Monday, February 9, 2009


Part Two, Chapter 13.

I don't want you to think, Andy Catlett, that I dwelt on the subject of Ivy. I didn't. I had a plenty else to think about. I was a grown woman...I had a good life, and I knew it. But I was not forgetting Ivy, either. From time to time, too often maybe, I thought of her, and when I thought of her I thought of the broach and earrings that she did not deserve and was unworthy to wear. That thought, when I had it on my mind, was like a grain of corn in my shoe.

Isn't that a wonderful word-picture of bitterness? a grain of corn in my shoe.

That little grain of corn is only bothering Hannah, only serving to remind her how much she resents Ivy. Every step she takes with that little grain of corn in her shoe is a recitation of Ivy's guilt. And while it's painful for Hannah, she's become used to it, it's a familiar feeling. It's the only feeling she knows toward this woman who dealt her so many injustices.

And then one afternoon, when the thought of Ivy was miles away, I met her.
She was wearing a head scarf and a dress that hung on her as it would have hung on a chair. She was shrunken and twisted by arthritis and was leaning on two canes. Her hands were so knotted as hardly to look like hands. She was smiling at me. She said, "You don't know me, do you?"

This is brilliant, isn't it? Up until this point Hannah has not known Ivy. She has only known the effects of Ivy. She has only known the pain and injustice dealt by Ivy. Ivy in her selfish prime, as Hannah had experienced her, masked a person, like herself, in need of grace.

I knew her then, and almost instantly there were tears on my face...All kinds of knowledge came to me, all in a sort of flare in my mind. I knew for one thing that she was more simpleminded than I had ever thought. She had perfectly forgot, or had never known, how much and how justly I had resented her. But I knew at the same instant that my resentment was gone, just gone. And the fear of her that was once so big in me, where was it? And who was this poor sufferer who stood there with me?

"Yes, Ivy, I know you," I said, and I sounded kind.

Excuse me while I wipe my eyes and blow my nose.

Hannah ends the chapter realizing that she has forgiven Ivy.

I didn't understand exactly what had happened until the thought of her woke me up in the middle of that night, and I was saying to myself, "You have forgiven her."

I had. My old hatred and contempt and fear, that I had kept so carefully so long, were gone, and I was free.

In this very short chapter we are served the most delicious and satisfying of meals: a complete picture of forgiveness. With eyes to see Ivy, finally, as a fellow sufferer, Hannah takes the piece of corn out of her shoe. She acknowledges her role of carefully tending her hatred of Ivy all these years. She realizes forgiveness does not have to wait for an apology.


Did you notice Hannah is telling this particular memory to Andy Catlett?

Did you find this, as I did, a compelling picture of forgiveness? Did it hit the mark or miss for you?

I'm wondering if there's more to know about Ivy. Port William experts: does she make an appearance in the other novels?

See you in the comments.
:) Lynn


  1. I too found this to be a wonderful portrait of forgiveness. It just melted away with tenderness.

    I like that she mentions that she had kept her hatred so carefully. That is something to think about. We do nurse our hatred and our fears if we are not careful.

  2. Lynn, this is such good commentary.

    I can tell you that I have never run across Ivy in any other WB fiction. I haven't read it all, though.

    I think Andy Catlett is more a son to Hannah than her two boys. Andy and Hannah are connected. By love, by place, by shared experiences. Andy has more than one book devoted to him. I knew Andy before I knew Hannah so this seemed very natural to me. I think Andy is Port William's best hope for the future.

    Ivy is almost too tender a topic for me to talk about. I have a step-mother who didn't handle her parenting of me in an exemplary way. A step-mother I don't believe I've ever mentioned on the web before. I have had to work through forgiveness: tried to forget, tried to understand, tried to reconcile. It is still a dangling relationship, best described as civil.

    When I read this chapter I was unhinged, in an emotional puddle for the rest of the day.

  3. Yes, a beautiful post. I have not come across Ivy in any other WB reading either.

    Does anyone else think that Andy Catlett is WB's alter-ego? Some background reading on WB shows him to be the son of an attorney (like Andy), Andy goes off to college but comes back to Port William (like WB), Andy appreciates the old ways and collects the stories of the older Members of the Membership. Just something I thought while reading Hannah Coulter, as she seems to be narrating the story for Andy (WB?) at some point.

    @Carol, bless you for your transparency. My stepmom needed to forgive me, I'm afraid, rather than vice versa. I was 21 when Dad remarried, though, and not living at home so it was quite different than your situation or Hannah's. I've dealt with bitterness toward others, though, and forgiveness brings such relief. It is amazing how well WB wrote that passage, isn't it?

  4. I think Berry made it sound way too simple.

    As I continue to mull over Hannah's mental review of her life, I understand her bringing up Ivy. It's like she's checking things off a list... things she wants to say before she dies.

    But I'm not sure I learned any particular lesson about *how* to forgive someone from Hannah's example.

  5. One more thought.... if we take a quick look at the two women: Hannah is vibrant... looking at cloth, touching, feeling and planning to make something. She's healthy.

    Ivy is shrunken and crippled.... leaning on outside supports (canes). Unhealthy.

    If that bitterness had really taken ahold of Hannah, she wouldnt have been able to move forward.

    All in all, a very good question, Lynn.

  6. Carol--I can totally relate to a "dangling relationship"--love that word-picture. Thank you for sharing what you did. I think that's why I love this scene with Ivy so much, because it's often eluded me in real life. It was such an immediate reaction that Hannah had upon seeing her. Perhaps it was easier for Hannah because she didn't have to live with Ivy or have any contact with her whatsoever. My dangling relationship requires interaction which provides opportunity for more heartache, more wounds, more forgiveness. I get tired of it.

    And yet, I think it remains true that when you can see the person as a fellow sufferer (I love that!), it allows grace. I'm by no means there but this picture helps me.

    Sandy--thank you for that insight on Andy. I wondered that about Wendell as I was reading and I'm glad to know there's more written of him. It is confusing sometimes to figure out if she's talking to him or about him when he's punctuated differently on the same page!

    Dana--I agree that Wendell makes it look easy! And there is definitely a power shift (for lack of a better term) here. Hannah is no longer a little girl living in this woman's house and Ivy is no longer in her prime, capable of harming her. Hannah is the adult now and Ivy is a weak, old, spent woman. Healthy and unhealthy, as you point out. I'm confused by your bitterness comment, though. Are you saying that Hannah isn't really that bitter toward Ivy or are you saying that she didn't really forgive her?

  7. I think that Hannah's resentment and bitterness were real and founded. But that Hannah let go of these feelings long before she actually realized it in that middle of the night scene. She disconnected from Ivy essentially when her father died.

    She must have or she wouldnt have been able to carry on (and be healthy). Also, I think that *chance* meeting in the store would have turned out differently (if she hadnt forgiven Ivy).

  8. Oh my, these comments are wonderful - Lynn, what a lovely post.

    I emailed Lynn earlier, or maybe it was in the comments here somewhere, I can't remember, that the only place I cried in the book was when Hannah 'forgave' Ivy. Better said is what you all have articulated so beautifully - the forgiving was long ago done, she had been living in it as she carried on, but seeing Ivy helped her recognize how far away she had moved from that old resentment, the old life. I thought it was a remarkable picture.

    My husband has a wicked stepfather, has had him for 30 years - a man so emotionally juvenile that he's simply incapable of having a healthy relationship with anyone. My dear hubby has long ago forgiven his stepfather, though surely no apology has ever been uttered - because, as we all know, the curse of unforgiveness does nothing to the unforgiven - but poisons the unforgiver. I think this little chapter in the book is more of Hannah's heart than anything else we've seen. I found it deeply moving.


  9. Dana--I see your point now. Thanks for clarifying. What strikes me is the shift in Hannah upon seeing Ivy at the dry goods store--whether that was the moment of forgiveness or not her heart toward her changed at that moment and the resentment and hatred she had been "carefully tending" was let go.

    Steph--for all of Wendell's wordiness on other things he seemed to have nailed this picture of forgiveness beautifully in a few words--this chapter is all of two pages long! I'm glad it made you cry. :)

  10. Ah, the forgiveness scene. I love this:

    "Who was this poor sufferer who stood there with me?"

    In my experience of forgiving those dangling relationships, there might be a "lightbulb", aha! moment in the middle of the night, but it is a long time coming. The moment makes it look easy (poof, I forgive her/him/them) but it isn't usually that simple.

    It is much easier to work out past wrongs when we're not dependent upon the person, when we have seen their supposed power over us weakened or dismissed by the health of our own lives. Hannah had certainly seen her life prosper with meaningful relationships and work. I would imagine it could be a lot harder to forgive if the past keeps a crippling hold on the present.

    The problem with pity being a part of healing is that it doesn't heal the relationship, but sometimes the only thing that can be healed is ourselves.

    Steph - your husband must have found incredible healing to pastor and father so well. Thank God!


  11. The way I dealt with the whole Ivy thing was that Hannah had strong feelings about her - and reasonably justifiable - yet those opinions were formed in her youth. I think that as time passes, you recognize many things which made sense when you had been a teenager really weren't valid. And perhaps with the passage of time, Hannah understands some of what Ivy was going through at that time and under the circumstances which unconsciously softened her heart and opinion?

    Tammy ~@~