Timing can be a funny thing. Dandelion Cottage by Carroll Watson Rankin is one of those books I’ve heard mentioned with love and reverent tones on a book e-list I’m on. A few months ago, friends announced with glee that it was now available digitally. First published in 1904, it’s been out of print for a very long time and copies are hard to find. Well, it was only $1, so I downloaded it on a whim. (Note: you can also get it from Project Gutenberg, but I think the formatting is better in this other version)
And this is where I will briefly digress to say that though I will never read everything on my Nook, digitization is a great way to make smaller, lesser known (and older!) works accessible. So I love Real Books and I love my Nook, and gosh darn it, I hope both exist happily together for many years to come.
I didn’t actually begin reading it until early March. And it didn’t take me long to fall in love and start giggling. And if I had read this any other spring, I would not have laughed as hard.
You see, four little girls are in need of a playhouse. And a tiny vacant house is available, but “nowhere else were there such mammoth dandelions or such prickly burrs.” Their rent? “If you pull up every weed in this place before the end of next week you shall have the use of the cottage for all the rest of the summer in return for your services.”
This spring has been the worst for weeds ever. My yard has always had weed issues, but it’s much, much worse this year. Between the drought and heat of last summer, and the rain this winter, there’s not enough grass to hold the weeds back. My only comfort is that my yard is not the worst on the block. I’ve seen some absolutely insane weeds everywhere, including this beauty, which was in front of my office.
I’ve never seen a dandelion so big before–well over 3 feet tall before it was cut down. So, as I read of the four girls tackling those weeds, I kinda wished I could bribe some kids to tackle my yard. Check out this scene of weed digging:
“I’m a soldier,” said Marjory, brandishing a trowel, “vanquishing my enemies. You know in books the hero always battles single-handed with about a million foes and always kills hem all and everybody lives hapy ever after–zip! There goes one!”
“I”m a pioneer,” said Jean, slashing away at a huge tough burdock. “I’m chopping down the forest primeval to make a potato patch. The dandelions are skulking Indians, and I’m capturing them to put in my bushel-basket prison.”
“I’m just digging weeds,” said prosaic Mabel, “and I don’t like it.”
Of course, they conquer the weeds, and then there’s that truly wonderful part about setting up house. I don’t know when I started enjoying these domestic tales so much, but I’ve always loved stories of people putting together a home. Since this is “just” a playhouse, the girls are at first consigned to cast-offs from their homes. Which they totally realized and joke about:
“We might call this “The House of Tickless Clocks,” suggested Jean.
“Or of the grindless coffee-mill,” giggled Marjory.
“Or of the talkless telephone,” added Mabel.
Eventually, they make things so nice that they end up with a lovely boarder (another great example of a fabulous adult in children’s fiction that aren’t family, but are awesome) and some mean neighbors that try to steal their house.
And it was during that little scene, in which Mabel sends a telegram asking for help, that I giggled more than most people would. You see, the same week I was reading this, we had a series of activities at the museum relating to communication over 100 years ago. Somehow, most days, I ended up with our reproduction telegraph. Over and over again, I explained to children about how telegraph messages had to be short and to the point, since you were charged by the word. I made comparisons to early text messaging. I had my spiel down pat. And then I read about Mable carefully composing the telegram for help. When she hands it over to the clerk, the following occurs:
The clerk opened the envelope–Mabel considered this decidedly rude of him–and proceeded to read the message. It took him a long time. Then he looked from Mabel’s flushed cheeks and eager eyes to the little collection of nickels and dimes she had placed on the counter. Mabel wondered why he chewed the ends of his sandy mustache so vigorously. . . .
“It’ll be all right, Miss Mabel,” said he at last. “It’s a pretty good fifty-five cents worth; but I guess Mr. Black won’t object to that.”
I won’t spoil the message, but I will say that when Mr. Black received the telegram he had to pay a few more dollars to the Western Union man.
Dandelion Cottageis truly a charming little book, and one I highly recommend. It’s sweet and funny, and you can’t help but fall in love with these little girls. But honestly, I think half of my enjoyment of this book was the timing–it wouldn’t have been near as amusing and fun if I had read it before this incredibly weird spring. I would have liked it, but part of my love is purely based on the abundance of dandelions throughout North Texas this year.
The cottage itself is a “real” place, located in Marquette, Michigan. Several years ago, a wonderful piece was written by the current owner of the home, which gives a brief overview of its history–and what it’s like to live in a literary home.
And because I can’t resist, here’s a picture of the “real” cottage. What a magical playhouse!