December 2004/January 2005
What's In The Bag? By Pat Agar
story is based on an event that actually
happened to my parents shortly after
their marriage, in July, 1924.
Nell, a bride of only two weeks, looked
about her new home, and a sweet feeling
of pride filled her. True, it was built
of logs, with only two rooms, white-washed
mud walls and a plain board floor, but
it was their own, hers and Vics,
and within its four walls love and gaiety
abounded. Bright flowered curtains hung
at the windows, a brown and green jug,
wedding gift from a special sister,
sat in splendor on the sideboard. In
the tiny bedroom white eyelet embroidered
pillow cases from her mother graced
the bed. The drawers of the sideboard
held spanking new sheets, more pillow
cases, tea towels and a gleaming white
linen tablecloth and serviettes, a gift
from Vics aunt. Her heart swelled
again at all this richness.
She was just about to begin a household
chore when she realized that one necessary
item was still missing from her kitchen
supplies. Ah well, one item we
have in abundance here, she reflected,
is plenty of laughter. Vics
Irish sense of humour saw to that.
Just the day before she had been busy
in the kitchen making up a batch of
rhubarb and strawberry jam, when the
screen door creaked and Vics head
appeared around the door jamb.
Company coming, Nell, the
head announced, then disappeared. Nell
made a quick assessment of her little
domain. What a clutter! Dinner dishes
still unwashed, floor unswept, and all
her jam paraphernalia still in every
stage of preparation. Oh, please
God, dont let it be my mother-in-law,
The screen door creaked again. Nell
turned a not-too-eager face of greeting,
then gaped, as in waddled - a large,
fat, white duck - another of her husbands
tricks - probably from a neighbour in
payment for some fencing Vic had done.
Just wait, Victor, Nell
said to herself. Ill get
my revenge yet.
A few evenings later, as they were walking
home from a visit to their neighbours,
the Wilsons, Vic noticed that his wife
was carrying a brown paper bag under
Whats in the bag?
he asked, his mind immediately busy
with visions of little jars of jam or
jelly, or maybe a piece of Mrs. Wilsons
light as a feather angel
cake, or perhaps a dozen of her special
ginger cookies. So he missed the twinkle,
caught by a beam of moonlight, in one
corner of his beloveds eye.
Oh, she replied, with a
saucy tone, nothing. Nothing important.
But Vic had a determined streak, coupled
with an insatiable curiosity. Come
on, Nell, why all the secrecy? If theres
nothing in it, why are you hanging onto
it like it was a piece of crystal?
But Nell just smiled and gave the bag
a little caress.
Is it a wedding gift then? Whats
yours is mine, remember?
The Wilsons already gave us a
wedding gift. The cast iron frying pan.
The same one your supper was cooked
The remainder of the walk was undertaken
in complete silence.
Let him wonder a little longer,
Nell chuckled to herself as soon as
she was back in her kitchen. Vic was
paying a last trip to the barn to check
on their lone cow and calf so in his
absence she slipped her treasure into
a safe refuge.
Then she bustled about, putting the
finishing touches to her days
work; sprinkling tomorrows ironing
and wrapping it carefully in a towel;
carrying the butter and milk down to
the screened-in cupboard in the cellar,
and giving her wood stove a final rub
down with a piece of old newspaper.
But she couldnt resist smiling
slyly to herself as Vic, upon his return,
wandered around the two rooms, muttering
about a lost screwdriver. Cupboard doors
were opened, drawers pulled out, window
sills scrutinized, even the bread box
Now what would your screwdriver
be doing in there, Victor dear?
No response. Just more furtive searching.
Every corner was probed, the wood box
rummaged, even the bed and pillows came
in for an inspection. The muttering
became louder and more impatient as
his curiosity peaked. But still no paper
bag appeared. Finally in disgust, the
frustrated spouse sat down, pulled on
his boots and went out the door. A few
minutes later Nell heard the sounds
of axe hitting wood, as Vic prepared
the next mornings kindling. Even
the whack, whack of the axe seemed to
be registering his irritation.
Vic hates to be thwarted,
Nell reflected as she settled down to
finish the continued story in the Free
Press Prairie Farmer. She was soon caught
up in the entanglements of her story
and momentarily forgot her husband.
Ha ha!sounded a triumphant
voice from beside the cookstove. Thought
you had me on a leash there, didnt
you Nellie, my dear.
With triumphant glee, Vic hauled out
from its hiding place, and held aloft,
the brown paper bag. Hed discovered
it while placing the kindling into the
oven to dry before morning. In two steps,
hed reached the table. Eager fingers
untied the string, and ripped open the
bag. Out onto the wooden table top tumbled
three old shirt tails, a pair of threadbare
towels, an underwear leg with a gaping
knee, a faded apron and a piece of worn
flannelette sheet- cleaning rags for
Nells spanking new kitchen.
The mingled expression of surprise,
embarrassment, and disgust on her husbands
face was priceless. Take your
pick of the lot, Vic, Nell said
generously. You certainly earned