One highlight of moving to Honey Creek has been digging through the hidden gems in the barns.
I mean books, of course.
I came across a travel guide to India, filled with maps of India in the 1800s. It’s very obvious the owner of the books traveled over there, shoved their notes into a back pocket, then moved on with life.
It’s so exciting to me to drum up a story from a hundred years ago.
Imagine buying that book! Imagine planning a trip to India! Imagine poring over the pages and then packing the little guide and unfolding and re-folding the maps a dozen times!
It was in the shed, the three-story building where the cat, Bigelow, hides. Martha of the thrifty flower- pilfering was a generous storer-of-other-people’-stuff type. As in, it seems as though when a friend got old or downsized, she offered her outbuildings as a storage unit. This first story of the shed is a mix of childrens’ clothing and toys, books, pictures, and a plastic shelving unit of toiletries (blech. Including fake nails and eyelashes–triple blech!).
As I methodically gather and burn the piles of junk, I remind my kids:
“This is what happens to all of your earthly belongings one day. A stranger burns them up because they are feeding and housing rodents.”
In this case, very rarely is one man’s trash another man’s treasure.
I’m sure my trash will eventually make the same circuit: woman reads books, woman gets old, books moved to shed, shed books are burned in fire. When I’m an old lady (dead and gone), no one will care to salvage my old books.
And that’s okay. This is also a good reminder that writing, while worthwhile, is still just a pile of words that may or may not mean a thing to another person.
We are still repainting the barns as they disintegrate, too. This is life, the gathering, piling, keeping, and falling apart.
Among the mice-nibbled and brittle pages there were a couple books (circa early 1900s) on diet. We took turns reading aloud the ridiculous prologue (“The Tragedy of Fat“) of the first, Eat and Grow Thin by Vance Thompson (1914):
The tragedy of fat! One could write books, plays, poems on the subject. One thinks of the beautiful women one has known–loved perhaps–who have vanished forever, drowned in an ocean of turbulence and tallow; of actresses who filled one’s soul with shining dreams–and now the dreams are wrecked on huge promontories; of statesmen and rulers who cumber the earth, now mere teeth and stomach, as though God had created them, like Mirabeau, only to show to what extent the human skin can be stretched without breaking. The tragedy of fat!
At first I thought it was satire, like an English Mark Twain, but no–this guy really does purport a diet of pureed celery and horseradish. Still, the bait-and-switch title had me hooked. Eat? And grow thin?
Yes, please–the modern American human being is still falling for this tactic.
The other book, Diet and Health with Key to the Calories (1918) was by Lulu Hunt Peters, a woman doctor back in the days of Herbert Hoover (when he was director of the food administration and known as the “food czar”–this book comes with a front page that says “dedicated by permission to Herbert Hoover”). From what I can tell, it’s cunning advice for losing and gaining weight–Hunt Peters writes:
Are you thin and do you want to gain? Skip this chapter. It will not interest you in the least…I am not particularly interested in you anyway, for I cannot get your point of view. How any one can want to be anything but thin is beyond my intelligence. However, knowing that there are such deluded individuals, I have been constrained to give you advice. You won’t find it spontaneous nor from the heart, but if you follow my directions I will guarantee that you will gain…
Then she goes on to explain:
In war time it is a crime to hoard food, and fines and imprisonment have followed the expose of such practices. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of individuals all over America who are hoarding food, and that one of the most precious of all foods! They have vast amounts of this valuable commodity stored away in their own anatomy.
Now fat individuals have always been considered a joke, but you are a joke no longer. Instead of being looked upon with friendly tolerance and amusement, you are now viewed with distrust, suspicion, and even aversion! How dare you hoard fat when our nation needs it? You don’t dare to any longer.
And on goes the tongue in cheek prose.
I assume the patriotic reader who purchased these fine books felt a moral poke in the pudge. I’m so glad they held onto them for me.