The worst thing you could say about how August, March, and April were raised is that it was both abusive and neglectful at times. Tucker was not equipped to be a parent; she was never given parenting tools for her toolbox by her parents. But the best thing you could say about the children’s raising is that Tucker did instill resiliency in them. As the Tucker series progresses, it is easy to see how all three of them overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles much like their grandmother, Tucker, did.
In this entry of “The Story Behind the Story” I’m going to focus on the children as they were in Tucker’s Wayand in An Unexpected Frost. How they were when they were older will be covered in future articles.
When I first began writing Tucker’s WayI didn’t intend on the children playing such a central role in the story, but I quickly realized that they could be a vehicle whereby people could get to know and understand Tucker. If you think about it, much of what you learned about Tucker was in observing her interactions with the children. No doubt you cringed at times over how rough she was toward them, yet you couldn’t help but be moved to tears over how tender she could be.
The struggles that the young children had were multifaceted. First of all, they all had different fathers and none knew who their fathers were, at least as the story begins. Secondly, they were abandoned by their mother, but not just abandoned; she played the cruel “game” of showing up and promising wonderful things for them which she never fulfilled. That is a particularly demoralizing thing to do to a child.
Looking at the children individually, August’s life was made more difficult because he was a bi-racial child growing up in the South in the early 1970’s, and as such never felt like he was accepted by whites or blacks. I thought it would be a touch of irony (and shock and surprise!) for him, Smiley Carter, and Tucker to learn that Smiley was August’s father. And Smiley was very helpful to him as he traversed that uneven landscape.
March was a classic middle child, feeling unimportant to anyone and that there was nothing special about him. He was also a very sensitive child who was attuned to the feelings of others around him and his own. That was why he was so often emotionally reactive to the uncertainty and changes in his world. And it also explains why he ran away, which was a particularly heartbreaking thing to write about. At the time I wrote it I wasn’t certain he would be brought back into the storyline.
April, of course, was the heartbreaker of the three children and the one who elicited the most empathy from readers. She suffered from what is known as selective mutism. In the first two books in the series she was seen as beginning to come out of her shell and flourish, but trouble was brewing inside her, and that is what April’s Rainis about.
And then there was the “secret” about what happened between the three children, a secret that burdened them deeply but unnecessarily. I included this in the storyline because parents sometimes overreact to young children who are becoming familiar with their bodies and are curious about the body parts of other children. There was no coercion nor physical harm done between August, March, and April, and it wasn’t something that happened over and over and evolved into an incestuous relationship. Unfortunately, they had no one they felt they could talk to about their feelings, and so their thoughts and feelings about what they’d done mushroomed into a heavy burden they didn’t know what to do with, a burden that led to March running away.
[Next up: I’ll delve into the story behind the story of An Unexpected Frost.]