The Drayman

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Taken from Get a Bigger Wagon written by Maureen Haddock c 2005

It was one of those mornings in the fifties, in small town Saskatchewan, when the snow was almost gone and the gumbo clay roads smelled of dampness. The air was crisp and cool, yet the early morning sun felt warm on the cheeks. The little boy left his house with a full stomach of cereal and orange juice and began the walk to his friend’s home. The sun occasionally bounced off a puddle of water right into the little boy’s eyes, making him squint and contort his smooth little face until he resembled the adventurer he perceived himself to be.

His friend was ready when he knocked on the door. Both boys were wearing flannel shirts that offered cozy protection from the spring winds. Their blue-jeans were tucked into rubber boots that rose right to the creases in the backs of their knees. As always, the friend’s red wagon was in tow, just in case they came upon a valuable rock or an animal in need of help.

The two set out enthusiastically, chatting constantly as they headed toward the north end of town. They traveled through back alleys, backyards and water filled ditches, always looking for something to investigate. It was fun for them to let the gumbo collect in large blocks on the bottom of their boots and then wade gingerly into frigid water-filled ditches to dissolve the clay. Their feet could scarcely tell the feeling of cold from wet.

Suddenly, their adventure began. Just off the alley, right in front of them, was a huge garage with its doors open wide. This garage was filled to bursting with bottles! The boys looked at each other and without speaking, gathered up at least four cases that seemed to be slightly outside the garage, tucked them into the red wagon, and hastily began their retreat. Just as they turned to leave, a deep voice shouted, “Hey, what are you boys doing?”

The man gave chase and the two boys headed out as fast as their rubber boots would allow. They ran down the alley stumbling forward in their haste with one boy pulling the wagon and the other steadying the bottles. In spite of the substantial size of this man, he seemed to be gaining on them. The boys knew they would have to leave the wagon. They hoped he would stop to retrieve his bottles giving them time to get away.

Free of the wagon, but filled with adrenalin from the fear of being caught, they continued to run through the north end of town past the park and on to the downtown area. They didn’t stop there! They ran several blocks to the Esso Gas Station on the highway and on into the field where they approached a dugout. They slid to the inside edge of the dugout, pressing their tummies onto the damp ledge, leaving only the tops of their heads and their eyes peeking over to keep watch.

At first they lay very still, perhaps hoping to become part of the bank. Their flannel shirts were wet from the sweat of terror, excitement, and the relief of having escaped capture. It was a long time before they ventured out of their hiding place. The sun was high and hot and their stomachs were empty. The two decided to go home to the friend’s house for lunch.

The walk was long but enjoyable. They felt safe and secure that their identities were unknown. For a while they even allowed themselves to be a bit giddy about the whole incident.

As they rounded the corner to the friend’s house, they realized the adventure wasn’t over just yet. There, on the step to the house, sat the drayman. He, of course, owned the bottles they had collected from near his garage. He, of course, paid people to give them to him for resale. He motioned for the boys to sit down on the step beside him.

The drayman’s talk was something about stealing and where that can lead a boy and something about keeping this between them, as men. The part that stuck with the boys the most was that, if they were really in need, they should just ask for help but never should they steal.

The lesson was sinking in. Still, the boys were confused as to how the man had discovered who they were and even where one of them lived. They had to ask. The drayman rose and gave a stern look at each of them. It was clear that this had been a very serious morning. Then he slowly raised his hand and pointed one gnarly finger towards the name and address written inside the wagon.


During our years in business, my husband often gave someone a second chance by keeping a shoplifting incident between those involved. He often made it clear to them that if they were in need they should ask but never take. When I asked him what else he might have learned from this incident, he smiled and said, “Well, if you are going to do something silly, at least don’t leave your calling card.”