The present of a friend

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been adopting nieces and nephews and handing them books. There are some books that are always on the gift list: Fox in Socks, the Ramona books. Edward Eager. And some I pick out especially for the particular kid. I had great success last Christmas with the first Shelby Holmes, a Sherlock Holmes update (he requested the entire series for his birthday in May–yay!). And then there are the books that I want to be very careful with, just because they are so special to me.

For many years, I had a plethora of nephews and no nieces. About five and a half years ago, my best friend told me she was expecting her second baby. And then she paused. “And it’s a girl.” There was excessive squealing. I could hear her rolling her eyes over the phone. She knew what was coming.

The first time I held S, her mom leaned over me and said “One day, she is going to introduce you to Anne of Green Gables and Betsy-Tasty, and I won’t be able to stop her.” Yes, my best friend calls the Betsy-Tacy books Betsy-Tasty to annoy me. And yes, she was totally right about my plotting.

And then, just two months later, another dear friend had her first baby, and it was a girl. (she’s one of those crazy people that didn’t find out the gender ahead of time.) Suddenly, I had two nieces to properly corrupt!

Because the Betsy-Tacy books open with Betsy’s 5th birthday, I always knew that I would give each girl the book for her 5th birthday. And honestly, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, that’s all I would have done. But one night, a few months ago, I was hanging out with D. We had already been talking about the challenges of a pandemic birthday, especially when you’re little and just don’t understand what’s going on in the world. She later mentioned that S had convinced her big brother to have a tea party with her–to the extent that he even put on one of her many princess dresses. And that’s when it hit me–a tea party for the birthday! And to introduce one of my favorite books. How could any little girl not like a book when it’s connected with an excessive amount of sugar? And for my long-distance friend, surely I could figure out a way to do a tea party in a box.

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So, I sent S a formal invitation (on a Betsy-Tacy notecard, of course) to come over for tea. I told her that we would dress up and wear hats and she could decide who else in her family could come. One Sunday afternoon, the entire family came over, everyone dressed according to S’s instructions. We picked out some hats from my collection.

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We had too many sweets, including some of the best scones ever (a recipe from a Betsy-Tacy friend). I hoped to read the first two chapters to S, but she requested watching Animaniacs, and that’s pretty important too. Due to the pandemic, shipping of her book was delayed, but when it arrived, I took it to her and we read the first two chapters before bed. Bonus was that big brother joined us and read some of it to us.

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Last week, we had the long distance tea party with L. She was almost as excited as S, even though we weren’t in person. I sent a box with a pretty floral tea cup, tea, scones, chocolate cookies, the book, and a postcard of the author at age 5. We chatted and ate, and I read the first two chapters. She apparently got up at 6:30 that morning asking if it was time for tea yet. I think it was a long day for her mother.

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One of my favorite lines in literature is in that second chapter: “But the nicest present she received was not the usual kind of present. It was the present of a friend. It was Tacy.” With all the emotions swirling around right now, I did a pretty good job of not choking up on that line. More than anything else, these books are about friendship–and why wouldn’t I share them with the daughters of two of my dearest friends?

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Doesn’t she look just a little bit like Betsy?

Will these books be a lifelong love for these girls? Too soon to tell. But it was such fun to share it with them and do something really special in the midst of all this craziness. I know we created some really special memories. Apparently, both girls have been talking about the tea parties rather incessantly. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I doubt I would have done all that. But truthfully, I needed the project and the distraction and the fun too. Who doesn’t want an excuse to eat clotted cream and tiny sandwiches?

There are many different kinds of legacies. Some are passed through direct family ties. And some are passed through friends that become family. If one of my legacies is a love of books, any books, that’s enough. So, even if they don’t fall in love with Betsy and Tacy, I hope they realize the special connection books can create between friends of all ages.

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In the mean time, I’ll just start planning the Anne of Green Gables tea now. Maybe for their eighth birthday?

 

Birthday wish lists, then and now

Texas summers are an ideal time to go through those boxes and random places you throw stuff to get it out of the way. After all, it’s far too hot to do any outside chores. Last weekend, I went through a stack of things my mother had given me years ago in an effort to clean out her own hidden piles. In it was a birthday present wish list from when I was 10. Here’s the first page.

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Notice the inclusion of Anne of Ingleside? Guess I hadn’t made it through the whole series quite yet. The timing of the rediscovery was perfect–it was the day after I had received a truly remarkable Anne birthday present. How has Anne Shirley been a part of my life and my wish lists for over 30 years?

I’ve written about Anne more than any other character on this blog. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read Anne–probably 8 or 9, a few years after the Anne of Green Gables mini-series. I do remember how I was introduced to her–completely by accident! Remember those delightful Scholastic order forms you would get in elementary school? I really wanted A Little Princess because I had seen the Shirley Temple movie and wanted to read the book. There was a 2 for 1 special, and Anne of Green Gables was automatically included. I’m sure I didn’t read Anne right away–after all, I had never heard of her. But when I did, I quickly became obsessed. And clearly, it’s an obsession that has staying power.

Over the decades, I’ve built a fairly impressive Anne collection. My preference is for serendipitous discoveries in antique stores, though I have bought a few things off of eBay. I have many, many versions of the books, including a first edition, 4th printing of Anne. I have dolls and tea cups and post cards and illustrations of Green Gables. Of course, I have things for some of my other book loves, especially Little Women  and Little House on the Prairie. But I definitely have more Anne things than anything else.

Part of my collecting bug is my fascination with how Anne has been adapted and remade over the decades, from bizarre book covers to the many, many film adaptations. Often, this feels like watching a train wreck, but I can’t turn away. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few things from the 1934 version, including the amazing study guide pictured below. And there’s that extra element of interest since the actress fell so in love with the character that she changed her name. Talk about obsession.

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But I had never been able to find anything relating to the 1919 silent film version. This is one of the countless silent films that didn’t survive. For it’s added bit of fun, the people involved ended up in a bit of a scandal. There were rumors of an affair between the actress, Mary Miles Minter, and the director, William Desmond Taylor, and then he was murdered in 1922. The case is still unsolved. And there are certainly theories that Minter was somehow involved in his death.

Years ago, I had a bid on a poster from the movie and lost it at the last moment. It is one of my great eBay regrets. At some point a few years ago, I mentioned this to my friend Jenn. I have no memory of telling her this story, but we travel together pretty regularly so we have certainly talked about all sorts of things.

For my 40th birthday, she gave me this.

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Isn’t it beautiful? She had mentioned my wish to a friend of hers that keeps an eye on this sort of thing–and he’s been looking for almost 2 years. I was absolutely amazed at the thoughtfulness–and dedication required–for this gift.

There isn’t anything else on my birthday wish list from 30 years ago that I would still want today. But Anne is still there–she’s almost always been there. Milestone birthdays are a time to reflect, and it’s comforting to realize that certain things in my life have remained so constant over the years. Now to find the right spot to hang my new treasure!