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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.
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