I am terrible with transitions. I like change well enough in theory, and I’m fine with it after it’s happened, but when I’m within a week of upheaval, I tend to fall to pieces. Tomorrow, I leave on a six-week trip covering three countries and providing an opportunity to see a number of dear friends, and while I’m thrilled to be going, the stress getting ready has given me several nights of insomnia, near constant heartburn, and my very first (!) doozy of a nosebleed. (Yes, I have become that person who gets nosebleeds under stress – I’m looking forward to adding that to my resume of delightful quirks.)
The only remedy for the anxiety I feel about this whole situation was to go to the bottom of my bookshelf and pull out one of my absolute favorite books from childhood. I’ve kept quite a few chapter books from back then, but Anne has always been particularly special. I still remember the first time my mother read it to me. I would get to hear a chapter every night before bed as a treat, and when I was reading it this week, I would hear every line in her soothing voice.
The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.
Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. She leaned back in the buggy, her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to the white splendor above. Even when they had passed out and were driving down the long slope to Newbridge she never moved or spoke. Still with rapt face she gazed afar into the sunset west, with eyes that saw visions trooping splendidly across that glowing background. Through Newbridge, a bustling little village where dogs barked at them and small boys hooted and curious faces peered from the windows, they drove, still in silence. When three more miles had dropped away behind them the child had not spoken. She could keep silence, it was evident, as energetically as she could talk. (loc 295)
If I had never read this book as a child, I might find its style to be overwritten for modern tastes, but since I have powerfully pleasant associations with it, reading a section like that transported me back to my own little bed. I found myself remembering details of my old bedroom so clearly – the chipped, pale pink paint and industrial grey carpeting, the little white bookshelf always overflowing, a rainbow-colored bedspread that clashed with my white and gold dresser. I can’t help but laugh at how little I decorative taste I was burdened with in my youth, and yet that room was filled to the brim with stories my parents told me, so I could never not love it.
We read so many books aloud when my brother and I were young, especially in that old house where even dinner time was likely to be given over to a family chosen novel, but Anne of Green Gables was always one of my favorites. Anne tried hard to be good, but she was always getting into gently amusing scrapes that seemed, both to her and to me, deeply unjust at the time. She also talked far too much and about the most ridiculous things, and although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, it was one of the key reasons Anne and I seemed like kindred spirits. Although I often came across as reserved in unfamiliar settings, the secret very soon was spilled that once I got going on a tear, I could talk the ear off of anyone, and would.
“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive— it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so I’ll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it’s difficult.” (247)
I loved Anne, too, because as much as she chattered on, she also had a vivid imagination and was content to spend hours alone with it. I felt I must be terribly odd when I was a child and people would find me staring dazedly out the window or with my hands under still running water, completely lost in my own world. I felt a little happier knowing that other people still liked her even though she was strange in ways that I was too.
It was a deep comfort above all else, however, that one of Anne’s greatest flaws was one I shared, and it was one she only barely grew out of by the end of the book:
She flung herself into her studies heart and soul, determined not to be outdone in any class by Gilbert Blythe. The rivalry between them was soon apparent; it was entirely good-natured on Gilbert’s side; but it is much to be feared that the same thing cannot be said of Anne, who had certainly an unpraiseworthy tenacity for holding grudges. (2060)
If ever a line of text was written perfectly to describe me, it would be “[she] had certainly an unpraiseworthy tenacity for holding grudges.” I should be ashamed of the number of stories that pop to mind to illustrate that point, and I should be even more ashamed by the flash of pride I felt at how successfully I’ve held some of them…and I am, at least a little. It’s hard to be completely annoyed at a personal fault though, when one happens to be so good at it as to almost consider it a farmable skill…
Anne, of course, learns the virtue of forgiveness by the end of the book. It’s that kind of story, written in an era when wholesome novels about girls could encourage friendship, family, and adventure without necessarily dictating puritanical values. There’s no kissing or dating either, of course, although Montgomery writes a wisp of romance into this first volume, but I’ve always loved Anne’s declaration that “Young men are all very well in their place, but it doesn’t do to drag them into everything, does it?” She is fierce-minded and proud, dedicated to the people she loves, bright, generous of spirit, and, as she says after one of her more trying mishaps, “surely born under an unlucky star.”
She’s a character who is difficult to hate because although she tries desperately to be good, she is also clumsy and outspoken with a terribly quick temper, and she seems all the more vulnerable for her faults. It’s a winsome combination. I will always be grateful to have had a girl like Anne to grow up with, and even still to keep me company now that I am grown.
Want to go on an “Anne vacation?” I did when I was about thirteen – it was dorky and wonderful. Go. Also, I was obsessed with the movie and borrowed it from the library an embarrassing number of times (that number was more than ten and less than 100…). Turns out, I’m not the only one who loved it…