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Huck Finn Saves Lives
1924- It was like any other hot summer day in the small beach town just outside of Savanna, Georgia. Kids were running around playin’ with kites and hoppin’ all over the place on their pogo sticks. Business was booming in the town due to the heat wave that was creeping in. The beaches were packed, local ice cream shops were running out of all the good flavors, and everyone was ready to relax. It seemed that all was right in the quaint town. But it wasn’t. Far from it, actually.
Jack Matthews was sitting underneath a giant oak tree in the park. He had fallen asleep while reading Huckleberry Finn again. When he stirred from his slumber, he knew he had made a giant mistake. He gathered his blanket and book and sprinted home. His mind raced harder than his heart. Oh, the old man is gonna give it to me, all right. Late again! Damn!
Jack’s brown hair flopped across his golden eyes as he bolted home. His muscles ached but he didn’t stop running. He was the son of the town’s local drunk. Everybody knew, but no one said anythin’ outta respect or somethin’ like that. Jack’s daddy was always beating on him, his momma, and his baby sister Ruthie. The only reason Jack put up with Ol’ Walter, that’s his daddy’s name, was because he knew if he left his momma and sister, they would get a lot more than beatings. Really and truly they didn’t get it so bad anymore; Jack stepped in and protected them most of the time. He was a good kid. Not to bright, but he was always reading. Probably wanted to focus on someone’s life other than his own.
The night that Jack ran home, well, Jack got it pretty bad that night. He ended up with a black eye, split lip, and a deep welt across his tanned muscular back. Walter favored the belt in the summer time; he didn’t have to exert as much energy. Of course Jack would be alright, he always healed up okay. He went to bed without supper that night, but he didn’t mind, as long as little Ruthie was safe. He would take as many beatings needed to keep her safe. Jack wasn’t like other eighteen year old boys. He had no plans to go to college, settle down, or get married. His only goal was to keep his momma and sister alive.
It smelt of coffee in the house when he woke up the next morning. Jack hated coffee. His daddy’s breath reeked of it when he yelled in his face. As Jack threw on some jeans and pulled on a shirt he told Ruthie to get her things. He took Ruthie out to play on the beach. It was hot and sticky outside. At only nine o’ clock it was already 80 degrees outside. The stinging welt on his back still ached, but it was summer, Jack always loved summer. The sun felt good on his skin, the ocean called his name, and the best part was the girls always wore less. Jack dropped Ruthie off at the McCullen’s home so she could play for the day. He had everything he needed, his favorite book, Huck Finn, in his back pocket and a plan to meet up with his best friend, Mary.
Mary and Jack understood each other. Mary’s daddy was abusive too. Not as bad as ol’ Walter, but she still had some scars on her. Today she wore this great little skirt and blouse. Mary had a picnic basket waiting for them in the park. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cold drinks, they toasted to life. Clink Clink. Mary was the only friend Jack had ever had. Probably because she was the only one that understood what he went through.
“So how’s the eye doing?” Mary asked him.
“Oh, this Ol’ thing? It’s not that bad. Is it?” Jack inquired.
“Oh no. I’ve seen your daddy do a lot worse.” She said without hesitation.
The two of them sat there in the park for a while listening to the ocean and the laughter of children. An experience that their childhood’s never gave them. Jack’s daddy had been a drunkard from the earliest days he could remember. Jack used to be scared of him, but now he’s just scared for his baby sister Ruthie. She is only ten and she had 117 scars, last time Jack counted.
Jack planned to go back home before supper to help his momma clean up. He would come back for Ruthie later. He was not expecting what he saw when he got home. His momma was dead, bludgeoned to death no doubt. And his daddy, well by the looks of the brain splattered across the wall, he had taken out the ol’ family gun and did what Jack wished he always would do. Jack ran outta the house and ran down the street to the local police station.
“My Ol’ man! He shot himself! He’s dead. Someone’s gotta help me! Quick! Quick!” Jack yelled to the cops as he ran back down the street to their house.
1936- It had been twelve years since Jack’s parents died. He took over his father’s job and raised his sister. Eventually he married a very gentle woman named Violet. The depression hit the Matthew’s family hard that year. Jack had thought many times of following in his daddy’s footsteps and takin’ out a gun and ending his misery. But instead, whenever he was feeling down, Jack would pull out his old copy of Huck Finn and read the inscription his daddy wrote when he had given it to him on his 13th birthday. It read:
Son, today you become a man. I know I’m not the best pop you could have. But you need to
know I love you, your momma, and your sister very much. Be a better man that I ever was. This
book meant the world to me when my Ol’ man gave it to me, and now I am giving it to you. I
love you son.
- Your daddy.
The book saved Jack’s life time and time again. He died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 77.