There are a few literary characters with whom I feel very deep connections. Granted, I feel connected to characters in almost any well-written work, but there are a few who resonate with me very deeply.
Betsy Ray in one of them.
Maybe it’s just that she was a Minnesota girl, and that she was a writer who was sort of idealistic. Maybe it’s because I spent my summers as a younger girl reading all the Betsy-Tacy books all the way through Betsy’s Wedding. Regardless of why, she and I are nearly identical.
“Betsy was pleased to be taking the solitary drive. She was a friendly, fun-loving girl with high spirits, touched off like firecrackers under a match by the company of others. Yet as she grew older, she like increasingly to be alone. She wanted to be a writer, and she had already discovered that poems and stories came most readily from the deep well of solitude. Moreover, she had discovered that at seventeen one was growing up so fast that one needed time to think, to correlate all the perplexing changes and try to understand them… she did not look like the Betsy Ray who had entered high school four years before. At thirteen, grown suddenly thin and tall, she had been plainly in the awkward age. Now she enjoyed being tall and slender. She loved high heels that made her even taller, large droopy hats, lacy clothes, perfumes, bracelets, and polished fingernails.”
–Betsy and Joe, by Maud Hart Lovelace
Hello, Betsy. You are about to be part of the graduating class of 1910 of Deep Valley High School. I’m about to be a part of the graduating class of 2012 of Small Private Christian School. You’re tall. I’m 5′ 11 1/2″. You’re obviously feminine, and I couldn’t be much more girly. Freshly sharpened pencils are on your list of favorite things, along with new notebooks and family and rosy apple blossoms and lifelong friends. I nod my head as I type each one of those things, feeling solidarity with you, a fictional character.
You set goals, Betsy. At the beginning of every school year, as you sit in the rowboat on Murmuring Lake, you make grandiose plans and write them out. You decide who you will be and what you will do during the next year. You plan those things out, and you don’t end up doing all of them. Yet, when you get to the end of the year, you realize that “…you never slip down to quite the point you started climbing from. You always gain a little.”
We could be friends, Betsy Ray, you and I. We could be dreamy and idealistic together and not live up to it but still accomplish something along the way, learning heaps as we go. I’d love to join your world, to take picnics on the hill with you and Tacy and Tib. We would get ready for the dances at Shiller Hall together, where you and your Crowd dance the waltz and the two-step and all the other dances while singing along with gusto to the music.
Have you ever read a book that you would belong in? Not just one that you’d like to be a part of, not just wistfully thinking about living in a different time, but one you belong to.
Oh, Betsy. At least I can read your books if I can’t live in your world.
P.S. If you haven’t read the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, you are missing out, so put it on your summer reading list.