Mr. Sweet is a sick old man whose multiple ailments bring him often to the brink of death; the narrator’s father and the children would call him back from his deathlike state by calling “To hell with death!” and surrounding him with affection. The story describes Mr. Sweet lovingly so that the reader can see that someone others might reject as a person of no account (he gets drunk on his own home brew and chews tobacco) is in fact important to the family and to the town. The “resurrections” in which the children participate hide from them the reality that death is permanent. Finally, when the narrator is away at college, Mr. Sweet gets sick again, and this time no one can call him back. After his death, the family celebrates him, and the narrator accepts the gift of Mr. Sweet’s guitar, which she plays in his memory.
Published originally as adult short fiction and included in Walker’s collection In Love and Trouble, this clear, gentle short story needed only the addition of some fine illustrations to become a children’s book, where its message of acceptance and inspiration is transparent. It is different from other children’s stories of death because it does not hide the unacceptable parts of the main character and because it does not offer any traditional consolations, only that of remembered affection. It represents a child’s viewpoint (remembered, as the narrator is now grown up) of a society in which affection and tolerance for difference are important values.