When it actually happens, you’ll know it because angels will descend from the heavens and belt out the Hallelujah Chorus with great enthusiasm. Alas, I have not yet managed to get my 5, 7 and 9 year old boys to pick up after themselves. No matter how many times I remind, threaten, bribe and just about break down in tears, these little people can’t seem to remember to put their dirty clothes in the hamper, bring their cereal bowl into the kitchen when they’re done eating, or consistently flush the toilet. And I won’t even begin going into the frustration of getting them to clean their room.
Matt is a boy as well, but a boy from a very different time. He’s not quite 13 when Elizabeth George Speare begins telling his story in The Sign of the Beaver, but he must take on the responsibilities of a man twice his age when he travels with his father into homesteading territory in Maine to stake out some land and build a home. Once the small house is completed and the corn is planted, Matt’s father heads back to Massachusetts to collect Matt’s mother and sister. The trip is expected to take no more than seven weeks. SEVEN WEEKS! A 13 year old boy left alone in the woods for to fend for himself for 7 weeks! I can’t even leave my 10 year old for ten minutes to run to the store to get milk without worrying that he’ll burn the house down around himself!
Matt, however, lived in a very different time than do my boys. A 13 year old boy was expected to perform nearly the same duties as a grown man. He helped his father build their one-room homestead cabin, assisted in the planting of crops, and participated in the process of collecting food stores and wood. He not only had to wash his own dishes, he first had to make his dishes. I recently gave my oldest son the experience of not getting to use any dishes or utensils for an entire day when he pitched a fit about having to empty the dishwasher. I should have had him whittle his own plate and bowl.
Once alone, Matt did do some of the things I would expect my boys to do were they in his situation– like leaving the door of the cabin open when he went off to fish. The bear who intruded and got into some of his precious food stores certainly did appreciate it, though. And I pray that if any of my boys (it would mostly likely be my middle child) decided to climb up a tree to acquire some honey from a bee hive, someone might be watching out for him, as was the case with young Matt.
Matt’s silent guardian had been watching him from a distance for some time, and fortunately was keeping an eye on him at that fateful moment when Matt upset a bee hive and suffered an attack from an angry swarm. Had the Indian chief not been nearby, Matt would likely have died. The relationship fostered between the young homesteader and the grandson of the Indian chief make up the bulk of the story. It is a beautiful story– a great story for boys. It’s hard to find a really good boy story– one that is rich in life lessons and weak on flatulence.
The Sign of the Beaver is my new favorite book for boys, and I highly recommend it for any boy of any age, especially those that might think themselves too young for real responsibility. Okay, so my boys are no closer to voluntarily bringing their dishes in from the dinner table, or hanging up their flippin’ coats when they’re done with them. But I have hope that with some dilligent love and correction, I might someday at least have the peace of mind to leave them home alone when I run to the store to replenish the milk stores. Maybe.