Heads around the room nodded as Florence Minor began her talk at the 2017 Kaigler Book Festival by noting Heidi as a favorite childhood book. One of those heads was mine. When Florence mentioned the grandfather’s melted cheese, the audience appeared to be made up of bobbleheads.
I had a very special tenth birthday. Except for a new dress and a generic cake for the family, Mama didn’t make too much of birthdays. However, a decade seemed important to her, and the dress she designed and made came from carefully chosen store-bought fabric rather than the normal feed sacks the dairy farmers in Daddy’s congregation saved for her. The main part of the bodice and skirt was a forest green and pink plaid. The pink yoke that had a tab on the left side coming down matched a pink border on the bottom with a tab coming up. Three pink pearly buttons anchored both tabs. She even went all out on the cake making my favorite white butter creme icing and decorating it with turquoise, my favorite color at the time.
Adding to this best childhood birthday, Aunt Ruth gave me Heidi for a birthday present. Reading in the McGee household was as common as eating and breathing, but owning books all by yourself – not so much. Books came from the school library or the bookmobile and were often loaned back and forth among friends. Any we actually owned would list on the cover page “The McGee Girls” or “Virginia Ann, Beth, and Gwen” and eventually “Ruth.” This book was mine, mine, mine! My sisters had to get my permission if they wanted to read Heidi.
Florence’s talk gave me a hankering to revisit Heidi, Clara, the grandfather, and Peter (also a hankering for melted cheese, but that is another issue). My special book, of course, is long gone, but Amazon had a first-rate translation for an excellent price (free), and I downloaded it for a special treat on the plane as we traveled out west. I found much the same. Heidi still wins the hearts of all those around her, Peter lets his jealousy get the best of him, Clara learns to walk, and grandfather is reconciled to the community around him. The only difference is that when I was ten, the Alps existed only in my imagination. Now I have been there and could place Heidi in a real place that I can see.
Thanks, Florence, for sending me back to an old favorite.