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?

 

The war at home

In this time of pandemics and quarantines, we’re all searching for different ways to grasp a bit of comfort and stability. Personally, I’ve been reading mysteries (they always find an answer by the end!), watching some very fluffy tv, and perhaps baking a bit more than I should. I never would have guessed that one of my quarantine highlights would be a virtual read-a-thon of a book about World War I. After all, aren’t we all craving fluff?

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But when I heard that Andrea McKenzie and Benjamin Lefebvre were launching a Rilla of Ingleside virtual read-a-thon on Facebook, I signed up immediately. Years ago, I raved here about their scholarly edition of Rilla, a book that most definitely rests in my top 10 list of favorite books of all time. This book shaped me as a historian in so many ways, and I couldn’t let an opportunity to revisit it with fans and scholars pass me by.

I will admit that I didn’t keep current with all the posts, and I don’t think I ever made a comment. But each dip into that world was delightful and helped feed my soul. Part of what made it so special is that they invited people from around the world to read a chapter on video. I found myself listening to the chapters while sewing masks or making cookies for no good reason. There were names I recognized back from the Kindred Spirits email list days. Names I knew from twitter and other bookish circles. There were some delightful accents to enjoy. People posed in front of their book shelves, full of Montgomery novels. They showed off their tattered 1990s editions of Rilla. Even though I sometimes found myself crying in the kitchen, it was just so healing. Those tears were for the community around these beloved books and the uncertainty we are all living in.

At this point in my life, I don’t know how many times I’ve read Rilla, But on this read, I felt the emotions in a way I never have before.  The relentless waiting for leaders to take action to stop senseless death. The daily dread of the news–but knowing you can’t ignore the news. The little bits of normalcy and humor that creep in when we least expect it–but most definitely need it! Wondering when, if ever, it will end. Being surprised at how time has sped by and crawled. I will never be able to read Rilla again without thinking about Covid-19. We are both fighting wars at home.

Diving back into L. M. Montgomery’s world was so comforting that I started a reread of all of her books in publication order as my bedtime reading. For some of these books, it’s probably been 20+ years since I’ve touched them, so the reread has been a delight.

When quarantine began in March, I wondered how far I’d get. At this point, I’m almost done with Emily Climbs, published in 1925. Eleven books down, nine to go. We’re only 4 months into this thing. Now I’m almost starting to wonder what to read when I finish.