I received a treasure box of items from my Uncle recently. He’d broken up housekeeping, moving into an assisted living facility. For him it was time to go through a collection of items he’d collected over 95 years and giving things away. In my treasure box there were a variety of things, most of which had little value apart from sentimental. Having served in the Navy on a cruiser in the Pacific during WWII, my Uncle had collected pictures of shipmates, a spark plug from a Japanese Zero, and mementoes from his visits to Oriental ports. Amongst all these items was a tiny bag containing tiny sculptures, no bigger than a thumb. My Uncle is fastidious about most things and the items in my treasure box were no different. He’d typed out little lines of descriptive copy, cut them out, and taped them to each bag and box. The label on this bag read: “Peach pit sculptures from Grandma Karrer.”
Frankly, I had never heard of peach pit sculpting. I eat a peach and throw the pit out without a thought. Nevertheless the art of sculpting fine art out of a peach stone has been with us for hundreds if not thousands of years. First perfected by the Chinese and Japanese, sculpting peach pits is and was serious business, with some works of art comprising details so small, so very fine, that they can only be accurately viewed through a magnifying glass. Some of these ancient works have been sold at auctions for thousands of dollars. Although there are a few people around today who continue to carve these stones into works of art, especially in the United States they are few and far between. It was once a part of Shaker tradition and also had deep roots in Appalachia. When my Great-Grandmother was a little girl, the time when these little basket sculptures were made, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to sit out on their porch on a hot summer’s evening, rocking, talking and carving peach stones. Civil War soldiers doodled with them while in camp. In fact carving peach stones was rather ordinary and commonplace in the mid-19th Century. People passed the time or, as my Grandma used to say, they bided it, as their fingers walked and their hearts talked.
As I was driving through town this morning on the way to a meeting I witnessed two walkers–talking. Side-by-side, two teen girls were walking down the sidewalk. I could see their lips were moving as well as their feet. Their hands, however, weren’t clasping pen knives. Instead they were holding cell phones out in front of them as they walked along the block. I’m sure they heard one another, but seeing was another matter. As they walked along, one of the girls literally walked right into a yard sign planted at the edge of a lawn. She recovered quickly, but the sign didn’t. I thought to myself: how ironic it is that we’ve taken he pen knives away from our kids in favor of cell phones. You sure can’t have a pen knife in a school parking lot, but the lot is filled to capacity with cell phones every morning. Peach stones and pen knives used to occupy people. It even made them better at talking and, better yet, listening. Fingers would walk and hearts would talk. That’s what was lacking in the sidewalk banter I witnessed this morning. The two girls were speaking but their hearts weren’t talking because their fingers were twitching but not walking. Communicating involves eyes, ears and mouth. Cell phones consume the eyes and the ears, leaving the mouth somewhat of an orphan. I wonder sometimes if we wouldn’t be better off banning the cell phones and giving our kids peach pits and pen knives. Can you imagine the great conversations that might result? Besides, we’d reap a premium of artwork. The world would be a more beautiful place, yard signs would be safe, and kids would be better communicators? A great deal all around.
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