Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Something I've learned this year: some books are better out loud.  Well, maybe not the book in terms of the plot.  But the book in terms of the individual words the author carefully wove together to tell it just so.  I'm pretty convinced that this new theory only applies to some books, though.  Because I'm equally convinced that many authors are blessed with the ability craft a plot like nobody's business, while only a select few have a way of making the words themselves beautiful.

Something I've learned this year: Wilson Rawls is one of those out loud authors.  Sure, I'd have probably still noticed his alliterative flair and penchant for similes if I'd quickly skimmed the paragraphs on the hunt for action verbs.  But I wouldn't have enjoyed the way each word felt leaving the tip of my tongue if I'd never experienced reading them aloud to my students.  

"For seconds his deep voice was still, and silence settled over the mountains." 

These kinds of words were just meant to be read aloud.

Something else I've learned this year: good literature needs no interpretation.  Some stories are told so well that the connections make themselves.  And so, because I never want to forget them, here are a few excerpts from Chapter 19 of Wilson Rawls Where the Red Fern Grows.

Old Dan must have known he was dying.  Just before he drew one last sigh, and a feeble thump of his tail, his friendly gray eyes closed forever.

At first I couldn't believe my dog was dead.  I started talking to him.  "Please don't die, Dan," I said.  "Don't leave me now."

I looked to Mama for help.  Her face was a white as the bark on the sycamore tree and the hurt in her eyes tore at my heart.  She opened her mouth to say something but words wouldn't come out.

Feeling as cold as an arctic wind, I got up and stumbled to a chair.  Mama came over and said something.  Her words were only a murmur in my ears.

Very gently Papa picked Old Dan up in his arms and carried him out on the porch.  When he came back in the house, he said, "Well, we did all we could do, but I guess it wasn't enough."

I had never seen my father and mother look so tired and weary as they did on that night.  I knew they wanted to comfort me, but didn't know what to say.

Papa tried.  "Billy," he said, "I wouldn't think too much about this if I were you.  It's not good to hurt like that.  I believe I'd just try to forget it.  Besides, you still have Little Ann."

I wasn't even thinking about Little Ann at that moment.  I knew she was all right.

"I'm thankful that I still have her," I said, "but how can I forget Old Dan?  He gave his life for me, that's what he did--just laid down his life for me.  How can I ever forget a thing like that?

Mama said, "It's been a terrible night for all of us.  Let's go to bed and try to get some rest.  Maybe we'll all feel better tomorrow."

"No, Mama," I said.  "You and Papa go on to bed.  I think I'll stay up for a while.  I couldn't sleep anyway."

Mama started to protest, but Papa shook his head.  Arm in arm they walked from the room.

Long after my mother and father had retired, I sat by the fire trying to think and couldn't.  I felt numb all over.  I knew my dog was dead, but I couldn't believe it.  I didn't want to.  One day they were both alive and happy.  Then that night, just like that, one of them was dead.

* * *

Two days later, when I came in from the bottoms where my father and I were clearing land, my mother sad, "Billy, you had better look after your dog.  She won't eat." ... My dog has just given up.  There was no will to live.

That evening when I came in from the fields, she was gone.  I hurried to my mother.  Mama told me she had seen her go up the hollow from the house, so weak she could hardly stand.  Mama had watched her until she had disappeared in the timber.

I hurried up the hollow, calling her name.  I called and called.  I went up to the head of it, still calling her name and praying she would come to me.  I climbed out onto the flats; looking, searching, and calling.  It was no use.  My dog was gone.

I had a thought, a ray of hope.  I just knew I'd find her at the grave of Old Dan.  I hurried there.

I found her lying on her stomach, her hind legs stretched out straight, and her front feet folded back under her chest.  She had laid her head on his grave.  I saw the trail where she had dragged herself through the leaves.  The way she lay there, I thought she was alive.  I called her name.  She made no movement.  With the last ounce of strength in her body, she had dragged herself to the grave of Old Dan.

Kneeling down by her side, I reached out and touched her.  There was no response, no whimpering cry or friendly wag of her tail.  My little dog was dead.

I laid her head in my lap and with tear-filled eyes gazed up into the heavens.  In a choking voice, I asked, "Why did they have to die?  Why must I hurt so?  What have I done wrong?"

I heard a noise behind me.  It was my mother.  she sat down and put her arm around me.

"You've done no wrong, Billy," she said.  "I know this seems terrible and I know how it hurts, but at one time or another, everyone suffers.  Even the Good Lord suffered while He was here on earth."

"I know, Mama," I said, "but I can't understand.  It was bad enough when Old Dan died.  Now Little Ann is gone.  Both of them gone, just like that."

"Billy, you haven't lost your dogs altogether," Mama said.  "You'll always have their memory.  Besides, you can have some more dogs."

I rebelled at this.  "I don't want any more dogs," I said.  "I won't ever want another dog.  They wouldn't be like Old Dan and Little Ann."

"We all feel that way, Billy," she said.  "I do especially.  They've fulfilled a prayer that I thought would never be answered."

"I don't believe in prayers any more," I said.  "I prayed for my dogs, and now look, both of them are dead."

Mama was silent for a moment; then in a gentle voice, she said, "Billy, sometimes it's hard to believe that things like this can happen, but there's always an answer.  When you're older, you'll understand better."

"No, I won't," I said.  "I don't care if I'm a hundred years old, I'll never understand why my dogs had to die."

As if she were talking to someone far away, I heard her say in a low voice, "I don't know what to say.  I can't seem to find the right words."

* * *

Papa came over and laid his hand on my shoulder.  "Billy," he said," there are times in a boy's life when he has to stand up like a man.  This is one of those times.  I know what you're going through and how it hurts, but there's always an answer.  The Good Lord has a reason for everything He does."

"There couldn't be any reason for my dogs to die, Papa," I said.  "There just couldn't.  They hadn't done anything wrong." ...

"I think it is a miracle," Papa said.  "Remember, Billy said a prayer when he asked for his pups and then there were your prays.  Billy got his pups.  Through those dogs, your prayers were answered."

"If he gave them to me, then why did he take them away?" I asked.

"I think there's an answer for that, too," Papa said.   "You see, Billy, your mother and I had decided not to separate you from your dogs.  We knew how much you loved them.  We decided that when we moved to town we'd leave you here with your grandpa for a while.  He needs help anyway.  But I guess the Good Lord didn't want that to happen.  He doesn't like to see families split u.  That's why they were taken away." ...

"Now say your prayers and go to sleep.  I'm sure you'll feel better in the morning."

I didn't feel like saying any prayers that night.  I was hurting too much.  Long after the rest of the family had gone to bed, I lay staring into the darkness, trying not to think and not able to.

* * *

"Mama," I asked, "do you thing God made a heaven for all good dogs?"

"Yes," she said, "I'm sure He did."

"Do you think He made a place for dogs to hunt?  You know -- just like we have here on our place -- with mountains and sycamore trees, rivers and cornfields, and old rail fences?  Do you think He did?"

"From what I've read in the Good Book, Billy," she said, "He put far more things up there than we have here.  Yes, I'm sure He did."