The whole family gathers together to beat the dust and dirt out of the rugs. While everyone jokes around, Tom studies the rugs and claims that he sees things in them. He claims that he sees the town, all its people, everyone who has stepped across the rugs and everyone who will step across them—it is all in the patterns. Everyone enjoys listening to Tom's tales of what he sees in the rugs.
In the middle of the summer, old Mrs. Bentley sees Alice, Jane, and Tom on her front lawn and offers to buy them ice creams. When they introduce themselves she says that people called her Helen, and the children seem amazed to hear that she has a first name. She tells them that she is seventy-two years old, but that she feels just as good as when she was their age. The children are dumbfounded. They do not believe that she was ever a young girl. Mrs. Bentley gets angry and tells them to leave. Later in the evening she sees the children running by and yells to them. She shows them a comb and a ring from her childhood as well as a picture of herself when she was seven years old. Alice and Jane still dispute her, claiming that she found these things or took them from other little girls. Finally Mrs. Bentley makes an appeal to them to listen to her because some day they will be her age and have to face the same doubting children, but still they refuse to believe her. The girls run off, taking her things with them. Tom tries to stop them and apologizes but is unable to get the items back.
That night, as Mrs. Bentley looks through all of the things that she thinks about what her late husband, Mr. Bentley would have said. She realizes that he would have insisted that none of the trinkets from her past really belong to her—they belonged to a woman who lived many years ago, not the woman alive today. In fact he always told her not to save things. She decides that her husband was right and the next morning she gives Alice and Jane more of her stuff. Mrs. Bentley, Tom, Alice, and Jane became good friends. For the rest of the summer they would spend time together and she would give the children trinkets and buy them ice cream and when they asked her about her age she maintained that she had always been seventy-two years old.
Douglas and Tom are in their room and Tom asks his brother what he has written down in his records. Douglas tells him some of the things he has recorded and Tom mentions something else that he has discovered. Tom has realized that old people were never children, which strikes Douglas as both obvious and brilliant. Tom also points out that this is tragic because they cannot really do anything to help old people.
The family together beating out the rugs is another one of those activities that Leo Auffmann finally realized represents true happiness. Because of the joking and laughing and Tom's fantastical interpretations of the patterns in the rugs, the Spaulding family turns a routine chore into a fun event. Manual labor is good, not just for personal philosophizing, as Grandpa suggested earlier, but also for bringing the family together into joint action.
Mrs. Bentley's interaction with Jane, Alice, and Tom is fascinating. At first she is insulted, and somewhat angry that the children do not believe she was ever young. Her anger is understandable, and yet their attitude helps her stop holding on to the past and start living more in the moment. Because even though they are wrong, the children are right in one simple sense: we are always living in the moment. And Mrs. Bentley became much happier once she admitted to herself that she was a different person at age seventy-two than at age seven. Coming to terms with the changes that occurred in her life did not mean that Mrs. Bentley had to eschew her past entirely. On the other hand, the changes simply taught her that it never was the trinkets and photographs that made her who she was. She can give away all of the formerly precious items that made up her past because Mrs. Bentley came to the conclusion that none of those things really contained any part of her. They were just memories, and so they had their function, but one cannot live in memories.
The actions of the children show that they are not only content to live in the moment but unable to contextualize their lives in any grand sense. The concept of growing older might occur in the form of a birthday, but the notion of any real change, as from child to adult, or adult to elder, is lacking. Change is not a part of these children's lives. Alice and Jane were cruel in their treatment of Mrs. Bentley not out of any intent to harm her feelings but merely because they could not be convinced that she had ever been a little girl just like them. Tom was more respectful but just as incredulous. As the summer goes on she plays along with them because it is, after all, of no consequence to her whether or not little children know that she was not always an old woman.
Tom and Douglas are amazed about Tom's discovery that old people were never children. Because we live in the moment this is partially true; because the children cannot conceive of anything beyond the moment they see it as a fact. What is interesting about all of the discoveries that Douglas writes in his book is that they are all partially correct. Growing up seems not to depend on figuring things out completely as much as coming up with new ideas about things. In fact, there is no reason to believe that adults have figured many things out but rather simply reached a consensus. The magic of summer for the children is that they undergo growth without change—that is, although they change, things remain the same.
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