As I begin to reflect back upon my favorite childhood books, it is hard to choose just one to write about. I loved The Secret Language (I, of course, had to create my own), the full Nancy Drew Series (I named all of my paper dolls after the characters), and even Winnie-the-Pooh (although my favorite character was always Piglet). But, the one that I can’t shelve is Harriet the Spy.
Harriet was a pre-teen, a sixth grade girl with a caretaker. Her best friends were a boy named Sport and a girl named Janie. Harriet loved to write. She had dozens upon dozens of notebooks. When one filled up, she would purchase a new one and begin again. Harriet carried those notebooks wherever she went and she wrote about everything she saw. She even created places where she could “spy” on strangers and then she would write about them. She had a wonderful caretaker, Ole Golly, who encouraged her to write and who accepted her for who she was when even her parents didn’t seem to know. Harriet got herself into some trouble (as one might suspect) because when a notebook fell into the wrong hands, people’s feelings got hurt. And, then, she even lost Ole Golly. In the end, she still had notebooks and she was still writing.
I would read that book over and over again. I wanted to be Harriet. I loved the idea of watching people – in fact, I still love watching people today. For me, Black Friday has never really been about shopping – it’s all about watching the crowds of people panicked as if Christmas is tomorrow. I love to sit on the beach and try to figure out the people around me. I develop them into characters in my mind as I watch but rarely do I take that back and write it down. Harriet would have; she wrote down everything.
Harriet took a tomato sandwich to school every single day. I thought tomatoes made sandwiches too slimy, so I took Cucumber sandwiches. Every day for an entire school year, my mother would make me a cucumber sandwich to take to school. Not the little dainty ones that one might have with tea, but an actual full-sized Wonder bread sandwich with mayo and cucumber slices and pepper. They were perfect and I thought that made me almost Harriet.
I also became a spy. Mostly in the summer when I had the freedom to roam around the private neighborhood on the Cape. I would drag my brother and our friends down to the boatyard and we would sneak between the boats trying to catch someone doing something. Nothing ever really happened, but we hoped. The most exciting thing we encountered was a boat named The Happy Hooker. We were at that age where we sort of knew what a hooker was, but not really. We really just knew it wasn’t something good. And on the side of a boat – the name was scandalous. We were too young to even consider the irony of a fishing boat being named Hooker.
And, just like Harriet I wrote frequently. I wrote mostly in diaries but when I wrote short stories I would write them into a notebook. It didn’t matter to me what I was writing in. It was the writing that made me like Harriet. I tried at first to write the types of things that Harriet would write, like “I wonder what it feels like to be a tomato.” But that didn’t really work for me, so I wrote about my daily encounters in more of a story form. Either way I was a writer just like her.
All of my life reading has brought me joy. It takes me on adventures that I would otherwise be unable to take. I have always been so excited that my girls have also both developed such a love for reading. Reading to them and reading with them has brought me as much joy as reading a book on my own. So I thank Harriet the Spy for being such a great book to encounter. I am still writing. I still love to people watch. And, I still love my cucumber sandwiches.