by Melanie Heuiser Hill
I received Anne of Green Gables for my tenth birthday. I fell in love immediately. Absolutely In Love — that’s the only way I can describe it.
For the next several years, I received the next book in the Anne series each birthday and Christmas. I could spot the book in my pile of wrapped gifts — I have the Bantam Starefire Collection, small mass market paperbacks not quite seven inches tall — the very size and shape of those books made my heart beat faster. The print is tiny, the margins almost non-existent, which wasn’t in any way a problem when I received them. Now that I’ve added a few decades, I need my new bifocals to read them. My husband suggested I get another set of the books — one with larger print. As if.
For years, through high school and college and young-adulthood, I re-read the books on the sly. Usually in times of stress. I’d rip through the entire series — Anne age ten in #1 all the way through to her youngest daughter, Rilla, a teenager in #8. A couple of years might go by between the readings — but not more than that. Sometimes I just read Anne of Green Gables, which remains my absolute favorite, but usually if I read it, I read them all.
“A bosom friend – an intimate friend, you know – a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul.”(Anne Shirley, in Anne of Greene Gables)
Several years ago now I met my bosom friend. I sat in the back of a small group as she and her husband talked about writing and reading, family and life. I was so entranced I could not even take notes. I loved her at once, somehow. I sat listening to her and I thought: This woman is a kindred spirit.
A heartbeat later, as a part of a long list of excellent books worth re-reading, my kindred spirit said “And Anne of Green Gables. I perpetually read Anne of Green Gables, of course.” Her husband nodded.
A zing went through me head to toe — why had I never thought to do that?! It was the word perpetually that got me. And the non-chalant of course. I was a thousand miles from home, but if I’d had my trusty Bantam Starfire Collection with me, I would’ve started perpetually reading the Anne books right then and there. As it was, I had to wait until I got home. But I’ve been perpetually reading them — a chapter or two most nights before bed — ever since. (Imagine my husband nodding.)
My own daughter is not as infatuated with Anne. She’s a little overwhelmed with Anne’s boisterous spirit, incessant chatter, over-active imagination, and general endearing exuberance. (Which is funny, because she’s really quite like Anne Shirley.) She has a couple of copies of Anne of Green Gables—hardback collector editions she received as gifts. I gave her a box set of the whole series for her birthday last year. (This is what has changed in a generation — I received the books one at a time, but I gave her the entire series at once. But I digress.) They are similarly sized to mine, and I thought maybe the size would somehow make the difference.
Alas no. They just aren’t really her thing. I thought I might be crushed by her indifference — I worried about it for years. My bosom friend (whose daughters are older than mine) warned me this could, in fact, happen. But now that it has, it’s okay. Really. My girl has read the hardback a couple of times, watched the excellent movies with me, and I’ve convinced her to read Anne of Avonlea with me over vacation this summer. It’s all good.
My dear bosom friend died quite unexpectedly and horribly a year and a half ago. The hole left in my life remains large — we corresponded daily and often referenced Anne Shirley and her adages and escapades alongside our own. Neither of us fit the role of Anne Shirley or Diana Barry, but our friendship was deep, even though it started later in life.
My perpetual reading of the Anne series has been a gift during this time. I am so very grateful for my friend’s unassuming words: perpetual, of course. Without the zing that went through me that evening, I might not have been bold enough to contact her, and our resulting bosom friendship, so rich and so much a part of my life, might not have been.
So I think of her each night as I open whatever book in the series I’m on (just started #7, Rainbow Valley). It’s bittersweet, to be sure, but it’s been helpful somehow. My heart is grateful.
Also, I’m still holding out hope my girl will become an Anne-girl this summer. We’ll see.…