Monday, August 09, 2010

I'm reading the older boys Tom Sawyer (Google books) at bedtime, presently. Chris has great interest in hearing it, too, but the three of them together get too silly to listen and I can't imagine Chris understands it anyway. Kenny gets it and enjoyed tonight's chapter very much. As did I.

I read it against the backdrop, in my own mind, of those three killed in a car crash. How could I not? It's fresh pain on my mind. Twain's writing is so true to life:
Then quite a group of boys and girls - playmates of Tom's and Joe's - came by, and stood looking over the paling fence and talking in reverent tones of how Tom did so-and-so, the last time they saw him, and how Joe said this and that small trifle (pregnant with awful prophecy, as they could easily see now!) - and each speaker pointed out the exact spot where the lost lads stood at the time, and then added something like "and I was a-standing just so - just as I am now, and as if you was him - I was as close as that - and he smiled, just this way - and then something seemed to go all over me, like - awful, you know - and I never thought what it meant, of course, but I can see now!"

Then there was a dispute about who saw the dead boys last in life, and many claimed that dismal distinction, and offered evidences, more or less tampered with by the witness; and when it was ultimately decided who did see the departed last, and exchanged the last words with them, the lucky parties took upon themselves a sort of sacred importance, and were gaped at and envied by all the rest. One poor chap, who had no other grandeur to offer, said with tolerably manifest pride in the remembrance:

"Well, Tom Sawyer he licked me once."

But that bid for glory was a failure. Most of the boys could say that, and so that cheapened the distinction too much.
And, of course, they bust in upon their own funeral, as you remember. But superstition isn't reserved for the boys and girls, no. Most of the adults are steeped in it too. Kenny nearly fell off the bed laughing when I read Tom describing his "dream" to Aunt Polly, in the next chapter:
"Why, Wednesday night I dreamt that you was sitting over there by the bed, and Sid was sitting by the woodbox, and Mary next to him."
"Well, so we did. So we always do. I'm glad your dreams could take even that much trouble about us."
"And I dreamt that Joe Harper's mother was here."
"Why, she was here! Did you dream any more?"
"Oh, lots. But it's so dim, now."
"Well, try to recollect - can't you?"
"Oh, it's all getting just as bright as day, now. Next you said I warn't bad, only mischeevous and harum-scarum, and not any more responsible than - than - I think it was a colt, or something."
"And so it was! Well, goodness gracious! [...] Well, for the land's sake! I never heard the beat of that in all my days! Don't tell me there ain't anything in dreams, any more. Sereny Harper shall know of this before I'm an hour older. I'd like to see her get around this with her rubbage 'bout superstition. Go on, Tom!"
Kenny remarked that the characters in this book seem to be so very religious and he speculated that people were most religious "in those days." Well, the book contains way more descriptions of people being superstitious than of being religious. I think there's still a good mix of both with us today but we just have this chronological snobbery that blinds us to it all around us (and in us). Here's Polly's prayer that got Kenny's reaction:
"I'm thankful to the good God and Father of us all I've got you back, that's long-suffering and merciful to them that believe on Him and keep His word, though goodness knows I'm unworthy of it, but if only the worthy ones got His blessings and had His hand to help them over the rough places, there's few enough would smile here or ever enter into His rest when the long night comes."
I think I could say "Amen" to that.

1 comment:

magi said...

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Paling Fence