I've been reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for quite some time now, slowly but surely. Today I was able to read big chunks of it while sitting in waiting rooms at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and on the way home from Chicago, and I fell in love with the heart of Francie's character again. This may be long, but here's an excerpt from the conversation Francie and her brother Neeley are having on their roof on New Year's Eve:
"Neeley, let's go up on the roof," said Francie impulsively, "and see how the whole world looks at the beginning of a year."
"Okay," he agreed.
"Put your shoes on first," ordered Mama, "and your coats."
They climbed the shaky wooden ladder, Neeley pushed the opening aside and they were on the roof.
The night was heady and frosty. There was no wind and the air was cold and still. The stars were brilliant and hung low in the sky. There were so many stars that their light made the sky a deep cobalt blue. There wasn't a moon but the starlight served better than moonlight.
Francie stood on tiptoe and stretched her arms wide. "Oh, how I want to hold it all!" she cried. "I want to hold the way the night is--cold without wind. And the way the stars are so near and shiny. I want to hold all of it tight until it hollers out, 'Let me go! Let me go!"
..."I need someone," thought Francie desperately. "I need someone. I need to hold somebody close. And I need more than this holding. I need someone to understand how I feel at a time like now. And the understanding must be part of the holding...I love Mama and Neeley and Laurie. But I need someone to love in a different way from the way I love them...I'm young, maybe, in just being fifteen. But I'm older than those years in some things. But there is no one for me to hold and no one to understand. Maybe someday...someday..."
"Neeley, if you had to die, wouldn't it be wonderful to die now--while you believed that everything was perfect, the way this night is perfect?"
"You know what?" asked Neeley. "You're drunk from that milk punch. That's what....I was drunk myself, once."
..."What did it feel like?"
"Well, first the whole world turned upside down. Then everything was like--you know those cardboard toots you buy for a penny, and you look in the small end and turn the big end, and pieces of colored paper keep falling around and they never fall around the same way twice? Mostly though, I was very dizzy. Afterwards I vomited."
"Then I've been drunk, too," admitted Francie. "Last spring, In McCarren's Park, I saw a tulip for the first time in my life."
"How'd you know it was a tulip if you'd never seen one?"
"I'd seen pictures. Well, when I looked at it, the way it was growing, and how the leaves were, and how purely red the petals were, with yellow inside, the world turned upside down and everything went around like the colors in a kaleidoscope--like you said. I was so dizzy I had to sit on a park bench....And I've got that same feeling here on this roof tonight, and i know it's not the milk punch....I don't need to drink to get drunk. I can get drunk on things like the tulip--and this night."
"I guess it is a swell night," agreed Neeley.
I love these characters. They are so vivid and colorful and full of life and humanity and rawness. I love how they're unfolding.