Particularly as I get older, and possibly more maudlin, I see the risk of idealizing earlier life experiences. Not only does memory fade a bit, but who would not want to embrace a warm recollection of youth? That said, this is one of the warmest for me, and I’d like to think it was just as nice then as I remember it to be now.
As previously mentioned, I grew up in a small town in Connecticut called Bethany. It was very near New Haven, but truly rural at the time. One stop light, two general stores and plenty of farms and cows and horses. It was populated almost exclusively by old Yankees and newer Yale families. Up the road from our home was a lovely old shingled house on a beautiful piece of land owned by Mrs. Spykman (pronounced “Speakman”). Mrs.Spykman was the widow of a prominent Yale professor and she herself came from an old Boston family. (Her full name was Elizabeth C. Spykman and the C stood for Choate, her maiden name. Even Cabots and Lodges spoke to Choates.) So, yes, she had a very patrician mien that could initially terrify small children. But she did not talk down to children; rather, she talked directly to and with them and with a wickedly sly sense of humor that you either got or you didn’t get. After a period of intimidation, a kid like me, who always felt pretty comfortable talking to adults, realized what a gem she was — which was what my parents had kept telling me.
And Mrs Spykman was a particular gem to the children of Bethany and to all children. As to the former, and (finally) coming to this week’s prompt, Mrs. Spykman threw an Easter Egg hunt for the neighborhood every year. And what a hunt it was! (And religion be damned. We (few) Jews in Bethany were equally and warmly invited.) First of all, none of this crummy, mass-produced Easter candy crap. Large, beautifully hand-made chocolate eggs and other such confectionery masterpieces; I can only imagine the cost and effort to make and obtain them. And second, true to Mrs. Spykman’s view that children should not be underestimated, she made finding the eggs a real challenge. Absolutely nothing was left in plain sight. When the weather permitted an outside hunt, this meant that the eggs were hidden over the many acres of her property. (She admitted that she had her “help” assist her in hiding them, particularly the ones up in trees.) And even when the hunt had to be held inside, every inch of her home was used. I recall finding one chocolate beauty behind some books I pulled out from her paneled library shelves.
Incidentally, Mrs. Spykman was equally generous to the parents at these hunts. She laid out a beautiful spread for them in the dining and living rooms while we were hunting for the eggs. She also proclaimed that cocktail hour started early on Easter and made sure that drinks were served even though it was only about 11:00 a.m. — scandalous, no?
As to Mrs. Spykman being a gem to all children, after her husband died (she was in her mid-fifties), she decided to become a children’s author, writing semi-autobiographical books about her own childhood in Massachusetts. And, very much in the manner of the Narnia and Harry
Potter books — and exactly as you would expect from her — she didn’t talk down to children, nor did she paint them all as perfect angels. Not much happened — unlike in Narnia and Hogwarts, there was no literal magic — but I recall them being wonderful and suffused with her own delightful voice.
Mrs. Spykman’s first book was called “A Lemon and a Star,” and it is the featured image. One of her sequels was “Terrible, Horrible Edie.” and the title alone tells you that she understood the imperfections of children. In retrospect, I’m betting that she was the model for Edie. Here is its book cover:
Somewhere out there are my copies of these two books which she has written in. I can’t remember what she said, but I do remember that this was no mere dashed-off autograph; she had a lot to say. I would nearly kill to find those copies again.
Happily, Mrs. Spykman’s books, though no longer in print, are available on-line and probably in used book shops. I may have just inspired myself to get new copies and see if my memories ring true, or if, as I noted above, I am embellishing my memories in my current isolated dotage. In any event, I would urge everyone to get these books for their grandchildren.