You can read in a book about Huck and you can read about his interaction with his good friend Tom but I’m here to tell you it’s a strange, almost eerie feeling to just before the witching hour, go about and walk it. It’s now 12 midnight – the very first day of fall – and it’s nice outside. We had some rain earlier and it cooled off the air. And yet, inside the boyhood bedroom of Sam Clemens, the room is hot. I’m leaving the side door open for the night just to try to get some fresh air. The point is that Sam, at least in the summer, or for that matter even on a cool night like tonight, would have slept with the window open. He would have been able to hear that cat call. And with his friend Tom Blankenship just down the back door path, he would have most certainly expected it – especially considering the fact that it was considered improper to be seen with Blankenship in ‘decent’ company during the day.
I’ve roamed up onto nearby Cardiff Hill and I’ve seen the gravestones at night – also under the curious half-light of the witching hour. Sure, there was a sign that said not to – but I couldn’t resist. To walk in Tom and Huck’s shoes, or in their case – lack thereof. To see what they saw. To feel what Clemens and Blankenship felt. To hear what they heard. The crackles of those nearly crisp, pre-fall leaves, late at night. Can one put a price on that?
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
For me this trip defines freedom. I’ve learned on this visit to Hannibal via a speech by author Ron Powers that Twain gave us as Americans the right to embrace our own peculiar language. To celebrate it.
I celebrate this night with the ghost of Mark Twain. I’m the second person to sleep over at his house since 1912 and the only person to sleep in his proper boyhood room. In the exact spot where he laid his head for the years that molded his wildness, that shaped his imagination, and that raised him up into the greatest American writer this side of the Atlantic.
In a handful of hours I will depart. I will lift my canoe and my gear and place it back in the water. I will look back at Twain’s Americana, shake a few hands, and I will cry.
And then I will open my eyes and see it – from what I’m told just down river – the wildness of the Mississip… The freedom that comes from placing a canoe in the water and letting her glide.