Friday, November 27, 2009

Here's To You, Mrs. Morrow

I used to get tonsillitis all the time as a kid. Once, when I was home sick from school, my mom gave me a couple of books to read. One was Lord of the Flies. The other was The Catcher In the Rye.

I enjoyed Lord of the Flies, but it was The Catcher In the Rye that really made an impression on me. I know there are plenty of people who hate the book, for various reasons, and I won't argue that here. I will tell you though that I loved the book then and I still do. It's my absolute favorite. After that first time, I would pick it up every couple of years and re-read it. It felt like visiting an old friend. Every time I read it, I would discover something new. When I was younger, I found the book more amusing. I still think it's funny, but the older I've gotten, the more I understand Holden Caulfield's slow dive into a nervous breakdown. It makes me sad for him. He's such a smart, funny kid.

As I approached 40 this year I realized that I hadn't picked the book up since my son was born. It had been almost seven years since my last reading. I started to read it a few weeks ago. When I got to Chapter 8 I realized that I was reading the book from a whole new perspective- from a mother's perspective. I'd noticed it a bit earlier in the reading- knowing how I would feel if my son was getting kicked out of his fourth high school for instance. But in Chapter 8 we meet the mother of a student at Holden's school. Mrs. Morrow.

One thing that I have always loved about the book is that Salinger really gets inside a teenage boy's head. Or, a teenager's head for that matter- I certainly identified with Holden Caulfield. It all feels very genuine. What surprised me this time is that he sort of gets moms too. Granted, we're looking at a mother from a teenage son perspective, but it feels pretty real to me. And, as small of a character as she is, I find myself identifying with Mrs. Morrow this time around. She is riveted when Holden is talking about her son (Holden points out that 'all mothers want to hear about what a hot-shot their son is'. Yes. It's true.). She is concerned about Holden's bloody nose and underage drinking. And, of course, horrified when she thinks he has to undergo an operation. I finished Chapter 8 feeling like, if I were to have a similar encounter with a teenage boy on a train, the conversation would probably be just about the same (minus the rocks and the beach house with the tennis court, of course).

There is something reassuring about the fact that, almost 60 years later, mothers are essentially unchanged. I suppose it's also comforting to realize that, for the most part, teenage sons understand their mothers. Something I will have to remind myself of when my kid turns 16, I'm sure. So here's to you, Mrs. Morrow. Thanks for loving your son to a fault, caring about other mother's sons, and giving the rest of us something to aspire to. I'm just sorry that it took me over 20 years to really notice you.

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