Study Guide

Missing May Love

By Cynthia Rylant

Love

I never saw two people love each other so much. Sometimes the tears would just come over me, looking at the two of them, even six years back when I first got here and was too young to be thinking about love. (1.2)

She may be a six-year-old who's been abandoned and passed along to other people her whole life, but Summer knows true love when she sees it. It's the kind of stuff that Shakespearean plays and One Direction songs are made of.

Before she died, I know my mother must have loved to comb my shiny hair and rub that Johnson's baby lotion up and down my arms [...] She must have known she wasn't going to live and she must have held me longer than any other mother might, so I'd have enough love in me to know what love was when I saw it or felt it again. (1.3)

Love really sticks with you, like a bad sunburn or rash, and even if she can't remember her mom, Summer still feels the presence of her love. Maybe she'll keep feeling May's love even long after she's gone, too?

She was a big barrel of nothing but love, and while Ob and me were off in our dreamy heads, May was here in this trailer seeing to it there was a good home for us when we were ready to land. (2.39)

We've heard of barrels of monkeys, but not barrels of love. Aunt May sounds like a completely awesome person to live with, doesn't she? She seems completely willing to let Summer and Uncle Ob be themselves without judgment.

Ob talked about what a good wife May was and all the sweet things she'd done for him—for us—while she was living. (5.5)

Poor Uncle Ob—he wants so badly to talk to Aunt May and tell her how much he loves her. He'll believe in anything in order to keep that dream alive.

How you can see in someone's face that he feels completely safe, and full of power and love, and suddenly things between you become so easy. Cletus was home, and he didn't need to be crazy at all. (8.13)

When Summer comes to Cletus's house, she can see just how much his parents love him and realizes that maybe she was wrong to treat him with such disdain. After all, how could she hate someone who's so adored by these sweet old people? They're practically Keebler Elves.

My own quietness, I think it came from peace. Nothing needed doing in that car. Ob was beside me and safe. Cletus behind us content. (9.14)

All that Summer needs to be happy is to know that her loved ones are safe and peaceful. She doesn't need anything for herself—she just wants to see that Uncle Ob is no longer suffering.

And while I stood in front of a beautiful window, looking out at the capitol lawn with its pigeons and squirrels and pretty women walking together and laughing, Ob would stand beside me and rest his palm against the back of my head as he used to when I was a little girl. (11.10)

It sure is nice for Summer to feel like a kid again. Although most twelve-year-olds would probably be muttering Whatever… under their breaths and going off to reapply their lip gloss at this point, Summer needs to feel like she has a parent. She happily accepts Ob's hand.

But for every bit of life I cried away, Ob held me hard against him and he put more life back in me. (11.21)

Even though they've both been drowning in their grief, Uncle Ob and Summer find comfort in each other. Their love for each other (and Aunt May's love for them) is the only thing that can get them through this dark time.

When Ob and me met you, honey, you was such a shy thing. Them big ol' eyes of yours looking like a puppy begging for love. (11.25)

Aunt May and Uncle Ob immediately recognize Summer's need for love when they first see her. And instead of ignoring it or pushing her away like everyone else, they decide that they're going to be the ones to fulfill it.

I always told Ob he was my moon and sun. And when you came to us, Summer, honey, you were my shining star. You are the best little girl I ever did know. (11.38-39)

Aunt May is probably the friendliest ghost we know (besides Casper). She comes back to say all sorts of sweet things to Summer, and to make sure that she remembers forever how loved she is.

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