Until recently I have had a hard time describing my childhood. There were two parts of it- the part of me that was a normal kid and then the part of me that spent my evenings in pain as i was taken to doctor's appointments, PT, and donned painful splints. It's often lonely being a child in the adult medical world.
Luckily, I was born into a family of readers. We had books throughout the house. Books stacked on the piano. Piles under coffeetables. I remember thinking This is how Matilda feels! when I was handed a brand new library card with my name printed neatly on the back. I did not realize it at the time but books can save lives!
I was afraid of everything. My childhood bedroom was a dormer with few windows. I was forever rushing to my parents in the middle of the night with tales of what I had seen in the shadows. The softest moans of our house settling was enough for my mind to spin stories that made RL Stein seem tame. Add to that the painful splints that I had to wear at night to help correct a bone disorder, I rarely got a full nights sleep.
To help me cope with my terrors and to get me to stay in bed, my parents often read to me before I fell asleep. My mom would go into our attic and come out with stacks of books that had been her favorites during her childhood. She would line these up on my personal bookshelf and slowly we would work our way through these. The Bobbsey Twins, Charlotte's Web, and Misty of Chincoteague were ordered neatly on my shelf and eagerly read by my mom.
In those glowing days of childhood there was one plucky little redhead who stood out apart from the rest. Anne Shirley! Even in the mid 90s Anne Shirley seemed like a rebel. She was not your typical moral character- she had faults. She was opinionated and a spitfire (My mom would say she's cussed). She was vain and often full of herself. But underneath these flaws that shine like mud on new shoes was a vulnerability, a sense of loss, and a desire to be loved. The same young girl who smashed chalkboards over heads could also remain loyal to a friend even when it could not be reciprocated. The girl who desired jet black hair and puffed sleeves also worked hard at her studies so she could go to high school and college. She was riddled with contradictions- much like real kids.
Anne Shirley seemed like a revolutionary in the 1920s when my grandmother read the book and she remains one today. I read the Lady of Shallot and the Highwaymen because of Anne. She started my lifelong obsession with red hair. She taught me how to daydream as I sat doing the repetitive procedures during physical therapy. I admired her tenacious attitude that allowed her to walk in the real-world while still keeping a part of herself for the land of fairies.
Anne Shirley was one of the first books that made think- This character gets it! She's me! When I graduated college, mom and I went on a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island. We visited Green Gables. We walked through the White Way of Delight. We even sampled raspberry cordial. It felt like we were visiting a good friend. We were home.
L.M. Montgomery has created a literary kindred spirit for many, many girls since she wrote the book back in 1908. I think all of us who have read and fallen in love with Anne see a bit of ourselves in her. She's an "everygirl"- the perfect example of what girls and women should be.
Thank you, Anne for your inspiration and you kindred spirit!