My wife sits at the kitchen table, eating her breakfast muffin and drinking coffee from a sad old melamine cup that is the sole remnant of a cheap set of dishes we used early in our marriage. Cups and mugs await her in our cabinet, but she insists on using that one cup for all her beverages.
That cup isn’t her only morning routine. With the morbid thirst of the confirmed daily news drinker, she folds back the pages of the morning paper, eagerly gulping down the strong, black headlines, to be followed as a chaser by the milder details of the smaller type.
She can’t eat breakfast without the newspaper. I’m sure many of you are the same. Can’t you see her from the description of her “gulping down the strong black headlines, to be followed as a chaser by the milder details of the smaller type”? I wish it were mine.
In fact, though, I lifted it almost verbatim from a short story written 107 years ago by O. Henry, the writer who ended his stories with a twist. In this case, the story was a sad one, “The Guilty Party” – An East Side Tragedy, from 1907.
O. Henry – the pen name for William Sydney Porter – wandered around until he was accused of embezzling from a bank, fled to Central America and later spent time in prison, where he began writing stories.
O. Henry had a wonderful way with words, and not just the unexpected endings. He wrote about the lower end of society: bums, inmates, gang members, street cops, shopgirls, cowboys, outlaws (he created the Cisco Kid), girls who have been led astray. He called them the The Four Million, to distinguish them from the upper crust in New York City at the time known as The Four Hundred.
No doubt you have read some of his stories. They are taught in school, and their plots have been stolen for books, television and movies: The Gift of the Magi, for instance, about loving sacrifice; The Ransom of Red Chief, about low-rent kidnappers who bite off more than they can chew when they abduct a little boy; A Retrieved Reformation, which gave the world Jimmy Valentine, a safecracker gone straight who must pull one more job.
If you missed O. Henry in school, don’t despair. He is available in books, and because his stories are in the public domain, they can be can be found online and on your e-book.
When I was young, my older brother bought the set of books and then got drafted into the Army. While he was away, I read every story. Several years ago, I bought a set of books just like it at a library sale, and two days ago I introduced them to our oldest granddaughter, Kelsey.
When you dive in to the stories, keep a dictionary handy, because I guarantee you will learn new words. You will encounter idioms and 100-year-old slang you might never decipher, but you will laugh, cry and learn about a time gone by.
You won’t mind gulping down the stories down like an old cup of hot coffee.
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.