Sunday, June 16, 2013

Betsy Was a Junior, Group Read, Part 2

The consensus from the Betsy-Tacy listserv seems to be that you don’t want to do high school again. I am telling you, it would be more fun this time. We are better dressed, have better hair, and have learned how to be good friends. Speaking of friends, every plan for a new persona (i.e., Betsy Ray, every September) needs a gimmick or some kind of motivation or what they now call an elevator speech. For Betsy, the long-hoped-for return of Tib Muller from Milwaukee is another vehicle to launch what she hopes will be a special year. Warning signal: when Tib reveals that she has been laughing the silly laugh Betsy advised, although her mother feels it creates a false impression (Mrs. Muller was always a practical parent). Betsy revels in the interest Tib arouses from Deep Valley boys at Murmuring Lake, and in addition, she knows it will be more fun to talk about boys to Tib (who is interested and eager to date after attending a girls school in Wisconsin) than to Tacy, who is a loyal friend but doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. Cynically speaking, having a cute friend who is new in town is a good way to be in the center of activity, and Betsy knows this, although it’s not as if Betsy has ever been suffered from lack of social life.

Having Tib back may help attract some masculine attention at the Lake and at Deep Valley High, but at home Betsy is facing a different challenge as Julia is about to leave for her freshman year of college at the U. Betsy knows what a hole Julia will leave in the Ray family and realizes she should try to help the family cope with her absence. I love Julia’s enthusiasm for everything she undertakes, and I must have been very influenced by her glamorous departure for college because for years (junior high and early HS) when people asked me where I wanted to go to college, I would say, “The U, of course!” “U of what?” they would ask, puzzled. “UMass?” When they finally understood that I meant the University of Minnesota, they were even more perplexed. “Do you know someone who goes there?” they would ask. Ah, not exactly.
Anyway, Betsy has a lot of goals for this year: compensate for Julia’s absence, learn to play the piano, develop her writing, get involved in student government, and as I mentioned the other day, she boldly says she’ll date Joe Willard. Instinctively, she knows that she and Joe share interests in a way no one else does at school, but it has been hard to develop their friendship because of his pride. But if she “weren’t going to go out with Joe this year, I’d try to make that Dave Hunt talk,” Betsy thinks to herself.

Sometimes the planning and anticipation is more fun than the reality. Once it is time for the first day of school (Betsy wearing a new sailor suit – check out this Pinterest page  – on the left there is a picture of two “home frocks” from 1910 that seemed promising – check out the blue dress on the left), Betsy tries flirting with Joe Willard and he doesn’t respond. Later in the day, to her horror, she learns he has started dating, but the lucky girl isn’t Betsy – it is Phyllis Brandish (who, like Tib, has left Browner Seminary for Deep Valley High School), twin sister of Betsy’s ex.

Betsy realizes her plans have gone aft-agley [does Maud mention this quotation comes from Robert Burns (1785): “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley” – often go wrong. In Betsy’s era there would have been a lot of memorization of poetry] and the first day of school is totally ruined when she sees Joe with Phyllis. After one day of school, she has to step back and revamp her plans. Some people can adjust and move on without hesitation, but I think the setback with Joe catapults Betsy into a frivolous mindset that is not sufficiently offset by a sense of responsibility, and which causes her to (again) lose sight of her real self and goals. “Agree or disagree?” as my IT pal at work likes to say.

English friends who read the high school books are often surprised by the coed school and the unchaperoned socializing that goes on in 1908-09 Deep Valley, but for the moment, we will just enjoy the Crowd and ignore the question of whether Betsy is too boy-crazy. And maybe Joe Willard is off with Phyllis but Tony Markham is delighted the Rays are back in town: “[h]e tried to act nonchalant about their return but the affection he felt for them all shone in his big black eyes.” Betsy’s crush on Tony is long gone but there is no denying he fits right into the Ray home…. 

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