Walking Across Egypt
Mattie Rigsbee is the main character in Clyde Edgerton's southern style novel, Walking Across Egypt. Mattie is a seventy-eight year old widow with two middle-aged children. Living alone in a small house, she makes sure that everything is taken care of. She cooks, cleans, mows the lawn, and takes up numerous responsibilities with the church. She is a very caring person with many friends and a family that loves her dearly. At the time this novel takes place, Mattie is at a turning point in her life. Confusion disturbed her, because the things that people are telling her are not the words that she is ready or willing to hear. Although begins to display some signs of aging, and her family is trying to convince her to slow down her lifestyle, Mattie's character and mind setting prohibits her from becoming the stereotypical elder. She must make a decision in which direction to turn.
As Mattie grows older, she notices that she is beginning to display some signs that people in her state of North Carolina associate with the elderly. These signs are influencing her decisions about what she thinks she can and cannot do. She displays typical, elderly forgetfulness as she washes the toilet seat with mouthwash rather than with alcohol. And again displays it as she falls through the bottomless rocking chair. Later she displays physical inability when she asks her son Robert about helping with some yard work, which she had always taken care of before.
"I'm too old to keep a dog," (20) she says to the dogcatcher as he is leaving with a brown fice that showed up on her doorstep. "Besides, I'm slowing down," she says to her son during lunch.
The stereotypes of the elderly are influencing Mattie's life. She is telling herself not to do things because of her age whether or not she is physically able to do them, simply because people associate age with inability and dependence upon others. Her family and friends are expecting and encouraging this dependence.
Elaine and Robert, Mattie's two unmarried children, along with other family and friends, are encouraging her to be what they expect a seventy-eight year old woman to be. They talk about how she needs to get rest because she is slowing down and can't keep going as steady as she seems to think. When she decided to try and help a young juvenile, Wesley Benfield, become a better person by taking him to church and offering him to stay the night with her, Robert thought that Mattie was sick.
"Robert was thinking about the symptoms. What condition was his mother entering? Was it a phase of some sort? Was she having some of those tiny strokes they talk about? Or Alzheimer's? .... Maybe she needed a long rest. She was slowing down." (177-178)
He would have to tell Elaine about this incident, because she is having the same fears as he.
Pearl Turnage, Mattie's older sister, has given in to the stereotypes that are now plaguing Mattie, and insists that she do the same. In fact, she invites Mattie to accompany her to the funeral home where they will each pick out a casket that they are to be buried in. Pearl pushes the subject, as if to force Mattie into realizing that she doesn't have much time left to live. Pearl also begins talking to Mattie about the past and the fun that they once had, as if to tell Mattie that those days are over and that it is time for her to begin a new chapter in her life. The future that Pearl has planned for herself, however, is totally contrary to the lifestyle that Mattie has chosen to pursue. Mattie wants more of those good times to talk about.
Mattie has grown up with the same expectations of elderly people as everyone else, however, she chooses not to live her life based on these expectations, but rather on how her feelings lead her. At the beginning of the novel, she is unsure about what direction she wants to take in life. She turns down the dog, and says that she needs to slow down, but at the end she