I’ve been reading John Irving’s The Cider House Rules over the last week or so. I saw the movie again recently and thought it was great. I remember reading The World According to Garp back in the 80’s and loving it, so I thought I might like reading this novel too. With a writer like Irving, you know there are tons of things that never make it to the screen. I read The Shipping News last year and then saw the movie and was greatly disappointed in all that was lost from the book. So, I knew I really needed to read Cider House. I have not been disappointed so far.
So, you know Homer Wells is an orphan at the St. Cloud’s Orphanage who never gets successfully adopted, and so he stays. When he is in his teens, Dr. Larch trains him to assist in delivering babies and in giving abortions. If you don’t know, women came to St Cloud’s Orphanage to have their babies and then give them up for adoption, or to have abortions that were illegal at the time. The orphans in the orphanage primarily came from women who had their babies there, then gave them up. Homer Wells was one such orphan himself.
This is my favorite part of the book where we see the developing Father/Son relationship between Homer and Dr. Larch. (For all the men who never had fathers but wanted one, I write this for you.) I thought this excerpt was especially moving. At this point in the story, Dr. Larch has been gone from the orphanage for a day and night while Homer has had to deliver a baby with a mother in sever state of seizures of eclampsia. He had not handled a difficult delivery such as this before, but found he must do it given the situation. After a 42 hour delivery, Homer has collapsed on Dr. Larch’s bed in the dispensary, where Dr. Larch finds him on his return. The Nurses have told him how well Homer performed the delivery and that the Mother and baby were doing well. Dr. Larch sees that Homer is asleep.
“He had slept almost through the night, He woke only once on the dispensary bed, aware that Dr. Larch was back; Larch was in the room, probably looking at him,but Homer kept his eyes closed. He somehow knew Larch was there because of the sweet scent of ether, which Larch wore like cologne, and because of the steadiness of Larch’s breathing. Then he felt Larch’s hand–a doctor’s hand, feeling for fever–pass very lightly over his forehead. Homer Wells, not yet twenty–quite accomplished in obstetrical procedure and as knowledgeable as almost any doctor on the care of “female organs of generation” –lay very still, pretending to sleep.
Dr Larch bent over and kissed him, very gently, on his lips. Homer heard Larch whisper, “Good work, Homer.” He felt a second, even lighter kiss. “Good work, my boy,” the doctor said, and then left him.
Homer Wells felt his tears come silently; there were more tears than he remembered crying the last time he had cried– when Fuzzy Stone had died and Homer had lied to Snowy Meadows and the others. He cried and cried, but he never made a sound; he would have to change Dr. Larch’s pillowcase in the morning, he cried so much. He cried because he had received his first fatherly kisses.
Of course Melony had kissed him; she didn’t do it much anymore, but she had. And Nurse Edna and Nurse Angela had kissed him silly, but they kissed everyone. Dr. Larch had never kissed him before, and now he had kissed him twice.
Homer Wells cried because he had never known how nice a father’s kisses could be, and he cried because he doubted that Wilber Larch would ever do it again–or would have done it, if he thought Homer was awake.
Dr. Larch went to marvel at the good health of the eclampsia patient and at her thriving, tiny child–who, in the morning, would become the orphan David Copperfield (“David Copperfield, Junior” Dr. Larch would enjoy saying). Then Larch went to the familiar typewriter in Nurse Angela’s office, but he couldn’t write anything. He couldn’t even think, he was so agitated from kissing Homer Wells. If Homer Wells had received his fatherly kisses, Dr. Larch had given the first kisses he had ever given–fatherly, or otherwise… Oh God, thought Wilbur Larch, what will happen to me when Homer has to go?”