Thank you for publishing my letter, "What's a four-besider?" in your Dec. 2issue.
A librarian at the Lakeland Library promptly solved this mystery.
I wrote the following Through Bifocals column, to be published in the Terrace Standard Jan. 5, 2011.
In the winter of 1960-61 our weekly News-Optimist, a broadsheet published in North Battleford, published a brief classified ad that read in part, "For Sale. Four-besider with a built-in Hemingway."
In those years the arrival of any newspaper was a mail highlight. We all took turns reading it, front page to back, for the sections that interested us. My Dad read every ad, especially if Mom had his favourite, The Western Producer, with its many pages of ads. The News-Optimist averaged eight classified ads per issue.
This night Dad was sitting in the living room sharing light from the gas lamp hanging from the kitchen ceiling, reading the News-Optimist's splotchy black print. Mom sat on one side of the kitchen table reading Emmie Oddie in the Producer; my youngest brother sat opposite doing high school homework.
When Dad came upon the ad he read it aloud and asked, "Do you know what that might be?"
Neither Mom nor my brother knew.
It turned out neither did a lot of News-Optimist readers, many of whom wrote or phoned the newspaper to ask what this ad was selling.
As my oldest brother recalls it (he also read the ad on one of his regular weekends home from Saskatoon) the newspaper and its readers had a fun time with this ad for a month before the newspaper revealed it had placed the ad to survey how many readers actually read their classified section. The editor did not, though, explain what the item for sale was. Or if he did, my family missed his clarification.
Recently, when my youngest brother told me of this 'fake' ad, our best guess was an outhouse with four holes. Our homesteading grandfather built an outhouse with space for two users at a sitting. At one end of the seats he nailed three slats from stud to stud to serve as a magazine rack. We kept out-dated copies of Coronet, Reader's Digest, and Country Guide in the rack to help pass the time, along with old newspapers in case toilet tissue ran out. Might this rack have been a Hemingway?
Intrigued by this unsolved mystery, I Googled the term four-besider and found a Florida photo of an item resembling a B.C. Transit bus shelter with stockyard partitions.
I phoned the News-Optimist, but staff there have no archive to turn to and are too young to have any memory of the unorthodox survey. They sent me on to the North Battleford Public Library which houses all the newspaper's back issues prior to computerization. A librarian searched fruitlessly through September to December 1960; she requested a narrower time 'window.'
Unable to be more definitive, I tried the Edmonton Public Library. After receiving my e-mail request, the library phoned me for more details before launching a thorough Google search defining for both elements; www.onelook.com defining for both elements; Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable; Columbo's Canadian Quotations; American slang dictionaries; Western Words; Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles; Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase Book; Dictionary of Americanisms; Oxford English Database. All they could find on the Internet was the same Florida photo at http://wwmegantaylor.org/wordpress/2007/02/13/what-is-this/.
"Although we can't substantiate it with a reliable source," the Edmonton library wrote, "our best guess is that a 'four-besider' is a reference to an outhouse, possibly with four seats. The Hemingway is a bit puzzling. Could it refer to paper (maybe a Hemingway novel) used for toilet paper? Again, these are just speculative guesses."
Finally, I asked the News-Optimist to run my query as a letter to the editor.
Promptly North Battleford's Lakeland Library e-mailed a photo of a tall narrow wooden writing desk with a hinged slanted top and four drawers down the right side - a ship captain's desk.
M. Claudette Sandecki