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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Break From Sturm and Drang--Maud Hart Lovelace Writes From Life

"Tacy and Betsy," or Bick and Maud

When I think about transforming grief and fear into literature, I also think of the Betsy-Tacy books. A funny transition, right? From Eugene O'Neill to Maud Hart Lovelace? But it's true, though Lovelace turns hers into comedy. 

The odds are good that you haven't heard of the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books written by Maud Hart Lovelace. They run from the meeting of Betsy and Tacy, on Betsy's fifth birthday through Betsy's Wedding via thirteen books and are one of the best classic children's series ever written, largely because 

this is the only series of girl's stories where it is frankly assumed by everyone, parents included, that the heroine, and her female friends and siblings, will grow up to have a career. 
In fact, Tacy and Betsy feel pity for Tib when she winds up "marrying well," and nothing more.
As to transforming fear and grief: I just read aloud a section of Betsy-Tacy and Tib (book two) from the section on hair cutting to a group of first, second and third-graders. This section comes after Tacy becomes ill and nearly dies, with her house under quarantine for weeks. 

Afterwards, in a hilarious attempt to cope with fear and grief, Betsy and her friends decide to create a braided hair memento using their brown, red and blonde hair to do so. 

The three girls openly procure a pair of scissors and three "pill-boxes" to use as lockets, without explaining what they want to use them for, and head up the hill to their special (and secluded) spot.  
Knowing that what they are doing will be tough to "explain," they decide to each cut only one head--all three, then will be culpable, plus three makes it easier to explain.  

Betsy lifts one of Tacy's long, red sausage curls, the one right next to her face, and cuts it off. Since that looks silly, Betsy cuts five more to match--"exactly one half." 

Tib has it easier. She undoes one of Betsy's brown braids and cuts off "exactly half" of her hair. 

The hardest is Tacy's chopping of Tacy's short blonde curls, but she, too, manages her task. The three girls then play, giggling at the sight of one another, until they become so nervous about what they have done that they must go home. 

What follows is a hilarious parade that grows as the girls go from house to house, picking up relatives along the way, all the while "explaining," without being heard.  

At the end, when Tib is about to be badly punished, the girls are finally allowed to explain----they could any of them die at any moment and have nothing to remember each other by. At this, the adults calm down and Tacy's mother grows teary. Tib's capable mother brings the girls in and trims their hair. As she does so, in a final, telling detail, Tacy's mother picks up one of her daughter's sacrificed locks for her own memento. 

Maud Hart wrote almost all her novels based on her own loving family and terrific circle of friends. So the next time someone says you have to suffer from a horrible childhood in order to be an artist, refer them to Maud Hart Lovelace, who not only had a terrific one, but gave one to her only surviving child, a daughter. 

Tib, Betsy and Tacy, or Midge, Maud and Bick

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