Much of the symbolism was lost on my naive reading, but the story captivated me. Growing up playing on Mozingo Creek that ran through our family farm, I could just imagine hopping on a raft and floating away without a care in the world. I even fashioned a Halloween costume that year as Huck Finn. (I was a bit of nerd, yes.)
|Mark Twain, Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer having a conversation.|
Last summer, a friend and I decided we would float away from the stress of life and headed east on Highway 36 to the home of Mark Twain. Hannibal, Mo., is a charming old town, built right on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. For the affordable price of $9, we got to tour Twain’s boyhood home, an interpretive center, Judge Clemons’ courtroom, a Norman Rockwell art gallery and an interactive museum.
Walking out of the first building, a sign pointed up the hill to Huck Finn’s house. But Huck Finn isn’t real, he’s a fictional character; how could he have a house?
The sign announced that for as long as anyone could remember, the little wood home on a stone foundation had been identified as Huck Finn’s. It further explained that Twain had modeled the redheaded character after a childhood friend who was poor, unsupervised, routinely in trouble and forbidden for the other boys to play with. This made him the most popular boy in town.
|"I'm on Huck Finn's raft!"|
Near the end of our day in Hannibal, we sat down to the riverfront and gazed across the Mississippi River to Illinois. A massive barge chugged upstream and behind us, a train rolled by, its whistle echoing off the bluffs. On the drive home, we agreed this was the highlight of the trip.
It was 2011, but the river seemed to flow with a timeless current where a steamboat captain sounded the whistle, barefoot boys ran through a cave and Mrs. Clemons called young Sam home for supper.
Mark Twain wrote his novels years after he left Hannibal, but the stories are infused with such a sense of setting that the real Hannibal and the real Samuel Clemons are interwoven with Mark Twain and Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Twain’s upbringing on the banks of the river shaped him. In turn, he formed impressions with his words that forever changed the town’s history and future.
Writers have a saying that nothing is ever wasted. Even the most painful experiences should be remembered and journaled about, to someday pull up those emotions to create a character or draft a how-to article.
Twain showed writers how to make the most of circumstances, by treasuring them in our memories and refining them over time. It’s been more than 25 years since I first read Huckleberry Finn and the book resonates deep within me.
On the Mark Twain Museum tour, as visitors move out of one building, a sign directing them to the next states, “The story continues inside.”
For Twain, and for all writers, that is certainly true.
Susan Mires lives in St. Joseph, Mo., a city rich in history. She was a reporter and editor at the St. Joseph News-Press for 10 years and now works in emergency management and as a freelance writer. She holds a degree in agriculture with a journalism minor from Northwest Missouri State University. Read more of her Reflections on the River columns at www.susanmires.com.