<Spoiler Alert – I include the last paragraph of Charlotte’s Web in italics below.>
My daughter now enjoys chapter books. She thoroughly enjoyed a children’s version of Wind in the Willows (we skipped the guns and clubs, but she knows weasels and stoats are nasty). After reading Wind in the Willows no less than twenty times, we decided to stop the broken record and read Charlotte’s Web, unsure if she would understand the ending. I remember the story from my childhood as we drove to New England, listening to E.B. White reading his own work. Rereading parts of the book as an adult, I now see (but don’t entirely comprehend) White’s mastery of the craft.
The book is great (if you haven’t read it, you must – but be warned, it’s a bittersweet tear-jerker). The last paragraph reads:
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
I wasn’t in the room when my wife read the final paragraph to my daughter but I’m told the room was completely silent. My wife looked at my daughter, who was staring straight ahead, and asked “Did you like the book?” My daughter turned, made her hands into two little claws, put on her nastiest scary wolf face, growled, then promptly burst into tears while asking “Why did Charlotte have to die?”
Maybe she didn’t get it all; but she got it. We couldn’t talk about Charlotte for a few weeks after that reading.
We still haven’t reread that book.
At the beginning of Charlotte’s Web, Fern, explains to her father that it’s not fair the runt of the litter is to be put down rather than raised. Ever since Fern discussing fairness on the farm, we have been hearing about fairness in our home (or rather unfairness). However, the concept of fairness is not quite yet understood. A typical conversation:
“It’s unfair the coffee is hot.”
“Oh, did you want hot coffee?”
“No, I don’t like coffee.”
“Do you want hot tea?”
“No, I like the warm water I have.”
“What’s not fair then?”
“That the coffee is hot.”
Which brings me to today. Just as I was about to pull into my driveway from morning errands, I noticed two tall rounded ears sticking up from the asphalt in front of my neighbor’s house. Not only were the ears sticking up, but the head seemed upright and alert. I continued past my driveway to investigate. As I neared the rabbit, it became quite clear the animal had been hit by a car. As a result of the accident, the rabbit had been skinned from the shoulders to the tail.
I decided to move the dead animal from the road.
We used to have a free-range rabbit named Maizie. Maizie moved freely around the first floor of our house. He enjoyed laying next to our dog water bowl and laid in such a way as to have the effect of one catching some rays on a hot summer day, feet kicked out to the side, leaning slightly on one elbow, just watching the world pass. “Hey Cabana Boy, drop a carrot this way. Thanks!”
The rabbit in the middle of the road was laying there in a similar fashion. I thought: Man, that’s a really wacky way to land after being hit. That’s when the rabbit turned it’s head to watch my van roll past.
This wasn’t fair.
I threw a uey, parked in my driveway and went to get a box and pair of gloves to take the rabbit to the local emergency vet to be put down. I entered my house and rather than greet everyone, I simply said “I need a box. A rabbit has been hit in the road and is still alive. I’m taking it to the emergency vet.” My wife understood why I was taking the rabbit to the vet, but my daughter only knows that animals go to the vet to get better.
My daughter asked that I repeat myself. Gruffly, I told her to go back inside. She lingered in the doorway with a hurt look on her face. I apologized and explained more slowly why I needed the box – but I used mostly the same words.
After I left, my wife explained how it isn’t fair that an animal would needlessly suffer if we have the ability to end it’s suffering.
“And then dad will bring it back from the vet?”
“No, the rabbit will get a shot and will be dead, but it will stop the hurting.”
“I thought animals went to the vet to get better.”