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Although we prefer to get to know people face-to-face, it is possible for someone you have only heard stories of to have the same amount of meaning to you. This is demonstrated in the book Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool,  in the relationship between the main character, Abilene Tucker, and various townspeople. They are Pastor Shady Howard, the gypsy Ms. Sadie, and, while only a memory of the past, the most important person of all: the childhood embodiment of her father, Jinx (whose given name is Gideon Tucker). Each of these relationships is special and meaningful in its own way, and contributes a large part to the overall frame of the story.

After Gideon’s sudden departure to a railroad job in Iowa, Abilene is sent to stay with Pastor Shady Howard in Manifest Kansas, where her father once stayed when he was an orphan. Although the pastor’s name strikes Abilene as ominous at first, she quickly finds that Shady is actually very nice. He does his best to provide for Abilene, and introduces her to the local townspeople. However, Abilene doesn’t find out much of an impact Shady really had on this small town’s development until she befriends the diviner Ms. Sadie.

Ms. Sadie is a long-time resident of Manifest, and whenever Abilene goes to her divining parlor, Ms. Sadie “divines” a story about Manifest to Abilene. The main character in every one of these stories is Jinx. You might be interested in how Abilene got involved with a diviner: Gideon had entrusted Abilene with a memento of his–the compass of his deceased friend Ned Gillen–but Abilene lost it and later found it on a tree in Ms. Sadie’s backyard. However, it was too high to reach, so she stepped on a porcelain pot and almost got it, but not quite. But things got worse when she was stepping down; the pot suddenly cracked under her feet. Ms. Sadie happened to notice and forced Abilene to do yard work for her, in addition to collecting strange herbs. However, Ms. Sadie would repay Abilene’s hard work by telling her stories, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes because Abilene would coax her to.

These stories left Abilene surprised and shocked at the end of every single turn. Who would have thought Ned and Jinx would set off firecrackers during Woodrow Wilson’s trip to Manifest? Who would have thought Mrs. Larkin and Jinx would be able to devise a plan to humiliate the cruel coal mine owners Devlin and Burton? Yet, crazy as they were, through all of Jinx’s mischievous plots, Shady was there for him. Knowing that Shady had looked after her very own father when he was a child quickly made Shady one of Abilene’s most trusted friends.

However, Abilene is undoubtedly most connected to her father, Gideon Tucker. And although Abilene is very close to him, I think what is interesting is that knowing about his childhood life as Jinx brought Abilene even closer to him. After hearing about all of Jinx’s crazy but magical plots alongside his friend, Ned, Abilene was opened to a whole new section of her father’s life. And while this may seem obvious, getting the whole picture of someone often allows you to get closer to them. Aren’t there so many stories where someone forgot his past, and desperately tries to find a way to get his memories back? And after the memories are retrieved, isn’t there always a sense of completion? Abilene is in the same situation here. Previously, Abilene felt uncomfortable knowing that Gideon hadn’t told her that much about his childhood and often pondered what it was like. This triggered many disturbing thoughts in Abilene’s head, such as, Did something happen with my father when he was young? Is that why he is leaving me for his railroad job? or What impact did my father have on Manifest? Why is there no trace of him here? During her time in Manifest, Abilene spent most of her time trying to answer these questions. And when they were finally answered, Abilene suddenly felt that she knew her father so much better, and that she had finally found the missing puzzle pieces to her image of her father. And she felt that her life’s yearning was fulfilled.

Many of us worry about the future–about tests, homework, classes–a little too much, and don’t really focus on the past. As Abilene showed us, there is valuable information stored in our past, and if we just spend a little time uncovering these secrets, our lives will seem a lot more meaningful and complete. The prominent religious leader Thomas S. Monson once said, “The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.”

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. Delacorte Press, 1995. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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