The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Repairs

Each to His Trade

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 20, 1934

“My family,” said Jimmie Frise, “are after me to clean the furnace pipes.”

“It’s a trifling job,” I said. “My gardener does it in a few minutes each year and doesn’t even mention it at the end of the month.”

“Still,” demurred Jimmie, “I don’t see why I should rob some poor man of a dollar.”

“It would do you good to engage occasionally in a little unpleasant toil,” I said. “One of the things that is wrong with the world is specialization, not only in industry, but in life itself.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“We kick about the deadening effect of mass production,” I stated, “and the evil effect upon the human race of having men doing one small thing over and over again all their lives, like screwing up nuts or tightening a bolt or some other automatic action. It drives men mad. But how about us all living our lives as automatically, never straying out of the rut, always doing the same things every day at the same time, getting out of bed the same side, shaving in the exact same way, starting with our top right cheek and ending with our left neck, kissing the same woman goodby each morning at the same place in the same hallway, and so forth.”

“What has this got to do with stove pipes?” demanded Jim.

“The deadly routine of your life.” I went on, “includes a furnace, and you stoke it and shake it, and remove the ashes and stoke it again. But the ghastly routine would be broken if, once in while, you cleaned the pipes. It would be like getting out of bed the other side, and shaving your left neck first and ending with your right top cheek, and kissing somebody else goodby in the front hall. It would give you a fresh and sudden zest.”

“I never heard anybody rave about furnace pipes the way you do,” said Jimmie. “How about helping me with them?”

“I could ask my gardener to,” I agreed.

“How about the ghastly monotony of your own life?” sneered Jim.

“I often shave backwards,” I said. “And sometimes I kiss my little daughter goodby instead.”

“If I clean the furnace pipes,” said Jim, “it won’t be for any philosophic or psychopathic reason. It will be simply to save a buck. For five years now I have been trying to end the depression by spending all I made, by sharing my work with others, by hiring people on the slightest pretext to do my work for me. But I can’t see it has made the slightest difference. So from now on I am going to be thrifty and careful like everybody else, and do all my own chores and sole my own boots and cut my own grass and clean my own furnace pipes.”

“And what will you do with the money you save?” I asked.

“I’ll buy bonds,” said Jim.

“That’s patriotic,” I assured him. “Instead of spending your dollars on small jobs like furnace pipes and your garden, you will lend It to the government to pay relief. Then, after they have paid relief to a few million people, you get your money back in ten years. Meantime, who paid the relief?”

“Don’t confuse me,” begged Jim. “I am trying to do the right thing by my country. My country wants cash. To lend it to them, I am going to cut down my spending. I am going to do my own furnace pipes.”

“And the people you no longer help support,” I argued, “will get your money just the same, only in relief.”

“I suppose so,” admitted Jim.

“Then,” I demanded, “where does the money come from, twenty years from now, when the government pays you back the money they borrowed from you?”

“Look,” said Jim, “I have five children. In twenty years they will all be grown up and making money. The government can reborrow from them to pay me back.”

“I’d rather have my furnace pipes done by a pipe cleaner,” I said. “It makes him happy. And it only costs me two dollars. It wont cost my grandchildren anything.”

“But there will be five Frises to borrow from instead of only one pointed out Jim. “It will be easier. That’s what the government figures on. It will be easier to borrow by the time their note to me falls due.”

“It looks to me,” I said, “as if we were paying for having our pipes cleaned and cleaning them ourselves. It is all very confusing.”

“I only want to do what is right,” said Jim. “If they say spend, I spend. If they say save, I save.”

“And if you spend, it’s gone,” I enlightened, “and if you save, It’s loaned.”

But Jimmie had risen from the steps of his house, where we had been sitting in the sunshine, and was staring at a little man walking down the street.

This little man was small and smudgy. Under his arm, he carried a roll of what appeared to be very dirty carpet, and from the ends of the carpet protruded filthy brushes on long wire handles.

“Speak of the devil,” exclaimed Jimmie.

The little man, passing, halted and in a deep English voice cried.

“‘Ow’s yer pipes?”

“Come up a minute,” called Jimmie.

“A real chimney sweep, like in Dickens,” I breathed to Jim.

The little man drew nigh and rested his roll of carpet.

“Are you a chimney sweep?” I asked excitedly, picturing him as one who has spent his entire childhood and infancy in the chimneys of Old London.

“No, sir,” he said, with dignity. “I am a financial man, by profession, but during the present interregnum, as you might say, I am picking up what I can.”

“You clean chimneys?” asked Jim.

“I clean furnace pipes,” said the little man.

“How much do you charge?”

“Two dollars,” said he.

“Two dollars!” cried Jim. “Two bucks Just to rattle a few furnace pipes into an ash can! Man, you’re crazy.”

“It’s quite a job,” said the chimney man.

“Why, for two dollars I could drive my car from here to Montreal!”

“But your pipes would still be choked,” said the small man, “when you got back ‘ome.”

“Two dollars! Why, that is ridiculous,” said Jim. “Some of you people have no sense of proportion. Just because a job is a little unpleasant, you charge three times what it is worth. My friend and I can do those pipes in a few minutes after supper.”

“I shouldn’t try it of an evening, sir,” said the little man. “Professionally speaking.”

“Thanks very much,” said Jim, dismissing the small man, who hoisted his roll of carpet. “I had no idea.”

And as the little man retired down the walk, Jim said: “Look here, you save Saturday afternoon, we’ll do mine and yours both.”

“Mine were done,” I pointed out.

“Lend me hand, just for the experience,” said Jim. “I want to look into this business of small jobs. Two bucks!”

Saturday Jim drove me home from the office very kindly and then reminded me, as he let me out, to come over at 2 p.m.

It is curious how seldom one looks at a furnace. One visits it in the dark, shovels coal into a glowing hole, rattles a shaker, reaches up to a familiar doohickey and turns the draft on or off, and the furnace remains a dimly seen, faintly disliked, something to be admitted only part way into one’s consciousness.

Jim and I surveyed his furnace in some awe. It was a bulging and somehow bowlegged sort of furnace. It was aged and scaley and corroded. There were bands or bolts of clay around it that fell away like dust when you touched them. Everything was rusty and squeaked.

Dark Cloud of Endeavor

The pipes were fragile and sagged. When we slapped them, they felt soggy and stuffed.

“How long is it since you had your pipes cleaned?” I asked Jim, doubtfully.

“I don’t recall them being cleaned.”

“Why, you have been wasting fuel for years and haven’t been getting a fraction of the British thermal units you should have been getting.”

“You’d better take off your coat,” said Jim, throwing his across the empty coal bin stall.

I stood ready while Jim stretched up and took firm hold of the joint of pipe that vanished into the cellar wall. It was stuck. It was corroded.

He tapped it with a stick. He hammered it with the shaker handle. He punched a hole in it.

“Poof,” said Jim, as a darkish mist filled the air.

“Get a couple of chairs, and we’ll both take hold and twist,” I suggested.

So Jim got on a box and I got on a chair, and we took firm hold of the pipe and twisted.

It was only a matter of a fraction of a second, but as the pipe came free, Jim, who was curved in one of these fantastic postures tall men can get into when doing the most commonplace things, lost his balance off the box and I felt a heavy and clumsy pipe slip from my grasp.

“Are you there, Jim?” I asked, from the depths of the inky darkness which had suddenly enveloped the furnace room.

“Curious-pfft-smell, isn’t it-pfft!” said Jim from below.

“We had better go outside,” I suggested.

“Tale a section of pipe each,” said Jimmie. “There are ash cans in the side drive.”

I felt above and found a sagging section of pipe. It came fairly easily into my arms, but I felt a cool dry flood of something like talcum powder flow over my hands and wrists as I tilted the pipe level.

“Easy, there,” said Jimmie, coughing.

By only half breathing, we got out of the cellar, dark as night, into the semigloom of the stairs, and preceding Jimmie, I carried the pipe to the side door. It was heavy. You can have no idea how neglected those pipes were. I saw a garbage can and I dumped the pipe smartly head first into the can.

A great whoof of midnight whirled into the bright afternoon air.

“Make way,” gasped Jim, behind me, and as I turned, still marvelling at the fog, I beheld a devilish figure, black from head to foot, heave a section of pipe alongside mine into the ash can, and another and a vaster and a more deadly black cloud billowed into the air.

“Jimmie!” I cried. “You’re filthy. What have you been doing?”

But I could tell by the red gape of Jim’s mouth in his face that I too, was soiled.

“You’ll pay for cleaning this suit, young man,” I assured him. The more you try to brush soot off, the worse you get. Especially if you are perspiring a little.

“Keep still,” said Jim. “Wait till I think.”

But from the rear of the house came screeches and screams and moans in a female voice. It was the next door neighbor. We ran around the corner, and there was a lady, her arms held over her head like the statue of victory, and she was staring transfixed at three large curtains or drapes of a silvery blue color, that were hanging on the clothesline, while the dark cloud of our endeavor slowly engulfed them like a fog.

“Dear, dear,” said Jimmie, drawing me back from the corner.

Better Stay in the Rut

To the lady’s screams were suddenly added loud, brief and profane shouts of a man.

It was the man whose house abuts the rear of Jim’s place.

Head low to avoid the cloud, he came hurling over the fence and faced us.

“Look at that!” he roared. “Painted this morning, and now look at it!”

We could make out the back of his house. I was finished in white and light green. The cloud was aiming straight at it, and vanishing into the paint as cigarette smoke vanishes into an electric fan.

The lady was standing waiting.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Jim, “I will make it right with you.”

“They just came back from the cleaners,” wept the lady, “and I was airing that smell off them before putting them up before dinner when my father-in-law is coming and we have roast chicken, and they cover the living room windows and now …”

“That job,” interrupted the man, “cost me forty-eight dollars and to have the back done, by George, will cost you at least twenty. Twenty, l estimate. Yes, sir, twenty would be fair estimate.”

There we stood, with the two pipe sections upended in the ash can, and with us the man and the lady, when we heard footsteps up the drive and the little man with the roll of carpet that we had seen last Wednesday joined us.

“Glory!” yelled Jim.

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

“How did you turn up?” said Jim, trying to wring the little man’s hand, but the little man evaded him.

“I overheard you say Saturday, so I just dropped around. I do quite a little business this way, whenever I hear of gents planning to clean their furnaces.”

He laid his roll of brushes down in a business-like way.

“I’ll give you $5 to clean all this up,” cried Jimmie. “That is, if you can empty these two joints as well.”

“It would have been better,” said the little man, “if you had left the pipes. But I’ll do what I can.”

“Five dollars,” said Jim.

“And a dollar and a half to clean this suit,” I said.

“And a dollar and a half for this one,” added Jim, looking down at himself.

“And twenty for the paint job,” I calculated.

“And say three for the curtains?” contributed Jim.

The little man, who had trotted down the collar, reappeared.

“You’ll need new pipes,” said he. “These are all rotted and pitted.”

“How much?” asked Jim. “I should estimate about two,” said he.

“Total,” said Jim, “thirty-three dollars.”

He was very cheerful.

“Now you see,” said Jim, “that it is best not to try to get out of the rut. Accept the ghastly monotony of your life. And don’t try to be thrifty. It always costs you more in the end. Each man to his trade. I’m an artist. You’re a writer. And this gentleman cleans furnaces.”

“The furnace itself,” said the little man, picking up his carpet roll, “isn’t in bad shape.”


Editor’s Notes: $2 in 1934 would be almost $40 in 2021. $33 would be $650.

Old coal furnaces ran by having coal delivered through a chute in the basement window, and would require the owner to stoke the furnace with coal to keep it hot. The shaker handle was accessible from the outside and you would crank it to activate shaker plates in the bottom that would help the ashes from the burnt coal to get to the bottom ash pan. You would have to then collect the ash to put in an ash can that would be picked up from your curb.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).

Goodbye To Summer

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau. But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, August 30, 1947.

“It’s hard to believe!” muttered Jimmie Frise.

“That summer’s over?” I sympathized.

“No,” said Jim, heatedly. “That here we are, all packed and waiting for Joe Badeau to come with the launch and take us away. And not one – NOT ONE – thing have we done that we planned to do this summer!”

“We fished,” I pointed out.

“Yah, but the roof!” cried Jim. “We planned to stain the shingles on the roof. We’ve got the shingle stain down there in the boathouse, and it’s been there since early July!”

“And the verandah and steps,” I recollected.

“Yes, and the paint for them,” declared Jim angrily, “has been right there in the boathouse, too.”

“And the wharf!” I remembered.

“Yes,” said Jim bitterly, “the wharf! Remember the plans we drew last April and May, of the new wharf? Those sketches must be around here somewhere.”

“Aw, Jim,” I consoled, “it’s always like that at a summer cottage. Nobody ever gets the jobs done that they plan in spring.”

“But, Greg,” protested Jim sharply, “this isn’t the first year we’ve fiddled away on that wharf. Last summer, don’t you remember, we came up here with every intention of repairing the wharf and putting some new logs under the far end?”

“Well, last year,” I pointed out kindly, “don’t forget, there was a nail shortage. You couldn’t get spikes …”

“Spikes!” cried Jim. “Why, the year before that, we got a whole pailful of six-inch spikes! Don’t you recall? They’re down in the boathouse, too!”

“Ah, yes,” I admitted. “Then, this is the third summer…”

“And the blankets!” went on Jim, enumerating our sins. “My wife brought up all those blankets from the city for us to wash in this lovely soft water”

“We never got around to it,” I excused.

“Never got around to it?” expostulated Jim. “We never got around to anything!”

The baggage was all stacked on the cottage verandah. Inside, all was clean and tidy and ready to be abandoned to the long silence of fall, winter and spring. The shutters were up. Screen doors removed and stacked in the spare room. Pails turned upside down. Kettles emptied. All left-over food of every description packed in a carton to take home. And in a little while, around the islands, would come Joe Badeau with his launch to carry us off.

“Blankets,” I pondered. “I can’t understand why we didn’t do the blankets. There’s nothing I like better than tramping blankets in a tub.”

“You can’t wash blankets in a city,” agreed Jim, “the way you can up here. A tubful of warm water. A good mild suds. And us in our bare feet, tramping, tramping, tramping…”

“And then, two separate tubfuls of clear water to rinse them,” I reminded. “Tramping and tramping again.”

“And don’t forget the shaking,” gloated Jim. “The two of us with a blanket between us, shaking and whipping the water out, until it is white and fluffy.”

“And then,” I concluded, “hanging them on the line, in a fresh west wind, on a fine sunny day. Man, no new fangled washing machine can wash blankets like that!”

“How sweet and soft they are,” sighed Jim, “for the winter!”

“But,” I sighed too, “we didn’t do them! We didn’t get around to it.”

Jim got up off the trunk he was sitting on and stood staring out over the bay.

“What DID we do this summer?” he demanded. “Let’s just pause and take stock of ourselves. I tell you, it’s nothing to feel smug and easy about. When you think of all the things we had set down in black and white…”

“Listen, Jim,” I soothed, “summer is like that. Summer cottages are like that. You aren’t supposed to do anything, really, at the summer cottage. At home, in the spring, when you’re dreaming of summer, you are in the grip of the city and its purposeful spirit. You make a lot of plans. That’s part of being in the city. But the real joy of summer is to let everything go hang ….”

“But you’d think,” cut in Jim, “that we would at least have enough sense, enough energy, to attend to the upkeep of the place. Most of the things we intended to do were necessary repairs and upkeep. I can’t think why we didn’t stain those shingles on the roof, for one thing.”

“Or the wharf,” I admitted. “We were in swimming every day, down there at the wharf. There’s all those logs there, on the beach. All we had to do, any day, was go and get an axe, a hammer, and that pail of spikes out of the boathouse …”

“Exactly!” cried Jim. “Every time we were in swimming, that dilapidated old wharf was right there before our eyes. What happens to people like us when they seem to go blind to their duty, to their plans, to their intentions …”

“Aw,” I soothed, “when you’re in swimming, it’s so cool and pleasant and dreamy.”

“But that wharf!” protested Jim. “GLARING at us.”

We both turned our embarrassed gaze down at the old wharf. I don’t know how many years old it really is. It is a composite of many years and many wharves. Some of the logs and a few of the planks must date back 30 years. The stone-filled crib that is the foundation of the outer end has been skewgee as long as anybody can remember. The inner end leans upon the rock, inches under water when the water is high: cockeyed and aslant and high and dry when the water is low. It has been unsafe to walk on for five seasons. Guests and strangers alike have sprained ankles on it; picked up splinters; skidded off into the water from it. It is an eyesore and a public reproach.

Yet, with a few pieces of log pried under it for legs with a couple of fresh chunks spiked on to the trembling crib, a dock fit for another 10 years could be made by two gentlemen in their bathing suits in about, say, 40 minutes.

“Conscience, Jim,” I propounded, “must be at its lowest ebb in summer. It may be that conscience is like a barometer and has its high periods and its low periods. Maybe the seasons have a lot to do with human conduct. For instance, I would think conscience is at its highest fury about the middle of February and at its lowest about the end of July.”

“All these jobs stared at us,” gloomed Jim, “day after day. And we utterly ignored them.”

“Human nature remains,” I uttered, “a profound mystery. For centuries, great minds – philosophers, teachers, preachers, kings, politicians – have been studying human nature with tireless zeal. Billions of words have been written by men of every race and clime, trying to solve the mystery of human nature. But guys like you and me go right on being mysterious, even to ourselves.”

“What time is it?” demanded Jimmie, with sudden intent.

“Ten-twenty,” I informed him. “Every once in a while across the centuries, some great leader rises up who thinks he has got the mystery of human nature solved. And he sets forth to master the world with his knowledge. Hitler was the latest of them …”

“Joe Badeau will be here at 11,” stated Jim, taking off his city coat and starting to unbutton his city shirt collar. “We’ve got exactly 40 minutes ….!”

“No, no, no, Jim!” I protested, leaping up.

“We’ll put on our bathing suits,” he declared. “In a jiffy. We can hoick a couple of logs under this end of the wharf. I’ll get the spikes and the axe …”

“Aw, Jim, Jim!” I begged. “You can’t make good in 40 minutes the errors and omissions of a whole summer. Look, sit down, take it easy. It’s our last few minutes here in this lovely place …”

But Jim had popped indoors and seized our bathing trunks off the hook in the store room. He came forth and tossed me mine.

“Jim, be reasonable, “I pleaded. “Joe Badeau always arrives ahead of time. He’ll be rounding the point in five or 10 minutes.”

“Come on,” commanded Jim, filled with an extraordinary zeal.

And he popped out of his trousers and shorts and into his trunks.

“I’ll go get the axe, and the pail of spikes,” he announced, striding off the verandah, “and we can haul a few short logs.”

Now, I like a dip about as well as anybody. But this I was one of those coolish August days with a brisk west wind ablowing, and the cool water of the deeper lake being churned by lively waves.

“Jim,” I called, “we don’t both have to be in our trunks, do we?”

“Don’t hedge!” shouted Jim over his shoulder “Here’s our chance to make some amends to our character. Come on, get into your trunks!”

Character! Is surrendering to the soft and Idle charm of summer a weakness of character? Is it wrong to enjoy the bounty of the seasons? Why should summer end in a hasty scramble, as though we were slaves, and conscious the driver with a whip? Why should not summer end like a song, lingering in the heart?

I got into my trunks.

I listened for the far mutter of Joe Badeau’s engine. But the August wind and waves denied me.

Jim unlocked the boathouse and came out with the axe and a large bucket containing the six-inch spikes purchased three, maybe four, years ago, for this very purpose. I picked up the hammer and the swede saw from its nail. The swede saw is that lumberjack weapon like a modernized bucksaw. It melts its way through old dry logs.

“Snappy, now,” ordered Jimmie. “Let’s select three or four good stout logs.”

Boldly, he jumped into the water up to his armpits at the deeper end of the dock and scrutinized the underpinnings.

“We need a six-foot log on this side,” he announced very engineeringly, “and the mate to it on the opposite side. Here on the crib, I should think three pieces, let’s see, four feet long, will tighten her up.”

“The ice, this winter,” I prophesied coldly, “will swipe the logs from under…”

“Then, we need a nice light log, about 20 feet long, as a crowbar, to hoist her up a little while I spike the…”

I walked off the dock and into the rushes along the beach where sundry logs, drifted in over the years, were either lying half-buried in the sand, or were dry as old bones up among the shrubbery of the shore:

Jim came behind me with the swede saw.

“Here’s one,” he announced. “Cedar, at that!”

And out of the harsh grass, he hoisted one end of an eight-inch cedar log, dried and bare from maybe half a century of weathering. Out of its middle, we cut two fine posts six feet long. The swede saw released the imperishable aroma of cedar with the sawdust.

A little farther along, we pulled out two old pine sawlogs that probably escaped from the lumberjacks’ booms years ago when they were cutting through this part of the country.

“Enough here,” announced Jim. “to build an entire new crib.”

With the saw, we cut four good billets for the crib.

“I think I hear Joe Badeau!” I exclaimed.

We both paused to listen.

“I don’t hear him,” said Jim.

Neither did I.

So we went and hunted up a long, light log for me to use as a pry or lever, while Jim was setting the new legs under the dock.

All these selected pieces of wood we dragged over to the wharf. Using a boulder for a base, I thrust one end of the 20-foot pole under the edge of the wharf, and then leaned all my weight on the other end. This raised the more dilapidated end of the wharf slightly, so that Jim, in the water, could jag one of his six-foot logs underneath, upright, for a leg or support. With his six-inch spikes, driven in obliquely, he secured the legs to the battered old stingers.

Working fast, Jim set both legs in place and then moved around to the crib. This was where I entered the water too, to tow the crib pieces into place and hold them while Jim, with the axe, drove spikes wherever he could find a spot they would bite between the fresh logs and the old cribbing,

“I hear him!” I announced.

Jim harked a moment.

“Okay,” he said, “we’ve just got time to get half a dozen rocks to put in the crib.”

Many of the original rocks had fallen out of the crib during the years of disintegration. Three or four we found with our feet on the lake bottom, and these we lifted easily, in the water, and set back in the crib.

“That’ll hold her,” I suggested, hopefully.

“The crib is the foundation of the whole thing,” asserted Jim. “Come on.”

In the neighboring sand, we found and uprooted half a dozen more boulders, which tear the arms out of you to carry. We were exhausted by the time the crib was declared full by Jim.

“There!” he heaved. “Now I can face the winter with a decent conscience!”

Joe Badeau was rounding the point, a mile away.

We dashed up to the house, dried, and dived into our clothes. Together, we carried down the trunk. Individually, we toted down the dunnage bags, grips and cartons.

“There,” cried Jim. “Feel how solid she is!”

The old wharf DID feel solid.

Joe Badeau was 100 hundred yards out.

“Hi-ya, Joe!”

Jim dashed up to the cottage to lock the door.

I stood on the wharf while Joe steamed in.

The wind was with him.

His boat is old, his engine older.

Often before this, it had failed to respond to his rusty gear shifts and throttles.

On it came.

“Hey!” I warned.

Jim was half-way down the rocks.

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau.

But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

There was a splintering crash. Everything gave way. The old wharf just tilted up and surrendered.

In went all the baggage, the trunks, the cartons, the dunnage bags, the grips.

And me.

“How’s your conscience?” I gritted, as Jim lent me a helping hand back onto the rock.

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau. But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

Editor’s Notes: This is another example where you can see the difference between the original colour image, and the microfiched version, especially in the case of later Montreal Standard stories where the image is split over 2 pages. This is the only example of a Montreal Standard story where I have the original, and you can see that the picture is not printed in full colour. I’m not sure what this printing process is called, but it can be seen in some older magazines, which I assume was cheaper.

Skewgee means slanted or crooked.

A Swede saw was a name for a modern bow saw. It was invented in the 1920s by a Swedish company.

The Mechanics of the Thing

“… in the mechanical arts you have a true demonstration of social effort.” “Ouch,” screamed Jim.

The first rule is: Leave things alone. Particularly things like lawn mower blades

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 18, 1942.

“You’re looking particularly gloomy,” observed Jimmie Frise.

“I’ve been thinking,” I explained, “and it always makes me bilious.”

“You want to be careful,” warned Jim. “You should leave the thinking to those whose job it is. Suppose everybody started thinking. What a fine mess we’d be in then!”

“Don’t be cynical, Jim,” I cautioned. “Isn’t it time everybody started thinking? We have been leaving everything to the guy whose job it is. Or was. If some bird was interested in politics, we left polities to him. If some bloke liked soldiering, we left soldiering to him. If some other baby liked making great big steel tractors, we left making great big steel tractors to him. Then along comes a war. So we leave the conduct of the war to the guys who like politics. And we leave the soldiering to the bloke who likes soldiering. And we leave the making of tanks to the baby who likes making tractors. It never occurred to us that maybe these people who liked doing those things were no more fitted to save us from disaster than any other three busybodies we might pick out at random.”

“Now, now, now,” protested Jimmie. “Doesn’t it stand to reason that people experienced in government should be trusted with government in an emergency? Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that people interested in soldiering should be entrusted with handling our soldiers when we raise them? And doesn’t it make sense that industrialists should know more about producing war material than anybody else?”

“What you say proves,” I informed him, “that you haven’t been thinking. You’ve got faith. But you aren’t thinking.”

“Then,” smiled Jimmie loftily, “what should I think?”

“I suppose,” I weaseled, “that because a kid likes to play hockey, you should let him on the championship team?”

“But the way you find your championship team,” crowed Jim, “is by scouring all the lesser teams. You don’t make a championship hockey team out of wrestlers and tennis players. That is precisely how we get government, soldiers and industrialists. Out of all those playing those games, we select the best.”

The Eternal Battle

“I have trapped you,” I announced. “You still think war is a game. Our government, our army and our industry are not bridge tables. Neither are they private clubs or lodges in which only members may play. War is a convulsion. It is a desperate illness of the body social. It is a natural disaster like smallpox or infantile paralysis. It is like the eternal battle between the birds and the insects. It is one of the awful manifestations of nature. Periodically, one of the tribes of man that is down suddenly struggles to rise up. It happens endlessly, all across history, like the struggle of water to seek its level; like the battle of the jungle; like the fight in a garden between the plants; or the never-ending combat between the trees of the forest.”

“I admit war isn’t a game,” submitted Jim.

“Peace is a game,” I asserted. “A shabby, sordid sort of game, at that; in the hands of a lot of cigar-chewing promoters. But war is life and death; as it was in the beginning. War calls for fighters. And now the fighters must come to the top. By fighters, I don’t mean the noisy boys, the assertive, star performers who drew the big gates in the game of peace. What is there about government that a strong fighting man could not learn in 30 days? All he has to do, after 30 days’ study, is push button and call in a chief clerk to give him the technical data he wants. You and I have both been soldiers. What is there about soldiering that a clever man who has never soldiered could not learn in 30 days? All he has got to do is push a button and call in a department manager in the uniform of a general, to get any technical data he needs at the moment. What is there about one industry that a good man in any other industry cannot take in at a glance? The greatest successes in industrial and financial history have been created by clever, outstanding and fighting men who came in from the outside. War is neither a matter of government, of soldiering nor of industry. War is fighting. And what is fighting? Is it a game? Is it a thing of rules? A lot of dead men thought so, like Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon. They all ended in ruin, because fighting is another thing entirely – a matter of imagination of courage, of intellect and of soul. And as Caesar, Napoleon and all the rest found out, too late, the fighters hardly ever wore uniform, hardly ever had any political connection and hardly ever had the patience to collect, like raspberries, one by one, a billion dollars.”

To Help the Fighters

“You’ve ruled out all the ways we have of selecting our leaders,” complained Jim.

“And our leaders are ruling themselves out,” I assured him, “to make way for the fighters.”

“How will we select the fighters,” demanded Jim.

“You never select the fighters,” I explained. “They are a gift from on high.”

We sat in silence, thinking biliously.

“How useless my life has been,” muttered Jim. “Thirty years drawing cartoons. What good are cartoons now?”

“Thirty years emitting words,” I mumbled, for myself. “Like the drip from a pump.”

“We’re too old to fight,” said Jim, “but isn’t there something we could do to help the fighters?”

“We aren’t even good enough in the legs,” I snorted, “to be water boys, like Gunga Din.”

“We can still shoot,” calculated Jimmie. “We could be guerrillas.”

“I’ve often thought,” I suggested, “that we men from 50 to 60 years of age, if we were trained, could be recruited into special maintenance companies for the tank corps. Did you ever notice, around a garage, that the fellow who really does the problem jobs, on ignition, or on faulty timing, or any of the tricky cases, isn’t the strong, husky bird in his 20’s and 30’s? It is nearly always a middle-aged man, often in his 50’s or better.”

“By jingo, that’s a fact,” said Jim.

“The big husky boys,” I went on, “do the tire changing and the jacking up and the big, noisy jobs. But when your car has to be approached as if it were a murder mystery, it is always some middle-aged gent, in the dirtiest overalls, mostly wearing spectacles, who comes in, quiet and bold, and solves the puzzle. It seems to me that in this modern tank warfare, they are trying to get along without the very men they need most.”

“The men who fight the tanks,” agreed Jim, “can be the young, dashing, tough lads. But the maintenance squads… do they have to be young and dashing?”

“The light aid detachments,” I explained, “and the repair units that follow tanks into action have to be as nippy as the tanks themselves.”

“So they say,” added Jim.

“One thing,” I summed up, “in this day and age, every man ought to know some mechanics. The time has come, in human affairs, when it isn’t enough merely to be a smart buyer or a clever, seller; lawyers, parsons, accountants, salesmen, executives, even doctors, are so much baggage when fighting comes to the bare fists as it is now. Every living man, regardless of his age, should be trained to be able to make something with his hands. Every man should be a mechanic, if only to dig swiftly and cleverly with a shovel; or to splice a telephone wire or do rough carpentry.”

“Look,” said Jim. “At all the technical schools, at the universities, they are conducting classes, night classes, to teach people any one of the many mechanical arts.”

“Then…” I said with finality.

“Of course,” cried Jimmie. “Let’s get going. Let’s make a team specializing on heavy motors. You become the ignition expert and I’ll be the carburetor expert. It will be something,” cried Jim eagerly, “to fill our nights, this autumn. Every night we work, we’ll feel of more use. This awful feeling of sitting. doing nothing…”

“And in the course of a few weeks,” I stated, “we would be fit to grab hold of a job, instead of standing by and watching.”

“Even if we can’t be of practical use,” pursued Jim, “the training will at least make us the better able to understand what our fellow men are doing with their lives. In Norway, there are no private schools. All rich and poor, farmer and banker, are given the same education as far as they go. They all speak the same language, understand the same ideas. It knits them closer together as citizens. In our country, everybody ought to be made to master some mechanical craft and everybody should be taught literature, agriculture and business practice. Then, when we part to go our separate ways in life, we won’t feel like foreigners to one another as we do now.”

“Jim,” I confessed, “in the past 30 years, I haven’t mended a tap or repaired a broken switch. I haven’t even tacked down any weather-stripping. I blush to think of all the hundreds of little jobs I have passed up, around my home, in favor of calling in the plumber, the electrician or the handy man.”

Repairing the Lawn-mower

“It isn’t that you are lazy,” suggested Jim. “It is merely that you have been taught, from your earliest childhood, in school and in life itself, that you must be smart enough to be able to employ other people to do the work that is done by hand. The beau ideal of our educational system is not the white collar man. He is the white-handed man!”

“And now, in all our war camps from the Arctic to the tropics,” I exclaimed, “the commando is our ideal in a desperate effort to convert all our soft white hands into hard brown hands.”

“Okay, carburetors for me,” cried Jim, rising and rolling up his sleeves in expectation.

“I’ll run up tomorrow noon,” I said, “and find out what I can about these night classes at Varsity and at the technical schools.”

“After all,” said Jim eagerly, “just because I have been an artist all my life, surely all the stuff my farmer ancestors had hasn’t petered out of me.”

“One of my grandfathers,” I asserted, “was a stone mason and the other was a farmer who worked 200 acres. I bet I’ve got the stuff in me, if only give it a chance.”

With his sleeves rolled up, Jimmie walked around the room, tested the light switch, tried the window latches, lifted up a chair and felt its rungs.

“There are a hundred things a man can do…” he mused.

“I’ve got it,” he cried suddenly, “My lawn-mower. There’s the very thing. I’ve been intending to repair my lawn mower for two years now.”

“Clocks and lawn-mowers,” I cut in, “are two things my grandmother told me no man should tinker with.”

“Come on,” said Jim, rolling his sleeves still higher. “We’ll begin at the beginning. We’ll tackle the job on hand, just to show our hearts are in the right place.”

First he led me down cellar where, from shelves, drawers, boxes, he assembled the most extraordinary collection of tools. A wrench, hammer, file, oil can, at least half a dozen spanners of assorted sizes.

“Who said you weren’t mechanical?” I demanded in admiration.

“Some of them,” said Jim, “workmen have left behind. Others I borrowed from neighbors so long ago I forget whose they are. Every home has a scattering of tools like this.”

Out in the garden, Jim brought forth the lawn mower from the corner of the garage.

“Why, that’s a swell lawn mower,” I cried. “What’s the matter with that?”

“It needs sharpening,” said Jim, file already in hand. “And the blades need adjusting, Every once in a while, they jam some way.”

“Do you sharpen a lawn mower with a file?” I inquired dubiously

“You sharpen everything with a file,” explained Jimmie.

With a small spanner, Jim explored around among the nuts and bolts until he found the one that held the blade assembly in place. And in a jiffy, he had the blades, all in one piece, out on the ground.

“Feel them,” he said, “dull as a hoe.”

So while Jim scrubbed at the blades with the file. I tinkered around with the frame, oiling here, wiping off there: tightening loose nuts and screws and discovering, for the first time, the simple principle of gears which makes a lawn mower operate.

In 10 minutes. Jim had a nice gleaming edge on all the blades, including the big one in the frame. He wished he had a scythe stone to finish off the job, he said. When he was a boy on the farm, the thing he liked best was to watch a man stoning a scythe with long, strong strokes of the stone and a flexing wrist, making a sweet ring of steel in the summer air.

To Go to Night School

“Now,” said Jim, lifting up the blade assembly.

As his helper, I held the frame steady and helped direct the little ends of the axle into place.

“Gimme the small spanner,” ordered Jim, very mechanic like.

He tightened the nut carefully. But the blade assembly wobbled very loose in its frame.

“Have you touched any of those other nuts?” he demanded.

“I tightened a few of them up,” I explained. So Jimmie went all over the various nuts and screws, loosening and tightening, while feeling the set of the blades in the frame.

“It doesn’t hang level,” I pointed out.

“Not likely to,” muttered Jim, “with people tinkering all over the job. The first rule of mechanics is, don’t tinker. Leave things alone.”

“All I did was oil it,” I protested indignantly, “and tighten up a couple of these nuts that were just about falling off.”

“Here,” said Jim, “take this spanner. I’ll hold the blades in the proper position, and you tighten up the different nuts until it takes hold, just the way I’m setting it.”

I took the spanner and tightened. I tightened here and I tightened there, little by little the way you put on a spare tire.

“Easy now,” warned Jim.

“How’s she coming?” I inquired.

“It’s starting to grasp hold,” admitted Jim.

“One thing about mechanics,” I said, “you always have to have a helper. There is something very companionable about mechanics.”

“Easy,” said Jim. “Pay attention.”

“In most other lines of work,” I said, “you work alone. Writers, artists, lawyers, salesmen, they all work alone. But in the mechanical arts, you have a true demonstration of social effort…”

“OUCH!” screamed Jimmie very unexpectedly.

“Oh,” I replied, turning the wrench firmly in the other direction.

“Oucheeeeeee!” yelled Jimmie in agony.

The tip of his finger was caught between the blades and the edge of the mower.

“Turn it the other way,” he roared.

“That’s tightening it,” I gasped, heaving in the opposite direction.

“Take your foot off it,” bellowed Jim,

And with the littlest move of the mower my way, the blade opened and Jim snatched his finger out.

“It was your darn foot,” he accused bitterly “shoving on the mower that made the blade catch me.”

“I was just getting a good purchase on the spanner,” I explained. “Is it cut?”

“No,” growled Jim, “but it might have been.”

“I’m very sorry,” I assured him. “I was just shoving with my foot…”

“Don’t describe it,” said Jim, standing up and shaking his hand rapidly, to take the pain out of his finger.

“I was doing the best I knew how,” I insisted.

“Listen,” said Jimmie, “there is a mechanics to all things. There is a mechanics to lawnmowers. If you shove one way, the blades go one way; if you shove the other, the blades go the other. It is the same with politics, soldiering and business. There is a mechanics to them all. First, you have to be an apprentice. Then you have to be a journeyman. It takes a long time to be a master mechanic.”

“It’s a funny thing we can’t tinker with a lawn-mower,” I asserted, “a simple thing like a lawn-mower. We’re not saps exactly.”

“Yet,” said Jim, putting the end joint of his bruised finger in his mouth, “you are prepared to let guys at least as clever as us tinker with government, soldiering and industry?”

“There’s a big difference,” I claimed, “between waging war and mending lawn-mowers.”

“You’d be surprised,” retorted Jimmie, “how much alike they are, in the main.”

So when his finger stopped hurting, Jimmie held the blades steady with a stick. And I braced both feet on the frame and took hold of the spanner and tightened all the nuts until the veins stood out on my forehead.

And the lawn mower hums like a Spitfire.


Editor’s Note: A scythe stone is a long narrow sharpening stone.

Wiring Party

Every time we freed ourselves of one coil of wire we were seized by another…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 6, 1936.

“Tell me,” said Jimmie Frise, “something about the war.”

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “this is wonderful of you. Nobody ever asks me about the war any more.”

“Oh, I just wanted to freshen up my memory of some of the infantry angles,” said Jim. “Us artillery men missed certain features, you know.”

“Jim,” I said, “this is very kind of you. You can have no idea how congested I get sometimes just from wanting to talk about the war. But nobody will let me. I’ve worn out all my family. I used to look forward to the days when my little sons would be old enough to want to hear about the war. But now that they are getting into long pants they haven’t the slightest interest. If I even try to stick in just one little apologetic anecdote about the war they hear somebody whistling outside and jump up and leave me flat.”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “I’m a veteran myself.”

“Yes, but,” I pointed out, “the artillery couldn’t have had all the adventures the infantry had. Don’t forget that.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Just the same old thing every day for you gunners,” I explained. “Firing a modern gun is just like working a lathe or running an engine. You don’t see anything. You just twiddle some wheels, adjust some gadgets, pull a string and bang she goes off into space, aimed at an arithmetical calculation instead of a romantic target.”

“Is that so?” said Jim.

“But don’t let me offend you,” I hurried. “You wanted to hear about the war. My dear boy, I appreciate this more than I can tell you.”

“Just a certain aspect of it,” said Jim.

“It has got so,” I assured him, “that not only does my family walk out on me whenever I introduce even the least teeny weeny bit of war, even just in passing, but now my old gardener has folded up on me. He used to love to have me walking beside him when he was running the lawn mower, for example, and tell him about the war. Many’s the hour we have sat in the garden when he was edging or weeding, and remembered old times together. But now whenever I see him he is so busy he just has to rush.”

“Maybe you have told him all your stories for the second time,” suggested Jim.

“Second time?” I protested. “My dear boy, a war story doesn’t really get rich and fruity until the third or fourth time.”

“What I wanted to know,” said Jim, “was about these wiring parties. What was a wiring party?”

“Ah, now you are asking somebody,” I cried, settling back. “Jim, you are talking now to one of the most expert wirers in the world. I have strung literally miles of wire. I have laid acres and acres of barbed wire.”

“You mean your men did,” said Jim.

“Naturally,” I admitted. “An officer does not go around, as a rule, with canvas mitts on hauling barbed wire. When I speak of having strung miles of barbed wire I speak as an engineer speaks when he says he has built miles of road, see? But as a matter of fact, Jim, I have actually laid quite a lot of wire myself in my time. I remember one night…”

Infantry Experts

“Tell me,” said Jim, “was the wire in big coils?”

“No, no,” said I. “It came in tight spools or bobbins. Remember, we had to carry that wire into the trenches, as well as string it after we got it there. I recollect one night – was it in June, seventeen …?”

“Was it springy, sort of?” asked Jim. “When you started to undo a coil of it did it spring out and get all tangled?”

“No, no,” I assured him. “You cut a couple of small bits of tie wire, and then, with the spool on a stick, you just backed up and unrolled it. Now, this night I speak of in June, I think it was, seventeen, or was it May? Now, let me see? We went from Enquin lez Mines back up to Les Brebis and Mazingarbe…”

“I should think,” said Jim, “that anybody who had handled barbed wire could handle almost any kind of wire.”

“You’re right,” I said. “There were about 300,000 Canadians in the infantry from time to time and every one of those men to-day, wherever he is, is an expert wire man. But as I was telling you, we were on the Bully Grenay front, out by Loos, you remember. It was a fine summer’s night…”

“How did you get the wire tight?” asked Jim. “After you had laid it where you wanted it, how did you pull it snug and tight?”

“A fine summer’s night,” I explained. “One of those luminous June nights, with the stars fairly dripping from the sky. It was quiet, too. Here and there a flicker of guns, like summer lightning. Now and then the lazy bang of a five-nine somewhere in the distance …”

“How many men would you use on one spool of wire?” asked Jim.

”The major says to me, ‘Clark,’ he says, ‘I want you to take the wiring party tonight. It’s a ticklish bit. It’s those old chalk pits. On our side, the wire is about as useful as a lace curtain. I want some wire in there that is wire. I want you to handpick your party, Clark,’ he says, ‘and make a night of it.’ It must have been about nine o’clock …”

“Is this the story,” asked Jim, “about the time the two Germans crawled out and asked you the time, thinking you were a German?”

“Ha, ha,” I laughed. “You’ve heard that, eh? Wasn’t that a scream?”

“I have heard it six or seven times,” admitted Jim admiringly, “and every time it gets better.”

“One keeps remembering details,” I explained. “I wonder if I ever told you one little detail in that story about…”

“What I am trying to get at,” said Jim, still laughing reminiscently. “is this – you see, I had no experience of wiring – and now I am trying to put up a fence at my place. I wanted your advice.”

“A wire fence?” I asked.

“You know that little green wire fence I’ve got?” said Jimmie. “Gyp, my new setter, can hop it in her stride. What I am doing is putting up about twenty tall stakes, with holes bored through them, and then stringing two wires along them, about a foot apart, above the top of the regular fence. Then I am going to plant morning glories and sweet peas and things and grow a sort of screen. I don’t think Gyp will jump through that.”

“It should be very simple.” I said, “just threading wire through holes in stakes.”

“I was trying it last night,” said Jim, “but the wire coil springs out fearfully when you snip the little bits of wire tying the coil together.”

“Hold it with one hand, my dear fellow,” I smiled, “and thread it with the other.”

“I wish I had been in the infantry,” sighed Jim.

“Tut, tut,” I said. “I’ll run over after dinner to-night.”

Which I did, and Jimmie had all the material laid out just like a regular old supply dump back of the lines in Flanders. Four large coils of good stout wire. A heap of long green painted stakes with holes ready bored in them. Smaller posts of two by four for reinforcing them.

“You haven’t the stakes up yet? I pointed out.

“I got three or four up as you see,” said Jim, “but I thought I had better get your advice on that, too, because half the problem of wiring must be the stakes, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” I agreed. “I recall one time down on the Arras front, out by a place called Roclincourt straight ahead from Madagascar Dump, if you remember?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “Which do you suggest? Should we just drive the stakes down or should we first dig a little hole to soften the earth and then drive them in?”

“On this Roclincourt front,” I explained, “”the problem consisted of an overbody of soft, mucky earth on top of a stratum of hard chalk. And the way we drove our angle iron stakes and screw stakes was this.”

“Here’s a shovel,” said Jim.

He removed his coat and vest eagerly and picked up a fence stake and carried it over to the side of the garden. I followed suit, bringing the shovel. I dug a small hole. About a foot deep.

“Now,” said Jim, “which will I do? Hold the stake or drive it with the axe?”

“You hold it,” I agreed. “I’ll show you a trick or two.”

So in a matter of twenty minutes we had three stakes well and firmly buried in their proper places, except that the first one had the holes for the wire pointing the wrong way.

“That won’t matter,” I showed. We will just jog the wire there and it will make it all the tighter.”

In less than an hour we had ten stakes firmly planted, and that gave us the one full side of the garden and all along the bottom.

“Now, Gunner,” I explained, “we’ll string some wire just before it gets dark, so that you will know how to carry on.”

“This is the part I am interested in,” said Jim.

The big coils of wire were heavy. It would be impossible to hold one in one hand and steer it with the other. So we agreed that one of us would carry the coil and the other steer it through the little holes in the pickets. Jim handed me the pliers to snip the tying wire around the coils.

“Wire,” I explained, as I squatted down to snip, “has a character all its own.”

“Shouldn’t you kneel on it?” asked Jim, “before you cut that last bit?”

I snipped and the coil of wire sprang into the air with a twanging, hissing sound like a serpent. It seemed to be wrapping itself around me. I threw myself on it, and held it down.

“Jimmie,” I commanded, “lend a hand here and tuck it back under me.”

So I lay on it while Jim slowly tucked it back in rings and circles about the size it was originally.

“Ease up a little,” said Jim. “As I coil these coils under you.”

“We never used to have this happen in Flanders,” I said.

“Upsadaisy,” said Jim, “but not too much. Just relax a trifle, while I slide this end under.”

And thus spreadeagled on the very untidy and always struggling wire, I lay while Jim patiently worked it back under me.

“I wish some of your old troops could see you now,” said Jim, appreciatively. “The ones that you used to wire miles and miles with.”

“They’d help me if they did,” I declared.

“And be just about as handy as you are,” said Jim.

“One time,” I said, “out near the Canal du Nord, it was in August, eighteen, if I recollect…”

“Ease up a little,” said Jim, “just a little.”

“We were stopped,” I continued, “on account of our flanks having failed to keep up with us, so I had to put out some wire, just a temporary belt of wire, while we dug in and waited for a day or so…”

“Lift your left leg,” said Jim.

“That’s very wiry wire,” I admitted, after we had got most of it back somehow and laid the axe and a few stakes on it to hold it down.

“I’ll sit on it,” said Jim, “right here on the ground while you work it out carefully and fasten one end to the first stake.”

So Jim sat on the rather untidy coil while I sought out the end of the wire and slowly edged out yard after yard of it until I had enough to reach the first post, up near the house end of the proposed fence. With staples I secured it firmly and wound it several times around the post.

“Now,” I said.

“Good heavens,” said Jim.

For now, having secured one end, we had the whole coil on the ground before us to thread through the holes of the dozen remaining pickets.

“Mmm,” said I. “I guess we should have threaded it first, eh?”

“In the artillery,” said Jim, “we always put the shell in the breech before we fired the gun.”

“I’ll thread this end,” I explained. “It will all come to the same thing.”

It did. In removing a few more coils, Jim eased up just a trifle too high and a whole burst of coils leaped front tinder him and, like lariats, flung themselves around me before I could grasp the situation and let go my end. Jim seeing me trapped, foolishly leaped up to help me and as he did so, the clever coils had him. In a moment, we were both netted in the wire, which, every time you freed yourself of one coil seized you with another.

“Up around Arras,” asked Jim, “what did you do when this kind of thing happened?”

“It didn’t happen,” I declared. “We had proper wire. Barbed wire. Wire that had some sense to it.”

“I suppose all you had to do was call the troops, and they uncoiled you?” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said, as I shoved the coils down off my chest and legs, only releasing them to have them snare Jim instead. “I think you might remember that I sunk most of those pickets for you. I did the digging. I did the pounding.”

“It was your experience with wire that I wanted,” said Jim. “Even gunners can dig holes.”

We gradually got free of the wire, and it committed a few more twangs and leaps and futile snatches in our direction and then subsided into a large, loose and twisted tangle in the middle of Jim’s garden.

“Now let’s see,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said. “I promised my boys I’d drive them over for an ice cream soda before bed.”

“Good old infantry,” said Jim.

So when I looked back as I went down the gate steps, Jim was standing, the way the gunners always did, just looking down with his hands in his pockets.

A Heap of Trouble

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 14, 1945.

“Just look,” complained Jimmie Frise, “at that side drive!”

“Cement’s pretty well shot,” I admitted.

“Why, it hasn’t been down more than 10 to 12 years, cried Jim. “And look at it. It looks as if a V-bomb had hit it.”

“Well, it was pretty well shot last season,” I reminded him. And the year before that, if I remember right, you were complaining about it having gone to pieces.”

“Cement ought to last more than 10 years,” asserted Jim.

“Not if you let the frost get under it,” I assured him. “When you notice the first crack in your cement side drive you should have it patched right away. If not, then the frost heaves it and what you’ve got, after all, is a sort of V-bomb underneath.”

“It’s positively dangerous,” said Jimmie. “Last night I was backing the car out. The back wheel tilted one of those hunks of cement. Its jagged corner caught under the differential. If I hadn’t been quick I’d have torn the gizzard out of my car.”

“Well, you ought to have it relaid right away,” I agreed.

“Relaid?” snorted Jim. “And how would I have it relaid? I called up one of the concrete firms and they said I might have a chance about next August. Unless some priority job turned up. Then it might be never. In fact, they couldn’t give me a date.”

“Then the least you can do,” I submitted, is remove the worst of those big jagged chunks and put a few wheelbarrow loads of cinders down.”

“It burns me up,” grated Jim, “the way things go to pieces like this. What’s the world coming to? A concrete job like that should last a lifetime.”

“You’ve got the usual property complex, Jim,” I pointed out. “Nothing should last a lifetime. When you build a new house you should realize that it is going to be a race between you and the house to see which will be old and worn out first. In your youthful prime you are making money. So you do a little careful figuring and decide you will build a house. It costs you, say, $10,000. In 20 years it is old-fashioned, its plumbing is all corroded and crusted. So is yours. It is in a neighborhood no longer fashionable. A lot of strangers have moved in. It is worth about $5,000 now. And you’ve gone down in value, too.”

“In other countries,” declared Jim, “property doesn’t fall to pieces like this. In England, for instance. The stately homes of England. Why, some of those gracious old country houses of England are two and three centuries old.”

“Aha,” I cried. “The outer walls, maybe. The foundations and outer walls of the main section of the house. But if those stately homes of England haven’t been brought up to date with the past few years they are hardly fit to live in. Musty, smelly, fungussy old dumps. I’ve lived in dozens of them the past five years. And our boys have been billetted in them all over Britain. They’ll tell you what stately old homes they are.”

“That’s not my impression,” protested Jimmie.

Not the Original

“Look,” I said, “why were so many of those stately homes handed over to the troops as billets this past five years? Because either they were untenanted or the owners couldn’t afford, these past 10 or 15 hard-time years, to do the necessary repairs. Those old country houses have to be entirely renovated each new generation. The climate of England is easier on stone and brick than ours. They don’t have frost and fierce summer suns to contend with. So the outside shell survives century or two. Sometimes longer. But the inside has to be remodeled every few years. If it isn’t, then it is smelly and musty and fungussy and decayed. Don’t make the mistake that all those ancient buildings that are said to date back to Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second are just the way they were in those days. What they mean is, the building, whether a church or a mansion or a famous public edifice, has survived as an institution since the days of Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second. Generally, you will find the building was entirely reconstructed – in strict accordance with the original! – about 1830 or 1890.”

“Aw,” said Jim.

“I was billetted,” I informed him, “in several really old stately homes the past couple of years. And if they dated back any further than 1860 they stunk.”

“You have no soul,” said Jim. “You have no poetry in your make-up.”

“Property,” I assured him, “has to be kept up, whether it is St. Peter’s in Rome or the Buck of Dukingham’s old family estate or your side drive.”

“Why, I remember travelling through England, in the last war, and seeing those lovely old mansions nestled in their ancient beeches and oaks,” said Jim, tenderly.

“Those houses,” I assured him, “on closer inspection, would turn out to be exactly like the old mansions on Jarvis St. in Toronto, dating back to about 1880. The reason our old mansions in Toronto have fallen on evil times is that the district became unfashionable. The rich families moved out farther into the suburbs.”

“Or lost their money,” suggested Jim.

“Or had to divide it,” I submitted, “between too many children for any one of them to keep up the big family mansion. So the old mansions of Toronto are let go to decay. But in England, for obvious reasons, the rich men did not build their mansions in towns and cities. Before the industrial revolution, which was only 150 or so years ago, towns and cities were merely the congregating places of the poor, the landless and the hand-workers. Land was the only wealth. There were no factories. So the wealthy man lived right amid his wealth – his land.”

“No factories?” inquired Jim.

“No factories at all,” I assured him. “Well, maybe there would be a sail factory down near the docks. Or possibly some successful master mason would employ a lot of men in his stone yard, or a master shoemaker might employ 100 shoemakers under one roof. But since there was no power of any kind, except hand power, why, it was cheaper and more practical for the employer to let the workers work in their homes. Or hovels.”

“But the swells,” said Jim, “the really rich, were the land owners. And they lived on their estates. Distributed all over Britain.”

“That’s the picture,” I agreed. “And that’s how you have all those mansions scattered all over England. But now that land is no longer wealth, but a liability, except to the individual man who works it as a farmer, and since riches nowadays is in owning factories or being a broker or a business man in a city, why, property has changed its character, too. No more mansions.”

“Besides,” contributed Jim. “nobody stays home any more. It is just a place to sleep.”

“And keep your extra clothes,” I added. “And garage your car.”

“In which case,” stated Jimmie indignantly, “the modern side drive ought to be made of better concrete than this.”

Jim’s drive was, in fact, a mess. From away back by the garage right out to the street there was hardly a square yard of concrete that had not collapsed. There were large holes. There were patches of broken concrete with corners sticking up like the dragon’s teeth of the Siegfried Line. The past winter, while not noted for deep frost, had soaked an awful lot of snow into the ground. And that had finished what a few years’ frosts had started.

“Jim,” I suggested, “to lay a new drive here, with modern methods, should be a cinch. Even you and I could do it.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim.

“Nowadays,” I explained, “these ready’ mix concrete trucks, with their big drums revolving as they drive through the streets, would simply back into your side drive, dump a load of concrete all ready mixed. With a wheelbarrow and a couple of rakes we could spread it out. And presto!”

“Say,” said Jimmie.

A Matter of Initiative

“The modern citizen,” I asserted, “doesn’t need to be half as dependent as he thinks he is. We are all still muddling along in the age of the stately homes of England, when, as a matter of fact, if we took advantage of the modern inventions already in use all around us, we could be really mid-20th century.”

“I’ve got a wheelbarrow,” declared, Jim.

“And I’ll bring down a couple of rakes,” I offered. “And we could rig up a good big plank, with scantling uprights on it for handles. We could pat the stuff down with that. Make it smooth.”

“Say!” said Jimmie eagerly.

“The only thing I’m afraid of,” I remarked, “is that you might need a work priority to get a load of ready-mix concrete.”

But Jim went straight in and telephoned. And no priority was needed. It was a straight case of waiting until Wednesday, as the company’s mixing trucks were all on order up till then. Jim ordered one full load.

So we had Monday and Tuesday evenings to clear the side drive of all the wreckage. Most of the concrete was in chunks that required no extra breaking. A few larger pieces had to be hit a few whacks with the sledgehammer Jim borrowed from the service station up the street. And Jim did the sledge-hammer work while I, with the aid of a pair of ice-tongs, slid the chunks of concrete into the wheelbarrow laid on its side. It was not easy work. But neither was it any harder than the usual gardening projects the average man undertakes at this season of the year. I’ve built several rockeries, in the past 30 years, that cost me far more pain than this. In fact, Tuesday night, seeing us carting the broken concrete back into Jim’s yard, two of the neighbors got ideas and came and offered to cart off several barrow loads for rockeries in their back gardens. Thus, by dark Tuesday, we had all the concrete moved and the under bed of gravel and sand nicely raked.

The load was promised for 8.30 a.m. So Jimmie and I were on the job bright and early to peg down the narrow planks we were going to use as margins or containers of the concrete as we laid it.

We had barely started laying these plank edges when we heard a truck coming noisily and knew it was our big adventure.

“Where’ll you have it?” inquired the driver heartily.

“I think,” Jim suggested, “we ought to have him dump it right there at the street end of the drive, and we will start laying back in at the garage. It will mean more carting with the wheelbarrow. But we can see what we are doing better.”

“Correct,” I agreed.

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger. It went on and on as an imposing pile grew before our astonished eyes.

And away went the driver.

There, as simple as ordering a ton of coal or a load of manure, was the material for two simple citizens to toy with, saving scores of dollars in man-hours, giving healthful spring exercise and permitting free play to individual initiative, free enterprise and, above all, craftsmanship.

We stood and admired the pile. It was soggy. And it settled slightly. Even as we watched. And it certainly was big.

“There’s enough there,” declared Jim, “to lay a real, lifetime pavement.”

Well, first we had to lay and peg down the wooden planks for the edges of the new pavement, and that took an hour. And to get the planks to stand on their edges, it was necessary to dig slight trenches or troughs in which the planks could stand upright.

“How long,” inquired Jim, “do you suppose that stuff will stay soft?”

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “You know how long you have to keep off fresh cement. We’ve got all day.”

So we laid the planks steady and true and pegged them down. And while we were at it we laid all the planks for the whole job. A couple of hours.

“I don’t like that warm wind blowing,” said Jim, anxiously examining the free grayish-yellow heap at the mouth of his side drive.

“Come on, brother,” I said, picking up the shovel. “Now for the first barrow.”

Wet concrete weighs more than dry concrete. And dry concrete weighs plenty.

Jim started to shove the barrow up the drive. But its wheel sank deep in the gravel and sand.

“We’ll have to have a plank walk to run the barrow on,” said Jim hurriedly.

So we got in the car and drove over to the lumber yard, a few blocks east, and got five long, cheap planks. With these, carried home on the car top, we laid a path for the barrow. Another hour or so.

“Hey!” said Jim as he picked up the barrow. “This stuff is getting stiff!”

It was not quite as pulpy as I expected.

“Take it up to the garage,” I ordered, “and we’ll flatten her out.”

Jim shoved the barrow up the planks very wobbly and dumped it in front of the garage.

It fell out heavily, and a lot stuck to the bottom of the barrow. I scraped this out with the shovel, and we set to work hurriedly to spread the big blob out. It did not spread very willingly. It broke into cakes and the cakes spread rather granularly

“I don’t like this,” puffed Jim, slapping with the shovel.

“Get another barrow load, it’ll be wetter,” I commanded, and we’ll sort of blend it.”

Jim went down to the front of the drive and got another barrow load.

“It seems a little looser,” he panted, as he arrived. “But I don’t think we have much time to waste.”

A Horrible Sight

The fresh barrow load, while looser than the first, which had been standing all the time we were over at the lumber yard, did not blend very easily with the first load. In fact, the first square yard of concrete in front of the garage doors was rather a horrible sight.

We patted it with shovels. We got our plank with upright handles nailed on it, and spanked it. We smoothed it. We laid the plank down on the concrete and jumped up and down on it.

But it still looked warty.

“Pour water on the pile,” I suggested, a little excited.

But the first pailful seemed to just run off.

“Well, all right,” snapped Jim. “Don’t just stand there? Let’s get it spread first. Then we can smooth it later.”

“But that would only…” I began.

“Don’t argue!” shouted Jim, charging away with the wheelbarrow.

So we shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread and shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread. A side drive is a much larger area, in square yards, than you would think, backing a car out of it.

When we had got about 15 feet done out from the garage doors we knew we were beaten. If we delayed to flatten it, the outside of the main pile, down at the front end of the side drive, grew stiffer and more granular and harder to handle. I tried stirring it while Jim ran in and attempted to borrow a couple of men from the service station; from the grocer; the butcher and the drug store. He even telephoned some of our friends downtown at the office.

But my stirring was as useless as Jim’s telephone calls. It only let the air into the pile and dried it quicker.

“Good heavens,” gasped Jimmie, running out of the house. There will be that mountain of solid concrete blocking my drive…”

“Let’s spread it, any old way,” I replied.

So we worked like mad, trying to reduce the Vesuvius out by the sidewalk. In random humps, lumps, mounds, we laid the stuff another 15 feet down the drive,

But the sight of that awful pathway only caused us to abandon the main pile in desperate efforts to flatten down the work already done. We could reduce it in one spot, but the immediately adjoining square foot would resist, bulging up

So by the time the neighbors were arriving home for supper, half the pile stood a slowly congealing and immovable barricade while the other half was scattered in a ghastly, lumpy, misshapen roadway half-way down from the garage.

And Jim’s car inside.

Today, if you hear what sounds like machine-guns, it will be only the gang of concrete workers Jim got on compassionate grounds, breaking down the barricade and the abortive pavement.

They say they’ll have the driveway done before dark.


Editor’s Notes: V-bombs were German V-1 flying bombs, an early form of cruise missiles. They had short range so were used against Britain between June and October 1944. They were still used against the Allies until the end of the war, but with different targets like Antwerp.

Dragon’s teeth were a form of fortification to block access by tanks and other vehicles.

Greg was worried that they would need a “work priority” to get the concrete. This was still during World War Two, so all sorts of things were rationed, and if concrete was on the list, they would have to apply to the government in order to obtain some. When writing of his time billeted in English estates, he is referring to his time as a war correspondent.

“Wonky Clocks”

Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow. Jim removed screws, large and small, and laid them across the table.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 19, 1944

“For instance,” said Jimmie Frise, “a man could mend umbrellas.”

“True, Jimmie,” I mused. “When I was a boy, I recollect the umbrella menders. There would be one come along our street at least once a month. They would have a half a dozen tattered old umbrellas under their arms, and a little bag of tools, like a doctor.”

“They would rap at each door,” went on Jim, “and say to the lady, with a lift of the hat, ‘Any umbrellas to mend, lady?'”

“Nowadays, I still see scissors grinders,” I confessed, “with a little treadle strapped on their backs, and ringing a hand bell through the streets.”

“They are foreigners now,” said Jim. “But when I was a boy, they used to be our fellow countrymen. And the children would come and gather round to see the blue sparks fly off the wheel, and to hear him sing. I knew one Irishman, young Irishman, with a bright face, and he loved sharpening scissors and knives. And he used to sing a tune in time with his foot pumping on the treadle. A quick tune.”

“I can’t understand any man nowadays,” I stated, “being out of work even though he can’t do war work. There are so many things a man can do. Things men used to do, that seem to be forgotten. Why, I remember the spectacle sellers. Don’t you remember the spectacle sellers? Nicely dressed young men who, when you opened the door, were standing there, with a bright smile, and a sort of suitcase strapped around their necks and spread open in front of them filled with spectacles of all sorts fastened to the tray. From door to door, these merchants went, fitting spectacles to all the housewives.”

“And,” cried Jimmie, “the packmen! With a big black oilcloth pack on their backs with a tray in their hands, containing everything the home required – needles, threads, buttons, tape, elastic, bobbins, wool of all shades, hooks and eyes, buckles.”

“I remember,” I admitted, “my dear old grandmother searching all over the house one time for a bodkin, and finally saying – ‘I wish the packman would come by.’ And then she stopped still and looked wistfully out of the window, and said, ‘Why, I haven’t seen a packman in thirty years.’ And that day she grew many years older.”

“The packmen,” said Jim. “Merchants, with their stores on their backs. Today, it a man comes to your door with needles, thread, shoe laces, all he has got is a little bit of stuff in his hands and he is so shabby and importunate, you know he is only begging. But packmen never begged. They were proud men. They were merchants. Merchants of a prouder and older order than these modern ones that sit in stores. They belonged to that ancient craft of merchants who travelled by camel train and little ship across all the earth, selling as they went.”

“And the clock menders,” I cried. “Where are the clock menders? Don’t you remember the men, mostly with gray beards, who called at each door, and asked ‘Any clocks to mend, lady?’ They had a little handbag full of tools. I can still remember how they would come in and take the clock apart on the dining-room table, and we were allowed to stand there, with our hands behind our backs, and watch him in silence. And these clock menders were silent men, who breathed heavily through their beards as they bent over the mysterious million wheels and springs on the dining-room table. We always used to give them a cup of tea when they were finished, and the clock’s fine gong was ringing through the house again.”

Old-Fashioned Enterprise

“Now there,” said Jim, emphatically, “is an idea.”

“It sure is,” I agreed.

“This city, this whole country,” declared Jim, “is full of wonky clocks that people want repaired because some lines of new ones are hard to get on account of the war. Why, I’ve got two big clocks right now in my house that don’t go and haven’t gone for years and years.”

“I’ve got three of them,” I remarked.

“Isn’t that funny thing?” mused Jim. “I have, up in this minute, thought of those clocks just as ornaments. It is years since they went. I wonder why I haven’t done anything about them?”

“Because,” I stated, “the clock menders no longer call from door to door. Because you can’t think of anybody to come and take them away. Because they are too big and clumsy to take downtown yourself. I bet there is a million dollars’ worth of clock mending to be done right in this city.”

“I wonder,” thought Jimmie, “if it is because we have all grown lazy and indifferent? I wonder if, as the result of all the inventions of the past fifty years, life hasn’t become so soft, so easy, that the whole human species has grown lazy, careless, indifferent. Why wouldn’t I go to the trouble of taking a clock off the mantel, carry it out to my car in the morning and deliver it to a store downtown?”

“Nobody wants to do the little old-fashioned things any more,” Jim went on. “Even the piano tuners. Do you remember the piano tuners? You didn’t have to send for the piano tuner. He just turned up.”

“I remember, even,” I submitted, “a sort of general mender that used to come around about once a year. He had a wooden box on his back. He used to sit in the vestibule. He could resole shoes, mend leather gloves, sew up carpets that were torn, mend carpet sweepers, regild picture frames …”

“The country is full of work. And the grandest kind of work of all – working for one’s self,” said Jim.

“I guess the only kind of work anybody wants now,” I said, “is what somebody else tells them to do.”

“Well,” stated Jim, “one good thing has come out of this conversation. I’m going to get my clocks repaired.”

“The same here,” I said. “Only, it seems a shame that after all this talk about laziness and loss of enterprise, I have to confess that I am the great-grandson of a clockmaker.”

“Are you?” said Jim.

“Yes, my great-grandfather, born here in York, before it was Toronto, even, was Thomas Bradshaw McMurray, watchmaker, probably the first native born watchmaker in this city.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Maybe, some of these countless clocks that aren’t going all over Toronto were actually made by him.”

“Possibly,” I confessed. “But I inherit not the slightest aptitude with machinery of any kind.”

“You would hardly call a clock machinery,” pointed out Jim. “A clock is, after all, a very simple mechanism. It is, in fact, as simple as a child’s wind-up toy. It consists of a spring you wind up, a ratchet that holds the spring, and a series of geared wheels which relax the springs at a rate controlled by levers with tension on them. Really very simple.”

“Even so,” I confessed, “I have a horror of opening a clock. I must inherit some reaction from my great-grandfather. I shudder even when I take the back off my wrist watch. To look in and see all those tiny, delicate wheels and sprockets and springs breathing, as it were. Breathing and slowly ticking, ticking, like the beat of a heart. It gives me the creeps.”

“You surprise me,” said Jim. “All I see to clock mending, is, unscrew the works, take it all apart, laying each separate piece in a precise spot on the dining-room table, so that you will remember just when, rather than where, it goes back. Wipe everything with a rag dipped in gasoline or some such solvent. Reoil with great care, and very sparingly; and then reassemble. I should think it would be very simple.”

“Jim,” I cried. “Don’t do it. Don’t you do it.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “if we learn how to mend a clock, then anybody can learn. And we could then not only advocate clock mending as a trade to the unemployed, but we could actually, when some poor chap calls at our door with a packet of needles or soap. bring him in, teach him the trick of clock mending in an hour or two, and set him on his way a free man, man with a trade and calling.”

“Mmm, mmm,” I said, doubtfully.

“How about the country?’ demanded Jim. “You pass all these little villages and cross roads in the country. There is no glazier there, but all the windows are mended. There is no clockmaker, no plumber, no tinsmith, no dentist, but all the country’s clocks are ticking in the kitchens, the pumps work, the roofs are tight … there must be men all over this country who do know about making things go.”

“Give it up, Jim,” I begged him.

But Jim went back to work at his drawing board with a hard dry look in his eyes, and that night, when the telephone rang right after dinner, I knew it would be Jim. And it was. And he invited me to come over to his place to see him mend a clock. And of course, a man would be a pretty poor specimen that wouldn’t do that much for a friend.

The clock, which Jim had standing on the bare dining-room table, was a large greenish yellow marble clock with gold pillars at the corners and a gold ornament on top. It was a clock made after the shape of a post-office or the British royal exchange or maybe the Greek temple or something severe. Jim had the dining-room doors closed and locked.

“I have here,” he said, “the small screwdriver from the sewing machine, a large screw-driver, a thing to tap with, in case of rust, a rag moistened with gasoline and an oil can. The whole outfit wouldn’t cost a dollar.”

Jim removed the back of the clock with four deft twiddles of the screw-driver. He peered inside, studied, examined, lit matches and peeked; and finally undid a large screw which let him lift out the bowels of the whole clock. It was heavy, brassy and compact.

“I will start at this corner of the table,” explained Jimmie, “and work across the table diagonally that way. I will lay each thing I take out, in its proper order. Thus, when reassembling the clock, I will start at that far corner. And so, as simple as falling off a log, it will go together again.”

I said nothing. Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow.

Jim removed eleven screws, large and small, and laid them, in a sort of row, across the table. Then removed the whole disjointed carcass forward to the head of the row, and delicately pulling, lifting, twisting, he began to take the machinery apart. Each piece he laid separately in the row.

“See,” he said, breathing heavily, “how simple it will be?”

I just moaned.

He worked straight across the table and then made a wide turn and started back on a second row. Still the machine came apart. Still grew that incredible line of wheels, screws, levers, bolts. The spring came away, a thick, dreadful looking thing, coiled like a serpent. Jim studied it, looked through its coils.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “Gummed with ancient oil. Glued, you might say. I will swish it in a bowl of gasoline.”

But on, on he went, finishing the second row and starting on a third. The face of the clock fell out. Jim picked it up and detached the hands.

“There,” he cried. “Was that difficult? Was that intricate?”

I stifled a groan.

With his gasoliney rag, Jim proceeded to wipe each part. He rubbed and scrubbed.

“Be careful,” I said hoarsely. “Don’t lean against the table. Don’t jiggle the least bit.”

“Imagine a man,” remarked Jim, “having a horror of clock insides!”

“It’s inherited,” I muttered.

And then Jim, shifting the duster in his hands to get a fresh clean bit to use, flicked with the tail of the rag the middle row of parts. It was just the lightest possible flick. But my rivetted and fascinated gaze saw a small brass wheel and a very tiny steel pin about the size of a one-inch nail, scamper across the table, and I let out a yell.

“You’ve ruined it, you’ve ruined it!” I shouted.

But Jim, bending down, picked up the wheel and the bolt and a sort of rocking beam sort of thing like on the top of an old-fashioned steamboat. It had a hole at each end.

“Not that, not that,” I hissed.

“I remember where they go,” said Jim easily, and he bent over, studying the rows of parts, and looking for the space the parts belonged to. “Here, this is where the wheel was. Or was it the rod?”

“I’m going home,” I stated.

“Just a second,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s see. This flat thing was here. And this wheel was … there. Was it?”

“Oh, oh, oh,” I moaned.

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, “I remember this large sprocket was there. It must have moved, too. I’ll put it back there, and then this … Let’s see. This … Well, well, mmm, mmm, dear me.”

He straightened up. He stared narrowly at the rows of bits.

“Jim,” I said, taking his hand tenderly. “I’m off. Good-night.”

“Hold on, a jiffy,” said Jim, eagerly. “Now wait a minute.”

But he was frightened, and it showed. There was perspiration along the top of his forehead, too. I couldn’t leave the poor chap in such a plight. I hid my face in my hands and sat down.

“Mmm, mmm,” Jimmie kept saying, “Mmm, mmm.”

I heard little clicks. I heard snaps, clinks, snucks and taps. I heard things going together and things being grunted apart. I heard a loud tapping, and looked up to see Jim hammering a wheel on to an axle, using the butt end of a screw-driver.

“It’s all over,” I said brokenly.

“Well, anyway,” sighed Jim, holding small gear about the size of a dime, “I’ve found one thing I’ve been looking for for months. This gear will exactly fit my casting reel. The one with the black handles.”

“Please,” I begged, “don’t start trying tinker with your fishing reel.”

“It’s the very fit,” said Jim. “And now I know where I can get wheels and springs and anything like that.”

And he laid the clock on its back and rescrewed the face on it, and then laid it on its face and on its back door he just dumped, dumped all the works, packing them in and prying them in with the screw-driver and tamping them down with the butt of the screw-driver, and finally getting the back door closed and the little button turned.

“There,” he said. “Nobody will ever notice.”

“Let me see,” said Jim. “Where does this wheel go?”

Editor’s Note: Gasoline was also used as an all-purpose cleaner back in the old days.

This story is a repeat of “Mmmm, Mmmm!” which was published on February 29, 1936. The image from that story is at the end.

Gummed Up

By Greg Clark, November 6, 1943 (and December 7, 1935)

While Greg was away as a war correspondent in World War Two, it was not uncommon for the Star Weekly to reprint an earlier story, with a new title and new drawing by Jim. The text would be edited (usually shortened), and perhaps a reference to the war would be added. This story appeared under the title “Leak Stoppers” in 1935 (illustration at the end). The text that was removed in the 1943 version is underlined below. The text added is in bold italics (though in this case there was little changed).

“You can buy a gun,” said Jimmie Frise, “what they call a caulking gun, and seam up all your windows and doors with it, using a kind of putty or cement.”

“I’ve seen them,” I said. “Like a grease gun.”

“Exactly,” said Jim. “A child can use them. You have no idea how many leaks there are around a modern house. Air leaks.”

“I’m beginning to feel them,” I agreed. “You would think we Canadians would have solved the question of housing a couple of generations ago. Yet the average Canadian home is stifling in summer and freezing in winter; that is, unless you keep a furnace going full blast from October to May.”

“Yes,” pursued Jim, “and what’s more, when you have the furnace going full blast, what are you doing? You are merely squirting 50 or 100 jets of hot air out of 50 or 100 leaks in your house. Through cracks and crevices. Through keyholes and under warped doors. Hot air squirting out of your house, and cold air shooting in. I’m going to get one of those caulking guns. How would you like to go halvers with me on one?”

“Sure,” I agreed.

“The best house for Canada,” said Jimmie, relaxing, “is a log house. It is warm in winter and cool in summer. Our first ancestors who came to this country were a lot more comfortable than we are. They picked a nice spot on the side of a hill for a cabin. A hill that would protect them from the cold northwesterlies.

They left a few tall maples and elms over it, to shelter it in the heat of summer. Out of cedar logs, they built their little cabin, and chinked the spaces between the logs with mud mixed with a little lime they burned themselves from limestone lying around.”

“I often wish I were my ancestor,” I mused.

“The roof,” said Jimmie, they made this way, they laid stout saplings close together, and over them laid what they called cedar splits, like big shingles. Sometimes if they could afford it, they laid couple of layers of heavy paper between the saplings and the shingles. One of my ancestors was called Proudy Frise, because he lined his roof with rawhide deerskins that he bought from the Indians. It was wonderful in the winter, but in the summer, it smelt kind of close.”

“He could stay outside most of the summer,” I pointed out.

“Once the snow fell on the cabin roof,” went on Jim, everything was hunkey-dooley.”

“The fireplace,” I carried on, “was built of stone, with the chimney.”

“As a matter of fact,” corrected Jim, “they built the stone fireplace and chimney first, and then added the cabin on to it. Here and there, throughout Canada, you will find a few weed-grown remnants of these pioneer chimneys and fireplaces. Every true Canadian should reverently lift his hat when he sees one of those small, unhonored ruins. Around those stones, the builders of empire have huddled in the long and bitter winters of their lives.”

“Babies, too,” I said.

“We Could Be Ancestors”

“Let us picture that little cabin,” paused Jimmie. “Never mind the cutting and the hauling of those cedar logs, the finding and hauling of the stones for the fireplace and chimney. They had no horses. Oxen were few and far between and very expensive. I think we may reasonably suppose that our fathers hauled the logs by hand, and carried the stones in their arms. I think I can see everybody in the family, lonely in that small stumpy clearing in the deep forest, hauling, hauling all day. The mother, leaving her baby, to help haul cedar logs. The little boys of 10 and 14, laboriously loosening and rolling stones towards that sacred muddy little spot where soon, before the chill of autumn grimmed to winter, there must rise the stone altar of home.”

“Jimmie,” I said, “you’re a preacher.”

“Day after day, they hauled and notched and piled and plastered with their rude cement,” said Jim. “Then they had to cut and pile firewood, long, ragged stacks of it. But at last, the rough little cabin was made, and the snow fell, and the soft white blanket warmed the little house. And inside, on a big hearth, a far bigger hearth than you will see anywhere today except at golf clubs, burned a bright fire.”

“One of my ancestors, called Great Grandpa Willie,” I interrupted, “had one of the biggest and best-drawing fireplaces in Markham township. They tell that when the fire was drawing good in it, the draught was so strong it sucked great big cordwood sticks up the chimney and threw them hundreds of feet away. In fact, they had to keep letting the fire go out because they couldn’t get any wood to stay on the fire long enough to burn.”

“The floor,” went on Jim, as if I hadn’t spoken, was generally just plain earth, worn hard and smooth by human feet. The beds were rough hewn bunks. A home-made table. The chairs, a couple of stools, and the rest just round pieces of logs set on end. On that bright fire they cooked their meals on spits and boiled their kettles on hobs. All winter long, they hugged the bright fire, never letting it go out night or day. And the only thing that happened was when daddy walked 14 miles through the deep snow to the nearest village, for a bag of flour, to bring back on home-made sled. And maybe a piece of pork he would get from the local missionary, or maybe from United Empire Loyalist, who might live in the village. That is unless your ancestor had been out with Mackenzie.”

“Mine were out with Mackenzie,” I stated proudly. “And they never wanted for a slab of salt pork or a bag of flour. The ones who were out with Mackenzie stuck together a lot longer than the ones who weren’t, let me tell you that. One winter’s night, nearly 30 years after the rebellion, an old man came to the back door of my great-uncle’s farm, and he said he wanted a meal and shelter for the night. The old man came into the kitchen where the candles were burning, and when he saw William Lyon Mackenzie’s picture on the wall, he snatched off his hat and stood in front of it, crying. So my great-uncle sent everybody to bed; and hour after hour the women and children could hear the two old men in the kitchen making speeches and singing, and reading all my great-uncle’s clippings of the sacred newspaper writings of William Lyon Mackenzie. And finally they went out into the winter night, both of them, about midnight or after, and from that hour, my great-uncle was never seen again.”

“Never seen?” asked Jim.

“Never seen again,” I stated. “He had got out his old high hat and his black coat with the silver buttons. His pike, which hung on the wall, a funny old weapon made of a broken scythe blade on a long ash handle, was gone. We say in the family that the old stranger who called at the door was Mackenzie himself or his ghost, and that he came and took great-uncle away with him. I tell you the rebels stuck together, at least in the country.”

“I wish I was my ancestor,” agreed Jim. “They had something to do. Something to fight. Something to believe in.”

“We could be ancestors, too,” I explained to Jim. “By going up north, around Cochrane or out to the far west. And build a little log cabin and go through all the very same things our ancestors did.”

“Yeah,” sneered Jim, “and the minute we began to fail, we’d go on relief.”

Everything Goes in Circles

“Our ancestors went on relief, too, don’t forget,” I stated. “All the Empire Loyalists got what was called ‘assistance’; that is, free seed and potatoes and all sorts of government grants of this and that. And even after the rebellion, the government wouldn’t see you starve. Anyway, your neighbors wouldn’t. And that’s much the same thing as it is now out on the frontiers, where we would go if we wanted to be ancestors, too.”

“Everything sort of goes round, doesn’t it?” muttered Jim. “The same thing happens over and over, only to different people. I guess we had our turn in our great-grandfathers.”

“We’re pretty comfortable,” I confessed. “Except for those leaks around the windows and doors. When do you expect to get the caulking gun?”

“I could get it Friday, and we can do the job Saturday.”

So Jim got the gun and three bags of the powder that you mix up in a pail to make the putty or gum used to fill the cracks.

It was a cold day. In fact, it was so cold I suggested we leave the job over until milder day. But Jim was indignant.

“In the first place,” he cried, “what would our ancestors think of us, passing up a job that takes half an hour out in a little cold? And in the second place, it is a cold, windy day like this we need to help find the leaks.”

We started at Jim’s. Under the downstairs living room windows was a leak that gave you a backache in 10 minutes if you sat in the chesterfield. It was a leak under the window frame and behind the big radiators that filled the front end of the room. So cold was the breeze that cut in across the radiators that it was still freezing after it had passed across practically red-hot radiators.

In a big wash boiler, with water we mixed the gray powder out of the paper bags.

“This stuff,” explained Jim, sniffing loudly, “is sort of like gum. It swells as it hardens. It hardens light and fluffy but strong as stone.”

“Like,” I said, “a sort of asphalt or concrete seidlitz powder.”

Jim and I went and studied the leak from the inside and then from the outside. His family were all away, or we would have had someone stand inside and call out to us where the leak still leaked. Jim did the gun work while I did the mixing and gun-filling. It was an even division of the job, and a cold job at that.

Inserting the flattened end of the gun into the crack below the stone window sill, Jim would press the gun handle and the putty would squeeze inside. Jim shoved and heaved and sniffled, and I crouched down out of the wind, just coughing

A Dreadful Sight

After four gun loads, Jim went inside and reported the cold leak as cold and leaky as ever.

“There must be a hole,” he said, “as big as a piano box inside that wall.”

So I mixed and puddled and Jimmie gunned and heaved, and that one leak took seven pails of putty.

“We ought to have some sort of automatic gun,” declared Jim, “that would connect to a hose. Then we could fill these holes in jig time.”

“My hands,” I said, “are numb.”

“I feel hot chills, confessed Jim. “I bet I am catching pneumonia.”

“Any number of our ancestors must have died of pneumonia,” I offered.

So we broke off, and drove over to the hardware store for another three bags of the gum.

“We’ll fill this leak,” said Jim, setting to, “if it takes all day and 50 bags. Just imagine the kind of man that would build a house with hole like that in it.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, we are filling up hollow wall right to the roof?”

“If we are,” said Jim, “We are. But I going to stop this leak.”

And grunting and sniffing, he leaned on the gun, and shot another two pailfuls of the gum into the chink below the window sill.

“Our ancestors, I coughed, “generally did their wall clinking in the summer.”

“Sniff,” said Jim, heaving hard.

“Our ancestors,” I further coughed, had enough sense to do their chinking from the inside, in winter.”

“There’s an idea,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s find the leaks inside and work from there!”

“For mercy’s sake,” I said, seizing the pail and one of the two remaining bags of powdered gum. “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?”

So we hustled inside through the kitchen, and we paused in the kitchen with all our paraphernalia long enough to brew a pot of tea and drink it neat.

“To be an ancestor,” said Jim, much improved, “you had to have common sense. I bet the bones of amateur ancestors lie thick all over Canada. Men who didn’t use their brains. Men who couldn’t take it.”

“Let’s go find the leak from the inside,” I encouraged.

So we carried the gun and the pail and bags into the living-room.

A dreadful sight met our eyes.

Like candle drippings, like the winter icicles of Niagara Falls, huge stalactites and stalagmites of gray gum draped themselves up and over the big radiator of the living-room, sizzling and smoking. Out across the shining hardwood floor, a great gob of gum, like lava from Mount Vesuvius, bulged grotesquely, pushing a Persian rug ahead of it.

Halvers on the Gun

Jim said nothing. He just dropped the gun and stood loosely, bending at the knees, sort of.

“Jim,” I said, “quick, when are the folks coming home?”

“Ancestors,” said Jim, thickly, “where are you now?”

With garden spade and ice pick, with rags and trowel, we labored. The gum had apparantly been pushing through into the living-room as fast as we shoved it. It had filled the space behind the radiator and finally rose up and flowed over it, so that the radiator was all but engulfed. Where we lifted it, like a great gummy rug, off the hardwood floor, it peeled the beautiful satiny finish off the way a mud pack removes the ageing epidermis of a lady. It smelt rubbery and asphalty. The hot radiator stewed it. It stuck, as gum sticks to your heel. We had the job not quite finished when the family arrived and consigned Jim and me and all our apparatus to the cellar where Jim has a billiard room.

“Will I offer to re-polish the floor?” asked Jim, as we sat there.

“You can if you like,” I said. “If we do the same thing at my house, I’ll offer to re-polish my floor.”

“I see,” said Jim. “I see. You are leaving me?”

“Yes,” I said, “I am all chapped and raw. I feel a bad cold coming on. I have been doing foolish thing.”

“Helping a friend, scorned Jim.

“I have been doing a foolish thing,” I reiterated. “I forgot that my ancestors did all the suffering any family needs to do. They used up in their lives, a basic fund of energy, a sort of family supply of vigor, so that they had none to pass on to me. What they suffered, they suffered for me. And they no doubt were encouraged, as they toiled and suffered, by the thought that their descendants would not have to suffer as they were doing.”

“I bet they thought of no such thing,” said Jim.

“Well, anyway,” I coughed heavily, “there is no call for me to go on suffering when I can hire an ancestor just fresh out from Scotland who will gum up the leaks in my house for two dollars.”

“How about going halvers on the gun?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” I said: “I’ll give you the money the next time I have it.”

So I got up and hurried home and put my feet in mustard bath and put my grand-mother’s Paisley shawl – the one she got for a gift the night the fall of Sebastopol was celebrated in Toronto – round my shoulders and read an old book, a raggedy old book we have, called “The Life and Times of William Lyon Mackenzie.”

December 7, 1935

Editor’s Notes: This is yet another story in the theme of Greg and Jim trying to do some sort of household repair while the family is out, and making a mess of it.

William Lyon Mackenzie was a politician, journalist, reformer, and leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. He is consider a hero by many as the failed rebellion eventually led to more local control.

Seidlitz powders is a generic name for a laxative that required mixing of two ingredients.

The fall of Sebastopol was a battle during the Crimean War, which would have been celebrated in the British Empire.

Royal Decorations

By Greg Clark, May 13, 1939

Greg and Jim discover it’s often more than the house that gets painted when amateurs try the job

“Do you realize,” demanded Jimmie Frise, “that you can’t get a painter for love or money in this city.”

“You’ve left it too late,” I stated.

“Well,” protested Jim, “there was so much uncertainty. Some of the best guessers of my acquaintance were willing to bet a hundred to one their majesties wouldn’t be coming to Canada.”

“There was your chance,” I pointed out, “to get your house painted for nothing.”

“The main thing is,” said Jim, “How am I going to get it painted now?”

“The royal procession doesn’t come anywhere near your street,” I suggested.

“What has that to do with it?” demanded Jim indignantly.

“Well, after all,” I said, “if you were on the royal route, I could understand your anxiety. But away down a back street …”

“All my neighbors,” said Jim, “have redecorated their places, they’ve painted up and they’ve got their flower beds abloom and I saw one fellow across the street nailing those flag-staff holders on every window sill. I bet he hangs out 20 flags.”

“So it’s to keep up with the Joneses that you want to fix up your house?” I taunted.

“I’m just as loyal as anybody in this country,” declared Jim hotly.

“But you’re just a little procrastinating,” I submitted.

“I bet there are tens of thousands of Canadians in the same pickle I’m in,” complained Jim. “How about you? What have you done with your house?”

“I put it up to the landlord,” I explained sweetly. “I suggested that it was hardly patriotic of him to allow a loyal and true blue Britisher like me, a major on the reserve, all battle-scarred and full of army phrases, to live in a house not all dolled up for the royal visit. So he turned loose a gang of painters and it was all I could do to prevent them painting the house red, white and blue.”

“You people who rent have all the luck,” muttered Jim.

“But we have nothing to leave our widows,” I offered.

“The rest of us,” growled Jim, “leave mortgages to ours.”

“You could solve the problem,” I suggested a little uneasily, for I could already sense a purpose in Jim’s conversation, “with bunting.”

“A little rain,” countered Jim, “and where’s your bunting?”

“Put it up at the last minutes,” I offered. “Drapes over your porch and festoons above the windows.”

“It isn’t good enough,” declared Jim. “It would look tawdry in my street. One of my neighbors showed me a great big silk Union Jack he has bought. Bigger than a table cloth. It cost $40.”

Dizzy on Ladders

“Why don’t you go down to one of the government employment offices,” I asked, “and get a couple of men and turn them loose? Painting isn’t so mysterious a business.”

“Oh, isn’t it?” lured Jimmie.

“Pshaw, no,” I said, foolishly, “I’ve done painting as good as any professional. I painted our kitchen less than two months ago. And you saw the job I did on the annex up at our cottage?”

“Amateur jobs are all very well,” said Jim, cautiously, “in kitchens and on summer cottages, but you can’t do the front of a house. That takes professionals.”

“Get away with you,” I cried. “All it takes is patience and care. The difference between a professional house painter and you or me is simply that we are in a hurry, whereas the professional house painter does it for a living and therefore takes his time.”

“You mean,” inquired Jim, “that if you and I undertook to paint the front of my house, all we’d have to do is take our time and be careful and we could do it as well as a pro?”

Too late, I realized where I stood.

“Personally,” I said firmly. “I think you would be better advised to buy bunting. The bunting would cost you less than the paint. Why, for the cost of the paint, you could cover your house with bunting and get a big silk Union Jack besides.”

“My house needs a coat of paint anyway,” mused Jim.

“The great trouble with amateur painters,” I pointed out, “is, the average man gets dizzy on ladders. Now you take me, for instance. I daren’t climb a ladder. If I go up a ladder, I get so dizzy I have to hang on with both hands.”

“You could do the lower bits,” said Jim. “The window sills, doorways and things like that. I never get dizzy.”

“When I say the average man can do a job of painting as good as a professional,” I explained, “I should add that there are exceptions. Some people just have no knack for painting. You, no doubt, could do a perfect job. After all, you are an artist. And what’s the difference between painting a picture and painting a house? But I lack the delicate touch.”

“I’ve seen your kitchen,” said Jim. “I think it is a very creditable job.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but I always say, one job, one man. You’ve got to get the paint on even. It wouldn’t look right, with part of the house done with your delicacy, your artistic touch; and the rest of it daubed on by me.”

“You mean,” said Jim, bitterly, “that you are trying to get out of lending me a hand with a little painting job. You mean, you begrudge me a couple of afternoons and evenings of your time and help.”

“What Have You Contributed?”

“That’s a fine accusation to make,” I cried, “after all the things I’ve helped you with, from sooty chimneys to making rockeries in your garden.”

“You were a big help there,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said, “I hate painting.”

“All I really need you for,” said Jim, “is to hold the ladder and now and again stand back and tell me if I’m getting it on even.”

“Painting isn’t like that,” I insisted. “You can’t stand around when anybody is painting. Before you know it, you’ve got a brush in your hand.”

“You won’t even hold the ladder?” demanded Jim darkly.

“This is the worst season of the year for me, Jim,” I pleaded. “The trout season and the royal visit and my work is behind and one thing and another.”

“Well, I never would have believed it,” said Jim sadly. “It just goes to show the depth of your loyalty. What have you personally contributed to the royal visit? You call upon your landlord to decorate your house. You telephone for a little bunting and your wife puts it up. I should think you would welcome a chance to do something personal, to put some personal effort, however small, into expressing your loyalty. It’s easy enough to get somebody else to do the work. You’re like those patriots during the war who bought Victory bonds as their contributions to the great fight.”

“I didn’t buy any Victory bonds,” I assured him hotly. “I would like to remind you I was in the infantry and not the artillery.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that the artillery …” began Jim, and then thought better of it.

“You can’t measure loyalty,” I stated, “with bunting, flags and fresh paint.”

“No,” said Jim, “but you can measure loyalty by the willingness of a man to put himself out a little to celebrate momentous occasions.”

“It’s your house that needs painting,” I remarked.

“Okay, okay,” said Jim. “Okay. I hate to think what will happen to this country in the next war. The old spirit is gone.”

“What spirit is gone?” I demanded.

“Back in the old days,” said Jim, “when you saw one of your comrades in a jam, did you stop to figure it was his own fault and leave him to his fate, off on some exposed flank? No, sir. Without even pausing to think, you went like a wildcat to his aid.”

“He wasn’t painting any houses,” I snorted.

“Okay, okay, okay,” said Jim, conclusively.

“When were you figuring on doing the job?” I inquired.

“I’ve got the paint,” said Jim. “In fact, I’ve had it two weeks, trying to get a painter.”

“This is our night out, at home,” I submitted. “If I can get my wife to go to a movie with the kids I’ll drop around.”

“It’s more for company than anything,” said Jim kindly. “And you could hold the ladder and that sort of thing. I simply can’t tackle the job single-handed. You never saw painters working solo.”

“Okay, okay,” I said kindly, too.

So I put on some old clothes and after supper walked around to Jim’s. He was already on the job. He had a ladder up against the front and pails of paint set on the ground, one of which he was busily stirring when I arrived.

“Aha, gaudy, eh?” I remarked. For the pots of paint were red, blue and yellow.

“Well, I figure it this way,” said Jim, straightening up. “Paint is the salvation of a good house. I’m going to doll it up in royal colors and make a real celebration of it. Even if I don’t do a very slick job, the paint will be thoroughly plastered on. Then, in a few weeks, I can get some painter to put a second coat on, in conventional colors. All neat and tidy.”

“That’s an idea,” I concurred. “And you’ll certainly knock the hat off everybody else on the street.”

“I don’t think loyalty should be cautious,” declared Jim.

“Or finicky,” I agreed, stirring the red pot.

“The window sills,” said Jim, “light red with a blue line for trim. The door pillars yellow.”

“I’ve always maintained,” I agreed, “that we in Ontario are far too timid in the painting of our homes. You take some of those little towns and villages in Quebec.”

“I have them in mind,” said Jim. “Now if you’ll hold the ladder, I’ll start on that first window.”

“It’s a bit creaky,” I said, gripping the ladder, which looked as if it had been in the cellar for the past 10 years.

“Don’t worry,” said Jim, starting up it with a courage that I envied.

“Careful,” I called up, “not to spill any paint on the bricks. If you get a speck of paint on the bricks you’ll never get it off.”

“Just hold the ladder,” suggested Jim.

So I held the ladder and watched Jim brace himself with all the insouciance of a sailor.

“One little splash of paint on bricks,” I offered, so as to put his mind at ease, “and the more you try to get it off, the wider it smears. It makes an awful mess.”

“Just hold the ladder,” explained Jim.

“It’s the porousness of the bricks” I concluded. “The oil in the paint and the porousness of the bricks.”

“Hold it steady,” admonished Jim.

There really isn’t much to holding a ladder. In fact, all there is to it is just leaning against it and holding it. If you look up. you can’t see anything except the feet of the man above. And there is the feeling you are going to get a squirt of paint in the eye.

“The best painters,” I commented, don’t fill their brush very full. They just half dip it and then press it out against the inside of the pail…”

“When you talk,” said Jim, “it makes the ladder vibrate.”

“Sorry,” I said.

So Small a Thing

In fact, holding a ladder is about the least loyal thing I can imagine. It is so small a thing it is almost disloyal. I began casting my eye around the lower woodwork, the window sills and the door pillars. There was an extra brush lying by the paint pails, but it was old and stiff with gray paint.

“How about me,” I asked, “getting some turpentine and working up this extra brush? It wouldn’t take long to soften it.”

“We can do that after dark,” said Jim. “If you’ll just hold the ladder steady. It feels kind of creaky. It’s been dried out, all those years in the cellar. Just hold it firm.”

Rusty, Jim’s aged and slightly feeble-minded water spaniel, was snuffing about. His nose was buried in the new grass, and he was snuffing in deep, brief snorts.

“Gittim, Rusty.” I said, it being kind of dull just holding ladders.

“Oomph,” said Rusty, wagging his rear half.

“Atta boy, gittim,” I commended.

Rusty continued to follow his mysterious trail, stopping and snorting at the ground and then hurrying a couple of steps.

“Sickim,” I said, with no ill-intent.

“Owfff,” barked Rusty, and he dashed into the side drive.

“Hold steady,” said Jim above. “This rung I’m on just gave a kind of a crack.”

“Step down to the next rung,” I warned.

Down the side drive came a sudden loud baying and out on to the lawn came the cat that lives next door. After her came Rusty, in full cry.

“Pssst,” I warned, as the cat wheeled and dashed along the front of the house straight for me.

The cat went back of my legs. Rusty was too fat and tried to go in front. He bunted my knees and I made a grab for a firmer hold of the ladder. From aloft came a splintering sound.

“Whauppp,” roared Jim.

And down came he and his paint and the cans at my feet rolled various ways and a huge splash gulped and rolled down the bricks and there we sat in a royal puddle.

“God save the King!” I said.

“Now see what you’ve done,” said Jim grimly.

“It was that fool Rusty,” I protested.

“It was that damn cat next door,” declared Jim.

And we rose cautiously to our feet and stood legs ajar, regarding the horrible big smear on the brick wall.

“I warned you,” I said, “about getting any paint on the …”

“I think,” said Jim, “I’ll adopt bunting after all.”


Editor’s Notes: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada in 1939, the first time reigning monarchs came. It was a very big deal, since it was also on the eve of World War Two.

Greg mentions in the story that he was a renter. In fact, he never owned a house in his life, and always remained a renter.

Hitler Found Out

By Greg Clark, March 20, 1948

“Spring house cleaning,” announced Jimmie Frise, gaily, “starts within a month!”

I looked at him with horror.

“Why the air of good cheer?” I inquired bitterly.

“Because,” declared Jim, with the enthusiasm of a Sunday school superintendent, “this year, I am going to participate in it. In fact, I am starting tonight.”

“You’re worse than a Communist,” I accused. “The Commies attack the social system; but even they don’t tamper with the age-old social system of the home. The man is the wage-earner. The woman looks after the house. Men should have NOTHING to do with spring cleaning.”

“But suppose,” Jim urged, “suppose a man gets a kick out of it?”

“He should have his head read,” I affirmed. It’s the thin edge of the wedge. It’s the beginning of the end. We men should stand together. Let one man surrender his ancient rights and privileges, and no one can foresee where it will end. The man is the wage-earner. The woman looks after the house. That’s our ancient charter. And we’ve got to stand on it.”

“But surely,” said Jim engagingly, “a man can takes off and carry down the storm windows. Surely a man, during spring cleaning, can do a little painting and touching up …”

“Ah, if he has a liking for painting,” I admitted. “But we have to be awfully careful. In this age of change and decay, goodness knows what can happen to the social traditions of the home. Let forms of government alter. Let social systems pass away. But none of these things touches the sacred customs and traditions of the home. A man’s home is his castle. Never forget that.”

“All I am going to do,” said Jim modestly, “is a little painting. And fill up a few cracks in the plaster.”

“That’s different,” I conceded. “What I feared was that you were going to wash windows, polish floors, scrub basements. First thing you know, the neighbors’ wives will find out about it. And even if only one or two of your neighbors’ husbands get caught in the toils, the insidious thing is that it spreads. Your wife can’t help but brag over the telephone to her friends and relations about how Jimmie has sailed in and washed l the upstairs windows outside, and sanded and waxed the whole living room and dining room …”

“No,” assured Jimmie, “It’s just one of the small upstairs bedrooms. The walls and ceiling aren’t papered. They’re painted with that water paint. Right on the plaster. Very pretty. Well, a few cracks have appeared in the walls and ceiling. So tonight I’m going to have a lot of fun. I’m going to fill up the cracks with that patent plaster you can buy in small packages and mix yourself. Then with one of those patent paint rollers, I’m going to decorate the whole room. A soft yellow.”

“Roller, eh?” I queried. “I’ve seen those things in the hardware store windows.”

“They’re simplicity itself, especially with these water paints,” explained Jim. “You just wet a pad with paint, dab the roller on it like a rubber stamp, then roll on the paint.”

“Well,” I grudged, “in my opinion, then this isn’t really taking part in the spring house cleaning after all. It comes under the heading of painting and decorating. I feel a lot better.”

“Come on over,” urged Jim, “after supper, and give me counsel and advice. It’s fun to watch another man painting.”

So after supper, I strolled around the block to Jim’s, bringing with me an old set of overalls that I bought some years ago when I had experienced a fleeting fancy for painting and decorating myself. I thought I might lend Jimmie a hand, if he wanted it.

As I strolled, I thought again of this domestic struggle in which men are now so desperately involved. After all, there are certain seasons of the year in which a man, as the wage-earner, has to pitch in and do double duty. There is the annual or semi-annual stock taking. There are crisis in business which demand of the wage-earner a special effort, overtime and all else. Does the wage-earner expect his wife to come down to the office or factory and help him in these times of crisis? Then, why do women expect men to share in the labors of the annual stock-taking which is called spring cleaning?

Yet all around, you will see men guiltily engaged in all sorts of domestic tasks at this coming season of the year. That’s the way the Communists work. They seek out the soft spots, the sentimental spots. They search for the henpecks in industry.

When I got to Jimmie’s, he came downstairs himself to let me in. The family were all out, at church meetings and club gatherings of the Lenten season. He was garbed in overalls and had his sleeves rolled up.

“Just starting!” he cried hospitably.

“I brought my overalls,” I showed him.

“Good; I thought you would,” said Jim. “There’s a fascination about painting. Especially low down, around the base board. In fact, I was going to ask you over if you hadn’t volunteered.”

Upstairs, Jimmie was in process of moving all the bedroom furniture out into the hall. With this I helped him. To prepare a room for decorating, it is astonishing how much stuff there is to move. Pictures, dressers, bed – and that’s an awful job, because a bed seems to get set in a certain way and you have to use brutal force to take it apart. Mattresses, springs, shelves off the wall brackets, gadgets.

By the time we had everything out in the hall, the room certainly gave the appearance of needing decoration in bad way. When I first entered the room, I privately thought what a pity it was to disturb so pretty a setup. But with everything bare, the room looked positively decrepit. Where the dresser had stood was large pallid spot the size and shape of the dresser mirror. Each picture off the wall had left a ghastly square of greenish blue. And the cracks in the plaster which I had not even noticed, now straggled across ceilings and down walls in spidery designs,

“It’s queer how the furniture of a room,” remarked Jim, “steals the show. Take the furniture out, and you think you have been living in a slum.”

“With a lick of paint,” I reassured, “and those cracks puttied up, this place will be transfigured.”

“By 11 o’clock,” agreed Jim. “I told the kids not to come home before 11. We’ll have everything back in place by then.”

From the hallway he brought in the big pail of water paint and a brand-new roller, with its pad. He also had a very professional-looking old square of canvas to put on the floor. And in another tin, he had the patent plaster or putty for filling up the cracks.

“Now, Jim,” I announced, right at the start, “one thing you want to know about that patent plaster. It swells. You’ve got to be awfully …”

“It says here,” interrupted Jim, reading the label, “that it shrinks. It says to put in a good, well-tamped down quantity of crack-filler and allow for shrinkage.”

“I’ve used buckets of that stuff on boats and canoes,” I insisted, “and I know it bulges.”

“Yes, on boats and canoes, in water,” Jim pointed out.

“Well, anyway,” I urged, “you want to clean up those cracks in the plaster. Don’t, whatever you do, stuff that crack-filler into the cracks the way they are.”

“Why not?” demanded Jimmie, prying the lid off the can of plaster.

“Because,” I informed him, “every one of those cracks has soft, crumbly edges. They’re also full of plaster dust. I bet it says all this on the can.”

We studied the fine print on the can.

“Yes, there it is,” I exclaimed. “‘Warning,’ it says. ‘Be sure to have cracks to be filled clean and trimmed. Plaster will not hold if edges are dusty or infirm.'”

“You never read the fine print on a can,” muttered Jim.

He laid the can down and went and examined the largest of the cracks in the wall. I picked delicately at the edge, and found, just as I said, that it was all crumbly. Jim got off a piece of plaster as big as a quarter.

“Hm,” he said. “Hm, hm, hm?”

“I tell you,” I suggested cheerily. “We’ll trim those cracks with our pocket knives. Go and get your stepladder. You work on the ceiling cracks, and I’ll work on the wall cracks.”

“If I’d known there was going to be all this to do,” complained Jim quietly, “I wouldn’t have told the kids to be in at 11.”

“It won’t take half an hour, concentrated work,” I urged him. “Get the stepladder.”

While Jim was down cellar, I changed into my overalls. I got my pocket knife out and felt its edge. I pride myself on always having a good sharp knife.

By the time Jim got back with the ladder, I had done a small surgical job with the knife, and showed it to him.

“See?” I explained. “Each of these cracks has a decayed sort of margin to it. Take the knife like this -you’ve got a good sharp blade? – and carefully scrape and chisel along the edge like this – oops!”

A chunk of plaster about the size of a 50-cent piece broke loose and fell to the floor. Brown, hairy plaster.

“For heaven’s sake,” cried Jimmie, “look out! I’ve only got this one small can of crack-filler.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but you see what I mean?”

“I do,” said Jim, grimly, “and I think I ought to just stuff the plaster into the cracks.”

“It’ll be a mess,” I assured him.

“Maybe I could skip the cracks and just slap on the yellow paint,” calculated Jim. “It’s the prettiest pale yellow …”

“Jim, it would look awful!” I protested.

“Well…” he heaved.

More cautiously, I went at the wall crack with my knife, and pared off the really crumbly edges. Jim watched intently.

“Don’t widen them too much!” he warned.

I got about a foot of it done, and then stood buck, to demonstrate to him what a nice clean crack it made into which to stuff the plaster.

“Okay,” he said, opening his pocket knife and mounting the stepladder. The ceiling cracks were not as wide or as bad as the wall cracks. With his knife tip, Jim timidly scratched and poked along the cracks, bringing down a little rain of dried crumbles.

“Go to it!” I urged from below. “You’ve at least got to widen them enough to stick a little putty in.

He scratched a little harder. Some small change, nickel, dime and quarter size, rained suddenly down.

Jim spread his fingers upward and started to press and push lightly on the plaster around the crack.

“Why,” he cried, “this plaster is all ready to ..!”

Which it did; at exactly that instant. A large section of the ceiling simply let go, as if it had been pie crust. In a smothering cloud of plaster dust, than which there is none more dusty, about eight square feet of the ceiling dropped, dryly, flatly and with a brief and shattering crash, onto the floor.
And the creeping clouds rose and began their instant wandering.

We did not have the bedroom door closed, of course. And the dust went out the hall, all over the stacked furniture and the pictures and chairs and knick-knacks. Downstairs it rolled, into the living room, into the dining room, a white, Hasting ghost of a cloud.

First: we closed doors – too late, we admit. Then we got shovel and ash cans and bushel baskets, and shovelled plaster off the floor.

Then we got cloths and damp cloths and the chamois Jim uses on his car, and mops. And we scuttled from room to room, downstairs and up, taking off the worst. By 11 o’clock we had things reasonably shipshape, although the electric light bulbs all seemed dim.

As Jimmie let me out the side door, he said:

“You don’t mind I put the blame on you, do you? I’d do the same for you.”

“Okay,” I agreed hastily. “But there’s one thing I’ve been thinking. Hitler found it out. Hitler found out that there are certain things that should be left to the painters and decorators.”

“Okay, okay!” hastened Jim, closing the door on me. And just as I rounded the corner, I saw the family car turn in Jimmie’s side drive.


Editor’s Note: I really don’t understand the title of this piece. Even the reference at the end doesn’t make sense to me.

Post-war animosity to the Soviet Union and Communism is evident in Greg’s use of the term “commies”.

Paint rollers were invented in 1938, but did not become common until after World War Two, which is why it is being implied as something new to them both.

This is also the first story published on this site from the Montreal Standard instead of the Toronto Star Weekly.

Be Sure You’re Right

By Greg Clark, January 9, 1943

“How do you fix a tap?” inquired Jimmie Frise.

“It’s very simple,” I explained. “Do you know where to turn off the water main in your cellar?”

“Sure, it’s a little old brass tap down near the cement floor,” said Jimmie.

“Well, turn that off,” I pursued, “and that cuts the water off all over the house. Then you take a monkey wrench, see, and undo the nut that holds the tap on. Then you fasten in a new washer.”

“It’s a funny thing,” said Jim, “but in all the years I have been a householder and a taxpayer, I have never fixed a tap.”

“This war,” I agreed, “is certainly making men of us.”

“I have signed leases,” said Jimmie, “and signed agreements for sale. I have arranged mortgages and negotiated loans at the bank. I have put my signature to all kinds of elaborate and intricate contracts with the Hydro, with the gas company, with motor car sales corporations and sellers of radios on time payment plans. But I have never fixed a tap.”

“Life, in the past 20 years,” I mused, “was very complicated. All the simple things, like fixing taps, we left to other people. And all the complicated and intricate things we did ourselves. Wasn’t it silly?”

“I imagine the period,” said Jim, “between 1920 and 1939 will go down in history as one of the blackest in all time. It will be famous in history as the period in which humanity went flabby. For 20 years, humanity just stood still and flabbied.”

“Flabbied?” I inquired. “Is there such a word?”

“If there isn’t, there ought to be,” stated Jimmie. “Because it describes as no other word could the conduct of the human race for that 20-year period. Everything flabbied. It was the dawn of the age of gaggle music, known as jazz at first and now known as jive. It was the age in which the dance, that most graceful and beautiful of all human antics, became a mere flab.”

“Flab?” I demanded. “Hey.”

“Politically,” went on Jim, “the whole world flabbied. Our rich people, the leaders, owners and masters of the earth, were so flabby that they could not see past the edges of their cheque books and led the whole mass of mankind first into a world-wide depression of colossal cruelty, and finally into a war so ruinous that all are engulfed, from the richest to the poorest.”

“It was the age,” I recollected ruefully, “of abdications, assassinations and unheralded invasions.”

“Everybody was so flabby,” declared Jim, “that when the flabby masters of the world tried to scare us into obedience to their flabby will by shouting at us that the red bogey man would get us, all we did was stand still and flab.”

“There’s that word again,” I muttered.

“Okay, think of a better one,” suggested Jimmie.

Masters and Men

“It’s a pretty unwholesome spectacle, that 20-year stretch from 1920 to 1939,” I admitted. “But maybe from a little distance, history won’t be too cruel on us. After all, many beautiful buildings were erected in that time. Many great advances in industry and science were come by. Sulfa drugs were invented. And sulfa drugs are the greatest boon to humanity since Louis Pasteur.”

“Sure,” agreed Jim. “Radio was invented during that 20-year period. And the airplane was brought practically to its present state of perfection in that time. A thousand things were perfected. But for all the perfection of the means of communicating between human beings, we neglected just one thing. And that was the human relation. We developed radio so that we could, every last living soul of us, sit in our own easy chair, at home, and hear the voices of men speaking to us from every nation on earth. But the one thing we did not do was try to understand him.”

“Aw, there were never so many crackpots,” I asserted, “in the world’s history as since 1920.”

“We developed, in that 20 years,” insisted Jim, “the motor car to that point that anybody could own one and go anywhere. We speeded up communication so that ships crossed the Atlantic in four days and planes crossed the same ocean in 16 hours. But the more free we were to visit and see and understand our fellow man everywhere, the less we understood him and the more, eventually, we grew to hate him.”

“H’m,” I admitted. “That is a queer one.”

“We perfected all the means of contacting our fellow men, everywhere,” concluded Jimmie triumphantly, “and ended up by rushing at one another with murder in our hearts.”

“How do you explain it?” I demanded.

“Flabby,” said Jim briefly. “Just flabby. It was not the common man who rushed at the other common man. It was our masters who sicked us on to each other. Our masters do not want the common man to get together. Our masters live in only one great and consuming fear, and that is that the common man of the world will get together with all other common men and then the jig is up, as far as masters are concerned. So when they saw the changes coming over the world in that period from 1920 to 1939, with every change making it easier for the common man to get together, they began to worry. And they raised up all kinds of scares and bogies. Millions of innocent Chinese and Abyssinians and Spaniards were killed and destroyed before they finally got us all tangled up in a vast, world-wide hatred and misunderstanding. If we hadn’t been flabby, we could have seen through our masters.”

“Who are these masters you talk about?” I demanded indignantly.

“All the people, in all countries,” said Jim, “who feel they are superior to the common man.”

“But my goodness,” I protested, anxiously.

“All the people,” insisted Jim, “in all countries, who feel they are superior to the common man and who, therefore, league together with those others they think, by their own standards, are also superior to the common man. It starts with little neighborhoods, in small towns. It spreads to larger neighborhoods in cities. Presently it spreads to groups in whole nations, who band together in banks, companies, directorates, universities, industries and finally political parties. And the meanest of them who thinks he is superior to the common man becomes the devoted slave of the greatest of those who thinks he is superior.”

“But the Germans,” I pointed out, “now imagine that their whole race is superior.”

“That’s the same thing carried to insanity,” explained Jim. “But we’ve got it here, too. It is everywhere. The thing we have got to get rid of, after this war, is the whole theory that some men are superior to the common man.”

“But aren’t they?” I demanded firmly.

“Not when it comes to eating,” said Jim, “sleeping, being clothed, having a job, being secure. Not when it comes to dying in battle or dying in a slum. When 10 men are dead, including a king and a beggar, they are all equal. When 10 men are hungry, or cold or homeless or without hope, they are all equal.”

Visionary or Plabbie?

“You are a visionary,” I informed him.

“I am no longer flabby,” said Jim definitely.

“But you can’t fix a tap,” I recalled to him.

“Ah, yes,” said Jim. “Yes, yes, yes, Let’s see: I go down cellar and turn off that little brass tap down near the floor. Then I go up….”

“Have you got any washers?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim, “In the second drawer in the kitchen cabinet along with hockey pucks, cook books, screw drivers and things for helping remove tight lids off jam jars.”

“Are you sure?” I inquired. “We could get some washers from the hardware store, as we walk over to your place.”

“Ah, so you are coming to help me with the tap?” said Jim.

“Something tells me I had better,” I muttered. “You have a washer?”

“If I haven’t,” said Jim, “I can take one out of the hose, I won’t need the hose. …”

“But a tap washer,” I cried, “is not like a hose washer. A tap washer is a little round nubbin, a sort of half ball of rubber, with a small hole through it….”

“That isn’t the kind of washers we used when I was a boy,” declared Jim. “I remember washers. They were round rings, like hose washers.”

“My dear boy,” I assured him, “taps have changed mightily in this last period from 1920 to 1939.”

So we walked the other way, round the block and called at the hardware store where I wheedled one of the pre-war washers out of the hardware man. He only had six left which he was keeping for his own family use.
A visit to a hardware store is always a delight to a family man, and any little excuse will serve. One of the finest features of a hardware store is that it is practically all one big notion counter. Its shelves, bins and showcase tops are stacked with items of intense utility. While the hardware man hunted up his private stock of tap washers, I selected, a. nice sharpening stone to send to my brother overseas, a very handy gadget for a soldier; and also a stick of wax for preventing drawers and windows from sticking. Then the man arrived with the washer.

“What a ridiculous little thing,” said Jim, examining the washer. “How does it work?”

“Very simple,” I explained. “You take the tap out, unscrew the old worn-out washer, screw this one back on the end of the rod that goes down from the tap. Then, when you turn the tap, this washer tightens down on the hole in the pipe, shutting off the stream.”

“From now on,” said Jim, “I am going to do all my own tap repairing. If I’d known it was as simple as this, I could have stopped leaky taps that must have dribbled thousands of gallons of water away in the past 30 years.”

“Thirty flabby years,” I reminded him.

When we arrived at Jim’s, we proceeded at once to the kitchen and Jim indicated the tap that needed the washer. It was the hot water tap.

“Why,” I protested; “you’ve been wasting good hot water. Either electric energy or fuel oil has been criminally wasted by this dripping tap, Jim. Wait a minute.”

And from the shelf I took an empty milk bottle and set it under the dribble.

“Now,” I explained, “we can calculate how many gallons of costly hot water you have been wasting.”

We watched the water dribble and drip, and in 12 minutes, the milk bottle was half full.

“There you are, sir,” I stated accusingly. “One pint in 12 minutes. That is two and a half quarts in five hours. That is five quarts in 10 hours. That is around 12 quarts or three gallons in a day. In a year, that comes to….”

“Wait a minute,” said Jim, “that tap has only developed a drip in the past week.”

“Well,” I said, “now that you have recovered from the flabbiness that had you in its grip for the past 20 years, I am glad you decided to fix it within a week.”

“I’m fixing it,” retorted Jim.

“With a hose washer,” I scoffed.

“Wait till I run down and shut off that brass tap,” said he, disappearing down the cellarway.

“Okay, lad,” he said, reappearing in a moment.

And he got the monkey wrench out of the second drawer in the kitchen cabinet, from amidst the hockey pucks, baseball gloves, can openers and cook books.

“Let me show you,” I said, taking the wrench.

But the tap had not been dealt with for a long time. The nut securing it was firmly fixed. I grunted and heaved.

“Here,” said Jim.

And he put his weight on it and loosened it.

A welling of water started immediately around the edges of the nut.

“Just the overflow.” I assured him. “Go ahead. Wind her off.”

“But as Jim unwound, the water flowed more lively around the nut.

“Are you sure you turned the main off?” I cried.

“Certainly.” said Jimmie, wrenching rapidly. “Off tight.”

And with a sudden explosion, the tap came up and off in his hands, whence it clattered into the sink and a solid column of water, an inch thick, spurted straight up in the air, saturating Jimmie and causing him to leap backwards and fall over the stool.

I clamped my two hands over the tap. But it was hot, and getting hotter.

“Get a rag.” I roared. “Get a bucket.”

And while Jimmie scrambled furiously in all directions to find a bucket which we could invert over the tap to prevent it flooding the kitchen. I held on as bravely as I could, getting very wet in between the taking off and laying on of my hands.

But finally Jimmie found a galvanized pail and we put it upside down over the tap, holding it firmly against the force of the stream of now quite hot water, which deflected it down into the sink.

“What do we do?” shouted Jim, damp and excited. “Will I phone the plumber?”

“You’ll never get a plumber soon enough, I shouted back. “Did you turn it off at the main? Hold this while I go and look.”

“Of course, I turned it off,” roared Jim. “Do you think I am a complete nitwit? I turned it off tight.”

“Hold this,” I commanded, indicating the upside down pail.

Human Gratitude

So I ran down cellar and looked at the laundry water pipes. I followed them with my eyes until I came to the brass tap which, by its rugged appearance, indicated itself as the main tap. I put my ear to it and could hear the water gushing. I seized it, turned it, and it turned freely down.

In a moment, the water had ceased to flush in the pipe.

Jimmie’s voice came down the stairs.

“Okay, it’s off,” he said breathlessly. “What did you do?”

“Come down here,” I commanded. And I met him at the foot of the steps.

“Where did you turn it off?” I inquired sweetly.

“Right there,” stated Jim indignantly.

And he pointed at the gas main tap, one foot off the floor, and on the pipe leading straight into the gas meter.

“Jim,” I said, sadly, “we’re still flabby. You turn it off. And I take your word for it.”

So we finished the job, put the washer in, made a perfect job of it, so that the tap fitted snug and sweet with nary a dribble.

And after we had mopped up the kitchen floor and had the water and gas all organized again, Jimmie sighed with the air of a man who has accomplished much and inquired:

“And how many gallons of hot water do you figure you let escape from under your hands?”

Which shows you the measure of human gratitude.


Editor’s Notes: The term sulfa drugs is not so common now. 
Sulfa drugs were the first antibiotics developed in the mid-1930s and were the only antibiotics available before penicillin.

Though Greg was a war correspondent, he was back in Canada enough to still publish stories. He mentions sending a sharpening stone to his brother (Joe) who was Director of Public Relations for the Canadian Armed Services at the time.

Greg uses the term “down cellar”, which is a good, old Ontario saying for “in the basement”, just like my grandmother used.

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