He left only the foot behind.
Council Bluffs was a small, old fashioned town where farmers stored grain on the way to market. Its citizens followed strict social and religious rules. Perhaps their librarian hoped a subscription to International Studio would bring some much-needed culture to the town.
There weren't many places in town where a young man could see what a naked lady looked like. Some farm boys would soon march off to die in World War I without ever experiencing the sight or touch of a female body.
I had to smile when I discovered the missing picture. The boy's heart must have pounded as he tore it out and smuggled it past the stern librarian. When he got home to his tiny unheated bedroom in a sparse Iowa farmhouse, the secret picture must have given him precious clues to a new world.
I love the smell of old magazines. New magazines are the braying of capitalism-- the latest fashions and trends clamor for reader attention in order to sell merchandise. But once the pageant of capitalism has moved on -- once a periodical has outlived its period-- it takes on an entirely different tone. Outdated advertisements and faded styles seem humbled and mortal. With the passage of time, even the silliest magazine becomes worthy of profound reflection.
Most of all, the aroma of old magazines reminds me that regardless of the timeless truths that may be printed on them, magazine pages are inevitably returning to wood pulp on the forest floor. The farm boy who risked everything to steal that picture is surely wood pulp too, or well on his way to becoming so.
Pictures can enlighten us in different ways. It's easy to revere majestic oil paintings on gilded Renaissance altars, but the revelations from baser art forms are sometimes harder to appreciate.
The cold farmhouse bed where that boy pondered the mysteries of nature is an altar no less sacred (and no more profane) than the gilded church altar. In fact, if you measure art by its impact on life, there's a good argument that the crumpled picture torn from the magazine had the greater impact.