9 Jan 2016

Painting ain't work

“Say—I’m going in a swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work—wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why ain’t that work?”

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it aint. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”

“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

The brush continued to move. “Like it? Well I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth—stepped back to note the effect —added a touch here and there—criticised the effect again—Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

“No—no—I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence—right here on the street, you know—but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.

“No—is that so? Oh come, now—lemme just try. Only just a little—I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”

“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly—well Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it—”

“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say—I’ll give you the core of my apple.”

“Well, here—. No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard—”

“I’ll give you all of it!”

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face but alacrity in his heart.

Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer

Tom didn't want to paint his fence. Aunt Polly told him to do it, but Tom found a way to get his friends to finish it for him. He pretended to be the only one who could do the job as well as his aunt wanted; he pretended to be enjoying it. Then they all wanted a turn. Tom even received payment from them for the 'privilege', in the form of their small treasures. It is perspective that defines something as fun or drudgery.

Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.

Jemimah dad has read Tom Sawyer, and it certainly showed today. He made Jemimah find old clothes to wear if she wanted to paint. He told her she couldn't paint in her shoes, so she fashioned some out of plastic shopping bags ( the height of fashion). He told her she couldn't paint without sunscreen, so she found some. He told her she needed to tie her hair back, so she did. By then she was desperate to get out there.

The two of them have been out scrubbing back and painting that fence for much of the afternoon. They're having an absolute ball together, and they're doing a wonderful job covering up the ugly graffiti that the local hoons chose to gift us with over Christmas.

Painting a fence with Daddy is so much better than sitting inside with an iPad, or even reading a book. Theyre outside. They're working together as a team. They're having fun getting a job done well. They're creating whimsical memories of nice times together.

Painting fences, climbing trees, fishing in streams, camping out, running away from grownups, finding buried treasure - they're all adventures of childhood, and they're things we all dream of doing. Which is probably why Tom Sawyer has remained popular for so long. Tom lives life to the full, and he has fun, and never really gets into trouble. Well, I'm kind of glad the things that happened to Tom never happened to me - or to Jemimah - but I guess that's why I liked reading about him doing them while I was snuggled safely in my living room, but you get the idea.

Classics are classics for a reason. Their messages are timeless; the friends contained in their pages are timeless. Tom is Jemimah's friend, but he's also her daddy's. And through the pages of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain has taught us all lessons we need to know. Like how to get your daughter outside to paint the fence with you. And how to make her think that it is not drudgery but fun. And while you're at it, Tom can also teach you how to make her think the idea was hers and not yours. Hah! Booyah! (Jemimah might just have taught me that one.)

Is Tom your kids' friend too?



  1. I loved it as a young girl, and I hope to read it to the girls soon!

  2. I loved it as a young girl, and I hope to read it to the girls soon!

  3. How lovely, Jeanne. What a beautiful day your two had together.

    My boys don't know Tom yet - but I can't wait until they do! Thanks for sharing the sweet memory.

  4. Thanks a lot for sharing, it is great.

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