenty of extra cups of coffee.
Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).
Coal Oil is a fuel not unlike kerosene, derived from coal rather than petroleum. Some would still refer to kerosene as “coal oil”.
By Greg Clark, January 12, 1929
The other day, at the height of the festive season, two of us who had cemented our friendship twelve years ago in a town called Villers au Boil, saw on Yonge St. three young chaps walking along slightly tipsy.
It was an uncommon enough sight, though we two belong to a generation that can remember the long bars of Yonge St. They were young fellows about twenty-three or four, obviously belonging to the best class, with the ex-Varsity look. They had just had enough to drink to be noticeable. Their passage up Yonge St. created a mild sensation and there was much turning of heads and pausing to look back at them.
We followed slowly behind them, because one of us was a clergyman and the other a newspaper man and this human spectacle in the midst of the city was our proper meat.
The faces of the people who passed them showed mixed sentiments. Some ranged from disapproval to disgust. Others smiled or were merely interested. With laughter and a kind of arrogance, the three young men swaggered up Yonge St.
They paused to look in a store window and we had a better look at them. The padre and I both exclaimed together:
“Why, that’s young Blank – Dick’s kid brother!”
And the detached human spectacle at once lost its detachment and became a personal matter. For the middle one of the three mildly hilarious members of the younger generation was the younger brother of a man who, but for a stray shell one lazy misty morning of an August far back, might have been walking up Yonge St. with us too.
“Jove, he looks like Dick!” whispered the padre. We had stopped.
“Shall we speak to him?”
“No, no,” exclaimed the padre. “Not just now.”
“Look at the walk of him! Isn’t he Dick to the life? This is uncanny, padre.”
“The younger generation,” said the clergyman
“Yet within our memory, padre, was the time Yonge St. would have dozens, yes scores of sights like this any afternoon.”
“I wonder should I speak to him?” whispered the padre. “Tell him I knew Dick? Maybe that would get him off the street like this.”
“He’s all right. He’s not tight. Just merry.”
“Yes, but it’s different now. Times have changed. Dick wouldn’t like to see this.”
“Dick? Padre, have you forgotten Dick and you and me …”
And the padre turned fiercely.
“But these are only kids!”
“They are as old or older than you were in France!”
A Challenging Human Riddle
“By Jove!” breathed the padre. We lost the three young chaps. We stood in the traffic current, looking at each other for a long and curious moment.
“Let’s go in here somewhere. Let’s think about this.” said the padre. And we climbed a stairs to a tea room. A candle was lighted between us on the table. We saw each other’s faces in a soft familiar light that helped more than anything to restore us to those already distant years when we were more than blood brothers together. The candle in the whiskey bottle-neck on the dugout table. The pipe smoke clouding between us.
And with the incident of the three young men, the three unwise young men on Yonge St. for his text, the clergyman worked out a sermon that probably he never will excel for insight and charity. It should be said here that in the days of our highest friendship he was not a clergyman nor was there in his or any of our minds the faintest dream that he ever would be one. He was just a gay rollicking lieutenant distinguished by an overwhelming kindliness that made him a good deal braver than the next.
“Don’t blame the war,” said the padre, “for the younger generation. I think it would still have been the younger generation even if there had been no war. The motor car, the immense Increase in the sensual entertainments such as movies, radio, and so forth, would have had a speeding up effect without any war. Just plain prosperity, which gives young people jobs and makes them free, would have effected a great change since 1914, if there had been only peace.
“But seeing Dick’s kid brother out there has given me a great idea. Maybe it will help us to understand the younger generation a little better. And, if we understand them, it will make us better men, never mind them.”
And this was the padre’s idea:
Into the middle of a marvellously commercialized and industrialized world came a great and spectacular war.
For drama and color, there had never been anything like it in the history of man. Millions of men set loose to kill. Majestic legions marching in incredible numbers on the highways of the world. The wars with which we stir the imagination of youth paled into petty fights before this awful and lordly war. The statesmen of the world used their oratory to rouse their nations. The poets sang of blood. The brains and wealth of the world were poured out to serve. And the men of the world of every degree and station went forth to give their lives.
Romance beyond the splendid dreams of the story-tellers of the past, air fighting. millions gloriously dead, millions smashed, gigantic guns, combat unbroken across hundreds of miles, combat in different continents, war magnificent beyond the vision of the school books and the mighty songs of old.
Now while some of us may have known war to be filthy and futile, to be not gallant but terribly dreary, to be not picturesque and splendid but grimy and encompassed by a few square yards of earth, there were others who could not know these things.
When the Splendor Vanished
They heard the bugles and the drums. They saw the swinging legions through the dreaming eyes of childhood. They read the mighty headlines and saw the stern pride of their elders and the bitter tears. They were the younger generation, sensitive and aglow, who found themselves in a world dedicated to glory and sacrifice, to mighty deeds, to manhood. And above all things, to action.
Too young to have any sense of the proportions of life, old enough to gather to the full those impressions of splendor that really did exist and were played to their fullest pitch in the midst of the war. At the most sensitive age, the age of the schoolboy, they were taught by that surest of teachers, example, the virtues of sacrifice, courage, and the manhood Homer extolled. Life to them was filled with promise. The promise of action of excitement, of gallantry, of death. And how would any boy of fourteen die better than on the quarter-deck of his flag-ship or on the field of battle amidst the corpses of his enemies, or in the far sky, like a hero?
I would like to know, asked the padre, the dreams that the young men of to-day dreamed when they were boys.
And suddenly, all the promise was ended.
All the splendor vanished. The world went back to bookkeeping.
Home came the elder brothers and threw aside their swords and took up the workaday world. Laughed about the war. Smiled for their gallant dead comrades. Threw aside the royal robes of romance and stuck pens behind their ears.
Now do you begin to see, asked the padre, what I am getting at?
We who were old enough to go to war were old enough to know what the world was like before we went, and we came back to it gladly. We had lived. Well, let us live on. The tumult and the shouting dies. The captains and the kings depart.
But what of those kids? The tumult and the shouting that filled their ears, the captains and the kings who marched before their growing vision? Those virtues that are called manly inspired in them as it has been inspired in no other generation, and they come to their manhood to find life a business of alarm clocks rather than alarms, of routine not route marches. Not courage and audacity but a kind of colorless diligence is the virtue that the world expects of them now.
What the elder brothers did, the younger brothers will never be free to do.
And at this point the padre set the candle in Its brass candlestick to one side and stared crestfallen across the table.
“Dick and you and I,” said he, “could take a drink. But Dick’s kid brother cannot. I mean he cannot. There was an excuse for us. What hard fellows we were, eh? Masters of our fate. By that I mean ready to give our lives when called for. Masters of the lives of many men. Strong. responsible men at twenty-four. At twenty-four, the average man of to-day is not much more than an apprentice. And despite what I have been saying. I say now that these young fellows have no right to take a drink. Isn’t that odd?”
Seeking Outlet for High Spirits
It is odd. But the padre’s ethical confusion was his own. It does not need to be shared.
The main thing is that he seems to have uncovered an angle of view on the young men and women of to-day that might help a good deal in understanding them. They were born to action, and action is denied them. When they show audacity, it is because they were nurtured in the sight of audacity that was splendid. When they show boldness, maybe it is the boldness of a Billy Bishop sky-shooting through a Hun formation and taking his pair. If they want to swagger, perhaps it is in emulation of the elder brothers who swaggered not in the homely streets of Toronto but down the Strand or through l’avenue de la Paix. When they burst out and raise the devil, where is the trench for them to take, where the disputed barricade at which to keep their rendezvous? Their spirits are colored not with the strict spectrum of school and a safely industrialized life all about them, but with the red and steel-gray memories of the promise of their elder brothers.
“How does that explain the girls, padre?”
“Girls are only women not yet grown. And it is the nature of women to give the men what they want. It the men want action, very well, the girls will try their pretty pathetic best to give it to them. Bob their hair, throw their old-fashioned modesty to the winds, create a sort of jazz excitement that will respond in however small degree to the brooding desires of a war-bred race of boys who are asked to pay their elder brothers’ debt by close application to a desk.”
“Really, padre, that young edition of Dick out there on Yonge St. was a pathetic sort of a sight?”
“Yes. Sorry for him,” said the padre. “I was just remembering Dick that night at Roclincourt, when it was that chap What’s-his-name’s turn to take a raid. And Dick disappeared, you remember? Went over himself in command of the party. And when he was before the colonel, he said he went because he was worried about the men. But Dick thought the world of that poor, scared What’s-his-name. Did you ever see a stranger friendship? Would that young Dick we saw out there be capable of a thing like that?”
“We wouldn’t, but maybe that younger brother would.”
“Or would he be as game as Dick was in that court-martial at Bruay?”
“Maybe he would.”
“Or would he be where Dick was the morning he was killed?” demanded the padre, tapping out his pipe.
“Possibly he would.”
“The point is,” said the padre, “he will never get the chance.”
Editor’s Notes: This story reflects some of the older generation’s trepidation with the rapid changes in society during the 1920s. There is also a change of attitude in old World War One soldiers in the attitude toward the war. It was not uncommon to display disgust with the war, and anger at the loss of life. However, there was also a remembrance of the camaraderie, and friendships. Looking back at the war as glorious would be unusual, and Greg expressed all of these emotions when writing about it over the years.