You may recognize Garth William’s illustration above from E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web. This is from the portion of the beloved tale of friendship when Fern and Avery spend their summer days hanging around their Uncle Homer’s farm. The brother and sister run from the kitchen after eating blueberry pie to swing on a rope from the barn loft. E.B. White not only seemed to remember childhood and its great sense of wonder, but he also seemed to genuinely respect the people living it.
I suppose I was about seven years old the first time I read this book. It was the first book that made me cry, and not just a few silent tears slipping past my cheeks. You can hardly classify this as realistic fiction, but there is something so poignant and deeply true about White’s thoughts on the importance of the right people in our lives at the right time. It is a story which still speaks to bravery and loyalty and selflessness, even to an audience of six, seven, eight and nine year olds.
As my nine year old and I are re-reading excerpts for our narration and dictation work, I was struck by a passage in a new way. I chose this part of the story specifically because it contained a sentence that had struck my seven-year old self as just and true. But as a much older adult, the application had grown much rounder and more robust.
Mothers for miles around worried about Zuckerman’s swing. They feared some child would fall off. But no child ever did. Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will. p. 69
At seven, eight, nine, ten years old I remember the comfortable feeling of stubborn satisfaction I felt at having an adult express my capability. Forty years later, I suspect Mr. White may have subtly been straddling the fence with layered meanings.
Certainly children can climb higher than we think they can, but they also may hold on to swings and siblings’ hands and ideas and values and teaching tighter than parents think they will.
At least, with some emerging adults in my care, I live in hope and faith that this is the case. Although proverbs do not always ring true in every case, I have the comfort of the words of Scripture:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Although as I imagine Fern swinging from the old barn rope, I like E.B. White’s way of expressing it as well.