Published in Harper’s Magazine (August, 1942), “Another April” by Jesse Stuart is set on a family farm. The story is narrated by a young boy, who remains unnamed; other characters include his mother and his ninety-one-year-old grandfather, “Mom” and “Grandpa.”
As the story begins, spring has come, and Mom is dressing Grandpa so that he can go outside and take a walk around the farm. Because he is elderly and quite frail, Grandpa has been confined to the house all winter. As his mother bundles up Grandpa in many layers of warm clothing and takes special care in putting on his gloves, the narrator draws parallels between himself and his grandfather; his mother takes care of them both in the same way. Grandpa is filled with good humor, eager to get outdoors. He says he is going to go see “my old friend.”
As Grandpa totters out the door, leaning on his cane, the narrator wants to go, too, but his mother keeps him in the house with her. She wants her father to enjoy his spring walk alone. The boy also wonders about Grandpa’s “old friend” and asks whom he will go see. His mother replies that Grandpa was “just a-talkin.”
As Grandpa begins his walk, the narrator and his mother watch through the window but for different reasons. The narrator is very curious about his grandfather’s actions as he makes his familiar rounds; his mother watches Grandpa and remembers the strong, powerful man her father once had been, working the farm until he was eighty years old. She shares her memories with the narrator. He knows his mother takes good care of Grandpa because she wants him “to live a long time.”
Beyond the window, they watch Grandpa stop at a pine tree and carefully pick up a pinecone from the ground. He holds it lovingly in his hand, removing each of the chips. He pulls some pine needles from the tree, enjoying the feel of them in his hand. Grandpa then walks down to the pig pen, calling the animals; run to him eagerly. Very carefully, he leans over the fence and pats each of the seven hogs on the head. Next, Grandpa makes his way to a dogwood tree and a redbud tree, examining and enjoying the new spring blossoms. He plays with a bumblebee and finds a butterfly cocoon. The narrator knows the cocoon is empty because he himself had already looked for the butterfly.
As Grandpa continues on, the narrator knows that Grandpa will take his walk each day until winter comes once more. He also realizes that Grandpa’s walk has grown shorter each year. There was a time when he would walk so far he was out of sight; this year, the boy notes, Grandpa stays close to the house.
Before going inside, Grandpa makes one more stop on his rounds. He goes to the family’s smokehouse where he sees his “old friend” once more, the terrapin that lives under the floor throughout the winter. Although a date, 1847, is carved on its back, the terrapin’s actual age is unknown. The narrator’s mother explains to him that no one knows how old the terrapin had been when the date had been carved on its shell. This idea fills the narrator with wonder. He tries to imagine who had once lived on this land and how they had lived, amazed at such a great passage of time.
Grandpa lingers with the terrapin as they seem to talk to each other. Their interaction surprises and confuses the narrator; the terrapin, he knows, would bite him...
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if he got too close. Grandpa and the terrapin really are old friends, his mother explains. They have shared many spring talks. When the narrator says, “Gee, Grandpa looks like the terrapin,” his mother’s eyes fill with tears. Grandpa tells the terrapin goodbye, promising to come back, and hobbles back toward the house. As the story ends, the narrator watches the terrapin watch Grandpa walk away.
Despite the simplicity of its plot, “Another April” develops several profound themes and evokes a strong emotional response in many readers. The narrator’s sense of wonder grows as he observes and begins to consider the elements of nature in the story: the cycle of life and the continuum of time. Themes of life, death, and rebirth are developed through the arrival of another April at the farm and through Grandpa’s celebration of it. The terrapin functions as the story’s central symbol. The bond between Grandpa and the terrapin is one of great age and endurance; both have seen many Aprils. Grandpa and the terrapin have survived another winter, but they, too, will die one day as nature’s cycle continues. The story’s point of view creates a poignant irony. The young narrator’s curiosity about his grandfather’s behavior underscores his innocence; the reality of death has not touched him yet. For his mother, however, the sweetness of another April is tempered with the knowledge that her father’s life is drawing to its close.