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THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 7 months ago

09 October 2003 THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE by E.L. Konigsburg, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, February 2004, ISBN 0-689-86636-4

 

"When you get older, édes Margitkám, you'll realize that all you have is time. You have time and your side of history. And that's all you have."

 

I'm flying across the country to Long Island this weekend for my thirtieth high school reunion. I'm taking my digital camera and a few extra days there to document how the places from my early history appear nowadays. Undoubtedly, my impending pilgrimage back in time heightens the degree to which I have been touched by Elaine Konigsburg's new masterpiece, THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE.

 

"When I returned to the cabin during the break between makeup and juggling, I found that my bedclothes were all rumpled even though I had made my bed before leaving. I climbed up to my bunk. My covers had been pulled back, and a big wet spot filled the center of the matress. I smelled urine.

"Furious, I climbed down and waited for the other Meadowlarks to appear. I was determined to find out who had done this and confront her. I waited, and no one came. I didn't know where they were or what they were doing, but I knew that wherever and whatever, they were together, and it had all been worked out beforehand."

 

A prequel of sorts to Konigsburg's SILENT TO THE BONE, this is the story--set years before BONE--of twelve-year-old Margaret Rose Kane. With her parents off on an archeological dig in South America, Margaret is rescued by one of her beloved Uncles from the viciousness of her seven cabin mates and the dictatorial summer camp owner at Camp Talequa. She will now get to spend the month with her granduncles, in their house where there has always been a special place for her.

 

"I loved their Old World habits. Like wearing a Borsalino hat from Italy instead of a baseball cap. Neither one of them owned a baseball cap. Or blue jeans. Or sneakers. Or a sports shirt. They never watched sports on TV and had never been to a football game, even when the home team, Clarion State University, was playing. They could speak three languages besides English. They had wine with dinner every night and ate so late that sometimes it was midnight when they finished. They served coffee with real cream and lump sugar that they dropped into the cup with a tiny pair of tongs. They had never eaten at a McDonalds or standing up. Even in the summer when they ate in their garden, they still covered their table with a white linen cloth, served their wine in crystal goblets, and their food on china dishes. And they never hurried through dinner. If it got to be too late when they finished eating, they would leave unwashed dishes in the sink and go to bed."

 

I frequently include Konigsburg's FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER in booktalks to younger grades. Written when my own generation were adolescents, it is rare for me to promote a book written that long ago; it illustrates how much I enjoy the work of Elaine Konigsburg. So when I say that this two-time Newbery Medal winner has just now written the best book of her career, it tells you how exciting and satisfying a read THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE is.

 

" 'Time is money, Mr. Rose.'

" 'Time is not money, Mrs. Kaplan. Time wasted is often time well spent. Money wasted is merely redistributed.' "

 

The long narrow backyard of the Uncles' vintage home is devoted to gardens of peppers and rose-colored roses, along with a set of three tall, spidery towers--whimsically adorned with hanging shards of ceramic and crystal--that Uncle Alexander and Uncle Morris have been constructing and maintaining for over forty-five years.

 

"My father thought that building the towers with clock faces that didn't tell time was a waste of it...He complained that they couldn't keep track of keys, bills, appointments, or time. Especially time. Being on time was a religion to Father.

"My father spoke of time as a conception, and the only definition of conception I knew meant that time was something he had fathered. He was my father, and he was also Father Time. He worried about wasting time and running out of time. Mostly, he worried about losing time. When I was little, I used to think that someday I would find a picture of his lost child Time on a milk carton. To Father, time was meant to be saved. He saved time all the time. He never said what he did with all the time he saved, but no one ever asked because people always admire people who save time.

"To the Uncles, time was meant to be spent.

"When people asked my father--and I hated when they did--what he thought of the towers, he would say that they were not only 'useless, superfluous, a supreme waste of time,' but also 'an extravagant waste of money.'

"My mother's attitude was: 'Extravagant? Yes, the towers are extravagant, but that hardly makes them a waste of money. Every now and then, a person must do something simply because he wants to, because it seems to him worth doing. And that does not make it worthless or a waste of time. It's true, the towers have no function. They do not give shelter. Neither does the statue of David. They don't hold up telephone wires. Neither does the Eiffel Tower. And the rose windows of Notre Dame don't let in enough light to read fine print. But by my definition, that doesn't make them useless or superfluous either. The towers are there simply because they are worth doing. Without them, my world would be less beautiful and a lot less fun.' "

During the month that Margaret spends on Schuyler Place, the Uncles share their history--of the businesses that they ran together, the transformation of the community, the neighborhood, and of the home at 19 Schuyler Place that the old bachelor, Alex, and the widower, Morris, have shared for so long.

 

" 'How did you find time to do the towers?' Jake asked.

" 'By not being in a hurry,' Alex said. That's how you find the time.' "

 

I am thinking about the old times of which the Uncles speak. For me, those were the days of being a little kid, walking down to the corner of Old Country and South Oyster Bay Roads when there was a barber with a thick Italian accent, a butcher with sawdust on the floor, a Fifties soda fountain with the red-topped spinning stools, and the old drugstore where we'd look for Yankee sluggers in packages of the one brand of baseball cards that anyone made at the time.

 

"You see, when we were a neighborhood, there was not a zoning code, there was an unwritten code. That unwritten code was: Love thy neighbor."

 

Those days from the distant past--years before some businessman honored Long Island's most famous dead poet by naming the first shopping mall after him; years before that big kid ran down the sidewalk and told us the President had been shot--those are the kind of days that are captured so vividly through the Uncles' rhapsodizing.

 

"Since we are now a zone and not a neighborhood, we also don't have neighbors. We have home owners."

 

And of course, this is all a setup for portioning us out pieces of the elaborate puzzle that Konigsburg so wonderfully crafts. Piece by piece she reveals to us what makes Margaret Kane tick...and how during this month she will stride toward being the young adult we meet in SILENT TO THE BONE.

 

Packed with enough humor, heart, and mischievousness for a dozen books, THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE becomes the yardstick by which I'll measure 2004.

 

Richie Partington

http://richiespicks.com

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

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