25 December 2015

A Christmas for Finding Oneself

The Tuckers: The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel
The Tuckers series began in 1961 with the publication of the Whitman book The Wonderful House, in which they move into the big old house on Valley View Avenue. They were a typical 1960s literary family: working father, stay-at-home mother, five rambunctious kids under twelve, loving grandparents, and an assortment of friends. The kids got into usual foibles: rivalries, mistaken impressions, summer vacation adventures, arguments, but family love always wins through.

The Cottage Holiday revolves around Penny, the shy seven-year-old of the children, who catches cold easily and is always being pampered. But she doesn't revel in the attention; she inwardly resents it. She wants to play with her brothers and sisters and be part of family activities, and she wants to know what her part is in the scheme of family dynamics: Tina's domestic, Terry's clever, Merry's musical, Tom's sensible, but what is she? Then she makes an idle wish: she would like to spend Christmas at the family's lake cottage, where they could all participate on an equal footing. Surprisingly, her doctor says she's well enough to do so as long as she takes precautions, and suddenly the family is off for a winter adventure that includes a marauding cougar, a missing calf, an abandoned baby, and the sheer fun of finding a Christmas tree, making treats for one another, and playing in the snow with their lake neighbors Mel and Butch Smith.

This is of a similar domestic theme to Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, but the story is more simply told with a more limited vocabulary that often makes the dialog stilted. Yet Penny's wish to participate more fully in her family's activities shines through the story like a beacon, and the final pages will make you misty eyed. It's more introspective than the other books in the series and that serves to make the story more timeless. A yearly treat for me.

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