When I was a kid, my mom was always recommending books to me, and I was forever ignoring her suggestions. That trend continues to this day, though I'm not sure why. After all, she was the one who turned me on to Maud Hart Lovelace's books.
I remember the day vividly. I was six-years old. My mom had bought me a boxed set of paperbacks. She and my dad were going out for the evening, and they had hired my brother and me a babysitter (one of my friend's sisters), which was out of the ordinary. One of my aunts or grandparents usually looked after us when my parents were away.
I sat propped up against the couch on the floor of the TV room, which at one point had been my bedroom, and I dove head first into the first book of Lovelace's series -- Betsy-Tacy.
This book was perfect for a girl of six. The main character, Betsy, and her best friend, Tacy, were about that age, two little girls growing up in small-town Minnesota at the turn of the last century. The print was big and the words were small. I burned through that book, and the next one (Betsy-Tacy and Tib), and the next one (Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill). I started to slow down once the girls decided to go Downtown. They were pushing twelve by that point, and I found myself, even then, a little annoyed by the soapy addition of Betsy's mother's long-lost brother. And you didn't even want to get me started on the high school books (beginning with Heaven to Betsy). Six-year-old me was having none of those shenanigans.
That was until I picked the books up again later, around fifth grade, when I was ready to start thinking about dances and Latin classes and boyfriends and best friends.
I fell deep into those books, and I fell hard. I owned only the first two high school books (the aforementioned Heaven to Betsy and the sophomore year saga, Betsy in Spite of Herself). The other two high school books, Betsy Was a Junior and Betsy and Joe, I just kept borrowing from the library over and over again. I didn't actually own my own copies until I was out of college. Same with the final two books in the series, Betsy and the Great World and Betsy's Wedding, which take Betsy from post-high school into her first year of marriage.
I don't even know how many times I've read these books. I probably read them at least once a year from fifth through eighth grade. Maybe I read them again in high school. But it was when I picked them up after college that I really started to notice how much my life had been sculpted by these books, or perhaps I was predisposed to enjoy them because I was already a lot like Betsy. I started writing because Betsy was a writer. I think I always had a thing for blond guys back in high school because of Joe Willard. To this day, I find myself rooting for the most Joe Willard-ly character in every love triangle. I've always longed for friendships like those Maud Hard Lovelace portrayed in her stories. I took Latin in high school because Betsy took Latin in high school. I believe I'm a feminist partly because I was exposed to these strong female characters at such a young age.
For a long time, I only had the novels to sate my hunger for all things Betsy-Tacy. Then, post-college, I found the Betsy-Tacy Companion, which brought my affection (obsession?) for Maud to a whole new level. Her books were more than novels. They told the veiled story of Maud, her friends, and her family. The companion book was filled with pictures of Maud and the "real" Tacy and Tib and Joe and the rest of the crowd. I ate that book up, dreaming of a way for me to rig my Delorean to send me back in time to the turn of the 20th century, so that I might be able to join Maud and her family for Sunday night lunch and some welsh rarebit.
I'll never know Maud (at least not until I go over the Big Hill into the afterlife, assuming there's a Heaven and it's just a larger scale model of fictional Deep Valley, Minnesota), but will continue to know her books, and I look forward to the day when I can pass them on to my own children and have them ignore my reading suggestions. Circle of life.
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