Saturday, November 06, 2010
Surrogacy and Wishes
There are times in all of our lives when we have to rely on surrogacy when the real thing is not available. Perhaps this need is what prompted the popularity of certain books for children during the 1940s and 1950s, a time when parenting (particularly the fatherly kind) in real life was sometimes less "hands on" than children wanted it to be.
For me there is no better book about the importance of finding what you need to make up for what you don't have than Robert McCloskey's One Morning in Maine (1952). The story is simple and complicated: one morning in Maine, Sal and her sister Jane are getting ready to go shopping with their father (they go by boat to Buck's Harbor). While brushing her teeth, Sal finds that her tooth is loose (for the first time), and her mother tells her that she can make a secret wish on it. When she goes to tell her father (who is digging clams), her tooth falls out into the mud. Because she lost the tooth (literally), she can't make a wish on it ("I guess some clam will find my tooth and get what I wished for"). She finds a feather, and after a small amount of discussion with her practical father who doesn't really "get" her need for something to wish on, she decides it's just the thing (it could have been lost by a baby gull).
Sal, Jane, and their father get in the boat, and the outboard motor doesn't start, so the father has to row across the harbor. When they get to shore, Sal gives a gap-toothed smile to Mr. Condon, the man fixing the motor. In the picture to the left, we don't see Sal's smile from the front, but we know what she is showing Mr. Condon (who happens to be looking the other way). Mr. Condon takes a spark plug out of the motor ("Came right out, just like that tooth of yours, didn't it, Sal?"), and mentions that it needs a new one. Sal wonders how long it will take for the motor to grow a new spark plug.
In the picture to the right, Sal hands the old spark plug to Jane (I know, not a great toy for a toddler), so that Jane can wish on it. Sal's wish is for a chocolate ice cream cone, and she uses Jane's spark plug wish (Jane is too young to understand things like wishes) for a vanilla one, which Mr. Condon (Mr. Condon's brother who runs the store) gets for them from the store freezer.
I believe it is part of the human spirit to have wishes, and to keep finding things to wish on. I imagine that many people, like me, saw themselves in Sal. I don't think too many people would see themselves in Jane, because Jane would be too little to read this book. Sal was just the right age, and was going through the same rites of passage as her readers: losing teeth, and believing in the power of wishing.
This book made a deeply powerful impression on me as a child, and I have never outgrown it. I still read it again and again. I could go on and on discussing other deep meanings in the book, but I prefer just to let you know about it, and discover the rest of its wonders for yourself.