Going Home With Mark Twain

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TO THIS IT MUST BE APPENDED THAT IN MY OWN visit to Hannibal to pay my spiritual deference, I stayed in “the beautiful Holiday Inn Twainland.” The Mark Twain brand name greeted me on trucks, store windows, and marquees. There was a commercial “Haunted House,” a wax museum, a Huck Finn Shopping Center, a Mark Twain Outdoor Theater, a Tom ‘n Huck Motel, a Becky Thatcher Bookshop, and a Twainland Express departing at regular intervals from the Mark Twain Dinette, which offered various fried-chicken specials named after Huck, Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly, and Becky Thatcher, but none, if I ascertained correctly, after Jim. At the high school they were having the Becky Thatcher Relays. There was talk of a Mark Twain Heritage Theme Park. Beyond its tourism glitter the town was a worn sort of place. But I think he would be pleased by the encounter I had with two little boys, ages about ten or eleven, in the park overlooking the river north of town with the statue of him and its inscription: “His religion was humanity and the whole world mourned for him when he died.” They had just gotten off their bicycles and were looking down at the river below us. “Which of you is Tom and which is Huck?” I asked. They both wanted to be Huck.

Not long ago a college student of highly serious aspect asked me if I had ever met Mark Twain. I was momentarily taken aback but after an interval responded with considerable veracity that, yes, I indeed had known him —“met him on the river.”