Sarah, Plain and Tall was written by Patricia MacLachlan, published in 1985 and awarded the Newberry Medal. The thin paperback was part of my book collection for more than 25 years before I finally plucked it from the masses and started turning the pages last weekend. I suppose it was fate- I hadn’t read it until I could understand a different aspect of it. And now I can share it with you.
I wonder how many stepmothers have read this book. Of those, I wonder how many were shocked to find that they weren’t as well-received as Sarah, a mail-order bride from Maine who was eagerly welcomed by her new family in the midwest. I think that was what struck me the most: the children in the book had endured the death of their mother and they wanted a new one. They were passionately curious about Sarah and delighted when she decided to visit. Immediately, they loved her and wanted her to stay. In modern-day real life, it doesn’t happen that way for most stepmoms.
But I didn’t start writing so I could slam the book for being unrealistic… it is what it is, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. Furthermore, it’s based on a true story from the author’s family history. And that’s awesome. And Sarah is awesome…and I thought I’d point out why:
She didn’t assert herself as The Mother. Sarah indulged the kids’ curiosity about her and she responded with genuine interest in them. She didn’t push the relationships, she let them naturally unfold.
She had a cat. In general, Sarah loved animals. Animals build bridges between individuals who might otherwise have a hard time getting along. Their presence relieves stress as they give us a focal point away from our problems. They teach us how to love and they give us a commitment to share.
She stayed true to herself. Sarah didn’t stop being Sarah in order to be a midwestern wife and mother. She wore men’s overalls and helped repair the roof. She insisted that she be taught to drive the wagon so she could travel to town by herself. She didn’t kill the chickens that were given to her “for food”. She brought a little bit of New England to her new homestead and her family respected and appreciated her for it.
Of course, I’m oversimplifying… but it was a really short book and I’m not Wednesday Martin. The point is: Stepmoms, keep your heads up and keep rockin’ it, Sarah-style 🙂