‘She told you there was nothing in there”
My grandfather (James Francis “Frank” Oliver, Jr.) and my grandmother (Laviece Mae Gwin Chambliss Oliver) traveled widely during the 1920's. Frank had been a member of the Colonial Constabulary in the Philippine Islands before and after World War One. During that war, the Constabulary was absorbed into the U.S. Army, but Frank remained on duty in the Pacific. However, toward the end and shortly after World War One, Frank had been a member of the Anglo-American Expeditionary Force that was sent to secure the Pacific port of Vladivostok for the White Russians in their unsuccessful Civil War with the Red Russians.
But after his duty with the Constabulary was finished, Frank and Laviece stayed on in the Phillippines. There in the coastal resort of Aparri and the inland city of Tuguegraro, Frank and Laviece raised a family and engaged in business.
In addition to traveling extensively throughout the Far East, Frank and Laviece returned to the United States on occasion for business purposes as well as to visit with relatives. Because the virtues of the “Great Circle” route were known long before the advent of jet airplanes, Vancouver was a frequent point of destination for ships going from the Phillippines to the West Coast of America via Japan. In the late summer of 1923 on one such trip, Laviece was encumbered with several small children, including at least one who was still in diapers.
One must remember that many Victorian sensibilities were still in place in the 1920's. While it was no longer considered impolite to acknowledge that a child had been born, as had been the case in the mid-1800's, there were still many aspects of child-rearing that were not considered suitable for polite conversation. One of these aspects was the disposition of soiled baby diapers. The invention of disposable diapers by a grandfather/engineer at Procter and Gamble in the late 1950's was not even a glimmer on the horizon. All diapers were cloth and after becoming soiled they had to be kept until they could be laundered. The usual place for storing such unmentionables while traveling was a diaper bag, which--in accord with the sensibilities of the day--was disguised to look like any other small piece of luggage.
Upon arriving in Vancouver with her children in tow, Laviece and all her luggage had to pass through Canadian Customs. As luck would have it, the Customs Inspector she drew was either having a bad day or was permanently in a foul mood. Going very roughly and brusquely through her luggage, the Customs Inspector pointed to the diaper bag and inquired, “What’s in that bag.” Laviece politely responded, “It’s just some of the baby’s things.” Unsatisfied, the inspector replied, “What do you mean, ‘some of the baby’s things?’” Laviece, never one to lose her sense of propriety even under the most trying of circumstances, continued to insist that “It’s just some of the baby’s things” and refused to supply the elaboration the Inspector was insisting upon. After several rounds of direct questions and discrete responses, Laviece inadvertently had worked the Inspector into a frenzy.
All the while, Frank looked on without interfering, but with a very bemused expression on his face. He had already guessed the logical conclusion of the increasingly heated dialogue between Laviece and the Inspector and wasn’t about to spoil the fun by taking the Inspector aside and providing an explanation. As Frank anticipated, eventually the Inspector became sufficiently enraged at what he perceived to be Laviece’s evasive answers and grabbed the nondescript diaper bag away from her. He ripped it open and plunged he hand deep inside.
Before his hand even hit bottom, the aroma from the bag hit his nose and he realized both what was in the bag and why Laviece had been so reticent about discussing its contents in detail. As a very pained expression grew on the inspector’s face, Frank finally intervened and said,
“She told you there was nothing in there but some of the baby’s things.”