Blame it on Anne
She’s fictional, but she sure knows how to keep a girl company.
That Anne Shirley, Anne-with-an-e, talks nonstop, is a bit melodramatic, and has an imagination bigger than Green Gables itself. And, I realized, she’s part of the reason I’ve wanted an old house for as long as I can remember.
Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite books as a child. I probably read every book L.M. Montgomery ever published – all the Anne books, of course, and the Emily books, the Pat books, the various collections of short stories about the semi-fictional town of Avonlea (supposedly based on the town of Cavendish on Prince Edward Island).
When I was reading up about L.M. Montgomery just now, I found out that a prequel called Before Green Gables will be published in 2008, the 100th anniversary of our Anne Shirley’s first emergence onto the literary scene. I’m not sure how I feel about a new chapter being added to the Anne story, even by a famed Canadian author (Budge Wilson) hand-picked by Montgomery’s family.
I am excited about another project planned for 2008, Imagining Anne: The Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery. I see it becoming a self-gift as soon as possible.
However, Friday night I decided to enter Anne’s world through the DVD of the Canadian miniseries from the ‘80s. I remember it from the times it played on the Disney channel during my childhood, the way it fascinated me and captured the book’s – and Anne’s – spirit just so.
I bought the DVDs – Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Green Gables – The Sequel -- from Amazon a while back, but I guess I’ve been waiting for a special occasion to watch them. Even as impatient as I am, sometimes waiting is part of the pleasure. It’s like the way I eat a Milky Way candy bar, munching off all the chocolate, then the nougat, saving the caramel (in my mind, the best part) for last. That little delay makes it all the more delicious when I get to it.
Maybe that’s why Anne delighted me so. Many movies I loved as a child – The Labyrinth, The Great Muppet Caper -- I watch now with a feeling like I’m trying to hold onto running water. The affection is still there, the childhood feeling – faint, a whisper – but it’s fading so fast.
With Anne, it was still so bright, so tangible. If possible, I loved her even more. And as I watched dreamy, determined, hot-tempered, book-worshipping little Anne, I found myself wondering – did I love Anne because she was like me, or did I become me because I loved Anne?
I started this post intending to write about the Victorian house outside Toronto that was used as the set for Green Gables in the films. Its stark-yet-homey kitchen with the enormous black wood-burning stove, the spindly chairs, the spoon collection. The butler’s pantry with the to-die-for built-in cabinets (from which Anne fetches the pudding and finds a mouse drowned in it). The fretwork, the staircase, Anne’s little room under the eaves.
But what strikes me now is that Anne – and Emily, and other authors’ characters too, like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Sara Crewe – may have been the reason I first daydreamed about an old house. I loved reading their turn-of-the-century tales, about the coal-burning fireplaces, the red currant wine, the wedding dowries of rag rugs and embroidered linens, the high buttoned boots, the petticoats, the poetry recitation, the letter writing, the general stores with sacks of sugar and flour, the attics with trunks of old clothes.
They made me want to live in a piece of that time. In my daydreams, a big old house was a place full of mystery, quiet hiding places, window seats, books.
The reality is different and not different. Certainly, I never imagined an old house cloudy with demolition dust, strewn with tools and containers of wood putty and denatured alcohol. I never imagined how hard it would be to decide what sort of sink to have in the bathroom.
But I was right about the mysteries – who lived in the house, what were they like, why was it built, what did it look like when it was first built, when was this or that change made?
And I was right about the quiet hiding places. I can curl up with a book in the green velvet rocking chair in the guest room, with a cat sitting in the rectangle of sunshine at my feet. Or go out to the hammock on the porch, hidden from view by the magnolias.
I love my old house as much as I dreamed I would, and I’ll take the trouble with the good.
But next time something goes wrong, I’ll blame Anne. It was she who got me into this.