Flashback Friday: Anne with an E, and Emily, too.

On Saturday, a nice Mennonite woman came in with her family and asked if I had a book called “Mistress Pat” by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  My love for the author (and the two cups of coffee I’d already consumed) prompted me to barrage her with recommendations and questions about what they’d already read, how much they loved her, and details about my own relationship with her books. The poor woman nodded along with a tight smile, asked me to put the book on hold, and then hurried along her way.

While I felt a little abashed and subdued afterwards, I also felt like I just couldn’t help myself.  It is so rare to find people who haven’t read L.M. Montgomery’s books and who actually want to.  A good friend and I had a discussion recently about what a tragedy it is that the new generation of readers are passing these books by. We read them voraciously as middle schoolers and high schoolers (my copy of Emily of New Moon looks like it was beat up by a bear from all my rereads), yet today’s kids at the library take one look at the first few pages and put it back on the shelf.

So what gives? Has Anne with an E somehow lost her charm? I find that very hard to believe. And yet, there she sits on the library shelves with hardly a checkout to her name. The families that do check her out tend to be Mennonites, which leads me to believe that the real issue is an overwhelming access to technology.

When I read Anne (and Emily, Pat, Marigold, Story Girl etc.) I didn’t feel disconnected from the world that they lived in. I still lived in a world with rotary phones and 30 channels on the TV–the internet was basically unknown, and when we did get it, it came on a CD. I wrote regularly in a journal, and I still wrote essays for school out by hand. Anne’s life, though very different from my own, was not the light-years away that it is to today’s culture and society.

Kids are already struggling with waning attention spans–I think the idea of reading about a girl who fills hours of boredom by making up names and stories for her ‘friends’ (the trees and White Way) just can’t appeal to them. It doesn’t mean I don’t try–it just means I’ve stopped being surprised when girls wrinkle up their noses and shake their heads.

On the bright side, the love of Anne, and for me, Emily, is something that will always offer a special bond for women my generation and older. There are so many things in my life that have been influenced by her writings.  A favorite story is from a scary time at the hospital, when a wonderful young Doctor stayed with me through a lot of pain, and admitted that she was giving me extra attention because she felt like I was a kindred spirit.  Of course we promptly launched into an “OH YOU’VE READ ANNE” conversation, which helped distract me from what was happening.

Anne has always been a part of my life, literally from the very beginning. My mother named me after Mrs. Rachel Lynde (though she’ll be quick to point out that it was only because she liked the way the name sounded, not because she loved her character).  When I first read Anne, I was a little offended when I met Mrs. Rachel Lynde because of her busybody personality and her holier-than-thou attitude.  It took a few more chapters and books and rereadings over the years for me to truly understand what an incredible person Rachel Lynde was, and even though Mom continues to insist that I wasn’t named for her as a character, I’ve come to realize that I wouldn’t mind if she did.

My love of Montgomery’s stories is something I’m happy to share with so many. When I posted the story about the Mennonite woman on Facebook, I was a little surprised to see how many people commented about their own relationship with the books. I think my experiences with the younger generation and their lack of love for Anne made me forget how many people out there are still affected by those stories every day.  It was a beautiful reminder that Anne and Emily are still important to the world, and their stories continue to live on with those of us who love them so much.

Supporting Characters: Chapter 2

Once upon a time a little girl, who didn’t even have an evil step family, got lucky enough to have an aunt who doubled as a fairy godmother.

She spent days and nights with her aunt, who helped her learn to read and ride horses, who let her play (carefully) with antiques and tear voraciously through aged copies of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Bobbsey Twins.  She slept over in the fancy guest bed, which never failed to make her feel special.  She accompanied her aunt (and uncle and cousin) on trips to Florida and Virginia, walking the beach and touring the Smithsonian. She slept in her very own blue room at the bed and breakfast they happened upon when traveling home from a football game in Buffalo.

When the little girl was determined to be Harriet the Spy (complete with a raincoat on a hot summer day) her fairy godmother made sure she had her own aptly labeled “Spy File” in the company file cabinet. When she had a rambling imagination that resulted in endless stories, her aunt listened patiently and offered insightful comments. When the little girl needed new books to read or new journals to write in, her aunt was happy to oblige and never stopped encouraging her love of the written word.

Her aunt helped her with math and science, she listened to the girl’s essays and poems and stories and favorite passages from the books she was reading. She taught her how to walk quickly through crowds and to not let her short legs slow her down. She told the very best stories about life before the little girl could remember it, and would happily repeat them each time she was asked.

As the little girl grew up, her fairy godmother became more of a confidant. They talked of boys and mean girls and how makeup was supposed to look. Her aunt came to soccer games and high school plays, track meets and chorus concerts. The girl was allowed to raid her aunt’s closet for dresses for homecoming (never caring that they were too long), and when it came time for junior prom, her fairy godmother (and her uncle) helped her find the perfect ballgown that turned her into a princess.

The girl’s fairy godmother remained one of her closest friends throughout college and in the years after. Her aunt attended award ceremonies and brought her ice cream when she was passing through town. The girl still slept over in the fancy guest room (though now it was in a new house), and sometimes when she was sad, she would pull the aged copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales into bed with her for comfort.  The fairy godmother went from making Shirley Temples to pouring glasses of wine. She never stopped listening or offering advice, and the girl never forgot how lucky she was to have grown up with a fairy godmother/aunt of the sort most people only find in books.