The Ways of Men
One of my hobbies is finding old biographies and autobiographies of people who were on the fringes of history. Many times, their stories are more interesting than those of the ones historians deem Important.
I’m currently reading The Autobiography of William Allen White, published in 1946, shortly after his death. He ran a newspaper in the Midwest, and was influential for a time. His life experiences are surprisingly universal, and I’m really enjoying learning about him. It’s long out of print, but there are a lot of copies available through Abe Books for about a four dollars, HERE.
Here is an excerpt I thought was especially human and touching:
One day that summer Pa and I were alone together. I remember I was lying on my belly, idly thumping my toes on the floor, with my nose in a big leather-bound copy of Plutarch’s Lives, which Pa had in the bookcase. It was in fine print and I, being a little nearsighted, had my eyes close to it. It was easier to read on the floor that way than to hold the big book in my hand. Pa had been silent for a long while, drumming with his fingernails on his chair the rhythmic skeleton of some old tune singing in his heart. The bee song that he often hummed was silent. I looked up, and his eyes were glistening as he caught my attention. An open letter was on the table beside him. My string-saving mother preserved that letter with the day and date of it: Delta, Ohio, where he lived as a youth, and August, 1882. He saw that I noticed his moistened eyes. He smiled and said:
“Willie, this letter tells me about the death of a girl I knew when she was not much older than you. She was an awfully nice girl, and she thought I was nice too. And she was about your age. She was my girl, and I was her beau; and that was a long, long, time ago. And now she is dead! Her sister wrote me here, and sent me a lock of her hair. She said she wanted me to have it. And it’s gray! God ‘lmighty, Willie, it’s gray! It’s gray!” He paused a moment, began drumming again, and then:
“Well, I suppose it ought to be, really. But it’s gray!”
He repeated that phrase like a gentle protest to Providence. Pretty soon he got up, took his cane, and toddled off the porch down the sidewalk to the thick of the town. And Plutarch interested me no more that morning. I looked at my father going down the street, and suddenly realized that once he had been a boy and had a girl like (my) Agnes Riley– maybe! After that it was as though we were brothers-in-law in the great family of romantic intrigue. So, initiated into the brotherhood, I never told my mother– not to her dying day. But I did tell Albert Ewing, who had Lizze Ruddick on the string, and Agnes, and we marveled much at the ways of men.