Near the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn is delirious with fever and being nursed back to health by the widow Douglas. The widow and a neighbor called “the Welchman” agree that Huck – though mischievous and untrustworthy – is worth saving.
In his inimitable style, Mark Twain (1835-1910) wrote, “The Welchman said Huck had good spots in him, and the widow said, ‘You can depend on it. That’s the Lord’s mark. He don’t leave it off. He never does. Puts it somewhere on every creature that comes from his hands.’”
No matter where I travel, I am always encouraged to find indisputable evidence of the gospel’s impact on our American culture, from our founding to the present. In this case, the old Welchman and the widow Douglas were doing nothing less than affirming God’s own words in Genesis 1:26 (NIV):
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”
There is no small irony in the reality of our sinful nature measured against the opposing reality that we were created in God’s image. Yet, it is that tension between godliness and sinfulness that forms the stage upon which we live out our lives – and, hopefully, come to faith in Christ.
I don’t know if Twain intended to be reflecting biblical principles, but they do arise from time to time, even in the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
My re-reading of Mark Twain’s books was triggered by a recent trip to Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Samuel Clemens (Twain’s real name). For an old English teacher, an avid reader for more than 60 years, and a Clemens fan, this historic town of 18,000 offers a lot more than enough for a short day’s visit, so it’s a town to which I’ll have to return one day. And I’ll be recommending it to friends as a great family destination.
“Welcome to Hannibal, America’s Hometown,” said the sign as we entered town. I strolled Hannibal’s Main Street eager to absorb as much as possible in the short time I had there. The Mark Twain museum is, in effect, an illustrated and abbreviated biography of Clemens with interactive exhibits and countless displays. In the same complex, the Clemens family home is open for tours, as is a reconstructed Huck Finn home.
After a morning in the museum complex, lunch with Joe Noonan, owner of Ole Planters Restaurant, only a half-block down Main, was a perfect complement to the day. Steaks, seafood, pork, chicken, home-cooked veggies and homemade pies! What to order?
Now, think about it. Mark Twain. Hannibal. Mississippi River. How could I order anything but fried catfish? (It was as good as we do it in Mississippi.) Add sweet green beans, corn, hushpuppies, and mama’s chocolate-caramel pie. Ole Planters alone is enough to draw me back to Hannibal.
Standing sentinels at the north end of Main Street, Huck and Tom are immortalized in a larger-than-life bronze sculpture created by Frederick C. Hibbard in 1926. The imposing likeness of Hannibal’s favorite rascals stands at the foot of a 244-step staircase up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse. Now, there’s another good ol’ gospel metaphor.
Next visit, I want to go to the Mark Twain Caves. And I look forward to the Huck Finn Freedom Center, Hannibal’s newest museum. It is a tribute to Clemens’ fictional slave Jim and a look at the African Americans who influenced the author’s life.
The locals in Hannibal may not realize it, but America’s Hometown reveals a lot of evidence of the things that made this nation strong, things like heartland values and Christian morality.
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