Sunday, September 11, 2011

Landing softly on a hard day

On this anniversary of 9/11, I find myself searching for something soothing. Something that will ease the ache of the horror I remember vividly – even though I was a thousand miles away from the Twin Towers and felt like a spectator, powerless and destroyed at some level, watching the events unfold on television.

Without realizing it, I choose a book last night that help a bit. Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting – with its lovely language, gentle plot, and wonder at the power of time and the grace of being able to die – provided a soft place for me to land on this Sunday morning.

Ms. Babbitt’s settings are part of what drew me into the story. The contrast between the Foster house and the Tuck’s home – along with the sense of strict order versus jumbled ease… life strangled versus life going on – is powerful in a way I’m sure I didn’t fully grasp when I read this book as a child.

Here is the first glimpse we get of the Foster’s house:

“…a square and solid cottage with a touch-me-not appearance, surrounded by grass cut painfully to the quick and enclosed by a capable iron fence some four feet high which clearly said, ‘Move on—we don’t want you here.’”

Later…we see the Tuck home:

“So she [Winnie] was unprepared for the homely little house beside the pond, unprepared for the gentle eddies of dust, the silver cobwebs, the mouse who lived – and welcome to him! – in a table drawer.”

She goes on to mention “dishes stacked in perilous towers without the lease regard for their varying dimensions”

“every surface, every wall, was piled and strewn and hung with everything imaginable, from onions to lanterns to wooden spoons to wash tubs. And in a corner stood Tuck’s forgotten shotgun.”

In fact, the entire first few pages of chapter 10 (in case you have a copy handy) is one of the best, most comfortable descriptions of a house possibly in all of children’s literature.

For some reason…the controlled chaos, the clutter, and the well-loved, well-lived feeling of that house reminds me of my house when I was a kid. No one ever accused my mom of having a perfectly clean house. (Sorry, Mom!) But it was far better, in my mind, to trip over dogs and toss shoes in a pile and move books from almost every flat surface (even to draw hearts and write my name in the dust on the dresser tops) than it was to visit the house down the street, where the living room furniture was quite sadly covered in clear plastic sheeting and no one was allowed to step on the carpet.

And it probably is also worth noting that I might have found this story soothing today in part, because I think Mae Tuck reminded me of my own mother. Round and soft, full of hugs and ready to feed anyone who walked through the door. Mae even feeds that mouse living in her table drawer with flapjack crumbs after dinner…something my mom would have done in a heartbeat.

At any rate, I am glad to have found some sense of peace in this story, on this day.


  1. It's been years since I've delved into the story of Tuck Everlasting. The story actually seems very unfamiliar to me now - so unfamiliar in fact that I wonder if I simply skimmed the book rather than fully read it as a child. You have definitely given me the desire to read that book now and re-familiarize myself with its cast of characters. :)

  2. Great minds, lady. I JUST re-read Tuck Everlasting a couple weeks ago - it's like taking a drink from a clear, clear stream, no? The words, the memory of reading it as a much younger person, the notion of these waters - their attraction and their danger, it's just georgeous....