A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Maggie Rose Redux

In 1960, I kept a diary. I was 12 years old. In 2011, I posted in this blog each day the text of my diary entry for that same day in 1960. Many things I remembered, but a surprising number of entries seemed to have been written by another person. In many instances I had no recollection whatsoever of the events described, and I was taken aback by some of my reactions. Overall I had the feeling, copying out those old entries, that a messy, disorganized, slightly mercenary preteen had usurped the place of the saintly little Cicily of my memories. The diary Cicily had terrible taste in movies, didn't always finish her homework, and was occasionally mean to her friends. Part of me wanted to burn the evidence, but being a journalist and a historian, I opted to publish it here.

On April 9, 1960 I wrote:
 "At Steiger's there was a fountain, so we threw in pennies (my pennies). I finished 'Maggie Rose,' it was wonderful."
I have no recollection of having read Maggie Rose. But I was curious about what my younger self--the self I am realizing I don't actually know all that well--would have considered "wonderful." The Springfield library system no longer owns a copy of the book, but the Berkshire Athaneum does, and through the miracle of the inter-library loan, that copy arrived at my local branch a few days ago and I was able to re-read it.

Maggie Rose is written by Newbury medalist Ruth Sawyer, a storyteller, teacher, reporter and author who lived in Boston. (Sawyer's son-in-law was Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings.) It's illustrated by none other than Maurice Sendak. The story takes place in 1951. Maggie Rose is an enterprising little girl, the rest of whose family is cheerfully indolent. On June 24 she realizes her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is exactly half a year away. She makes plans to have, for the first time, a real birthday/Christmas celebration (her family is too lazy and too poor ever to have gone to that much effort). For six months she works to earn money and make preparations. The story ends on December 24 with her party, a smashing success.

Maggie Rose actually is a pretty good book. I think what I like about it--and what my twelve-year-old self probably liked--is the sense of place evoked in the story. Maggie Rose lives in a small Maine seacoast town. She spends a lot of time outdoors in her "secret place" on the fringe of the woods. Flora and fauna are lovingly described by Sawyer...hemlocks and pine, spruce and birch, mosses, rocks, sparrows. The other nice thing about the book is Maggie Rose herself. She's a reader, a dreamer, and a resourceful child. Kind of like me as a girl. Or at least what I think I was like.

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