- All Times in One
Though time cannot stand still and really must not, as the Tuck family of Natalie Babbit's Tuck Everlasting knows, it can be held—held in objects as simple and as glorious as a dinner plate, a box of coins, a wooden toy and a carving of stone, objects that hold memories and stories, and with those time. For more than clocks and calendars, stories are the heart of human time and its surest measure.
Though he cited no examples in Motif Index of Folk Literature, Stith Thompson identified a vital motif regarding the holding of time in D1366: Magic Object Causes Memory. While he may have had in mind literal magic, such as Sylvester's pebble or Alice's looking glass, the motif forever functions on another and expansive level. With memory the shimmering weft of story, each object that sparks a remembrance brings forth a story, brings back another time and becomes a magical vessel of time in our eyes. It is a motif true to our daily lives, and as such, a central theme in four lyrical and individual works of fiction, all of which deal with objects and memory, each also functioning as metaphor for the reader's relationship to a long favored story. The works are Sharon Bell Mathis The Hundred Penny Box, Doris Gates' Blue Willow, M.B. Goffstein's My Noah's Ark, and Alan Garner's The Stone Book.
Mathis' great great Aunt Dew, Gates' migrant girl Janey and Goffstein's ninety-year-old narrator are each distinct by locale and biography, yet are still kindred spirits, for all hold time in favored objects. All see their objects as does a fourth related character, young Mary in Garner's novella The Stone Book, when she "sat by the fire and read the stone book that had in it all the stories of the world and all the flower of the flood" (60). Though it was of ancient stone, what put all the stories of the world into her stone book was Mary's father-directed journey into an ancient cave and the stories—past times—she experienced there the day she received the stone book. It is a stone book holding all the stories of the world to Mary—her magic object causing memory—only because she has invested the stories and memories into it just as have the other characters holding time—Aunt Dew in her hundred penny box, Janey in her blue willow plate, and Goffstein's nonagenarian's wooden Noah's ark. Just as the Little Prince's rose in St. Expupery's The Little Prince gained its special beauty through his caring and emotional investment, each character's favored object gains time by her investment of memory and becomes a sculptural anthology to be shared, with stories as the medium.
Janey's blue willow plate is beautiful to her in part for its design, but primarily because it holds past and present times together, and the future as well. F or it represents all hopes for a normal home where the plate can be properly displayed again, as it was before the depression turned them from land owners into itinerant hired help.
"To begin with," writes Gates as she gradually establishes the magic of Janey's object, it
had belonged to Janey's great great grandmother, so it was very old. Then it had belonged to Janey's mother. But that was a long, long time ago before that mother had died and Mom had come to take her place. The memory of her mother was so shadowy to Janey that if she tried to hold it even for a second, it faded away altogether. It was like a bit of music you can hear within yourself, but which leaves you when you try to make it heard. Mixed up with this faint memory were Mother Goose rhymes and gay laughter and a home of their own. And because the willow plate had once been a part of all this, it had seemed actually to become these things to Janey. It was the hub of her universe, a solid rock in...