We had book club at my house last week, and the book under discussion was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It’s a semi-autographical book that gives a glimpse of what life was like in the early part of the 20th century in the bustling area of Brooklyn. The poverty that the Nolans endure permeates the book, but there are high points and memorable characters (like Aunt Sissy) as well. It’s a coming of age book about young Francie, but other themes such as hard work, gender issues, the American dream, love, class divisions, hope, and the importance of education are there too.
As is our usual practice, we each discussed our favorite or most memorable part of the book, and mine was about the unique “mix” that Francie was. Indeed, we’re all like her in that we’re all unique combinations of our heredity, environment, and that special X factor. In a rather lengthy paragraph that begins with, “And the child, Francie Nolan, was of all the Rommelys and all the Nolans,” the author proceeds to pinpoint many of Francie’s traits and state where they came from. For instance, she got her tale-telling and compassion for the weak from her grandmother Rommely and the talent for mimicking from Aunt Evy.
Haven’t you ever wondered where you got your curly hair or your propensity for math? And what about your shyness? Is it hereditary? Look at the recent feats of Michael Phelps and consider his genetic endowment. Several commentators have mentioned his long torso, short (relatively speaking) legs, and wide arm span, all physical attributes that aid in his swimming prowess. Couple those traits with his strong drive to achieve and his hour after hour after hour practice, and you have the making of a champion. And yet, is there something else too? Something else about Michael Phelps, Francie Nolan, and you??
Further describing Francie, the author states, “She was all of these things and of something more that did not come from the Rommelys nor the Nolans, the reading, the observing, the living from day to day. It was something that had been born into her and her only—the something different from anyone else in the two families. It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life—the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike.’
You’ve gotta love that!