Friday, October 03, 2008

'old yeller' and grief

"Your mother told me about the dog" remains one of the best understated lines I've ever come across in a children's book.

The line comes of course from "Old Yeller," one of the best stories ever told in the English language about a boy and his dog. The book is set in Texas, not long after the Civil War. The boy's name is Travis, his little brother's name is Arliss; and the dog comes into their lives while the father is on a cattle drive up north. Even if you've never read the book, you probably know what happens to the dog, and what Travis' mother told his father once he returned from the cattle drive.

My daughter Evangeline didn't cry when Old Yeller died,* but then she didn't cry over "The Bridge to Terabithia" either.

It was something of a surprise to me that she didn't cry when Travis had to shoot the dog, but then she does internalize a lot of her grief and then express it through other ways, particularly in art.

When we lost Isaac, she took to drawing with a passion she hadn't shown in months. When we attended her grandmother's funeral, Evangeline merely grew very quiet when it was time to scatter her ashes, and said nothing at all on the subject until a few hours later, when she finally broached the subject with me in private.

She has inadvertently reminded me of something a friend had said once, about God reaching out to children through their imaginary friends.

Until her grandmother died, none of Evangeline's stuffed animals mattered much at all to her. Then, suddenly, she bonded to a handmade stuffed rabbit she had had since she was born, which she calls Cinderabbit. Evangeline has slept with Cinderabbit every night since Grandma's funeral, and for a while took her everywhere she went as well.

As Rykie observed with her imaginary friends, so I have seen with Evangeline and Cinderabbit. Cinderabbit demands nothing in return from Evangeline for the comfort she gives. She stays as close as Evangeline wants, loves her unconditionally, and listens to the moans and sighs Evangeline doesn't know the words to express. She couldn't be any more real if her coat were made of velveteen.

* She isn't a John Wayne fan, either.

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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