Friday, January 25, 2013

The Internal Beauty of Soul and Spirit

I recently came across a story from the World War II era that gives some encouragement to young people looking for a spouse to concentrate on the internal beauty of the soul and spirit of any prospective mate before focusing on external looks. The story begins with a young man named John Blanchard who was home in Florida on furlough from the Army. He happened to be in the city library browsing through books when he found some notes penciled in the margin of an old textbook. The soft, elegant handwriting and the insightful notes reflected a "thoughtful soul and insightful mind." John Blanchard turned to the front of the old textbook and found the book's previous owner, Miss Holly Maynell. With some effort and assistance from the librarian, John was able to track down Holly's current address.

Holly lived far away in New York City, so John was unable to meet her before going off to war, but he did introduce himself to Holly through a letter, inviting her to correspond. During the next thirteen months, the two young people came to know each other through words. John Blanchard eventually sent a photograph of himself to Holly and requested one of her, but she refused. She wrote, "If you really care for me, it would not matter what I look like." True enough, each letter from Holly only added to John's appreciation for his girlfriend. "It really doesn't matter what she looked like," he thought. "She inspires me with her words."

A romance was blossoming. The day at long last arrived when John Blanchard was to return from the battlefields of Europe. John and Holly scheduled their first meeting for 7:00 p.m. at Central Station in New York City. "You'll recognize me," she wrote, "by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel." So at 7.00 p.m. John Blanchard stood on the grand concourse of Grand Central Station looking for the girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen. John Blanchard explains in his own words what happened next:
"A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small provocative smile curved her lips. "Going my way, sailor?" she murmured.

Almost uncontrollably, I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Holly Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.

This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever by grateful. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. "I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?" The woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!"


David (NAS) Rogers said...

I have heard this story before. Could you verify the source? I think many would be interested in the follow-up of the story if it is accessible.

Wade Burleson said...

David, the story was originally published in 1943 in Collier's magazine and the author was S.I. Kishor. He does not give sources (or follow-up), but it is a seventy year old printed story. Max Lucado followed up with a variation of Kishor's story in his book And the Angels Were Silent, and the book 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul contains the story as well. SNOPES says follow-up is impossible without the original author giving his sources.

Megan said...

I enjoy this story and have even assigned to to my Intro to Literature classes. Yet it bears saying that the story actually supports the reverse of its intended theme: That physical beauty is, in fact, essential to love. I turned up this idea lesson planning several years ago, and whoever was writing linked to a rewrite of the story, written from Hollis's point of view:

Wade Burleson said...


Someone else messaged me and said the same thing that you did. I see what you are saying.

I believe a physical attraction is necessary for marriage (as you rightly point out), but it is secondary to the beauty of one's spirit (as I sought to point out).

Good comment.

Kevin said...

I first heard this about twenty years ago when I was in college. Great story.

Rex Ray said...

My first to read the story…and what a story it is FOR the READER

But to analyze the story, I agree with Megan…there are too many things for it to be true.

1. “Miss” would not have been in the name of the previous owner,
2. “Miss” would be known by the “effort and assistance of the librarian.”
3. How did the book end up in Florida from a girl that lived in New York?
4. For the librarian to know her address in New York, she would know her personally, and that would include age etc.
5. The letters from the girl were more important than the book, so why would he take the book from the library and keep it?
6. He did not need the book to identify himself. Too much overkill.
7. What if he had not asked her to dinner? What if he had said, ‘let’s take a walk in the park’?
8. Since he came from the “battlefields of Europe”, he would have been in an army uniform when he saluted, and the real girl would NOT have said, “Going my way SAILOR?”

And this thing of “BEAUTY”:
I remember the first time I attended a First Baptist Training Union class and I saw my wife to be. She was 24 and I was 25. The class was large with me on the front row and she was on the back. I turned and thought, “Boy! She is pretty!”

I’ll end with ‘Which girl did Eve look like?” 

Rex Ray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I hope the story ends by him taking the older woman for dinner , and that they lived happily ever after. Life only begins at forty !


eagle4wind said...

Cannot recall where, but I saw a TV reenactment of this tale. It was gripping. As a woman, I viewed it from the young woman's point of view: I'd know how "good" looking I was by experiences (good & otherwise), and would definitely want to test-out the true honor my pen pal/lover had in his soul by seeing how a) he would take seeing the 40-year-old lady (would he speak to her at all?); b) if he would value her as a human-being by speaking politely & greeting her kindly; and c) if it hurt his feelings to be "tested" did that indicate a severe immaturity? Overall, it was a wise move for both sides, and that is what love does...thinks of both hearts.

My husband and I did not know Christ when we fell in love through snail mail correspondence (overseas, at that) which started out as a simple way for a friend of a friend to exercise his new English skills. Long story short--we've been married for 35 years & we are both involved in global, multi-faceted ministry. Neither of us may have every known Christ, except that together we ended up studying at USC in Los Angeles because it was the only university we could get a quick invitation to from the Middle East. It was at USC where I met a janitor who took us to his church; where we received the Good News of Christ. YEAH!