Text: Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns, Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
Summary of Chapters 1-2
It is July 5, 1906 in the small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, three weeks after Granny Blakeslee has died. The family is in mourning, by tradition bound to wear black for a year and to forego all pleasures. The story is told in the first person from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy. The widower, Grandpa Blakeslee, is fifty-nine. Grandpa asks grandson Will to bring his two daughters, Mary Willis (Will’s mother) and Loma (Will’s aunt) to his house for some news he wants to tell them.
Grandpa announces that he will marry Love Simpson, the pretty milliner in his store, because he needs a housekeeper since his wife died. He does not want to hire a colored servant, and he does not want to live with his married daughters. Grandpa lost his hand in an accident and needs help and looking after. He is also lonely now.
The daughters become hysterical at the scandal their father is proposing. It is bad enough he wants to remarry at all, thus jeopardizing their inheritance, but he will not wait out the year of mourning, insisting he will marry at once. People will say he did not love his wife or was courting Love Simpson before his wife, Miss Mattie Lou, died. Love Simpson is an outsider, a very young and pretty woman from Baltimore, young enough to be his daughter. No one, however, can stand up to the will of crusty old Enoch Rucker Blakeslee, especially his daughters.
Commentary on Chapters 1-2
The story is the reminiscence of twenty-two-year-old Will Tweedy in 1914. He is looking back eight years earlier to 1906 and the significant event of Granny Blakeslee’s death. The whole action takes place in the year between Granny’s death and Grandpa’s death. Will remembers his perspective and point of view as a fourteen-year-old witnessing the events because he had written it down in his journal at the time.
The characters of the eccentric family and conservative town of Cold Sassy are introduced to us. Granny kept the family together, and her loss creates chaos. Will’s grieving and distraught grandfather hastily marries Love Simpson. The story centers around Grandpa Blakeslee, who owns the local store, his daughters, Mary Willis and Loma; their husbands, Hoyt Tweedy and Campbell Williams, and the grandchildren, Will Tweedy, Mary Toy, and baby Campbell. The elder daughter Mary Willis is hard working and proper, like her newly deceased mother was. The younger daughter, Loma, is pretty, selfish and spoiled. She is jealous and vicious in behavior. Both daughters are upset that now they will not get their mother’s heirlooms. They were counting on certain furniture and the piano. Both daughters wanted the same items, but now neither will get them because they will have a new stepmother who will take over the house and is young enough to produce an heir.
The store would have gone to young Will, his grandfather’s favorite, the son Grandpa never had. The daughters and the town are scandalized by the whole proposition: Love is young, pretty, and a Yankee from Baltimore. They consider her an ambitious tramp, after Grandpa’s money. Grandpa breaks all the rules remarrying so quickly, but he does not apologize. Sympathy is set up for the grandfather by his grandson, the narrator. Will admires Grandpa for thumbing his nose at custom, though he too is slightly uncomfortable, since he loved his Granny. Nevertheless he becomes the defender of his Grandpa’s second marriage.