Volume 7, Number 40, December 2004/January 2005

What's In The Bag?
By Pat Agar

This 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 Vic’s, 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 Vic’s 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.” Vic’s 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 Vic’s 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, don’t let it be my mother-in-law,” she breathed.

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 husband’s tricks - probably from a neighbour in payment for some fencing Vic had done.

“Just wait, Victor,” Nell said to herself. “I’ll 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 one arm.

“What’s in the bag?” he asked, his mind immediately busy with visions of little jars of jam or jelly, or maybe a piece of Mrs. Wilson’s “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 beloved’s 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 there’s 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? What’s yours is mine, remember?”

“The Wilsons already gave us a wedding gift. The cast iron frying pan. The same one your supper was cooked in tonight.”

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 day’s work; sprinkling tomorrow’s 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 couldn’t 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 searched.

“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 morning’s 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, didn’t you Nellie, my dear.”

With triumphant glee, Vic hauled out from its hiding place, and held aloft, the brown paper bag. He’d discovered it while placing the kindling into the oven to dry before morning. In two steps, he’d 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 Nell’s spanking new kitchen.

The mingled expression of surprise, embarrassment, and disgust on her husband’s face was priceless. “Take your pick of the lot, Vic,” Nell said generously. “You certainly earned it.”