A little more than a year ago, Robin Tuck lost her daughter Elke Klein, 24, in a drowning accident at Lagoon Pond. Elke was special, not only to Robin but to everyone she met. Think fairy wings and dolls and a boundless imagination. Elke was challenged with epilepsy and cortical visual impairment, and Robin raised her as a single parent; the two were inseparable. For seven years, Robin created the Walk through Imagination stories at Polly Hill Arboretum, and now she’s written a sweet children’s book that could teach readers of all ages to look at each other through different eyes.
Titled “We Share the Same Grandmother,” the book comes from the time Robin and Elke spent together in Newfoundland in 2018. Prime Minister Trudeau was apologizing for the treatment of indigenous peoples of Canada for past events, and that spurred their imagination, Robin says. The story is about friendship and embracing differences rather than being frightened or put off by them.
“We Share the Same Grandmother” has two characters, two young girls — one Native American and the other blond with “hair as wild as the faded meadows in the fall.” They meet and spend the day together running and playing, and discovering their differences. Despite all the ways they contrast, the two girls are interested in each other, rather than being frightened or upset by their differences. The book seems perfect for schoolchildren who may see themselves or their friends in its pages.
“I met a friend today …” each page begins, then it goes on to describe each girl. “I met a friend today whose hand made beautiful letters with just a pencil,” followed on the next page by “I met a friend today who told her homework with her voice. Her hands didn’t care for pencils.”
The simple and colorful illustrations are by C. Anne MacLeod, and the book uses word repetition, a font that is heavier at the bottom of the letters, and pictures outlined in black, all strategies to help young readers who might be visually impaired.
Robin was interested in anthropology while growing up; her father was an archaeologist. She grew up spending every summer on Martha’s Vineyard at her parents’ cottage. She earned a degree in physical anthropology in 1991, and had Elke shortly after. Robin took her to specialists, including those at Perkins School for the Blind, eventually drawing on her own skills in physical anthropology to help her daughter learn. She homeschooled Elke, and they explored nature together on the Island. As close as the two were, Robin was keenly aware of Elke’s lack of true friendships.
When you have a child with special needs, Robin explained, you develop knowledge on a cellular level of what it means to be marginalized. The other children on the playground who never reach out to play with your child, the looks you get at restaurants, the lack of invites to birthday parties all lead to an acute awareness of your child’s loneliness, Robin said. “Through her, I learned how you keep having strength the next day, how you keep going,” she said.
Robin experienced more than her share of sadness in 2019, losing her dad within weeks of losing Elke, and also going through a divorce. Now she’s taking time to regroup, and writing has been a significant part of dealing with her grief. “It’s been a really hard year,” Robin admitted. “Last summer I started calling her my sweet angel for some reason, and she said to me, ‘Mommy, I only ever want to be with you.’ She was there and then she was gone.”
Mother and daughter would end their days lying in bed talking about all the great things they had, and what a good life they were living. They would make up stories together and that set them free from the hard things, Robin said. “I’d wonder to myself, How did I get to be so lucky? It makes me laugh that people think I had a hard life. Do they mean Elke? I’d think. She’s my buddy, she’s my life. That’s not a lie, I’d really worry, can this last forever?”
Next Robin plans to publish the stories that went along with the Walk through Imagination at Polly Hill, and then there’s another story she’s working on called “My Skychild,” that addresses the death of a child in a spiritual light. Robin says she feels connected to Elke, that her daughter is still here but on a different frequency. “Now I’m writing all I learned from her,” she said.
When Elke died, Robin had a sort of sendoff for her on State Beach, near the Camp Jabberwocky parking spaces. Many members of the community gathered and celebrated Elke’s one-of-a-kind spirit. In a similar way of celebrating, Robin will have a book launch on the beach at the same place on Thursday, August 27, from 5 to 7 pm. She’ll start the event by having everyone come together to create a small piece of public art, a little installation everyone can do together, she said, then she’ll talk about the book and read from it at 6 pm. Robin said she’d like everyone to wear a mask and respect those around them, and to enjoy the time on the beach.