Good morning, friends! First and foremost, I have to wish a very happy birthday to my friends Kate and Kate! Three of my best childhood friends have birthdays a few days apart in September, and, even though I don’t get to celebrate with all of them every year, I think just the memory of all of those birthday parties makes September feel festive and fun. This probably sounds ridiculous since, as I said here before, I celebrate my birthday for pretty much the entire month, but I don’t feel like I’m another year older until these ladies have joined me. So, now, I’m officially 29.
Which didn’t seem that old until I was re-reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and realized it: Katie Nolan, the worn-out, past-her-prime, mother of two pre-teens, wife to a fairly worthless man, is 29. Twenty-nine. I used to think she was so old. And now, here I am. I think anyone who has read this book would agree that it’s Francie, Katie’s daughter’s, story. But, more and more, I am fascinated by Katie, by her steadfastness and steadiness, her inner strength, the way she knowingly chose to spend her life in hard work and strife and struggle to marry the love of her life. Betty Smith said, “Katie had a fierce desire for survival which made her a fighter. Johnny had a hankering after mortality which made him a useless dreamer. And that was the great difference between these two that loved each other so well.”
I’m all about a good love story. I adore watching a couple fight to be together and watch a woman give up her cushy, well-planned existence for her true love. But, I have to tell you, this is one love story that makes me feel tired. I want to reach through the book and grab Johnny by the collar and shake him. And I want Katie to move on. To find a man who appreciates her innate loveliness and makes her life just a little bit easier. I want her to be able to feed her children and save her pennies and buy that piece of land she dreams of. I want her not to have to fight so hard… especially not at 29!
I think this is the brilliance of Betty Smith. Katie has a 6th grade education, and I have a Master’s degree. Katie has a ten- and eleven-year-old and I have a three-year-old. Katie scrubs floors for a living on her hands and knees and I sit at a computer and type. And yet, I see myself in her. I hate the decisions she’s made, but I respect her for sticking by them. She may be in a horrible situation, but Katie realizes that she has the great privilege of being an American, which means she may have a tough go of it, but she is never, ever trapped where she is. There is always hope of something more. And at 9 or 29 or 99 that’s a very special sort of reminder.
I had to share that organ grinder picture! There’s a great scene in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn where Francie, the main character, is so fascinated by the organ grinder, and Katie gives him money in exchange for his promise to treat the monkey well! Francie begs her mom for a pet monkey, and Katie replies that she would never have a dirty monkey sleeping on her clean sheets… All moms are the same!
Wishing you all a wonderful day!