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.