Oprah's Favorite Passages from The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
A cloth satchel sat on the floor next to her: embroidered, somber hued, faded.
That description is almost painterly, so much so that I felt like I could pick up that satchel. I know exactly what that satchel looks like.
Lawrence wasn't a man that got hung up on ideals or lofty sentiment; he had live pragmatically as far as his emotions were concerned. He had a car and nice suits, and he had only infrequently worked for white men. He left his family behind in Baltimore when he was sixteen, and he had built himself up from nothing without any help from anyone. And if he had not been able to save his mother from becoming a mule, at least he had never been one himself. For most of his life, this had seemed like the most important thing, not to be anybody's mule.
I love this because it summarizes his character so brilliantly. POWERFUL!
What if he went to the bathroom and then she followed to wash her face and she smelled his smells? They would be stripped to their odors and sounds and habits.
LOVE this because it's a common thought rarely articulated. Nobody ever speaks about it. "Scuse me, uh if I were you I wouldn't go in that room just yet."
They were, most of them, perpetually donning and polishing their northern-city selves, molting whatever little southern town they or their families had come from five or ten or twenty years before, whatever red dirt roads or sharecropped fieldsor bragging about their families' wide porches in whatever good Negro neighborhood they'd lived in, which was just a roundabout way of demanding that Philadelphia give them their due.
That is a power-packed sentence filled with so much history.
I go down that yard every day, and every day they say, 'Nothin' for you.' I come home singingyou damn right I come in and bounce them children on my knee and try to make them laughI ain't got nothing else to give them.
And then hers:
I don't want to hear your sad stories when I have Miss Prisby looking in my drawers and cupboards every week. You wonder why I don't smile at you? You're lucky I don't stab you in your sleep. A better woman would." I'd like you to end with, " You ain't never tried to understand what it is to be a man out in this world.
I love this argument between August and Hattie. All couples argue about things they're not really arguing about. Beneath the surface of all arguments is what is really going on and that's why I love this passage so much. Amazing.
I'm getting chills right now reading it again. This book gets richer the more you read it and this is one of the reasons why. Because nobody is ever arguing about what is real. "That is an argument about my pain and my suffering and you don't see me nor understand what that's like." That's what both of them are saying. "You neither see me, nor hear me, nor understand what it's like to be me."
That man spent so much time with dead people that he hardly knew how to be with the living.
I just love that sentence.
I won't stand here and tell you what you should do but I want you to know that this ain't that. Ella ain't suffering and she ain't dying. We had that pain, Hattie, and we'll have this too, but you got to understand it ain't the same thing.
Pearl stood and took a step toward Benny, but he was sitting with his head in his hands and did not look at her. He won't love Ella, she realized. She had fooled herself into thinking that he would. "Oh!" she said aloud and sank down onto the couch.
I love this realization; that "aha!" That's how all "Aha's!" come to us. It's sort of a whisper. It forces you to, inside, go, "Oh!" or "Hm".
In that moment it was no consolation to think he was doing the right thing for her child. Best not to think at all, best to move, because if she didn't, she would fall down and she wouldn't get up again.
I highlighted that sentence because growing up... through history, through reading, through an association with great strong women, I recognize that feeling of needing to keep pushing, because if you ever stopped once to think about it, you wouldn't be able to move.
The butterflies were still alive in the Mason jar. August turned to her and said, "We gon' make it through, Hattie." She snatched the jar from the table and hurled it at the wall behind August. The two of them watched the butterflies, stunned and struggling in the broken glass.
I love the use of butterflies as a metaphor for beauty and freedom in that moment.
Next: The best line from the strangest chapter