April 25, 2012

Happy Birthday Betsy!

Today is the 110th birthday of the beloved children's book heroine, Betsy, from Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series of books. A lot of women writers will claim Josephine March, from Little Women as the chief source of inspiration for their chosen career. But for me, it was Betsy.

The first four titles, which concern Betsy, Tacy, and Tib's childhood in a small town in Minnesota, I read and re-read as soon as chapter books stopped intimidating me.  (Perhaps - I don't remember - they are why chapter books stopped intimidating me.) And their world was my fantasy world: hiking through the mountains, making friends with gypsies one day; riding into town in a fine car and listening to the Opera the next.

But when Betsy went to high-school, and later toured Europe, and married her high-school sweetheart (I suppose I first read these later books when I was 11 or 12), that's when I really starting wanting to be like Betsy, and identifying myself with her. I remember--so clearly--when she set up an old trunk as her desk, and treasured the exact placement of the drawer, the feel of the crisp clean sheets of paper, planning how much she was going to write (and always, somehow, failing in that plan.)

We all identify and are inspired by the books and characters we really love. Betsy is as much a part of me as she is a part of generations of women who have read an loved her tales. It's been a long, long time since I've read those later books. I wonder what I'll think of Betsy now, and how she'll sit next to all my other dreams, some abandoned and others waiting patiently to arise when the time is right and my work is done.

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