Monday, May 25, 2009

A favorite scene in Heidi

And if you haven't read Johanna Spyri's masterwork in a while...why the heck not?

At any rate, the not-terribly-bright child-goatherd Peter, with his inarticulate delight in Heidi's company and his frequently untamed behavior, has back-to-back moments that I get a huge kick out of. The old doctor has come to visit Heidi, much to Peter's fury, since it drives Peter crazy that every time visitors come to see Heidi, she spends her time with the visitors instead of him. So he carefully takes up a position in a little hollow behind the doctor's back and pantomimes beating the holy medical decree out of the doctor with some ferocious shadow-boxing.

And then the doctor presents Peter with the hugest, most delightful lunch the boy has ever seen in his whole grindingly-impoverished life and heads further up the Alm with Heidi to see her favorite flower-pasture.

At first Peter starts to tuck in...but then he can't help but feeling guilty about having beaten the doctor's shadow black and blue right before the doctor turned out to be the most generous person he has ever met. So finally...well, we'll let Ms. Spyri tell it herself:
...when he saw the wonderful piece of meat he trembled for joy, and peeped again to make quite sure. Slowly he put his hand into the bag, then quickly withdrew it, as if really afraid to take what was there. It had suddenly come into Peter's head how he had been standing behind the gentleman who had given him all this superb feast, and had threatened him with his fists; and sorrow for this conduct prevented him from eating his dinner with satisfaction.

After a moment or two he sprang up, and running to the hollow, again stretched out his hands in the air, and made signs of smoothing out all the motions he had before made of hatred and anger. He continued this strange action until he felt satisfied that he had obliterated all indications of unkindness, and could return to eat his longed-for dinner with a good conscience.
While I'm at it, I might as well tell you what is my single favorite moment in the whole book (and that's saying something because I love the whole thing). I doubt very much it's what you would expect...unless you know me very well indeed, in which case you probably won't be surprised.

When the doctor comes to visit Heidi, she races halfway down the mountain to meet him, expecting Klara to be with him. Alas, Klara has been too ill to come on this visit, and Heidi is disappointed; but she is far too good-mannered and likes the doctor far too much to pout and whine about it. So they go on up to the hut, and there the doctor tells Heidi and her grandfather the whole story -- and "then he whispered in Heidi's ear that something would soon come up the mountain that had travelled with him from Frankfurt, and that its arrival would give her much more pleasure than the old doctor's."

They have lunch there on the mountainside, taking a couple of pages to do it, and then they spot a man toiling up the mountainside with a huge load on its shoulders. It is an immense load of presents for Heidi from Klara:
There was a long, thick mantle, with a warm hood attached, for Heidi to wear, instead of being wrapped in the sack, so that the little girl could walk by herself when she visited the grandmother. Then came a thick, soft shawl, for the blind woman to wrap about her in the cold weather, when the wind whistled so fiercely about the cottage. Then came the great box of fresh cakes, which also was intended for the grandmother, and following upon it, a huge sausage. This Klara had at first intended solely for Peter's consumption, because he never had any change from the black bread and cheese; but she decided after further consideration, to send it to his mother, lest Peter should make himself ill by eating it all at once. Then there was a bag of tobacco for the grandfather, who was so fond of smoking his pipe on the bench in front of the hut in the afternoon. After these came a quantity of mysterious packages of all shorts, which Klara had prepared to surprise and please her little friend.
And so the packages are opened, and Heidi is practically speechless with joy, and the two gentlemen sit smoking their pipes and talking as Heidi unwraps each of her treasures one by one. And then...
After further examination of her treasures, Heidi came and stood before her two old friends, as they sat puffing huge clouds of smoke into the cool air, and when there was a pause in their conversation, she said decidedly, "No, there is nothing that has given me more pleasure than the good old doctor."
And there is nothing that gives me more pleasure in the entire book than the image of that charming, deeply courteous and whole-heartedly loving little girl, patiently waiting for a pause in the conversation to respond to a line the doctor had tossed away light-heartedly hours earlier. For courtesy and thoughtfulness do not come naturally to most children, and are seen today very rarely indeed; and yet it is courtesy and thoughtfulness more than anything else that make human society in the end a source of joy rather than irritation. Those of you who have been reading the blog recently know of course that I have been happily attending La Casa de CelebraciĆ³n for some time; those of you who have been reading the blog rather longer know that I originally decided to try La Casa because I couldn't resist going to see what kind of church was still turning out young people as impressive as my young friend Miss Daniela. But those of you who have read the blog now for years may still remember exactly how it was that Miss Daniela vaulted, instantly and permanently, into my personal pantheon of all-time favorite people.

And if you know me well enough to remember that, then you won't be surprised by which Heidi moment it is that I have selected as my favorite. (Other than, of course, the untoppable service the little Swiss maid performed in depriving the lost souls of Raider Nation of the pleasure of seeing the Raiders' comeback in the Heidi Bowl.)


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