Friday, April 29, 2005

Sara Crewe on Flight 105

Update as of 5/8/05: I wrote this post a few weeks ago; I've revised it very slightly and am entering it in the May Blogging for Books competition hosted at The Zero Boss.

This month's theme:
For this month's Blogging for Books, write an original blog post about one of three topics: lying, fornicating, or going home.

Background for those of you visiting for the first time: I originally wrote this post just after returning from a week-long trip home to New York to visit my dad and stepmother. I was travelling alone with my daughter; my partner stayed in Seattle, where we live, because she had to work. There's no lying or fornicating in this story, but now that I think about it, there are at least three journeys home.

I'll start at the end of the trip, because I don't want to forget about this.

The flight back East was exhausting but low-stress: it was a redeye, and Mermaid Girl slept almost the whole way and was sleepily good-natured through the two hour layover (at 6 in the morning, East Coast time. In Philadelphia. It would've almost been faster to just take the train from there to NY. But it worked out fine.)

The way back home was a different story. The plane was late, and crowded, and the flight attendents were crabby (they snapped at me for taking MG to the bathroom while they had their drink cart out. Hey, she's four, you know? She had to GO!) and after an initial nap MG was bored, bored, bored.

She drew in her new Hello Kitty coloring book. We played several dozen rounds of open-hand Crazy Eights. Open hand allows the adult to do her best to throw the game in favor of the kid, but even so the luck of the draw sometimes has its way, and after she'd lost a couple of times MG was ready for something else and started nagging me to read to her from A Little Princess.

I didn’t want to, for a few reasons:

1) She’s much too young for this book. I first read it at 7, when my favorite cousin gave it to me for my birthday, and was planning to give it to MG when she's about the same age. It is one of my favorite books in the entire world, despite (or maybe because of) a heroine who's a little too perfect: smart, wise, kind to children and servants, beautiful in a dark-haired elfin way, and a good storyteller. I love the theme of the Power of Imagination. I love the twists of fate and the Victorian London boarding-school setting. I love the Tasha Tudor illustrations in my copy. I love everything about it--MG is even named partly after the heroine--and want her to love it too and not be ruined for it by too-early exposure. But she heard me mention it one day and was entranced by the title (a princess! And with the same name as her! What's not to like?) and would not rest until I started reading it to her. Which I did, shortly before our vacation.

2) We were about to get to the Really Sad Part, wherein the heroine's fortunes plummet with Dickensian suddenness: in one swell foop, she's transformed from a pampered heiress and "show pupil," adored by her classmates and showered with love and presents by her only living parent, into a penniless orphan who barely escapes being kicked out onto the cold London streets, and spends much of the remainder of the book toiling long hours as a servant, sleeping on a hard bed in the attic, taming rats, etc. I'd been dreading this part, particularly because it looked like it would fall during our vacation, when MG was deprived of the company of her most-beloved parent. I'd managed to make it almost home without reading it, but now the time had come.

3) The book was packed in the blue backpack, which was shoved into the overhead compartment, which meant I'd have to disturb the dapper, polite, napping man on the aisle seat so I could wrestle it out of there.

But I was desperate, and there were over two hours left to go before we hit Sea-Tac, and she wouldn't be fobbed off with any of the other books we'd brought. The dapper guy in the aisle seat woke up and said he had to stretch his legs anyway, so I dragged out the book and started reading.

It was a tough go. The book's vocabulary and sentence structure are complex and require a lot of explanation, so I kept having to stop and backtrack. And MG was fidgety and distracted. Even so, when it's revealed that Sara Crewe's father is dead, and that Sara is now an orphan, and that none of the adults involved cares about her at all, only about her money, and that the only person who grieves for her is the scullery maid she's befriended, my girl got it."Do you understand what that means, that Captain Crewe is dead?" I checked in before continuing. "No more parents," MG said solemnly, her eyes big. "And what else?" I pressed, feeling heartless but wanting to make sure she understood the change in Sara Crewe's fortunes so the rest of the chapter would make sense. "No more love," she almost-whispered.

I kept asking if she was sure she wanted me to go on reading, and she kept insisting she did. So I plunged on, right up to the heartbreaking moment when Miss Minchin, the cruel, greedy headmistress, calls Sara to her sitting room to explain that henceforth she will work as a servant in the school where she had been the most privileged of students. At that point, MG called it quits, too distracted by the plane noises and the family behind us to concentrate any more. She pulled her coloring book back out and I put A Little Princess away, relieved at the end of the emotional onslaught and the shoulder strain: side-by-side in a crowded plane is not the best physical setup for reading a wordy chapter book aloud.

I was about to start in on the in-flight magazine when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the quiet guy on my right, the one who’d been mostly napping. "I just wanted to thank you for that reading," he said.

"Oh!" I'd been so focused on MG that I'd forgotten anyone else could hear us. I'd been reading pretty dramatically, trying to bring the book to life for her through the welter of Victorian verbiage; I hoped I hadn't been too loud. "Well, thank you. It's one of my favorite books," I explained.

"Mine, too," he said, which surprised me; A Little Princess is a pretty girly book; most guys haven't even heard of it. "My father used to read it to my older sister, and I always loved it. And--" at this point his voice broke, and I noticed he was holding some tissues and showed signs of weepiness underneath his sunglasses--"I'm flying back to Seattle to bury him, and hearing you read from that book, and that scene, it just--it just moved me. It was eerie, hearing that story again, right now."

So, I leave it to you: Coincidence? Fate? God? Or the spirit of Frances Hodgson Burnett, from beyond the grave?

Myself, I got shivers.


Blogger Third Street said...

What a great story. Thank you for telling it so well.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Wow..that is awesome. I love "A Little Princess". And how touching with the man behind you.

Did you see the newer movie version of the book? Did you like it?

3:33 PM  
Blogger GuusjeM said...

One of my favorite books too. Amazing that your 4 year old could sit through it and understand it - she has wonderful comprehension skills.

And amazing that you were seated next to a man who loved it too. A final "bedtime" story from his father perhaps?

4:04 PM  
Anonymous trey said...

call it what you will.. sometimes things just seem to happen when they should...

thank you very much for the story.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What a story.

I love the story too, for a lot of those reasons. Could be time to read it to Hannah :) --Sara

7:26 PM  
Blogger J. said...

one of my all time favorite books, I have shivers to.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Psycho Kitty said...

Holy cow. That is so sad and so very, very cool all at the same time. How amazing to be a part of someone getting something they needed somehow, out of the blue.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Nic said...

Wow. I love it when the universe aligns and puts someone who needs something next to the person who can give it to them. This is a lovely story.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Dani said...

I like to think there are moments when we are where we are supposed to be and this very moving story reinforces that belief. While it was emotional for that man, perhaps it was his dad's way of reminding him of some of the happy moments of their life.

I'm happy you had the chance to impact a stranger - talk about a RAOK!

6:28 AM  
Blogger Noorster said...

Such a moving story. Thank you.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my gosh, that was a tearjerker.

My Sara has got her own copy of A Little Princess with the Tasha Tudor illustrations. I tried to read it to her at 4 and tripped over the language at every turn. Sara was a good listener at 4; we'd been through a number of Moomintroll books, but A Little Princess was too hard. At 7 she was ready.

You know, I don't think it's shameless to love A Little Princess, because Sara Crewe is NOT perfect. What I have always loved about her is how tight a rein she keeps on her anger. And when she says things like "I sometimes think I could be wicked, but I COULDN'T be VULGAR." She is my role model.

love, e wein (or, as I used to sign myself when I was 7, Elizabeth Eve Sara Wein)

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoops, der. I meant it isn't SHAMEFUL.


11:04 AM  
Blogger The Lioness said...

What an astonishin, lovely thing to happen. I'm sure he was grateful. Beautiful.

Thank you for this, dahling.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Robyn said...

oh wow Els...thank you for sharing that! i'm sitting here reading blogs while Harris is watching a movie...and i started crying when i read that.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Asher Abrams said...

wow elsewhere ... thank you for sharing this.

i haven't read TLM yet, but now you've sparked my interest ...

10:40 AM  
Blogger liz said...

One of my favorite books of all time. How amazing that you could be the voice of his father at that moment. How also amazing that your daughter is able to understand and like that book.

I also read it at 7 (and at least once a year every year thereafter.)

5:48 PM  
Blogger That Girl said...

Great Story. They say that every day we are, knowingly or not, someone else's angel.

8:03 AM  
Blogger RHD said...

Spooky! But beautiful. Sometimes the divine works in mysterious ways, and sometimes strands of Karma are out there in the open for us to see. What a gift you gave each other.

I read and loved TLP as a kid, but deep down, I'd say I was more of a The Secret Garden girl, myself...

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Fate said...

Wasn't me. ;-) Cool story nonetheless. Good luck with B4B!

4:57 PM  
Anonymous vicki said...

I very much liked this entry- a wonderful story of how we impact the world when we least expect it. Thank you! Good luck in B4B!

5:09 PM  
Blogger Mamacita said...

I loved that book so dearly, I still re-read it at least once a year. I named my daughter after Sara Crewe. (No 'h' on the end!!) And if you want to see a perfect movie adaptation, please find the Wonderworks production of it; don't waste your time on any of those incredibly bad and stupid recent versions. The Wonderworks version is almost word for word like the book, with no ignorant additions and absolutely perfect casting. I mean, Miriam Margoyles (Madame Sprout!) as Miss Amelia Minchin? Perfection. And that Shirley Temple version is just plain blasphemy. Thank you for sharing this story. I will never forget it. When someone else loves the thing we also love, that is a wonderous thing indeed.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Elisson said...

Beautifully done. Congratulations on making the Top Three!

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus Greg. Padilla.
Dominican Republic

I just want let you know my deed feelings for your Job and one more thing: please remenber God love you and thanks His love
you are one of the best.

Good Look.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time I ever commented on a blog. It was one of my favorite books, too. I remember Shirley Temple as Sara as well as the more recent version, which I saw on TV just last week. Keep up the good work. Aunt E.

4:21 PM  

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