Study Guide

Missing May Coming of Age

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Coming of Age

When I was younger, either Ob or May would walk me out to the road and stand there freezing with me in the dark, making me stomp my feet to keep the blood circulating till the lights of the bus would finally bounce off the trees up the ridge and somebody could hand me over to the roaring heater of Number 56. (2.4)

Aunt May and Uncle Ob really knew how to treat Summer like a little girl when she was a kid. They took care of her and made sure that she felt loved and secure in her new home.

So here we are now, two months later in the heart of dark February, with May slipping in, Ob slipping out, and Cletus and me just grabbing at anything we can save. (3.27)

Growing up isn't always so much fun, especially when it means that you have to start thinking about how to keep your family together. Summer sure does miss the days when both Aunt May and Uncle Ob took care of everything for her.

I think I must have got old and heavy when May left us. Ob needed somebody to fill the empty hole she left, and I reckon I thought if I aged about fifty years, I might could fill it for him. (3.34)

Not only has Aunt May's death devastated her, but it's also forced Summer to grow up very quickly. Since Uncle Ob is kind of helpless now, Summer has to step in and take care of things in their house.

When May died, Ob and me had to talk business with the funeral parlor, religion with the preacher, and make small talk with dozens of relatives and people we'd hardly ever seen before. (5.8)

Summer doesn't even have the time to properly grieve the death of her mother figure, and after May's death, she has to go around and take care of all the business like a little adult. That totally isn't fair… but neither is a lot of what's happened to Summer in her life.

I felt lost. I might as well have been spinning in a round metal tub, in a twenty-foot wall of water, washing down off that mountain. Just lost forever in Deep Water. (5.37)

Sometimes growing up and having to face the realities of adult life isn't all rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes you feel more lost than ever when you realize that you have more responsibilities on your shoulders.

I went out to the kitchen and called the junior high to let them know I wouldn't be coming anytime that day, and I got a pot of coffee brewing[...] I sat down with my coffee and wished I had a medical book in the house, something that might give me some clues on how to help Ob. (6.31)

Summer is pretty much stepping in to parent Uncle Ob at this point. She drinks coffee every morning like a grown-up and even makes sure that she's home to feed and watch over Uncle Ob when he's too depressed to get out of bed.

"May wouldn't have wanted you caring for yourself, child. We brought you to this place to raise you up with our own hands, and she wouldn't want you having to look to your own needs. She'd want you to have somebody right here seeing after you." (6.47)

Summer may claim that she's okay with taking care of the homestead while Uncle Ob recovers, but he sees right through that. He knows that she needs to live like a kid and can't go on taking all these adult responsibilities.

I had not been in that house for five minutes yet, and already I'd learned so much. (8.23)

Seeing Cletus with his parents makes Summer realize that she's been wrong about him all along, and that she's been a jerk to treat him with such disdain. As Summer grows older, she begins to understand and have compassion for other people.

Something happened to Ob that day we left Putnam County and started back for home. Between the front porch of the late Reverend Young's and the concrete steps of the West Virginia State Capitol, something happened to Ob to make him long for living again. (11.7)

Uncle Ob may be an old man, but that doesn't mean he's done growing as a person. The trip to the capitol sparks something in him, and Uncle Ob finds a new part of himself—one that wants to keep living and learning.

Ob and I smiled at each other. And then a big wind came and set everything free. (12.11)

At the end, Uncle Ob is back to being her guardian and Summer doesn't have to carry around all the weight of her adult responsibilities anymore. She's free to act like a kid once more. Whew, right?

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