We’ve all heard that “good things come in small packages.” That would be the case for Remembering Arlie, a Glimpse Into a Remarkable Life, a compact biography, lovingly written by Arlington Neutzel, namesake and grandson of Arlie.
Born in a German community in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1893, Arlie was eleven years old during the 1904 St. Louis Fair, an unparalleled event of which he took full advantage. As with the Fair, Arlie tiptoed through so many historical events that I kept doing the math to remind myself that the author was indeed writing about his grandfather and not his great grandfather.
As a child who struggled in school, Arlie began to thrive after being pulled out at age twelve to help with his father’s grocery store. His work ethic, friendly nature, natural curiosity and innate intelligence eventually exposed Arlie to machinery and all things mechanical. It became a passion that he parlayed into a prosperous and happy life. A man of varied tastes, his list of friends included tradesmen and celebrities; he celebrated family, collected fine art; created intricate wrought iron works; savored good whiskey and lyric poetry, especially the 12th century Persian poem,The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam.
Written in a breezy, conversational style, Remembering Arlie evokes an American way of life that no longer exists. I was reminded that machine shops use to make all necessary parts for manufacturing. A damaged piston or missing cog, even for a large locomotive, didn’t come in a box… “you created one from raw metal by means of a mechanical drawing.” I learned about pie signs — a communication device once used by hobos to impart information to their fellow vagabonds; a major thoroughfare in St. Louis, called Delmar Boulevard, got its name because two early landowners — from Maryland and Delaware — decided the best way to name their road was to combine their states’ names.
A favorite little nugget in the book concerned the difficulties left-handed or “unnatural” children, like Arlie once experienced in school. That section reminded me of my childhood when such kids were often singled out for being different. The author sheds some light on this antiquated view by giving readers the meaning for the Latin words, “right” and “left.” Right is dexterous.The word for left is sinister.
Perhaps the author of this delightful book best sums it up when he says: Remembering Arlie…“will reinforce your belief in the American Dream.” Neutzel further states that this book is …” an intimate glimpse at a principled and talented “can do” individual….” I would agree.