Articles

The Golden Jubilee Citizen

Over at the Crocus school, Miss Henchbaw set the class to writing a Fiftieth Anniversary essay. The Kid decided that it was time the whole prairies met

W. O. MITCHELL June 25 1955
Articles

The Golden Jubilee Citizen

Over at the Crocus school, Miss Henchbaw set the class to writing a Fiftieth Anniversary essay. The Kid decided that it was time the whole prairies met

W. O. MITCHELL June 25 1955

The Golden Jubilee Citizen

Articles

Over at the Crocus school, Miss Henchbaw set the class to writing a Fiftieth Anniversary essay. The Kid decided that it was time the whole prairies met

A new Jake and the Kid story

W. O. MITCHELL

ONE THING I noticed: it’s after the ice has gone out of the curling rink and before they can get on the land for spring drilling—that’s when folks seem to stir up stuff they let lie all summer and fall. Holgar Petersen remembers the fight he had with Pete Snelgrove over that hay deal back in Nineteen Fourteen. Repeat Godfrey gets sore all over again the way Chez Sadie’s put in that barber chair instead of just giving women permanents the way they’re supposed to do. Jake starts licking old wounds too.

Jake’s our hired man, helps Ma and me farm our farm down Gover’ment Road from Crocus. Some of the wounds give Jake the worst twinges are the ones he got off of Miss Henchbaw that teaches us kids out at Rabbit Hill. She is a stickler for the truth; like Jake says, she stickles worse than anybody in Crocus. When she isn’t stickling she is running Crocus. She doesn’t run Jake.

Miss Henchbaw is the one organized the Crocus Preservation of Historical Shrines and Historical Landmarks Society—her and Repeat Godfrey. That put her in the saddle you might say, so when we run up against Saskatchewan’s Jubilee Year, she’s all set to run that too.

Take the day last fall when Jake and me were in Repeat’s barber shop. I already had my hair cut and Jake was laying back in the chair—Repeat’s razor was snickering up and down his strop, and I hadn’t been listening too hard because I was trying to figure out the time from the clock. It is very hard to figure out the time when you are looking at the face of a clock and it is backwards in the mirror

over Repeat’s instrument shelf. She was that warm fall we had last year and Repeat’s door was open and every once in a while a sort of a breeze would lift up the tufts of hair around the chair and breathe them along.

“She didn’t invent the Golden Jubilee, Repeat.” It came out sort of muffled the way the towel was wrapped all around Jake’s face except for the tip of his nose.

“No one says she did—didn’t say she did.” Repeat left off stropping and took Jake’s nose between his thumb and finger with the little one up like women do with their teacup. “But without Miss Henchbaw—without her—there’d be no Golden Jubilee Committee.” Repeat wiped his razor on the square paper on Jake’s wishbone. “To her and her alone goes the credit—most the credit— for the program to mark our province’s fiftieth birthday.”

Jake grunted. He can get a lot into a grunt.

“Still there, Jake. Can’t shave a moving object. Old-timers.”

“What about ’em?”

“Her thought of the benches—old-timer benches to he set up on the downtown streets—Golden Jubilee Benches. Hers was the Golden Jubilee Mosquito Control Program.”

“Was it?”

“Certainly. Certainly was. Oratorical contest What My Province Means To Me. She was the one put the bug in the Activarians’ ear—about the contest.”

I knew all about that. She was cracking the whip

over us kids in Oral English, getting us to do speeches on What My Province Means To Me.

“That woman,” Repeat was saying to Jake, “that woman has a great sense of history. Great sense.”

“No sense.”

“How’s that, Jake?”

“Nothin’ !”

Repeat turned away from the instrument shelf, dabbed at Jake with that after-shave stuff. “I’m qualified, Jake.”

“That’s nice.”

“Qualified to judge whether or not she has historical sense.” Repeat pumped Jake straight up. “She has.”

“Well, I don’t know, Repeat—”

“I do.” Repeat plugged in the clippers. “Most the reading I do is historical reading. You might say I revel in history.” Repeat bent his knees the way he does, lowered his head, started his first swath through Jake’s hair. “Fabulous new best seller set in the time of Louis Quinzy.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “ ‘In Felice Gagnon’s lovely body flowed warm Basque blood—spiced with a fiery Castile strain—she charmed the crowned heads Europe—held kingdoms in her graceful hands

“That’s nice. Take some off the top, Repeat.” “ ‘ . . . but her spirit was completely pagan.’ Repeat turned off the clippers—picked up his comb and scissors. “Learn quite a lesson from history. As the history is bent so the nation groweth.” “Uh-huh,” Jake said.

“Like a fellow’s Continued on next page

childhood—same thing as a human’s childhood—nation’s history.”

“1 guess so,” Jake said.

Repeat straightened up, took a couple snips at the air with his scissors; he blew on his comb. “Good childhood - good nation.”

“Uh-huh,” Jake said.

“Moral lesson.”

“Uh-huh,” Jake said.

“Crocus and Saskatchewan has—• have had—a colorful past. Colorful.” “Thunderin’ hooves the mighty fur. traders—like of that,” Jake said.

“Wild elements—bred in the blood and bone of Crocus citizenry. Blood and bone.”

“Don’t forget the top, Repeat.” Jake squinted up to him. “Most the folks 1 know—early days—hail from Ontario. They come out for free land or a chance to start out a general store from scratch. They just got Ontario in their blood an’ bone. Kind of thin on the wild elements you was ...”

“Can’t take it too literally, Jake,” Repeat said. “We all got Ontario in our blood. Isn’t much can he done about that.”

“No,” Jake said. “I guess not.” He looked kind of thoughtful.

“Let us not underestimate Miss Henchbaw. Her part—major part in the coming Golden Jubilee Celebrations.”

“I won’t,” Jake said.

Repeat dusted Jake off with that duster. He whipped the sheet from around his neck. Jake got up and reached in his pocket.

“Sheer genius,” Repeat said. “Two and a quarter, Jake.”

“Uh-huh,” Jake said.

“Sheer stroke of sheer genius when she figured out her idea—Crocus Golden Jubilee Citizen. Thanks, Jake.”

I KNEW all about that too. Repeat meant the essay contest where you had to tell who you thought was Crocus District’s Golden Jubilee Citizen, the one person Crocus couldn’t done without during the last fifty years. That was what 1 was working on.

It didn’t go so good; I noticed it’s not so easy to get your words to pull together in the harness the way you want them to. Besides—it isn’t so easy to figure out a thing like that. First off I thought of Old Daddy Johnston that’s a hundred and seven. Jake said;

“Not Daddy, Kid. Daddy’s already famous in a way. Way I see it—when they tell you to pick your Golden Jubilee Citizen, I figger they mean somebody a person wouldn’t think of offhand. Somebody that’s bin goin’ along, doin’ his job so you-—well—sort of like you was hold in’ up a lantern

an’ there he is—Crocus Golden Jubilee Citizen. Bin there all the time—till your lantern shone on him an’ showed what he was really like.”

“M mmmmh.”

“Now—1 like Wing. Sanitary Café. All the folks thinkin’ of Merton Abercrombie, bank manager—MacTaggart, mayor Crocus. Me—I like Wing in the Sanitary Café.”

“How come, Jake?”

“Well—all durin’ them dirty Thirties when he fed the bindle stiffs an’ the stew bums—the scen’ry hogs an’ the gay cats an’ the lump bums that swung down off of the freights behind Hig Wheeler’s Lumber Yards. Wing never let one of ’em go away hungry. You take the hockey outfits—Peewees, Juniors, Intermediates—ain’t a year Wing didn’t put up the money for their uniforms. Then all them baskets fruit he sends to anybody sick in the hospital. Go a long ways, Kid—before you find a better Golden Jubilee Citizen than Wing.”

“Uh-huh. What about Doctor Fotherin’ha m?”

Jake pursed his mouth. “Yeah. But don’t forget the lantern, Kid. Doc’s Federal Member. Had the lantern light throwed on him ever since he went down to Ottawa.” Jake shook his head. “I still like Wing.”

You never catch Jake following other folks’ tracks very far. If you tried a hundred years you would have an aitch of a time to replace Jake. It was Jake taught me to hold a twenty-two and touch off a gopher. He’s made me all kinds of things, because he’s kind to kids. I never known him to thin a kid’s hide once. When I was very young he used to hide the Easter eggs in the strawstack for me. You take in the olden days:

“I never picked my friends outa race ner politics ner religion,” Jake says. “I was fussy about Wilf—-Sir Wilf—an’ I drunk Catawba wine with Sir John A. After we settled a little misunderstandin’ me an’ Looie got along well too.”

All kinds of fellows got into the history books, but Jake didn’t. You don’t find about him rassling Louis Riel on the Banks Cutknife Crick, but he did, whatever Miss Henchbaw says. She doesn’t believe he knew Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Sir John A. Macdonald personally either.

But I know this about Jake. He’s honest and he’s straight through. He has worked hard all his life and like he

says:

“Every day my life I twanged the bedsprings at sundown an’ I kicked the dew off of the stubble with the rooster. I never had a holiday long as I can remember. Who the hell ever heard of

a hired man takin’ a holiday!”

Jake could have been a politician. Like he told me once:

“I could of bin in the Senate—walked in velvet up to the fetlocks—smoked House of Senate cigars an’ spit into gold goboons like the rest of ’em down there. I ain’t. I’m a hired man. Except for a couple times in the year when she gets piled to the barn windows—it’s cleaner.”

Other fellows just let their minds coast along—but with Jake the motor’s always going.

I guess it was along about March this spring, after I been chewing away at that essay, it suddenly dawned on me who ought to be Crocus Golden Jubilee Citizen. Like Jake said, it was like I held up a lantern and there he was in the circle yellow light: the man that made Looie Riel say uncle three times —once in English, once in Cree and the third time in French; the roan that built the country; the man that invented hay wire; far as I was concerned the man the country couldn’t have got along without. Jake Trumper —the Golden Jubilee Citizen and our hired man.

That essay just rolled along like tumbleweed. I put down all about how Jake can tell the weather and witch water wells. I told how he could call mallards and geese, moose, deer and pigs. I wrote how he could play the mandolin and sing My Wild Rose of the Prairies so you had a lump in your throat—how he was the fastest runner in the whole Northwest in his stocking feet.

It took five pages to tell the way he saved Chief Weasel-tail and his whole band South Blaekfoots from starving to death. I had her crackling and the pages scorching with the awful prairie fire of Nineteen Ten when he lost his horse, Buttermilk. The time he killed the grizzly in the Kananaskis Lakes when his gun froze up and all he had in his hands was his bare axe and so he split his skull right down the centre— the bear’s. Then I ripped those pages out of my scribbler, because Kananas-

kis Lakes are in Alberta and I figured Miss Henchbaw she’d say we had to stick to Saskatchewan’s Golden Jubilee and not slop over into Alberta. They’re having one too.

I filled a whole scribbler with Jake.

It took three arithmetic periods and two nights to copy her all out in another scribbler. I turned the first one in to Miss Henchbaw. I wrapped up the other one and mailed her to Mr. Lambert that’s editor of the Crocus Breeze.

ONE thing about Miss Henchbaw— she rips right through your stuff when you hand it in to her. I put it on her desk recess Monday morning. When we filed in and sat at our desks after dinner, she already had the coal oil on her fire. She snapped Steve Kiziw’s head off for sharpening his pencil in the middle of Pippa Passes: LaPrelle

Rasmussen had her hand up clear through The Empires of the Fertile Crescent without Miss Henchbaw seeing it. When we got to Now the Day is Over, Miss Henchbaw said she wanted to see me for a minute after the bell.

My scribbler about Jake being Crocus Golden Jubilee Citizen lay on her desk next to a saucer of crocuses.

“I’ve read this.” Her mouth got thinner. “You’ve done a commendable amount of work on it.” She shifted Trails through the Garden of Numbers a little to the south. “It’s too bad your subject matter couldn’t have been a little more worthy of your effort.” I waited for her whilst she took a piece of green chalk in her fingers and kind of fiddled with it. “Truth,” she said and her face was red all the way to her hair she wears piled up like one of those round loaves of bread.

“Truth,” she said again, “is like a pure spring welling from the ground. It must not be adulterated or contaminated. Its sparkling clarity can be so easily dulled and muddied.”

1 was wondering when she was going to get to my essay.

“We must strive after truth in word

and deed.” She picked up my scribbler with one hand whilst the other sort of tapped the green chalk on her desk top.

“This is not truth!” The chalk snapped like an old chicken bone. I watched the pieces roll off of the desk and onto the floor.

When 1 looked up, her eyes were enough to give a gopher the heartburn. “I thought—I think it is,” I said. “Jake ...”

“Louis Riel ...” she was shaking her head, determined “ . . . did not have dangling from his vest chain a rabbit’sfoot watch fob!”

“When Jake rassied him on Cut Knife ...”

“Nor did General Middleton wear a bobcat fur vest throughout bis Eighteen Eighty-five campaign.”

“Jake saw if!”

“I doubt it very much.”

1 stared at her and she stared at me and I guess you could call it a tie. She cleared her throat sort of exasperated.

“This year—especially this year— our anniversary year, we cannot stand for impertinence with our province’s history. I certainly can’t agree with your selection for the greatest Golden Jubilee honor our district has to bestow.”

1 can’t ever remember when I talked back to my Ma or a grownup in my life let alone Miss Henchbaw. Same time 1 can’t remember getting mad as quick as 1 did then—sick mad! “1 figure he’s a good ...”

“I don’t.”

“By my calculations your nomination for Crocus Golden Jubilee Citizen —had been barely born by the time Louis Riel was hanged. He could hardly be a dignified symbol for our fifty years of history! He could hardly ...”

That was when it happened—just like that green chalk snapping in her fingers. “He sure as ailch could! Maybe he doesn’t smoke House of Senate cigars an’ eat Winnipeg goldeye three times a day an’—an’ spit into gold goboons an’ wipe his mush with a silk napkin—but he is the greatest livin’ human bein’ I ever knew in my whole life!” I guess I even pounded on her desk because I was staring at my fist and it was all stuck up with a wad of yellow plasterseen.

When she spoke it was real gentle.' “Then your choice is as valid as mine would be.” Her mouth wasn’t thin any more; her eyes were funny like something hurt her—not a lot—some. “But I can’t turn this in for possible publication to Mr. Lambert in the Crocus Breeze. You will have full credit for your English assignment.” She brushed some of the green chalk crumbs off the desk top. “There are other crystal springs,” she said. “That’s all,” she said. “You can go,” she said.

JAKE had already milked Noreen and Mary and Naomi and moved on to Ruth when 1 told him.

“She just said my Golden Jubilee Citizen wasn’t any good, Jake.”

“Did she?” The milk went on saying some-fun—some-fun into the pail.

“Nobody can be right hut her,” I said.

“LJh-huh.” Jake turned his head up at me. “Who’d you pick?”

“Well—I—right now—I didn’t intend to let this person know I picked him.”

“Oh.” The milk quit some-fun— some-fun and started saying fun-fun-fun as Jake stripped Ruth. “1 guess it won’t make much difference if you tell me.” He got up to move the pail and stool down to Eglantine. “I won’t breathe a word.”

“You,” 1 said.

“Huh!”

“I filled a whole scribbler all about Chief Weasel-tail and his South Blackfoots and Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Sir John A. 1 really ...”

“No!” Jake straightened up so quick he knocked the milk pail flying. “Kid! You didn’t.”

“Sure. Her saying all about being impertinent with our history!”

“Not alia that—that ...” Jake looked like his teeth were hurting him. “Stuff!” He swallowed and he sort of leaned hack against Eglantine. Then his face brightened up. He let his breath all go out of him. “But she said she was damned if she was gonna send it into Chet at the Crocus Breeze!” “Yeah,” I said, “I didn’t tell her.” “Tell her what?”

“What I did.”

“What did you do?”

“Made another scribbler full word for word and sent it into Mr. Lambert myself. I wasn’t taking any chances.” Jake was leaning up against Eglantine again. He looked like he needed to. He kind of brushed at his face with his hand like he had spider web tickling across his forehead. “Now,” he said, “that’s nice, ain’t it!” I’ve seen Jake look that way before.

THE time our fifty-bushel crop got hailed one hundred percent.

The Crocus Breeze eight - page Golden Jubilee Edition came out May 24, because the town council figured that was the day to announce Crocus’ Golden Jubilee Citizen.

My essay wasn’t in it.

Mr. Lambert had his own essay. It took the whole front page. He called it: HOLD YOUR LANTERN HIGH. This is what it said:

“We are an agricultural province celebrating our Golden Jubilee Year. Our fortunes have been tied to the land and to the grain that land grows for us. Today we wish to salute the man who for fifty years has been a living symbol of our grain-growing province. We wish to hold a lantern high and reveal that man in its golden light.”

I had about lifting the lantern in my essay.

“Let us salute today the man who has seeded other peoples’ grain when the summer fallow steamed under the spring sun, who has driven other men’s teams when the meadow lark sang from the fence post. He has run other men’s threshing machines and other men’s binders. He has stocked other men’s bundles when the strawstacks smoked against the far horizon. He has milked other men’s cows, stretched other men’s fences, done other men’s chores.” I had in about chores and harvest. “His fortunes have been tied to the land as surely as those of his employer, and to the vagaries, cruelties and generosities of prairie nature. This man suffered during the blue snow of Nineteen Six and Seven; he thirsted and went without during the dry Thirties. Hail hurt him as did grasshoppers and cutworm and sawfly and low wheat prices. If he walked t.hrouj. h a field last fall, his overall pants turned blood red with rust.

“We venture to say that the hulk of our farm owners and operators today started out at some time in the past fifty years as hired men. If not as hired men then as boys who looked to the status of hired man as one of dignity, a place in farm life to be attained, a f inie to be reached when they could measure

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themselves against the worth of a grown hired man, a time when they could stook just as many stooks in a day as the hired man—a time when they could match him bundle for bundle when the threshing machine exhaled its slant plume of chaff and straw.

“This man eats at the same table as his employer and his employer’s family, enjoying a social equality unknown in other parts of the world and in some other parts of our own country. He is a hay-wire mechanic, veterinarian, stock man, who answers to the name of hardtail, sod-buster, stubblejumper, hoozier, or john.

“His genesis roves the world. He comes from Ontario, Galicia, Poland, Bohemia, Ukraine; he comes from south of the border, from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Belgium. He wears flat-soled boots, has chores in his blood, straw in his overall bib and binder twine in his heart.

“He is in the pool of our lantern light now. You know him. Crocus’ Golden Jubilee Citizen, without whom there could have been no fifty years of history, no Province of Saskatchewan:

“His name is Jake Trumper.”

ON Wednesdays the Crocus Breeze building sort of shimmies between Barney’s Vulcanizing and Chez Sadie’s: that’s because Mr. Lambert is printing his paper for Thursday. It wasn’t shimmying the twenty-fourth of May, when Jake and me walked in; there wasn’t a soul on Main Street, them all being out at the fair grounds for the harness races and the Golden Jubilee Celebrations.

Mr. Lambert was all alone at the back by that machine that flips the round plate up and back and over again while he shoves sheets underneath and they print: NO SHOOTING or NO TRESPASSING or JUST MARRIED. He didn’t hear Jake and me come up, but he turned when Jake tapped him on the shoulder with the rolled-up Golden Jubilee Issue of the Crocus Breeze.

“Well, Chet,” Jake said.

“Jake. Kid.”

“I just come to tell you, you got the wrong man in your lantern light, Chet.” Mr. Lambert squeezed out a black snake of ink onto the roller. “I don’t think so.”

“Me either,” I said.

“Anyways,” Jake said, “I figgered it was polite to come in an’ tell you—uh thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, Jake.” He looked across the machine at me. He smiled a little. “Him.”

“Oh,” Jake said.

“Partly,” Jake said, “you polished her up.”

“No, I didn’t,” Mr. Lambert laid a new sheet down careful and reached up his hand. “I had enough to do with the special issue as it was. Crocus Breeze had a guest editor for the Golden Jubilee Issue.”

“He wrote it up then,” Jake said. “I’d like to ”

“She wrote it,” Mr. Lambert said, “with certain discreet deletions and additions to the original piece.” He looked over at me again.

Jake looked startled. “She?”

“Miss Henchbaw.”

Jake swallowed.

1 swallowed.

Once before I saw Jake looking that way. It was the time he knocked down nine grey Canada honkers in Tinchers’ smooth-on barley field and Axel Petersen walked in on him.

That was two years ago, the fall Jake had forgot to get his license. Axel Petersen is game warden for Greater Crocus District,