I’m sending Jon Clinch an early thank you. The release of his novel Finn is still a week away and in preparation for that event I decided to reread The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It’s been like being reintroduced to a long lost friend.
I ran with Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Hank Morgan and many other Twain creations way back when I was a boy growing up in Detroit. They, and others, led me to places far beyond the bleak boundaries of my working class and all too often hostile neighborhood. Words were like that for me. Words were my salvation. The library was my time machine, the books lined up on those dusty old shelves my destinations. Many were the times when I wanted nothing more than to slip between the soft white pages of a book and live within forever.
But I grew up instead and many of those friends fell by the wayside, to be replaced by many others over the years. Words were still my salvation. I came to own the books on my own set of shelves, shelves that never grew dusty because they were always in use.
In my mid-thirties I found a complete set of Twain at a university library that was weeding its collection. I snatched that puppy up and went on a Twain binge, reading all the books I had never read, or even knew existed, when I was a kid. Having read and reread Tom and Huck and Hank so many times in my pre and early teens, I ignored those volumes.
It’s closing in on half a century since I ran with those boys. I started Huck yesterday and I’ve been laughing and crying and stirring up memories. I’m mid-way through Huck and Jim’s adventure now and I don’t want it to end. I want to dig out a pair of raggedy jeans, slip off my shoes, dive into the Mississippi and swim out to their raft. Smoke a pipe, catch a cat fish, pull a straw hat down over my eyes and sleep the day away on Jackson Island or debate with Jim the wisdom of “Sollermun”.
And for that I have Jon Clinch to thank.
Tom. Hank. I’ll be with you boys in just a bit, just as soon as I finish up with Huck and spend some dark moments with Pap. Keep a lantern lit. I’ll call.