After I was born, my mother bought me timeless editions of her favorite books for me to read. A book lover and librarian, she hoped that I would be a reader like her and love the books she cherished throughout her life. On the inside cover each book, she inscribed my name on Winnie the Pooh book plates, and waited for the day when I would read them. I promised myself when I read them I would read them all at once, and the opportune moment arrived when quarantine began.
“Anne of Green Gables” was next on the list for no particular reason other than it was noticeably larger than the other books. It attracted me with its illustrations. An elegant image of whom I presumed to be Anne graced the front cover, and more images were placed sporadically throughout the book. When I finished the book, I had an appreciation for the images that gave moments of Anne’s story vivacity and feeling. She was an orphan, adopted by middle-aged siblings, with an exquisite imagination. The book follows Anne and her adventures as she grows up in Avonlea and reminds both the characters and reader what it is to love.
The rich details of the pictures accompanied by the lively description of Anne promptly made me think of my late grandmother, who, like Anne, was a spirited red-headed orphan. The coincidence didn’t fully strike me until it was revealed that Anne was coming from Nova Scotia, where my grandma’s adoptive father was from. When I raced downstairs to ask my mother why “Anne of Green Gables” was one of her favorites, I was expecting her response: “It reminded me of Grandma.”
While my mother read “Anne” in her 20s because it was a classic, she was immediately infatuated with Anne’s spunky, vibrant nature and the same similarities I found that Anne shared with my grandmother. This would have been around the time my mother was in college, the first time she was far from home. At first, she tells me she was ecstatic about the freedom of being away from her parents, but she soon realized how much she loved and needed them. Opening up “Anne” was a delicate and humbling reminder of her mother and her fierce love.
I didn’t imagine college the same way my mother did. I was sad to leave home and was lonelier than I ever could have thought without my mom nearby. When Anne leaves home to attend Queens Academy, she faces similar circumstances and breaks down her first night away from home. As she slowly finds her place and new friends to love, she knows she will be okay; but when she returns to Green Gables, she expresses that “…the best of it all was the coming home.”
Now that I’m reading my mother’s favorite books, we have found more things to to love together. What we both loved about Anne specifically was her perseverance — from her courage in school and away at Queens, to her meaningful origins as an orphan. For nearly 11 years Anne was moved from family to family before ending up at the orphanage, forced to rely on her immense imagination for friends and happiness. She had enough reason to behave downheartedly and succumb to her distressing circumstances, but she chose not to. Anne chose to find the beauty in nature and those around her. Of course, she sometimes let the beauty and her imagination overpower her: She ruined meals when she succumbed to distractions around her, she dreamt a forest was haunted and was frightened by her own imaginations; but it was in these moments when Anne was overwhelmed with her dreams that I found her most admirable. “‘Dear old world,’ she murmured, ‘you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you.’” It’s this type of unadulterated appreciation for the world around her that was so refreshing to me.
Anne’s ability to lose herself in her daydreams reminded me of my grandmother. My grandmother was always singing or humming a tune, lighting up every room with her voice. Lost in a song, she would forget the task at hand. Both Anne and my grandma would have to be brought back down to earth, a job I took entirely for granted. Being in the presence of someone so delighted to be alive was a gift. Her presence drew everyone in. It was nearly impossible to go anywhere with her without being stopped by five or more people eager to say hello.
Much of Anne’s town, Avonlea, was charmed by her. But that didn’t happen overnight; upon first impression, Anne was not so easily accepted. She was forced to repeatedly prove herself to the town and those who doubted her, from her best friend’s mother to her teacher. Nonetheless, almost all were charmed by Anne with her personality and her eagerness to be a model, good-natured member of society.
Anne had to travel through many hoops to earn her recognition. She routinely found herself in a blunder, but she never failed to learn from them: “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”
The lesson my mother so heartily emphasized to me was that — to learn from my mistakes. To not find them discouraging, but uplifting in the sense that I would have the opportunity to grow from them, to be a better and more learned person. My grandmother supported that message, too, and was indisputable in her efforts to tell each of her grandchildren how proud she was of us for simply waking up and trying our best each day.
My grandmother only passed just this March, and I haven’t been able to describe the pain until Anne said it herself when she lost Matthew, the first person to show Anne unconditional love: “Half the time it seems to me that Matthew can’t be dead; and the other half it seems as if he must have been dead for a long time and I’ve had this horrible ache ever since.”
The “tearless agony” Anne describes was much too real. Coping with a loss during the current time is incredibly difficult — the days continue, the world keeps turning and there is nothing we can do. The grief makes you empty, and this emptiness weighs like no other grief I have felt before. It is inexplicably painful and feels as if it will never end.
I didn’t think there was a particular reason why I chose “Anne of Green Gables” to read next, but after finishing a book I like to think there is a reason why it came to me then. While I believe I would have been reminded of my grandmother reading Anne’s story at any point in my life, I needed it now. Anne would have admired this revelation, as I believe my grandmother would have. Her story gave me a piece of my grandmother and the echoes of her love.
So another book my mother left me I have loved. A book left to me that I will cherish until the grief passes, and long after.