Friday, November 4, 2011

Howard’s Inner Circle, No. 39: Can Inanimate Objects Speak to You?

I buy things that say something to me. For example, at the end of a two–day estate sale I purchased the October 1936, April 1946, October 1946, and January 1947 issues of Reader’s Digest. From their table of contents, I heard a whisper of hidden treasures. I found so many gems.

“Walking gives us that sense of proportion which we all need on occasion. In an automobile or airplane you lose your sense of time and distance. But on foot you soon learn how high is a hill and how long is a mile. And when you walked the same road through all seasons you know how certain is change and how gradual.”—from the article, “To Own the Streets and Fields” by Hal Borland.

“A man who will not write as zealously for a small audience as for a large one is a bad craftsman, and all Nature rejoices when a bad craftsman passes to his bad forefathers.”—from the article, “A Double Role for Writers” by Sinclair Lewis.

“I must decline your invitation owing to a subsequent engagement—quote by Oscar Wilde from the article, “The World’s Wittiest Talker” by Max Eastman.

Beautifully written articles include “What is Slang” by H.L. Menken, “Emotions Can Kill” by James E. Payne, and “The Beggar of St. Jude” by Fulton Ouster. “Beware of Athlete’s Head” explored hero poison, the publicity that student athletes receive. There also is a remarkable article describing “the experience of one of 36 conscientious objector volunteers who in 1945 were systematically starved for six months at the University of Minnesota in an experiment to find out what happens to a famine-stricken person.”

Most thought provoking were the articles entitled “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met.” For Anne Morrow Lindbergh it was Edward Sheldon, “a once successful playwright who although blind and paralyzed with arthritis for over 20 years, still enriched the lives and thought of a vast number of friends and admirers.” For Pearl S. Buck it was Madame Hsiung, her next door neighbor for 17 years in Nanking, who, “had no whims, no prejudices, whatever she did was for the sake of the other person, not herself.”

Fascinating bits of information were revealed. It was reported that Eric Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, stopped practicing law and became a writer because, “his law work kept interfering with his hunting trips.” I also found out that President Truman ordered the publication of the scientific, industrial, and military secrets of Nazi Germany. An infrared device for seeing at night, a rayon-weaving machine that produced runproof hosiery, formulas for more than 50,000 dyes, and how to pasteurize milk using ultraviolet light just to name a few.

I also love some of the tips such as placed in a fireplace an “orange peel make a wondrous blue flame; and when sticks of lavender smolder on the hearth, that delicious scent fills the room.” “Keep cut flowers in as deep water as possible and slice a little off the stems each day. Don’t cut them with a scissors for that closes the veins. Slice them diagonally with a knife.” That was one of the many tips in a four and one-half page article by Henry Penn, a past president of the Society of American Florists.

Yes some of the writings we would classify as sexist or racist today. But it was a different time when people were storing food in their cellars and the art of staying at home involved listening to phonograph records. But then again the times were no different as an aging parent writes about her torment and thinking in deciding whether to institutionalize a special-needs child or the numerous articles on the possibility of national insolvency and finding employment, especially for returning veterans.

The cover price of each of these four issues was 25 cents and one dollar was exactly what I paid at the estate sale. Their value obviously is still there some 60 plus years later. If I didn’t listen, they probably would have been thrown out in a recycle bin.

Do inanimate objects speak? My answer is yes. But the ability to hear them is an acquired skill that is developed by each of us listening to our inner voice.
© 2011
Above may be reproduced in full if that fact is stated and Howard Wolosky at is credited as the author

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