Crying over Charlotte

When I was in the third grade, Mrs. Turner, one of my very favorite teachers of all time, read aloud “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White.  It was after lunch.  She would turn the lights off and we could put our heads down and listen.  I was thankful for that, because when it got to the end, I cried and cried under the cover of my arms.  I think it was the first time a book touched me so deeply.

Earlier this month we had the privilege of taking the littles to see the very same story at the Grand Opera House in Macon.  It was well done, and we all enjoyed it.  And yes, I cried.  Over so much.

Charlotte's Web, written by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams from http://www.thegrandmacon.com/web/
Charlotte’s Web, written by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams from http://www.thegrandmacon.com/web/

Today at Sister Circle we talked about webs.  About connectedness.  We had a ball of yarn, and we passed it around.  What if someone is kind to me, and then I’m kind to you, and you’re kind to the lady in line at the grocery store who goes home and helps her son with his homework instead of fussing at him for not having it done.  Each person held on to the string.  And with just a few passes of kindness we had a web.  And then we did the same thing with grumpiness and anger and hurtful words.  Also a web.  Just not a good one to be a part of.

Everything we do is a part of the web of feelings that get passed around one to another each day.  We do not live in a vacuum.  Our emotions are not self-contained.  They leak out and touch everyone around us and eventually even those who aren’t around us.

As we talked about webs, the conversation moved to a synopsis of “Charlotte’s Web.”  We all had heard the story, but not everyone remembered it well.  Miss N said, “I know it’s about a girl…..and a pig.”  Yes.  Fern. And Wilbur.

And then there’s Charlotte.  The spider.  Who shows up when Wilbur is lonely and really wants a friend.  When he is really in need.  And then, she announces herself.  I remember this scene because it was when I first learned the word “salutations.”  What a fabulous word.

And then, just as Wilbur was settling down for his morning nap, he heard again the thin voice that had addressed him the night before.
“Salutations!” said the voice.
Wilbur jumped to his feet.  “Salu-what?” he cried.
“Salutations!” repeated the voice.
“What are they, and where are you?” screamed Wilbur.  “Please, please, tell me where you are.  And what are salutations?”
“Salutations are greetings,” said the voice.  “When I say ‘salutations,’ it’s just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.”                 –E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by writing words in her web about how fantastic he is.  She assures him that the plan will work, saying “Most people will believe almost anything they see in print.”  And so she weaves.
“But we have received a sign, Edith – a mysterious sign. A miracle has happened on this farm… in the middle of the web there were the words ‘Some Pig’… we have no ordinary pig.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Zuckerman, “it seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.”                      –E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
In the end, Charlotte does save Wilbur’s life with her weaving of beautiful words to describe Wilbur’s character–“Some Pig,” “Radiant,” “Terrific,” and “Humble.”    Wilbur is thankful, but he doesn’t understand why Charlotte would do all of this.
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”  
                                 –E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
Beautiful.  Words that have stuck with me all these years.  The true gift of friendship.
As we talked about webs today, I asked each woman what word would she like to see above her door–what word could give her the strength to get out of bed on a hard day?  What word could fill in the blank here:  “I can make today happen because someone thinks I am __________.”
a good listener
a good friend
a treasure
a giver
All of these and a few more wove their way into our conversation.  All traits that we would like others to see in each of us.  We also talked about how we can be a “word web weaver” for others.  Sharing a smile, a kind word, a hug.  “Yeah, ’cause you can’t fake a hug,” said Miss P.  Well, ain’t that the truth.
I thought about what we shared on the way home this afternoon.  About the words being woven by others for us.  And I realized that Mama was my Charlotte.  She gave and encouraged and loved, asking for nothing in return.  I used to talk to Mama on the phone at least twice a day.  She never failed to call me out when I was self-disparaging OR misbehaving.  But she was the quickest to praise and to remind me I was a gift from God.  She could make me believe I was all of those things above, and so very much more.  I rarely had to ask her to help me feel better.  Somehow she intuited that I needed a lift and she found just the right words.  Even when I didn’t want to hear them, when I wanted to wallow for a moment or two longer, she was having none of it.  She made me feel irreplaceable and treasured.
I miss her.
This morning I woke up tired and knew that didn’t bode well for my day.   I’ve been trying to put a finger on why my heart is heavier than usual, and why I am floundering in trying to decide what my “next adventure” should be.  Not even.  Let’s back up to trying to garner up the energy to even begin thinking about a “next adventure.”  And then it hit me this afternoon.  As I drove down I-75 on the route to Byron, one I have travelled so many times from the time I was very small, with the sun hitting my windshield just so and the beautiful and haunting, “Say Something” playing on the radio, I realized.   I miss my Charlotte.  She saved my life on more than one occasion with her words and her wisdom and her letting me and anyone else who would listen know that she thought I was pretty wonderful.  Selfish, yes.  But I miss her encouragement.  And her wrinkled nose smile that said, “I love you.”  And her hugs.  Miss P was right, there’s no faking those.  Over the years I went from reaching up to bending down to hug her, but that didn’t make any one of them any less precious to me.
In missing my Mama, I don’t mean to negate the love of my family and friends, and I hope I don’t hurt or offend.  Just as Charlotte left hundreds of little eggs-soon-to-be-spiders with Wilbur when she left this world, Mama left me a great gathering of beautiful people who love and support and encourage.  But they are not my Charlotte.  The one who saw the need even before I realized.  The one who cut off any chance of my being hurt that she could prevent.  The one who told me to go rest while she took care of me.  The one who lived her life loving others with every fiber of her being.
In the words of E. B. White:
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself.”
As was Mama.  A rare combination of grace, sass, spunkiness, and love.  Anytime I mentioned that I owed her for something, she’d quote from the TV show, “Facts of Life.”  (And I’m paraphrasing here.)  “You owe the gas company, you owe the electric company.  You don’t owe your friends.  You love them.”
Yes ma’am.
Tonight I’m thankful for the time I had my Charlotte in my life.  I miss her labels she put on me, and the way she never let me forget whose baby I was and always will be.  I know I’m lucky, some folks never have that.  I’m thankful for our Sister Circle, where we can share and learn to be Charlottes for each other.  Most of all, I’m thankful for the tears.  As I heard a physical therapist say today, “Pain is good.  It means all the nerves are waking up, and the pain can be dispersed.”  One day, maybe, it won’t hurt so much.  But today it does.  And that’s okay.  It has to be.
And so today, for a bit, I weep over the loss of Charlotte, just as I did in 1977 in the classroom at the old school down the hall from the auditorium.  I bury my face and I cry, and one day, Mr. Shakespeare, I hope to find that you speak the truth.
Wishing for a Charlotte in each one of your lives.  Love to all.

6 thoughts on “Crying over Charlotte”

  1. I first read Charlotte’s Web aloud to my son when he was in kindergarten. Charlotte was growing tired when we turned out the lights one night. When I woke up the next morning, he had finished the book without me. Worried how my sensitive child would respond to the ending, I asked him about it. “Charlotte died,” he said. I asked if that made him sad. “That was sad, but it was okay because she had hundreds and hundreds of babies who hatched and flew away, so that made it better,” he said. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I’m sorry you’re sad.

    1. What a beautiful way to see the story! Thank you for sharing your son’s point of view. So sweet. And wise, don’t you think?
      The sadness comes with the territory. Learning to live without the one put a label over my head and helped me live up to it. Every single day. If I didn’t miss her, that would be the real loss, wouldn’t it? Thank you for your kind words and support. Some days are better than others. And that’ll do for a Wednesday.

  2. Hey Tara. Wish I could give you a hug, though it would only help a tiney, tiny bit. I still miss your “Charlotte.” Praying that you have strength and energy to move into a new adventure. I believe God will answer that prayer for you – in His time. It’s okay to weep for awhile.

    1. “You can’t fake hugs” Miss Sue, and you give some of the best. One day we will share one together again. Thank you for loving and missing her too. And thank you for the grace in allowing me to weep. I do long for the day when the answer is clear–right now everything seems so muddled and my mind and dreams jump from one thing to another or just fizzle out, depending on the day. So I really appreciate your prayers. Hugs to Mr. Bill. And to you. I love and miss you.

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