Now here’s a writer I can identify with. Mark Twain always felt he was a bit odd and different from other folks. He was so intuitive about himself that he predicted he’d ride out of here with Haley’s Comet, and then proceeded to do just that.
I loved Twain back to late grade school. At first glance, his writing seemed simple. He wrote in a way that a kid could read it and dream of a Mississippi raft ride or of being Tom Sawyer on a date with Becky when he grew up, but an adult could read it on another level. Twain painted word pictures. When I read Twain I could visualize the river or the cave or the whitewashed fences just as sure as if I was there myself.
I grew up in a very segregated society. Twain showed me a lot about race. You remember the scene when Huck Finn was riding down the river with Jim? Huck was conflicted wasn’t he? Society said it was wrong to help a black man escape to freedom, and yet Jim was a good man and a genuine friend. Finally Huck comes to grips with the dilemma and says, (paraphrased) “Well, if helping Jim is wrong then I guess I’ll just have to go to hell.” I thought that was pretty brave for a fellow no older than me.
If a black child ever played Little League with us I don’t recall it. We played a lot of sandlot ball in a vacant field near the house. We’d take a break and go to the store to get a pop. All you has to do was go down the street, cut in behind my piano teacher’s house, and then go through the woods by an old pond and you’d come to a clearing. We weren’t supposed to go there ’cause it was the black section of town. There was an old general store there, the kind of place with wide wood plank dusty floors and raw peanuts in big washtubs. Old men in overalls would sit and play checkers or cards. I recall they had the best baseball cards in town. It was my first memory of any human being of color.
Some of the kids played ball, and I thought we should invite them to our game. A couple of our older guys nixed that. ‘Them is ‘N’….(The ‘N’ word) you can’t do that.’ Even as a boy it seemed wrong to me. Now that I am older I realize I should have stood up to them. I hope the Lord has forgiven me for not doing so.
Later we’d skip Sunday School and hang out at the Gulf station where we’d drink Co-Colas and eat nabs. Some of the guys would smoke cigarettes. My Dad was a doc and said that’d kill you and I believed what he told me so I didn’t get started on that. The subject of race came up every so often. By then I was reading Twain, so I’d quote the river scene. Some of them made fun of me, and said I was a ‘N’ lover. By this age I’d learned better how to stick to my guns. I told them if they didn’t hush I was gonna tell their moms they were skipping Sunday School to smoke cigarettes. I guess I figured they’d be just as scared of going to hell as Huck, but not as brave. They backed away. I learned the concept of leverage at an early age.
Twain also taught me it was okay to hang out with questionable characters if their heart was right, which is how I fell in love with Dr. Indie Jenkins as a father like figure. Twain also taught me to love words. I got along okay with Thoureau but wasn’t a ‘Wuthering Heights’ kinda guy. When we read it in English class I tended to play hooky and go to Popeye’s store to pick the blues. I read the Cliff’s notes and got an A- for that one. But Twain I loved, and read every word whether it was assigned or not.
So, tell me what you guys like about Twain. He is my all time favorite.
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