From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: A Noble Horse

Not everything that I’ve inherited from Grandpa Neal’s bookshelf is a book.  Like most of us, his bookshelf also contained pictures, knick-knacks, souvenirs, and other stray items — including a striking metal horse.

I don’t know much about this horse, except that it is a beautiful little piece — about eight inches high and eight inches long, from the tip of the horse’s head to the end of its tail.  The horse has been expertly cast and appears to be made of bronze; it stands, nobly, on a plain pedestal of off-white marble.  Unfortunately, there are no markings of any kind on the marble or the horse that identify where it was made, when, or by whom.

Perhaps Grandpa had an affinity for horses.  He grew up in a rural area, in an era before automobiles, and may have ridden horses as part of his chores.  Or perhaps he was given this horse as a work-related present and kept it at his office.  He may have considered it to be some kind of good luck token; the metal on the horse’s back and belly seems to have been rubbed more frequently than the rest.

I look at this horse, and I think that I would like to know its back story — but I almost certainly never will.  In the meantime, I’ll just appreciate it, and think of Grandpa as I do.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book Of Sayings

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

1939 was not a great year.  The Great Depression had lingered for 10 years, with no end in sight.  In Europe, the growth of Nazi Germany and then the invasion of Poland brought on World War II.  Aggressive totalitarian regimes were found across the globe.  You would not have blamed someone of that time for feeling deeply pessimistic about the course of human history.

And yet, there were optimists, even in 1939 — and I think Grandpa Neal was one of them.  His bookshelf included a small book called Thought Starters published in 1939 by the Imperial Electric Company of Akron, Ohio.  It has an unabashed motivational message, with chapters with titles like “Success Road is Wide Open,” “The Will to Win,” “The Go-Getter’s Way,” and “Ideas Are Worth More Than Cash.”  The book’s theme is that an optimistic approach, where opportunities are recognized and pursued, will lead to success.  The hopeful bullishness of the book is captured in this passage from the “Opportunities Galore!” chapter:  “You are living in a wonderful age.  Just think!  The greatest developments in the world have occurred during the past century.  And the years ahead will make current progress look like child’s play!”

Grandpa’s copy of Thought Starters is personally signed by John Hearty, the president of the Imperial Electric Company. I found myself wondering what happened to the positive-thinking Mr. Hearty and his company.  It turns out that the Imperial Electric Company survived the Great Depression and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Mr. Hearty turned the company over to his son, who ran it until it was sold in 1983.  No doubt the optimistic, opportunity-driven attitude reflected in Thought Starters helped the company to be successful.

If people in 1939 could be optimistic about the future, we should be able to muster some optimism now.  Rather than wringing our hands about our current predicament, our country and our leaders be well served by adopting some of the can-do, positive attitude reflected in this little book.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book of Sayings

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: Grandma’s Book Of Sayings

Years ago, when Grandpa Neal moved into a retirement community, I inherited every volume on his bookshelves.  I took them because I love books and because I think the contents of bookshelves say a lot about their owners.

Recently I stumbled across a slim volume from their bookshelf.  Inside were pages of Grandma Neal’s handwriting, where she had jotted down favorite poems or sayings.  (As I’ve written before, she had an encyclopedic memory for verse.)  The passages are about life and death, love and disappointment, faith and motherhood.

Two pieces had particular resonance with me.  The first is from Sir Humphrey Davy:   “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.”

The second is the last stanza of Invictus by William Ernest Henley:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

There is something moving about looking at the pages of writing, in pen and in pencil, with cross-outs and insertions, knowing that my long-dead grandmother held this book and her hands brushed the pages as she wrote things that were meaningful to her.  I feel that I know her better, having read what she chose to write.