Amid the stacks of papers on the table in my classroom was an old flatiron. I brought it from the farm to use as a "visual aid" in our reading of an essay entitled "The Nights of the Flatiron." It is one of a hundred well-crafted pieces published in Hugging theHeartland, written by Harvey Jacobs.
"The flatiron symbolizes the way of life
followed by my pioneer grandparents," he stated.
"It's about eight inches long and three or
four inches wide, tapered narrowly at the front.
A pioneer housewife had two--one for ironing
the clothes and the other to keep on the
back of the stove for reheating."
Pressing clothes wasn't the only use of the old flatiron, according to Jacobs . "Before the days of central heating, what courage it took to undress in an icy room and crawl beneath even icier sheets or blankets. A hot flatiron represented a toehold on warmth. The iron was heated on the kitchen stove, wrapped carefully in newspapers, and clutched to the bosom for the frigid trek to outer coldness. It was inserted beneath the sheets at the highest possible point in bed and gradually pushed down, warming a tiny section at a time."
Leave it to Harvey Jacobs to sing the praises of the flatiron. He liked good, solid, practical things like that. We became acquainted some years ago when he was editor of The Indianapolis News and graciously agreed to serve as a guest speaker in English class. When he arrived, he had the day's edition of the News under his arm. We could tell that he was proud of his job.
He was good at it, too. In 1991, he was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. He wore many hats during his long career: newspaper reporter, university
professor, undersecretary of Rotary International, editor of The News and, most recently, Distinguished Editor in Residence at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism. And wherever he was, he was writing.
Jacobs remarked that, as a writer, his most satisfying reward was a call or letter from a reader expressing thanks for a hopeful and helpful thought. He liked the way some people put it: "You gave me a good read." One of his admirers was George Melloan, Deputy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, who said, "When I read the essays of Harvey Jacobs, I am transported back through time and memory to a Hoosier front yard, shaded by a high elm and cooled by the breezes from across the cornfields. His graceful and witty phrases are imbibed like a tall glass of iced tea, not too sweet, sharpened with a slice of lemon."
In 1997, on the last day of school before Thanksgiving, I passed out class copies of Hugging the Heartland. The students read the essay entitled "The Loveliest Things You Know." Jacobs described a classroom assignment in which children were asked to list some of their favorite things. He added some of his own: "The first snowfall in November. The smell of bacon frying in a breakfast skillet. A bluebird on a maple branch. Mittens warmed on the kitchen stove. A red cork bobbing in the creek. The lullaby of a train chugging in the distance. The smell of fresh-plowed earth. The low hum of bicycle tires on a new sidewalk. A homemade kite that flew and flew and flew."
These were the loveliest things for Harvey Jacobs. Success had not turned his head. In old-time newspaper parlance, he was a "local boy who made good." Growing up on a farm near Trafalgar, he started as a reporter for the old Franklin Star. From there he ranged far and wide into the world. But he never left home, really. His essays reveal this. He held tightly to what he had learned on the farm about the important things of life. The heart of his work lies in bird songs, hoofmarks, blacksmiths, high-flying kites, and flatirons. He observed the world around him with keen interest, seasoned wisdom, and a healthy sense of humor. "The wrinkles are from smiling," he wrote.
Harvey Jacobs died on Thanksgiving Day, 1997. The next morning, his by-line appeared in The Indianapolis Star and News. The title of the piece was "So Much for Which to be Thankful." He wrote, "Sort out the static and listen to and look for the blessings around us." He concluded, "There needs to be silent reflection on Thanksgiving, but it is also a day for singing praise."
For Harvey Jacobs, every day was one for singing praise: of a colleague who had achieved success, a young reporter who had scooped a story, or a student who had cleverly turned a phrase. His work is full of admiration for nature and beauty and life itself. He painted word pictures of his beloved Hoosier Heartland, this "land that rolls peacefully along on flats and knolls, its small streams curling like commas around the fertile bottoms." He helped all of us appreciate the greatness of simple things and the truth that is found in the careful observation of everyday life.
He gave us a good read.
Harvey Jacobs, Newspaper Man
He Hugged the Heartland