And I was laughing because I realized, that the first time I had ever read this book, was exactly a decade ago.
That's right. This little precocious reader first became acquainted with young Tom Sawyer at the age of eight, after having received his book as part of a Scholastic Book Orders (remember those?) bundle the year previously (it's companions being 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I have actually yet to read, and My Side of the Mountain, which I hold in the utmost esteem). Upon my first reading - over a cumulative week of quiet-learning periods at our Montessori summer school - I found myself unfamiliar with about half of the words inside of it... and yet, still safe and snug in the flow of the story. Despite having only just graduated the 2nd grade, I not only followed, but rejoiced in, Tom's escapades, and wound my way through all of St. Petersburg, Missouri, with him, Huck, Joe, and Becky, while my classmates sat coloring, doing math pages, or practicing for spelling tests.
Little did they know what sort of trouble I was up to. Safe inside the pages, I was far from quiet. I was fighting in the forests and in the streets, filling the cat up with painkiller, creeping into graveyards in the dead of night, paying witness to murder, lying, plotting and scheming, running away from home to become a pirate, getting trapped inside a labyrinthine cave, from which I might not ever escape... and none of my desk neighbors would ever know the difference, unless an unchecked laugh made its way through the silence of the class. And so, the daughter of a Sunday School teacher - who was not even allowed to walk through the grocery store alone - found herself a world filled with possibilities, opportunities for behaving badly, and no one could stop her.
I've read this book every summer since. My vocabulary and comprehension have grown, as is to be expected, and my tastes in literature have varied as well, and yet, to me, this book always remains the same.
This book has stuck with me throughout three different elementary schools, middle school, and high school, and has traveled with me to campgrounds, slumber parties, Sun River, and even church camps, over the course of the past ten years. I have read it EVERY SUMMER, without fail, and even a bunch of times interspersed throughout the years as well. Every crack in its spine, ridge in its covers, stain or rip on its pages, marks another trip inside the wonderful mind of Mark Twain, and another encounter with the mischievous champion of childhood, Tom Sawyer. I. Love. This. Book.
And yet, it made me cry yesterday - no, seriously cry - after I was done laughing. I realized that yes, this is a book I've been reading for the past ten summers, since I was eight... but that means, I'm eighteen. I'm going to college in less than a month. I'm growing up, shipping off, moving out... saying goodbye. I'm far passed the age for digging for buried treasure, or believing in witches. I'm trying hard to become an adult now, there's no time for dwelling in the adventures of years past. I've got to be a big girl, no more kidding around. But... does this mean, I've outgrown Tom? Is a book I've spent a decade loving now simply something I have to leave behind?
It was a major Toy Story 3 moment. Looking down at the bent cover, the well-studied artwork, and dented and creased spine, I contemplated my future, trying hard to ignore my past.
Then, with a flick of the pages, I couldn't ignore it anymore, when the crackling, yellowed paper issued the scent of freshly cut grass, reminding me of reading the book on our back patio in the summer sun, while my dad mowed the lawn. Then came the scent of hot sand, when I took Tom along to Long Beach. The scent of strawberries, when the cousins came over for a Fourth of July party and we had strawberry shortcake, and I accidentally spilled a little on a page of my book. I smelled bug spray, and sun lotion, and chlorine from a pool. I smelled the peanut butter sandwiches my mom packed for me the entirety of the 1st grade, and the mix of perfumes from the Stadium girl's locker room. This book has been with me everywhere. If it has already stuck along for the ride this far in my life... why should I give it up now?
So I decided Tom and I were in for another ten years, at least. I can't think of another book that has impacted me in such a way as this novel has. This post isn't a review, and it's not a recommendation either. It's an overly-long post, filled with effusive praise and fond memories, made while reading my favorite book in the entire world.
Thank you Mark Twain, and Tom Sawyer. Happy Tenth Anniversary.