I was surprised that I knew this all by myself, without my mother there. And that night in bed, I did not cry. I said to myself, "Salamanca Tree Hiddle, you can be happy without her." It seemed like a mean thought and I was sorry for it, but it <em>felt </em>true. (7.14)
Sal learns how to live without her mother which makes her happy and sad at the same time. Do you agree that it's mean of Sal to think she can be happy without her mother? Why or why not?
"Because a lunatic is – it means – it sounds like – oh, never mind." He would not explain, and he seemed embarrassed to have mentioned this in the first place. Then he said to me, "Don't people touch each other at your house?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I just wondered," he said. "You flinch every time someone touches you." (11.39-41)
Ben plays a big part in helping Sal figure out who she is and how her grief over her mother's leaving is getting in the way of her ability to live life. Also, Ben is way more reasonable and grounded than Phoebe and Sal: he knows Mike is not a lunatic, and that calling him one is actually pretty rude.
"Everybody is just walking along concerned with his own problems, his own life, his own worries. And we're all expecting other people to tune into our own agenda. 'Look at my worry. Worry with me. Step into my life. Care about my problems. Care about me.'" Gram sighed. (12.4)
Do you agree with Gram that everyone is just concerned about his or her own self? Do you think this is the way most of us live our lives? Do Gram and Gramps live this way? What other ways can human beings live?
I had never seen him angry. "Sometimes I don't think you're human," my mother told him. It was the sort of thing she said just before she left, and it bothered me, because it seemed as if she wanted him to be meaner, less good. (18.8)
Do you think that Sal's dad is to blame for the fact that her mother leaves? What do you think Sal's mother means when she says, "I don't think you're human?" It's kind of a harsh thing to say to someone, even if you're trying to be complimentary, no?
"I wish someone would call me by my real name. My name isn't Sugar. It's Chanhassen." (8.15)
It's really important to Sal's mom that people call her by her real name. But wait, did this just start? Do you think this has something to do with newfound desire to find herself? How important are names to identity in this book?
He said we were making this move to learn about bravery and courage. That sounded awfully familiar. (18.23)
Dad Hiddle sounds a lot like Sal's mom right before she left home. Only her mom's search for bravery and courage resulted in her death in a bus crash. Do you think Dad Hiddle is being brave when he moves to Euclid? Is it brave to leave?
What I really meant was, "How can she not come back to <em>me</em>? She loves me." (22.16)
We can only imagine what it would be like to have a parent leave us: it makes a kid feel pretty darn inadequate. But what we really want to know is, if she hadn't been killed in a bus crash, do you think she would have returned to Bybanks?
I could not imagine why she had chosen Idaho. I thought perhaps she had opened an atlas and pointed a finger at any old spot, but later I learned that she had a cousin in Lewiston, Idaho. "I haven't seen her for fifteen years," my mother said, "and that's good because she'll tell me what I'm really like."
"I could tell you that, Sugar," my father said.
"No, I mean before I was a wife and a mother. I mean <em>underneath</em>, where I am Chanhassen." (23.6-8)
It seems like Chanhassen can only identify as a wife and a mother, and not as a human being with her own personality, hopes, and dreams. But what is identity if not who you are to your loved ones? What else is there? What do you think?
The one thing we could not do was settle on a name. Nothing seemed quite right. Nothing was perfect enough for this baby. My father seemed more worried about this than my mother. "Something will come to us," my mother said. "The perfect name will arrive in the air one day." (23.18)
Names are pretty important to Chanhassen – her name helps her get a sense of her own identity – so it seems strange she'd just leave the name of her unborn child to whim or chance.
My mother had two operations in the next two days. She wouldn't stop bleeding. Later, my mother said, "They took out all my equipment." She would not have any more babies. (23.48)
You might say that in having all of her "equipment" surgically removed, Chanhassen loses a piece of herself – both literally and figuratively.
"My mother makes special vegetarian meals. Low-calorie and no cholesterol. We eat a lot of salads and vegetables. My mother's an excellent cook." (25.13)
To be a Winterbottom is to watch what you eat. They're all about eating healthy meals. But who cooks all these meals? Mrs. Winterbottom. So when Mrs. Winterbottom leaves, the family is lost in the woods. They hardly know who they are anymore.
"As I was saying, Pandora was not supposed to open the box, but because she had been given so much curiosity, she really, really, really wanted to know what was inside, so one day she opened the box." (27.29)
Maybe it's just Shmoop, but it seems like Phoebe totally relates to Pandora. Why do you think that is? Do you notice any similarities between them?
On that night after Phoebe had given her Pandora report, I thought about the Hope in Pandora's box. Maybe when everything seemed sad and miserable, Phoebe and I could both hope that something might start to go right. (27.39)
Here, Sal finds a way to identify with Pandora, too. Of course this helps her connect with Phoebe's feelings as well. It's one giant identity connection between Sal, Phoebe, and Pandora!
I wished I had taken some action when my mother left. I was not sure what I could have done, but I wished I had done <em>something</em>. (29.14)
Do you think there's anything Sal could have done to stop her mother from leaving? Honestly, we really want to know what you think, because Shmoop just doesn't know what to think about this one.
"It isn't good for her or for them. They have to become independent. What if something happened to Moody Blue? They wouldn't know how to survive without her." (41.12)
In this memory, it seems as though Chanhassen Hiddle sees a bit of herself in Moody Blue. Both are mothers, and both know that they have to teach their children out from under mom's protection.
On that long day that my father and I left the farm behind and drove to Euclid, I wished that my father was not such a good man, so there would be someone to blame for my mother's leaving. I didn't want to blame her. She was my mother, and she was part of me. (18.26)
Why does everyone want to blame Dad Hiddle for the sadness in the family? And by <em>everyone</em>, we mean Sal and Chanhassen. It seems a little unfair, but then again, maybe we don't get the whole story.
Later, when I was doing my homework, I found myself doodling in the margin of my English book. I had drawn a figure of a woman with wild hair and evil eyes and a rope around her neck. I drew a tree, fastened the rope to it, and hung her. (19.19)
Mrs. Cadaver seems like the perfect villain at first. Her name, her hair, her super sweet demeanor – everything adds up to her being evil incarnate. Sal is desperate to find someone to blame, and Mrs. Cadaver makes for an easy target, no matter what she's really like.
I hoped Mr. Birkway was in love with Margaret Cadaver and would marry her and take her away so that my father and I could go back to Bybanks. (19.20)
Sal blames Mrs. Cadaver for taking her away from Bybanks. It's totally easier to blame this strange lady than it is to blame her own dad. So getting rid of Mrs. Cadaver would make everything go back to normal, right?
When my mother did not return, I imagined all sorts of things. Maybe she had cancer and didn't want to tell us and was hiding in Idaho. Maybe she got knocked on the head and had amnesia and was wandering around Lewiston, not knowing who she really was, or thinking she was someone else. (22.42)
When do you think Sal first found out that her mother had been killed in a bus crash? Do you think she imagined all of these scenarios before or after discovering this tragic news? What role does Sal's imagination play in helping or not helping her get past her mother's death?
He went to the refrigerator, opened the freezer compartment, and indicated the plastic containers. "If your mother had been kidnapped by a lunatic, would she have had time to prepare all these meals? Would she have been able to say, 'Excuse me, Mr. Lunatic, while I prepare ten or twenty meals for my family to eat while I'm kidnapped?'." (22.60)
Mr. Winterbottom tries to convince Phoebe that she has no one to blame for her mother's disappearance but her own mother. But Phoebe is desperate to blame somebody, anybody, to explain why her mother would leave her. Sound familiar?
"How do you know that someone – not exactly a lunatic, but just someone – didn't make Mom go to Idaho? Maybe it was blackmail – "
"Sal. Your mother went because she wanted to go."
"We should have stopped her."
"A person isn't a bird. You can't cage a person."
"She shouldn't have gone. If she hadn't gone – "
"Sal, I'm sure she intended to come back." (22.73-78)
This is the first time we hear anyone talk about the idea that Sal's mom might have meant to come back home someday. How does this bit of news change our understanding of Chanhassen Hiddle?
He said to me, "It wasn't your fault, Sal—it wasn't because she carried you. You mustn't think that."
I didn't believe him. I hobbled into my mother's room and crawled up on the bed beside her. She was staring at the ceiling. (23.32-33)
Can you imagine being a young girl and feeling responsible for the death of your unborn sibling and for the fact that your mom can never again have kids? That's a <em>lot</em> of guilt for one person to carry around, let alone a young girl who is just growing up. Poor Sal.
"But if we don't have any news by tomorrow," Phoebe said, "we should definitely call the police. We've waited too long already. What if she's tied up somewhere and waiting for us to rescue her?" (25.45)
Phoebe is still trying to catch fish in the air because the thought that her mom might have left of her own free will is just too plain painful to consider.
"I don't believe that Mom called Mrs. Cadaver. Mrs. Cadaver is making it up. Mrs. Cadaver probably killed her and chopped her up. I'm calling the police." (27.10)
Once again, Mrs. Cadaver becomes a very convenient villain, only this time, she's Phoebe's villain (and not Sal's). Both girls blame their mothers' disappearances on Mrs. Cadaver.
I knew that Phoebe was convinced that her mother was kidnapped because it was impossible for Phoebe to imagine that her mother could leave for any other reason. I wanted to call Phoebe and say that maybe her mother had gone looking for something, maybe her mother was unhappy, maybe there was nothing Phoebe could do about it. (27.37)
What happens in Sal's own life and journey that makes her want to give Phoebe this advice? Hasn't she, too, been totally game to believe that Phoebe's mom had been kidnapped this whole time? What has changed?
I wondered if Gram's snake bite had anything to do with her stroke, and if Gramps felt guilty for whizzing off the highway and stopping at that river. If we hadn't gone to that river, Gram would never have been bitten by that snake. And then I started thinking about my mother's stillborn baby and maybe if I hadn't climbed that tree and if my mother hadn't carried me, maybe the baby would have lived and my mother never would have gone away, and everything would still be as it used to be. (41.6)
Sal is still coping with the guilt she feels for the death of her unborn sibling at the very end of this story. This is how we know that this guilt is huge and that it's totally crushing her. In comparing this painful memory to Gram's snakebite, however, Sal does something very interesting. She inadvertently points out the fact that nature is uncontrollable and unpredictable. It wasn't her fault that her unborn sibling died. It wasn't Gramps' fault that Gram got bitten by a lethal snake. Nature happened, and life happened.
From what I could gather, Mr. Winterbottom worked in an office, creating road maps. Mrs. Winterbottom baked and cleaned and did laundry and grocery shopping. I had a funny feeling that Mrs. Winterbottom did not actually like all this baking and cleaning and laundry and shopping, and I'm not quite sure why I had that feeling because if you just listened to the <em>words </em>she said, it sounded as if she were Mrs. Supreme Housewife. (6.5)
What kinds of words does Mrs. Winterbottom use? How does she talk, and what exactly does that tell us about her? Plus, check out how observant Sal is of the Winterbottoms. Why do you think that is?
And Mr. Winterbottom was playing the role of Father, with capital <em>F</em>. He sat at the head of the table with his white shirt cuffs rolled back neatly. He still wore his red-and-blue-striped tie. His expression was serious, his voice was deep, and his words were clear. (6.11)
Mr. Winterbottom sounds kind of boring. It's interesting that Sal tells us he's "playing the role" of father, but not actually being a father, as though he is an actor in a play, rather than someone who truly loves and cares about his family.
I think that deep down Phoebe thought it was nice too, and she wished her own parents would act more like the Finneys. She couldn't admit this, though, and in a way, I liked this about Phoebe – that she tried to defend her family. (9.11)
Even though Sal gets so annoyed and mad at Phoebe and her behavior, she is always able to see the good in her. And hey, what are true friends for if not to keep on liking you when you're being a total pain? Sal is a true friend; she'll stick by Phoebe through thick and thin. And since we're talking about family, it's important to notice that what Sal admires in Phoebe is her loyalty to her family. Friends are important, but family is number one.
When I mentioned about Ben asking where my mother was and my saying that she was in Lewiston, but that I didn't want to elaborate, Gram and Gramps looked at each other. Gramps said, "One time my father took off for six months and didn't tell a soul where he was going. When my best friend asked me where my father was, I hauled off and punched him in the jaw. My best friend. I punched him dang in the jaw." (12.7)
Gram and Gramps have a way of giving advice without making it seem like they are giving advice and without sounding all high and mighty. They treat Sal like an equal, and they tell her stories (like this one) that show that they can relate to the way she feels, and that they're not perfect either.
Mrs. Winterbottom stabbed the brownies with a knife. "Want one?" she asked.
"They're burned," Phoebe said. "Besides, I'm too fat."
"Oh sweetie, you're not too fat," Mrs. Winterbottom said.
"No, you're not."
"I am, I am, I am!" Phoebe shouted at her mother. "You don't have to bake things for me. I'm too fat. And you don't have to wait here for me to come home. I'm thirteen now." (17.10-15)
Yeesh. The image of Mrs. Winterbottom stabbing brownies is kind of a violent one. Why do you think she might be stabbing brownies? Maybe it's because Phoebe is a serious pain in the butt. Maybe it's because she feels so far away from the people she loves.
I could tell that Mrs. Winterbottom was trying to rise above some awful sadness she was feeling, but Prudence couldn't see that. Prudence had her own agenda, just as I had had my own agenda that day my mother wanted me to walk with her. I couldn't see my mother's sadness. (17.22)
Sal really is wise beyond her years. Not only does she recognize that Mrs. Winterbottom is sad (when the rest of the Winterbottom family is totally clueless), she also recognizes that it's not just any sadness: it's "an awful sadness," and it's a lot like her mother's.
At first my father did not argue with me. He let me behave like a wild boar. (18.23)
Why do you think Sal's dad let her behave like a "wild boar"?
When I told my story of Phoebe to Gram and Gramps, I mentioned none of this. They knew it already. They knew my father was a good man, they knew I did not want to leave the farm, they knew my father felt we had to leave. They also knew that my father had tried, many times to explain to me about Margaret, but that I wouldn't hear it. (18.25)
It's amazing how much Sal doesn't have to tell or explain to her grandparents. It's amazing how much they already know, simply by using their intuition. It's so awesome that Gram and Gramps don't force Sal to tell them how she is feeling and doing. Instead, they are content to hear her tell Phoebe's story. It's as if they know that in telling Phoebe's story, she is also kind of telling her own. These are pretty much the best grandparents ever.
I apologized for being ornery and for upsetting him. He put his arm around me and we sat there together on the porch, two people being completely pitiful and lost. (22.79)
You know what we notice here? The fact that Sal describes herself and her father as being "two people" rather than "a father and a daughter" or "a family." It seems like she and her dad are equals in many ways, and they are both struggling equally hard to move on without Chanhassen Hiddle.
Dinner at the Finneys' was an experience. When we arrived, Mary Lou's brothers were running around like crazed animals, jumping over the furniture and tossing footballs. Mary Lou's older sister, Maggie, was talking on the telephone and plucking her eyebrows at the same time. Mr. Finney was cooking something in the kitchen, with the help of four year-old Tommy. Phoebe whispered, "I am not too optimistic about the possibilities of this meal." (25.1)
The Finney household is chaotic, and the Winterbottom household is orderly. The Finney's show each other affection, the Winterbottoms do not. The Finneys eat fried chicken and buttered beans, the Winterbottoms eat cholesterol-free meals. Which family is happier? Hey, we're just saying.
All through dinner, I kept thinking of Bybanks, and what it was like when we went to my grandparents' house for dinner. There were always tons of people – relatives and neighbors – and lots of confusion. It was a friendly sort of confusion, and it was like that at the Finneys'. (25.31)
The Finneys remind Sal of Gram and Gramps and their home in Bybanks. Through the Finneys we readers get a glimpse of what the Hiddle family used to be like, back in the days before Sal's mom left home.
On the roof, in the wide open air, they lay there kissing each other. It made me feel peculiar. They reminded me of my parents, before the stillborn baby, before the operation. (26.27)
We wonder if it must be comforting or frustrating for Sal to see a family that reminds her of what her own family used to be like. How would you feel if you were in Sal's shoes?
I wanted everything to be like it <em>was</em>. I wanted to be back in Bybanks, Kentucky, in the hills and the trees, near the cows and chickens and pigs. I wanted to run down the hill from the barn and through the kitchen door that banged behind me and see my mother and my father sitting at the table peeling apples. (4.2)
We are in awe of how specific Sal's memories are. We are also struck by the fact that this thirteen year old's hopes and dreams don't have to do with clothes, boys, or any material things. She just wants her family and her home back. Poor Sal.
"See? I'm almost as good as your father!" She said it in a shy way, laughing a little. I felt betrayed, but I didn't know why. (6.32)
Is this not one of the most interesting moments in the whole book? The word "betrayed" is a very strong and powerful word, especially when someone uses it to describe her relationship with her mother. Why in the world would Sal feel betrayed by this offhand comment from her mother?
When my mother left for Lewiston, Idaho, that April, my first thoughts were, "How could she do that? How could she leave me?" (10.12)
If we were in Sal's shoes, we would feel angry, too, that our mother had left us. But put yourself in Chanhassen's shoes for a bit. Knowing what you know now, how do you think Chanhassen Hiddle felt when she left home for the first time?
I had not said anything about what had happened the day before—about being scared down to my very bones when I thought they had left me. I don't know what came over me. Ever since my mother left us that April day, I suspected that everyone was going to leave, one by one. (11.3)
We are struck by how much fear Sal lives with on a daily basis. She must be scared all of the time. What's worse, she doesn't feel she can tell anyone about her fears. She keeps them all bottled up inside.
The morning after my father learned that my mother was not coming back, he left for Lewiston, Idaho. Gram and Gramps came to stay with me. I had pleaded to go along, but my father said he didn't think I should have to go through that. (16.11)
Do you think it was right for Sal's father to not let her come with him to Lewiston? Put yourself in Dad Hiddle's shoes. Why do you think he made that decision?
On the day after he found out she wasn't returning, he flew to Lewiston, Idaho, and when he came back, he spent three days chipping away at the fireplace hidden behind the plaster wall. Some of the cement grouting between the bricks had to be replaced, and he wrote her name in the new cement. He wrote <em>Chanhassen</em>, not <em>Sugar</em>. (18.20)
You know what's weird? We never really learn how exactly Dad Hiddle feels right here. Is he sad, angry, or scared? Sal won't tell us. However, in describing the way that he spends three days chipping away at a fireplace, we understand that he is feeling all of those things. Sometimes a person's actions speak louder than words, and Dad Hiddle hacking at that fireplace tells us much more than a few adjectives ever could.
Besides, I was too busy throwing the most colossal temper tantrums. I refused to move. I would not leave our farm, our maple tree, our swimming hole, our pigs, our chickens, our hayloft. I would not leave the place that belonged to me. I would not leave the place to which, I was convinced, my mother might return. (18.22)
We don't blame Sal for being so upset. It would be really hard to leave the only home you've ever known, let alone all the things that remind you of your mother. Knowing what you know now, why do you think Sal was, at this point, so convinced that her mother might return home?
At last, he took down the For Sale sign and put up a For Rent sign. He said he would rent out the farm, hire someone to care for the animals and the crops, and rent a house for us in Euclid. The farm would still belong to us and one day we could return to it. (18.23)
Dad Hiddle is so full of grief that he wants to make sweeping changes to his life. He wants to leave behind everything that reminds him of his wife. However, he learns to compromise. Instead of making drastic changes, he makes a temporary change. Instead of forcing change, he lets change happen the way it wants to happen, and leaves room to take back his decision.
Then he said, "Sal, you're trying to catch fish in the air. Your mother is not coming back." (19.15)
This is the first time that we hear Sal's father directly tell her that her mom is not coming back. Does Sal believe him at this moment? We also love the way Dad Hiddle talks, using colorful expressions like, "you're trying to catch fish in the air," which reminds of the mysterious messages that are left on Phoebe's doorstep.
Phoebe looked over his shoulder and read his note aloud: <em>I had to go away. I can't explain. I'll call you in a few days</em>. (20.28)
Why doesn't Mrs. Winterbottom tell her family in person that she is leaving and that she'll be gone for a few days? This is another moment in which Mrs. Winterbottom reminds us very much of Sal's mom when she left home. Maybe it's just too hard to say goodbye.
My father came to the doorway and said, "People usually come back."
Now I can see that he was just talking in general, just trying to be comforting, but then – that night – what I heard in what he said was the tiniest reassurance of something I had been thinking and hoping. I had been praying that a miracle would happen and my mother would come back and we would return to Bybanks and everything would be exactly as it used to be. (20.47-48)
It's amazing that Sal is still holding on to the hope that her mom might come home one day. She really can't accept this huge change in her life. She needs help – someone to talk to – and it seems like she can't really talk to her dad, even though she loves him.
I was uneasy because everything that happened at Phoebe's that morning reminded me of when my mother left. For weeks, my father and I fumbled around like ducks in a fit. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. The house took on a life of its own, hatching piles of dishes and laundry and newspapers and dust. (22.14)
So much of the change that Sal experiences is completely and totally out of her control. And that makes it hard to cope with. What do you do when the life you knew is turned upside down? Well, one thing Sal learns is that, although she can't always control change, she can control the way she reacts to it.
My father put his arms around her and they smooched and it was all tremendously romantic, and I started to turn away, but my mother caught my arm. She pulled me to her and said to me – though it was meant for my father, I think – "See? I'm almost as good as your father!" She said it in a shy way, laughing a little. I felt betrayed, but I didn't know why. (6.32)
Why does Sal's mother say this at this moment? Why does she catch Sal by the arm? Do Sal's parents remind you at all of the Finneys right here? Is there something darker going on?
Did he actually <em>kiss</em> my collarbone? And if he did, why did he do that? Was the kiss supposed to land somewhere else, like on my mouth, for example? That was a chilling thought. Had I imagined it? Maybe he merely brushed against me as he was rolling off the bed. (9.19)
Sal and Ben. Sittin' in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. Kissing is really tricky and awkward at first for Sal and Ben, but that doesn't stop either of them from trying. A lot.
I had an odd sensation, as if a little creature was crawling up my spine. It wasn't a horrible sensation, more light and tickly. I thought maybe he dropped something down my shirt. "Let <em>go</em>!" I said, and finally he did. (11.29)
Sal's whole entire body reacts and responds whenever she's around Ben Finney. Her senses get super sharp, which makes for some fun descriptions.
And when I told Gram and Gramps about flinching when Ben touched me and about how I went home and found Dad in the garage, Gram unbuckled her seat belt, turned all the way around and leaned over the back of her seat. She took my hand and kissed it. Gramps said, "Give her one for me, too," and so Gram kissed my hand again. (12.10)
Why does Gram kiss Sal's hand when Sal tells them about her flinching? What does it mean that Sal flinches whenever someone tries to touch her? Could this have something to do with her mother, and the way Sal's life has changed?
Later, when I went to see Gram, she was all tucked up in bed, pale and sleepy. Next to her on the narrow bed, Gramps was lying on top of the covers, stroking her hair. A nurse came in and made him get off the bed. He had, by now, put his pants on, but he looked a wreck. (15.44)
Gram and Gramps are so in love. They've been married for so long, and they are each other's best friends. Even if Sal's mom and dad didn't get to spend the rest of their lives together, it must give Sal comfort to see an example of a great love and romance in her grandparents.
He looked away and then said, "I like your hair."
"I was thinking of cutting it."
Is Tom Fleet flirting with Sal Hiddle? And why does Sal tell him that she's thinking of cutting it? She told us she loves her long hair. Also, it's worth noting that both Ben <em>and</em> Tom compliment Sal's hair. It must be pretty darn nice.
"Just okay?" Mrs. Winterbottom suddenly leaned over and kissed Phoebe's cheek.
"I'm not a baby, you know," Phoebe said, wiping off the kiss. (17.8-9)
Oh geez, Phoebe, why do you have to be such a pain in the butt? Mrs. Winterbottom doesn't make huge demands of her family. In fact, it seems like all she wants to do is love them and talk to them. They don't even let her do this. Why do you think that is?
I thought she might change her mind, or at least tell me when she was leaving. But she did neither of those things. She left me a letter which explained that if she said good-bye, it would be too terribly painful and it would sound too permanent. She wanted me to know that she would think of me every minute and that she would be back before the tulips bloomed. (18.17)
At this moment, we realize that Sal's mom had intended to come home all along. She only intended to leave home temporarily. But why is it easier for Sal's mom to tell her this in a letter rather than in person?
He took my hand and stared at it for the longest time. His own hand was soft and warm. Mine was sweating like crazy. He was saying, "Hm" and tracing the lines of my palm with his finger. It gave me the shivers, but not in an entirely unpleasant way. The sun was beating down on us, and I thought it might be nice to stay there forever with him just running his finger along my palm like that. (20.17)
Oooooh! Sal's in love. Or maybe she's not in love, but she sure does like Ben Finney. It's funny how she doesn't admit to us that she likes him, but she describes everything that she is feeling in her body. So we know exactly how she feels about the guy.
"The good news is that you let me hold your hand for almost five minutes and you didn't flinch once." (20.19)
Ben Finney is so sneaky and romantic. He teaches Sal how not to flinch when someone tries to touch her. This is a pretty awesome lesson, and he's a very good teacher. Ben seems really different from other thirteen-year-old boys we know. He seems older and wiser, kind of like how Sal is more mature than most thirteen-year-old girls. Perfect match.
I took a quick look at him and turned back to the door, but in that instant that I was turning my head, he leaned forward, and I do believe his lips kissed my ear. I was not sure this was what he intended. In fact I was not sure it happened at all, because before I knew it, he had hopped down the steps and was walking away. (20.21)
Another near-miss kiss! Time seems to speed up whenever Sal is around Ben Finney. We like that Ben is so persistent and keeps trying to land a successful kiss on Sal, even if his aim could use some work.
"Sometimes you know in your heart you love someone, but you have to go away before your head can figure it out." (24.4)
Once again, Gramps and Gram are the masters of giving advice without making it seem like they are giving advice. Here, Gram is telling Sam about the time she almost left Gramps for the egg man. In telling Sal about why she left Gramps, she's also helping Sal understand why her own mother might have left her.
I don't know what came over me, but I almost reached up and touched his face. My heart was thumping so loudly that I thought he would be able to hear it. (26.26)
Sal is getting brave when it comes to love! Not only has she stopped flinching whenever someone tries to touch her, she's starting to get more courageous about reaching out to other people.
From the back window, I watched Mrs. Finney climb a ladder placed against the garage. On the roof, she took off her jacket and spread it out. A few minutes later, Mr. Finney came around the back of the house and climbed up the ladder. He lay down on the roof and put his arm around her. He kissed her. (26.26)
Mr. and Mrs. Finney are so in love. Through them we get to understand what Sal's mom and dad would be like if they were still together. Both the Finneys and the Hiddles have great romances.
Kissing was thumpingly complicated. (31.6)
"Sonny, I've been by her side for fifty-one years, except for three days when she left me for the egg man. I'm holding on to her hand, see? If you want me to let go, you'll have to chop my hand off." (41.3)
Gramps is determined in the face of possibly losing the love of his life. Here, we really get to see just how much he loves Gram and the fact that he'll always be by her side.
Gram and Gramps knew that I wanted to see Momma, but that I was afraid to. (2.5)
Even though Sal doesn't tell anyone about what she is scared of, Gram and Gramps know exactly what she fears most. (Basically, they are rock star grandparents) Why is Sal afraid to see her mom? It seems like she's a bundle of mixed emotions. That must be a lot for a thirteen-year-old girl to handle.
I prayed that we would not be in an accident (I was terrified of cars and buses) and that we would get there by my mother's birthday – seven days away – and that we would bring her home (2.10).
Sal prays quite a bit, but she doesn't pray for material things like clothes or popularity or fame. Instead, she asks for very simple and human things: safety, love, peace, and comfort. More than anything, she wants her family to get back together.
I, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, was afraid of lots and lots of things. For example, I was terrified of car accidents, death, cancer, brain tumors, nuclear war, pregnant women, loud noises, strict teachers, elevators, and scads of other things. But I was not afraid of spiders, snakes, and wasps. (3.19)
There seems to be a pattern in the things that scare her. For example, most of the things in this list have to do with death or deadly and dangerous situations. By far, her strangest fear is of "pregnant women." What's that all about?
What I have since realized is that if people expect you to be brave, sometimes you pretend that you are, even when you are frightened down to your very bones. (3.21)
Have you ever heard of that phrase, "fake it till you make it"? Well, maybe that's what Sal is talking about right now. At this moment, we begin to understand that, however she may seem to other people, Sal is frightened down to her very bones.
Phoebe's parents were out, and Phoebe went all around the house checking to make sure that the doors and windows were locked. Her mother had already done this, but she made Phoebe promise to do it as well. (8.11)
Call us crazy, but Euclid, Ohio doesn't seem like the most dangerous place on the planet. Phoebe and Sal's neighborhood is as peaceful and boring as they come. So why are the Winterbottoms so into locking their doors and keeping things out?
Phoebe thought the messages were spooky. It was not the words that bothered her – nothing too frightening there – it was the idea that someone was sneaking around and leaving them on her porch. She worried that someone was watching their house, waiting for the right moment to leave the message. Phoebe was a champion worrier. (11.8)
Yes, she is indeed a champion worrier. However, we can't help but think that we would be just as worried if we found mysterious messages on our doorstep. It's a little bit weird. Plus, we don't get the feeling that the Winterbottoms get out much, so it's probably hard for them to imagine who would leave these messages for them.
"I do believe it has had a snack out of my leg." She stared hard at Gramps. (15.29)
Imagine you suddenly get bitten by a snake. Would the first words out of your mouth be, "I do believe it has had a snack out of my leg?" If a snake bit Shmoop, we'd probably say something like, "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" Gram is pretty brave and tough. She makes us look like a four year-old girl. No offense to four-year-old girls.
I think fear had made us all a little cantankerous. I had spent the night in the waiting room. Gramps offered to get me a motel room, but I was afraid that if I left the hospital, I would never Gram again. (16.3)
Have you ever experienced a situation in which you or the people around you were so scared that you got kind of grumpy and frustrated? Fear totally does that to people, as strange as it sounds. But why do you think fear makes people cantankerous? Why not sad or worried or nervous?
Gramps was right, but I was disappointed. I was ready to call my father. I wanted very much to hear his voice, but I was also afraid that I might ask him to come and get me. (16.8)
Sal is so scared of losing her grandmother that she's afraid she might not be able to control what she says to her dad on the phone. It's almost like she knows that other people think she's brave, and she doesn't want them to think any different.
It surprised me when she said that, reminding me that I had told Phoebe nothing about my mother. "Yes, I suppose I would go live with her." That was impossible and I knew it, but for some reason I could not tell Phoebe that, so I lied. (17.3)
Phoebe is Sal's best friend, and Sal hasn't even told her that her own mom has left. What's up with that? Why lie to Phoebe in this moment? How do you think Phoebe would react if Sal told her the truth about her mom?
I took a good long look at Phoebe's mother. She did not seem capable of phoning the police or Mr. Winterbottom. I think she was more scared than we were. She went around locking all the doors. (19.44)
Through Sal's description, we realize that Mrs. Winterbottom is a total wreck at this moment, but we don't yet know why. In fact, do we ever learn why? Do you think she's actually afraid of a lunatic, or has she guessed about her long lost son?
My mother did not drive. She was terrified of cars. "I don't like all that speed," she said. "I like to be in control of where I'm going and how fast I'm going." When she said she was going all the way to Lewiston, Idaho, on a bus, my father and I were astonished." (23.5)
No matter what she says, we think Chanhassen is so totally brave. On that road trip to Lewiston, she has to confront her biggest fears. Similarly, Sal confronts her own fears of cars and roads by going on a road trip with Gram and Gramps. Do you think Chanhassen would think it was worth it to face her fears, even though she died as a result?
"Gentle?" I said. "It's terrifying." My voice was shaking. "Someone is walking along the beach, and the night is getting black, and the person keeps looking behind him to see if someone is following, and a jing-bang wave comes up and pulls him into the sea." (29.5)
Even though Sal tries to cover up the fact that she has so many fears, these fears pop up in other ways. For example, when she is discussing Longfellow's poem "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" in class, she interprets it as being a poem about death. Her classmate, Megan, thinks that the poem sounds gentle, like it's trying to lull someone to sleep. This is why English class is so cool: two people can read the exact same poem and come up with totally different interpretations of it. Our life perspective, our fears, and our dreams often play a part in how we view and understand works of literature or art.
But the other half of me was a quivering pile of jelly. I could see our car bursting through the railing and plunging down the cliff. As we approached each curve, I could see us smashing straight on into a truck or a camper. Every time I saw a bus, I watched it sway. I watched its tires spin dangerously close to the gravel at the road's edge. I watched it plunge on, eating up the road, defying those curves. (35.4)
Notice how colorful and vivid Sal's language becomes here. She uses words like, "quivering," "jelly," "bursting," "plunging," "smashing," "plunge," "eating," and "defying." Sal's imagination plays a very big part in fueling her fears, in keeping her fears alive. She feels everything so deeply. For the most part, her imagination is a good thing, because it helps her to walk in other people's moccasins. Sometimes, however, it causes her a lot of anxiety.
After driving for so long through the flat South Dakota prairie, it was a shock to come upon the Badlands. It was as if someone had ironed out all the rest of South Dakota and smooshed all the hills and valleys and rocks into this spot. (23.9)
Oh, Sal. You are the best storyteller ever. We can totally imagine what the Badlands must look like thanks to your description. We imagine a giant person with a huge iron their hand, ironing out the South Dakota plains, making puffs of steam every once in a while. Want to see an actual picture of what Sal is talking about? Take a look.
Right smack in the middle of the flat plains were jagged peaks and steep gorges. Above was the high blue sky and below were the pink and purple and black rocks. You can stand right on the edge of the gorges and see down, down into the most treacherous ravines, lined with sharp, rough outcroppings. You expect to see human skeletons dangling here and there. (23.9)
Once again, Sal's vivid imagination really helps us experience what she is seeing. Words like, "jagged," "steep," "edge," "treacherous," "sharp," "rough," and "skeletons" make the landscape seem violent and menacing. The "pink and purple and black" colors of the rocks remind us of the colors of a bruise. This seems like a beautiful place to visit, but definitely a scary one, too.
The Black Hills were not really black. Pines covered the hills, and maybe at dusk they looked black, but when we saw them at midday, they were dark green. It was an eerie sight, all those rolling dark hills. A cool wind blew down through the pines, and the trees swished secrets among them. (28.10)
Once again, Sal describes the landscape in a menacing way. The word "eerie" reminds us of ghosts and mysterious occurrences. Why do you think she chose to use this word, "eerie," to describe the Black Hills? Here's a picture of the Black Hills so you can get an idea of what she's talking about.
She used to tell me about the Black Hills which were sacred to the Sioux Indians. It was their Holy Land, but white settlers took it as their own. The Sioux are still fighting for their land. I half expected a Sioux to stop our car from entering, and the thing is, I would have been on his side. I would have said, "Take it. It's yours." (28.11)
Sal suggests that the painful history of white settlers stealing from the Sioux is still very fresh and alive. She can feel this history all around her. She can feel the past. She feels the injustice of what has happened to the Sioux and how they have been treated, and she's totally on their side.
We drove through the Black Hills to Mt. Rushmore. At first we didn't think we were in the right place, but then, jing-bang, it was right before us. There, high up on a cliff face, were the sixty-foot tall faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, carved right into the rock, staring somberly down on us. (28.12)
Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt don't seem to be having such a good time up there in the mountain if they are "staring somberly down." Mount Rushmore is a huge American landmark, but Sal doesn't seem impressed with what she sees. Why not?
It was fine seeing the presidents, I've got nothing against the presidents, but you'd think the Sioux would be mighty sad to have those white faces carved into their sacred hill. I bet my mother was upset. I wondered why whoever carved them couldn't have put a couple Indians up there too. (28.13)
Once again, Sal considers the history that surrounds her, that is alive in the Black Hills. She puts herself in the shoes of the Sioux people and imagines how devastated they must feel to see their sacred hills carved away. Her unique ability to step into someone else's moccasins also makes her very good at questioning history.
It was late when we arrived at Yellowstone. All we got to see that evening was a hot spring. We walked on boardwalks placed across the bubbling mud ("Huzza, huzza!" Gram said), and we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn in a Frontier Cabin. I'd never seen Gram so excited. She could not wait for the next morning. "We're gonna see Old Faithful," she said, over and over. (32.2)
Of all of the places on their road trip, Gram seems the most excited about seeing Old Faithful. Why do you think this is? Do you think maybe she knows that her health is failing, and that this is her last chance?
The sign said that Old Faithful was due to erupt in fifteen minutes. More and more people gathered around the rope. There were people of all ages: little babies crying, grannies sitting on folding stools, teenagers plugged into radio headsets, couples smooching. There were people speaking languages other than English: next to us was a tour group of Italians; across the way was a group of Germans. (34.12)
Sal notices a cool thing about Old Faithful and about landmarks in general: they bring people from all different backgrounds and places together – teenagers, older people, foreigners, babies and more. She seems pretty impressed by this gathering of people. How do we know this? Well, she makes a point of giving us a very thorough and detailed description of the kinds of people around her.
More steam, boiling and hissing, and a huge jing-bang spray of water surged out, climbing and climbing, and then more and more, until it looked like a whole river of water was shooting straight up into the air. "It looks like an upsidey-down waterfall!" Gram said. All the while there was a walloping hissing, and I could have sworn the ground rumbled and trembled underneath us. The warm mist blew toward us and people started backing away. (34.19)
Sal is totally impressed by Old Faithful. It's so impressive that people start to back away, as though a little bit afraid. Old Faithful is an example of just how incredible and powerful nature can be. After all, we don't see a whole river of water shooting out of the ground everyday. It's landmarks like Old Faithful that help us remember how cool nature is and how incredible the American landscape can be.
The detour through Pipestone wound through a cool, dark forest and if you closed your eyes and smelled the air, you could smell Bybanks, Kentucky. (12.19)
Sal uses all of her senses to tell a story. She almost teleports to Bybanks simply by breathing. It must be really comforting for Sal to smell a smell that is so familiar and that reminds her of the home she misses so much.
"It's a water moccasin isn't it?" she said. It's a poisonous one, isn't it?" The snake slithered and wriggled, straining toward the water. (15.29)
Nature is not always kind, even though Sal and her family love it and respect so much. In fact, it can be lethal; you could argue that this snake causes Gram to die.
Outside the hospital, I heard the warbling of a bird, and it was such a familiar warble that I stopped and listened for its source. Bordering the parking lot was a rim of poplars. The sound was coming from somewhere in the top of one of those trees, and I thought, instantly, of the singing tree in Bybanks. (16.9)
Once again, nature helps transport Sal to her beloved hometown of Bybanks, Kentucky. By noticing nature and using all of her senses, Sal is able to feel closer to home. And feeling closer to home comforts her more than anything else.
Next to my favorite sugar maple tree beside the barn is a tall aspen. When I was younger, I heard the most beautiful birdsong coming from the top of that tree. It was not a call; it was a true birdsong, with trills and warbles. I stood beneath that tree for the longest time, hoping to catch sight of the bird who was singing such a song. I saw no bird – only leaves waving in the breeze. (16.10)
When was the last time you noticed birds singing? Sal has such wonder for the natural world around her, and it seems to have started at a very young age. She even knows the difference between a birdcall and a birdsong. Plus, her vivid imagination makes it seem like the tree itself is singing. What a mysterious occurrence.
The longer I stared up at the leaves, the more it seemed that it was the tree itself that was singing. Every time I passed that tree, I listened. Sometimes it sang, sometimes it did not, but from then on I always called it the singing tree. (16.10)
It's almost as though this tree has a life of its own. It's a magical tree! Sal seems to be very connected to this tree and to the songs it sings. Is it a source of comfort? Of joy? Is it just a matter of curiosity?
That day I climbed up into the maple and watched the singing tree, waiting for it to sing. I stayed there all day and on into the early evening. It did not sing.
At dusk, Gramps placed three sleeping bags at the foot of the tree, and he, Gram, and I slept there all night. The tree did not sing. (16.11-12)
While the singing tree has been a source of comfort and wonder to Sal, it becomes a source of pain and sadness when it does not sing. This seems to be an example of how nature can be cruel just as often as it can be kind. It's almost as though Sal feels like, in addition to her mom leaving her, the tree has left her, too.
That night I tried to write the mini journal for Mr. Birkway. First I made a list of all the things I liked, and they were all things from Bybanks – the trees, the cows, the chickens, the pigs, the fields, the swimming hole. It was a complete jumble of things, and when I tried to write about any one of those things, I ended up writing about my mother, because everything was connected to her. At least, I wrote about the blackberry kiss. (20.1)
Sal's love of nature is deeply connected to the love she has for her mother. When her mother leaves, she turns to nature for comfort and for sense of purpose At the same time, it also reminds her of the painful fact that she has lost her mom for good.
I thought about a baby rabbit that our dog, Moody Blue, caught and carried around—she was not actually lunching on the rabbit, just playing. I finally coaxed Moody Blue to drop it, and when I picked up the rabbit, its heart was beating faster than anything. Faster and faster it went, and then all of a sudden its heart stopped. (22.21)
We could argue that Sal's greatest fear is death, so this moment, when she has one of her first encounters with death, is particularly interesting. Yes, it's a wild bunny rabbit that dies and not a human being, but Sal seems truly affected. She learns that death is a part of nature and a part of life. Moody Blue didn't mean to kill the bunny, but the bunny died anyway.
I told Gram and Gramps a story that my mother had told me about the high sky, which looked higher here than anywhere else I had been. Long ago, the sky was so low that you might bump your head on it if you were not careful, and so low that people sometimes disappeared right up into it. People got a little fed up with this, so they made long poles, and one day they all raised their poles and pushed. They pushed the sky as high as they could. (23.12)
Sal's mom tells her lots of stories, and most of these stories have to do with nature and explaining why nature is the way it is.
I said, "It isn't normal to die. It isn't normal. It's terrible." (29.12)
Sal is really upset by Longfellow's poem "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls." All her short sentences make her seem angry. Why do you think the poem upsets her so much?
The way Mr. Birkway read this poem, you could hear the tide rising and falling, rising and falling. In the poem, a traveler is hurrying toward a town, and it is getting darker and darker, and the sea calls to the traveler. Then the waves "with their soft, white hands" wash out the traveler's footprints. (29.3)
The word "hurrying" here makes us think of all the times in Sal's story when she feels the need to rush. Throughout her road trip to Idaho, "the air screamed, <em>hurry, hurry, hurry</em>" (12.17). Just as the traveler in this poem is hurrying toward a town, Sal is hurrying toward her mom in Idaho. However, there are certain times when Sal doesn't feel the need to hurry anymore. What happens to make her feel this way?
I prayed all night long to the elm tree outside. I prayed that we would not get in an accident, that we could get to Lewiston, Idaho, in time for my mother's birthday, and that we would bring her home. Later I would realize that I had prayed for the wrong things. (32.5)
This is one of the only times in which we get a very clear picture of Sal's relationship to nature, and, more specifically, to trees. She actually prays to the elm tree, feeling that it has the power to help her. She believes in trees. She has a spiritual connection to them. Later, when Sal sees her mother's grave for the first time, she hears a bird singing a birdsong in the willow tree nearby. She kisses the bark of the willow tree, as though saying goodbye to her mom. Trees are mighty powerful beings in Sal's eyes.
I certainly do know heaps of stories, but I learned most of them from Gramps. Gram suggested I tell one about my mother. That I could not do. I had just reached the point where I could stop thinking about her every minute of every day. (2.18)
At this moment, Sal describes the act of thinking about her mom almost like a disease that she is trying to cure. Even though she does not directly say, "I am in such pain," we can tell she is totally heartbroken. We also get the sense from this moment that storytelling is a huge part of how the Hiddles live. Gram and Gramps tell stories and love to hear stories, perhaps because they know it's a good way to heal.
And then I started thinking about the blackberries, and I remembered a time my mother and I walked around the rims of the fields and pastures in Bybanks, picking blackberries. We did not pick from the bottom were for the rabbits, my mother said, and the ones at the top were for the birds. The ones at people-height were for people. (6.18)
It seems like a lot of Sal's memories have to do with things that her mother has taught her about the world – things like how to pick blueberries and why Moody Blue would distance herself from her puppies after so many months.
It's surprising all the things you remember just by eating a blackberry pie. (6.33)
Sal uses each of her five senses to help her remember some of her most favorite and most important memories. The senses have a huge connection to memory. Can you think of other memories in which the senses play a huge role?
I was thinking of something my father once said to my mother, "We'll fill the house up with children! We'll fill it right up to the brim!" But they hadn't filled it up. It was just me and them, and then it was just me and my father. (9.21)
It seems like one of Sal's most painful memories is the memory of her mother giving birth prematurely to her baby sister and losing the baby. Because this is such a hard memory for Sal to process, she tries to remember everything leading up to and following this memory so she can understand it better. At first glance, this memory of her father talking about children is a happy one. However, when we learn more with Sal's help, we realize that it's actually very sad.
What I started doing was remembering the day before my mother left. I did not know it was to be her last day home. Several times that day, my mother asked me if I wanted to walk up in the fields with her. It was drizzling outside, and I was cleaning out my desk, and I just did not feel like going. "Maybe later," I kept saying. When she asked me for about the tenth time, I said, "No! I don't want to go. Why do you keep asking me?" I don't know why I did that. (17.16)
Why do you think Sal kept refusing to go on a walk with her mom? Why is she kind of mean to her mom here? Do you think she has any idea that something is up?
I didn't mean anything by it, but that was one of the last memories she had of me, and I wished I could take it back. (17.16)
Have you heard of that phrase, "hindsight is 20/20"? It means that when we look back on a moment in the past, we have a perfect view of what was going on at that moment and what that moment will lead to. But this is only because we've lived out the past already; at the time, we couldn't have seen any of these things. Sal's hindsight is 20/20 in this moment, because she deeply regrets not treating her mother better, and wishes she had.
Phoebe said, "Are these cheerleading tryouts such a big deal? Will you even remember them in five years?"
"Yes!" Prudence said. "Yes, I most certainly will." (17.32-33)
Will you, Prudence? Will you really? While Prudence wants more than anything to be part of the cheerleading team, Sal wants more than anything to see her mother again. They are very different young women with very different priorities.
Three weeks later he put the farm up for sale. By this time he was receiving letters from Mrs. Cadaver, and I knew that he was answering her letters. Then he drove up to see Mrs. Cadaver while I stayed with Gram and Gramps. When he came back, he said we were moving to Euclid. Mrs. Cadaver had helped him find a job. (18.21)
How do you think Sal's memories of this time change (if they change at all) once she learns who Mrs. Cadaver really is? Sal's memory of this time period seems overly simplified and very general. She doesn't want to ask her dad what is really going on between him and Mrs. Cadaver.
That day, as Mr. Birkway talked about Greek mythology, I started daydreaming about my mother, who loved books almost as much as she loved all her outdoor treasures. She liked to carry little books in her pocket and sometimes when we were out in the fields, she would flop down in the grass and start reading aloud. (19.22)
Don't you think it's interesting that Mr. Birkway reminds Sal of her mother? It's an unlikely comparison, but it goes to show just how much Sal remembers every little detail about her mom, from the little books she carries in her pocket to the way she moves.
As she approached the corner of the barn where the sugar maple stands, she plucked a few blackberries from a stray bush and popped them into her mouth. She looked all around her – back at the house, across the fields, and up into the canopy of branches overhead. She took several quick steps up to the trunk of the maple, threw her arms around it, and kissed that tree soundly. (20.4)
Sal doesn't tell us how she felt to see her mom kissing a tree, but we can guess that she loved it. How do we know Sal feels this way? Well, she just describes this scene with such detail and with such a love, as though she wants to do justice to every little aspect of it – her mom's behavior and the scenery.
At home, my father was slumped over the photo album. He used to close the album quickly when I came in the room, as if he were embarrassed to be caught with it. Lately, however, he didn't bother to close it. It was as if he didn't have the strength to do that. (20.42)
Why would Dad Hiddle be embarrassed to be caught with a photo album? We think it's interesting that we never catch Sal looking at it, too. Instead, it's like her whole imagination is one big photo album.
On the opened page was a photo of my father and mother sitting in the grass beneath the sugar maple. His arms were around her and she was sort of folded into him. His face was pressed up next to hers and their hair blended together. They looked like they were connected. (20.43)
Poor Dad Hiddle. He is so sad. It's very interesting to get to peek at the photo he's been looking at. We realize in this small moment what a great romance he had with Chanhassen Hiddle. They were so in love.
Sometimes, I would walk around the room and look at each of these things and try to remember exactly the day she had given them to me. I tried to picture what the weather was like and what room we were in and what she was wearing and what precisely she had said. This was not a game. It was a necessary, crucial thing to do. If I did not have these things and remember these occasions, then she might disappear forever. She might have never been. (30.51)
Here, Sal directly tells us why she thinks of her memories so often. In remembering every detail of her mother, she can hold onto her. Do you agree that Sal should keep these memories alive? Do you think she should let these memories go and say goodbye to her mom? Do you think these memories hurt her, help her, or both?
I prayed that we would not be in an accident (I was terrified of cars and buses) and that we would get there by my mother's birthday – seven days away – and that we would bring her home. (2.10)
For a thirteen year-old girl, Sal seems to have a lot of fears, especially fears about dying. She is scared of cars and traveling, just as her mom was scared of cars and traveling. But are their reasons for that fear the same?
I, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, was afraid of lots of things. For example, I was terrified of car accidents, death, cancer, brain tumors, nuclear war, pregnant women, loud noises, strict teachers, elevators, and scads of other things. (3.19)
Is there a common link between all of these fears that Sal has? Why does she fear these things in particular, do you think? Notice that the first things on her list all have to do with death.
"Her name is Mrs. Cadaver, right? Have you ever wondered what happened to Mr. Cadaver?"
"I never really thought about – "
"Well, I think I know," Phoebe said, "and it is awful, purely awful." (4.57)
It's amazing how nothing more than a woman's name can totally convince Phoebe that the woman is an axe-murderer. We later learn that Mrs. Cadaver is definitely not an axe-murder, but that she has had to cope with the death of her husband. How does this insight into Mrs. Cadaver change how you feel about her? Did you think she might have been an axe-murderer at first?
I had not said anything about what had happened the day before – about being scared down to my very bones when I thought they had left me. I don't know what came over me. Ever since my mother left us that April day, I suspected everyone was going to leave, one by one. (11.3)
When Sal talks about people leaving her here, we get the feeling that she's not simply referring to people taking off for the grocery store or to go on a long trip. We get the sense that Sal is talking about a more permanent kind of leaving – death.
I used to think about that raft a lot, and I actually believed that one day we might build a raft and float away down a river together. But when she went to Lewiston, Idaho, she went alone. (11.53)
Chanhassen Hiddle leaves Sal twice. The first time she leaves her, she promises to come back and tells her she's just going on a road trip. But the second time Chanhassen Hiddle leaves Sal, she leaves forever.
Gramps always ends this story by saying, "That bed has been around my whole life, and I'm going to die in that bed, and then that bed will know everything there is to know about me." (12.42)
That bed certainly has been around a very long time. It has basically witnessed Gram and Gramps' entire marriage. There's something very special about it, almost as though it has come to represent Gram and Gramps' life together. Will it continue to hold this meaning after Grams has passed away?
They had three other sons at one time, but one son died when a tractor flipped over on him, one was killed when he skied into a tree, and the third died when he jumped into the freezing cold Ohio River to save his best friend (the best friend survived but my uncle did not). (18.2)
How can Gram and Gramps be so full of life, so happy when they have endured so much pain and sadness? How do you think they see death?
Later, when I was doing my homework, I found myself doodling in the margin of my English book. I had drawn a figure of a woman with wild hair and evil eyes and a rope around her neck. I drew a tree, fastened the rope to it, and hung her. (19.19)
Sal is a little bit morbid at times. Here she's drawing Mrs. Cadaver. Later on, in Chapter 26, she draws a similar image of Phoebe with a rope around her neck. What do these little doodles tell us about Sal?
I took a good long look at Phoebe's mother. She did not seem capable of phoning the police or Mr. Winterbottom. I think she was more scared than we were. She went around locking all the doors. (19.43)
What is Mrs. Winterbottom so scared of at this moment? What do you think is her greatest fear? Is she afraid of being killed by a lunatic?
My mother, my father, and I all seemed fine and happy at our house until the baby died. Could you actually say that the baby died, since it had never breathed? Did its birth and death occur at the same moment? Could you die <em>before</em> you were born? (27.36)
These are hefty thoughts for someone to have at such a young age. How does Sal's baby sibling's death affect her? How are things different after this baby dies?
I went barreling on as if it was my poem and I was an expert. "The waves, with their 'soft, white hands' grab the traveler. They drown him. They kill him. He's gone." (29.7)
Here, we get Sal's interpretation of the poem "The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Do you agree with her reading of it? Take a look at the poem and tell us what you think.