When I was in college and flying back and forth between Utah and California, there were 2 books that always came with me on the airplane, Jane Eyre and Cold Sassy Tree. I remember specifically my introduction to Jane Eyre, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember how I discovered Cold Sassy Tree. I do know that it has been a book I have revisited many times like an old friend, always ready to greet me with its characters and multiple storylines.
Cold Sassy Tree takes place at the turn of the century in Cold Sassy, Georgia. It centers around a boy and his grandpa. The boy, Will Tweedy, is 14 years old and experiencing life as most boys that age. He is caught between childhood and adulthood, surging with hormones, and at the point where rules are not as black and white as they used to be. He has just lost his best friend and confidante, Bluford Jackson, to a freak accident. One thing he has no doubt about, though, is his love for his grandpa, E. Rucker Blakeslee, owner of the general store, several homes, and a recent widower. Rules don’t mean much to him either, but for different reasons. Rucker feels he has lived enough years that he is entitled to do what he wants.
To prove his point, Rucker shocks his family and the town by eloping with his milliner less than 3 weeks after his wife dies. Love Simpson is young, brash, flamboyant and, Heaven forbid–a Yankee!
This causes a lot of upheaval in a town that is usually free of scandal, not to mention the embarrassment to Rucker’s 2 daughters and their families. His only ally seems to be his grandson, Will, who watches his grandpa with a mixture of fear, respect, and awe. Rucker begins stretching social boundaries more and more, even having church in his own living room to show up the ladies of the town who are not accepting of his new, much-younger wife. Miss Love, herself, is a breath of fresh air in Rucker’s life, bringing new ideas and a renewed sense of self-worth to the old man.
Cold Sassy Tree is all about good, old-fashioned storytelling. It is not trying to be something lofty, and yet, because the story is told from Will Tweedy’s viewpoint, we find ourselves discovering life right alongside him. As he deals with feelings about his grandpa, his parents, his best friend’s death, first love, elitism, racism, and other issues, I found myself transported. The fact that these issues are dealt with in an entertaining, not heavy-handed way, makes the story all the more special.
The authoress, Olive Ann Burns, died shortly after writing Cold Sassy Tree and in the midst of writing a sequel, called Leaving Cold Sassy. Sadly, and not because it was unfinished, lightening did not strike a second time with that book. The original Cold Sassy book ends very satisfactorily, as you wish the remaining characters well and thank them for the glimpse they allowed you into their lives during that hot, scandalous summer.
It is a delightful read that all ages can enjoy.