Beverly Cleary provided me with one of my favorite childhood friends- Ramona Quimby. I still remember the thrill of discovering the escapades of dear old Ramona. If she could survive life and school, so could I. I’ve had my fair share of Ramona moments.
So, I feel very close to Beverly Cleary, having spent much of my childhood in the world she created. I loved finding out that she grew up in Oregon, where we lived when my husband was a graduate student. We would drive through Yamhill on our way to McMinnville to go eat at the restaurant that had a monkey. We would also go on Sunday drives through the breathtaking farm country surrounding Forest Grove and Banks. We have very fond memories of Oregon. I was stunned to find out that Beverly’s mom was a pioneer in her own way. She was one of the teachers who was hired by mail to come from Michigan to Quincy, Washington to teach school. Quincy is near and dear to me so the tales she told of her mother and Quincy in 1905 warmed my heart. I was enthralled by her portrayal of the depression and what people did to survive. They had so much less than we do now, and so it put things in proper perspective. We will be just fine.
This is a great autobiography. I look forward to reading about the rest of Cleary’s life in her second volume, “My Own Two Feet”. As a tribute to Ramona, I’d like to share my most vivid Ramona moment:
This one actually had to do with good ol’ Henry. In 5th grade we had to draw names of someone in our classroom for secret Christmas pals. I had a great time in that class with a good buddy I will call Stu. I was surprised when I drew his name for the secret gift exchange. For the life of me, I could not think of what in the world I would give this boy. I didn’t really know what a boy would want. Candy was always good. But when I asked for help with a gift (I’m not sure if I waited too long or what) I was on my own. I made some sorry excuse for a homemade craft and figured it was anonymous, so it wouldn’t matter, because he wouldn’t know it was from me anyway. The next day in school, our teacher handed out all the gifts and we went back to our seats to open them. I was nervous. He sat directly across from me. I opened my gift: a used copy of Henry & Ribsy. He opened his gift: my art-deco glass bottle ala crapola. I’m not sure which one of us started criticizing first- probably me. “A book about a boy and a dog? Why would I want to read a book about a boy?” Stu: “What in the world is this empty jar stuffed with cotton and glued with ribbon for? Why would I want something girly like that?”
“Attention!” Called the teacher. “I will now read off the names of who had who in our secret gift exchange so that you may thank the person before you go home today.”
I’m pretty sure if I had dared to swear I would have done it. I didn’t. I waited in awkward embarrassed silence. I flushed up past my ears. I didn’t think I could possibly be more embarrassed.
“This one’s kind of interesting.” said the teacher. “Holly had Stu and Stu had Holly.”
I felt like my coffin lid had just closed. He knew what I’d given him and he knew what I thought about the book. I didn’t dare make eye contact. Chastened and humiliated, I sat stunned in my chair. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Thank goodness for Christmas vacation. We left for two weeks, I read the book and liked it, and we both came back acting like nothing had ever happened. I bet we were both a lot more careful in being grateful for gifts. It didn’t ruin our friendship. In fact, it may have solidified it a little. By the end of the year I’d taught him how to belch out loud. During class I might add. I don’t know how my teacher ever tolerated us. But I thought it was a serious social injustice for any boy to not know how to make himself burp. (sorry in advance Mom, I know you hated that we girls learned how to make ourselves burp- this is the 1st time you’ve probably ever heard that I taught someone else in the middle of class how to do it- without getting in trouble I might add.)
Do you have a Ramona Quimby moment? Please, do share!