Thursday, August 13, 2015


Tonight as I prepared for a meeting at a coffee shop, I had to resist the urge to don a petticoat and sweep up my hair in a large Gibson Girl knot. (I settled for a wrap-around skirt and casual updo.) This may sound strange. But not if you've been lost in Maud Hart Lovelace's endearing Betsy books as I have this past week.

You know how it is. (Or at least I hope you do. I dearly hope you do.) You get so lost in a story, the characters become so real, that before you know it, 1908 -- or wherever your book takes you -- becomes your reality. (1908 is a lovely reality, by the way. I've mentioned before how much I adore the Edwardian Era, have I not?)

One of the benefits of enjoying the Besty books in this day and age, I've realized, is that we now have access to the internet. When I come across an unfamiliar custom, costume, song or person as I read, I need only google the thing and voila, I've learned something!

This tool was especially helpful as I read Betsy in Spite of Herself, set in 1908 Minnesota and based on the author's actual high school experiences. The main characters (they call themselves The Crowd -- don't you love it?), often gather around the piano for entertainment. They pull out the latest sheet music and croon away.

The songs were new then, but they're over a hundred years old now. I don't know them. But I can look them up! I can even hear a recording. I've been "Dreaming" all week. My husband thinks I'm batty.

When I'm not dreaming, I'm thinking about Merry Widow Hats. (So, still kind of dreaming, I guess.) I learned that actress Lily Elsie, who played the lead in The Merry Widow operetta, was one of the most photographed women of the time. Isn't her hat to die for? It reminds me of Marian the Librarian's hat in The Music Man.

Speaking of which, my sister and I used to try to pull off the look when we were in high school. (Well, not literally in high school. We limited our theatrics to the home.) We were particularly smitten with the hats. Naturally we used black and white film to document with authenticity. 

The Music Man: Marian the Librarian
The Music Man: Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn

Eliza Dolittle (in her pre-Henry Higgins Days, of course)

But that was over 20 years ago. These days I force myself to remember that I'm a grown up and I try to do grown up things, like feed my children and fold the laundry. But lately, even as I'm doing these things, my mind wanders and I think about how lovely I'd be with a Gibson do. And the accompanying bored sigh. Surely this would be appropriate while folding laundry?

I snap to and realize I'm being ridiculous. But then I find myself in conversation with other women who "long for a ball" and giggle with delight over the thought of having tea parties and raspberry cordial. They love English Country dancing and the swish of petticoats. There are women who know that I will dress up at the drop of a hat and even join me in doing so. 

And then, on nights like tonight, I meet with dear-to-my-heart women who suggest, "We could dress up!" My heart skips a beat. Am I dreaming? No! There is hope. 

And I'll be working on that updo, just in case.   

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