Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608
Mr. Sweet Little was a diabetic, alcoholic, guitar-playing, tobacco-chewing, tall, thin, dark-brown man whose hair and straggly mustache were the color of Spanish moss. He lived alone on a neglected cotton farm down the road from the narrator and her family. Over a period of many years, Sweet Little and the children participated in a ritual that was an important element in the lives of all. When Mr. Sweet was feeling the worst, the bluest, the sickest-at-heart a man could be, he would take to his bed and the doctor would declare that old Mr. Sweet was dying. The narrator’s father would declare, “To hell with dying, man, these children want Mr. Sweet!” and the children would swarm around the bed and throw themselves on top of the dying man. Always the youngest child would kiss the wrinkled brown face and tickle the motionless body until it began to shake with laughter. These things were done to keep Mr. Sweet from dying. The children performed the ritual naturally for many years. No one told them what to do—they played it by ear. So it was that Sweet Little was repeatedly rescued from the brink of death by love, laughter, and the innocent belief of children. As the youngest child in the neighborhood, the narrator led these revivals for the last part of Mr. Sweet’s life.
Sweet Little was kind and gentle, even shy with the children—an ideal playmate. Often so drunk that he was as weak as they, he was able to act sober when drunk, a talent that enabled him to carry on fairly coherent conversations. The narrator’s mother never held his drunkenness against him and always let Mr. Sweet and the children play together.
Once an ambitious person, Mr. Sweet had wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a sailor, but he found out that black men got along better if they were not. He had loved another woman before he had had to marry Miss Mary. He was not even sure that their son, Joe Lee, was his. The narrator had learned these things about Mr. Sweet’s past from the many sad and wonderful songs he made up while he played the guitar and entertained her family. She remembers how beautiful Mr. Sweet made her feel, how she listened...
(The entire section contains 608 words.)
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