Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Betsy-Tacy Convention, Day 3

All too soon, it was Sunday morning.  Josephine had allowed us to sleep a little later but everyone had started gathering in the lobby. Beyond Domestic Science: Recipes from Betsy-Tacy, and some were mainlining caffeine.  This was a morning that showcased the NewBetsys, including Barb Fecteau as Mistress of Ceremonies!  were finally picking up their soon-to-be treasured copy of the new Betsy-Tacy cookbook.

Josephine Wolff and her mother, Perri Klass (both NewBetsys currently living in New York State), began the morning with a presentation entitled: “Stories About Girls Who Want Curly Hair for Girls Who Want Straight Hair.” This was based on the premise that they, both curly-haired, had been afflicted their whole lives (I started to say they had suffered in silence but I suspect they'd agree neither one is – exactly – silent). They moved on to share both the history of curling appurtenances, incidents we all know well (think: Jo/Meg/sizzle), and the many (mostly hilarious) quotes surrounding Betsy and her hair. Laughter and applause accompanied their delivery. I am still thinking about some of those old-fashioned curling irons which look like something a medieval dentist would use. As my mother has been known to say, “Don’t yearn for time travel: in books the heroine may end up as a member of the aristocracy but it’s more likely you’d be a scullery maid living in an era without Novocain!”
Heather described her "recruitment"

Next up was Heather Vogel Frederick, author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series and other books, who grew up in Massachusetts, attended college in the Midwest, and lived in Oregon for years before we NewBetsys reclaimed her. Heather told the story about how she became a Betsy-Tacy fan, which gets funnier every time I hear it. As many good stories begin, she was minding her own business, busy promoting her book when Things Started Happening. First, a former listren in the Midwest urged her to read BT and BTT. Then, Heather happened to be speaking at a librarian conference in Portland where she was dangerously close to several of our more spontaneous Betsy-Fans. They accosted the unsuspecting Heather, anxious to persuade her to have her Mother-Daughter Book Club characters read Betsy-Tacy! This was obviously a good idea but might never have come to pass if Heather’s enlightened husband hadn’t urged her to accept an invitation to dinner from our own Radhika. I believe they withheld dessert until Heather agreed to read the whole series. She began to like the crazy women who were holding her hostage (Heather, this is known as the Stockholm Syndrome) although if she really liked them as much as she claimed, I don’t think she would have moved East, do you? Now she is a real member of what my sisters call “your cult” and we are delighted to have her (especially because she has more dignity than the average NewBetsy, and it might rub off on us, or not – see below, reading Forever in the hot tub). Heather interspersed her presentation with letters she has received from fans, some of whom now love Maud Hart Lovelace as well as Dear Mrs. Frederick.
Left, Gretchen, right, Kathy
We had all been waiting to hear more about Kathy Baxter’s Betsy-Tacy Miracle, her first trip to Mankato with her college roommate, Gretchen Hintz Wronka (I had heard about Gretchen for years and wish I had been able to spend more time with her – can you imagine these two ladies when they took New York by storm as new librarians in the late 60s?). They were properly dressed in wool skirts and white gloves, but (and who can blame them?) they decided to climb the Big Hill so were tired and grubby by the time the turned up on Cab Lloyd’s doorstep. Luckily, he clearly got a kick out of being part of a literary pilgrimage for Betsy-Tacy fans. (I remember meeting some of his relatives at Murmuring Lake in, I think, 1997; perhaps his nephews?) Kathy and Gretchen were as hilarious as old friends can be, correcting each other on details, remembering things they had not shared before (which I cannot repeat because I don’t want our Kathy to go to jail), and proudly pointing out things about each other we didn't know. I was fascinated to hear that Gretchen’s father, a fighter pilot in WWII, died on a mission in April 1945, but his remains were not discovered until 2016. Gretchen and her family traveled to Italy to see the area where her father’s last mission took place and met those who helped locate him.

Barb Fecteau awarded the Essay Contest prizes, reading some choice excerpts that made us tearful. The winner was former Greater New York Betsy-Tacy Society Harshi Hettige (we overlapped briefly at the Violent Study Club, and it was so nice to see her again) who described growing up with Betsy-Tacy. Runner up was Nancy Bilezikian, who had found Betsy-Tacy as an adult while visiting her sister-in-law as she looked for a book to read to her daughters.   Nancy, becoming a NewBetsy may be in your future but don't be afraid, we are not as overwhelming as we seem at first and there will be much dessert.
Harshi (left, with Barb) wins the Essay Contest!
There is nothing like a group of kindred spirits, to mix metaphors:

• Where you can spend 15 minutes thoughtfully discussing your favorite Louisa May Alcott and everyone has an opinion (don’t tell Perri that most prefer An Old-Fashioned Girl to Little Women!)
• When you meet two girls on the hotel shuttle bus who attend your old school and who give you faith that the next generation will love Betsy-Tacy as much as we do
• When news of the remains of US soldiers killed in the Korean War automatically turns into a conversation about Don’t Cry Little Girl and someone in the group knows that Ken died in a hospital (alleviating the need for a DNA hunt)
• When most of the table can self-identify as a Mop Squeezer or a More-Thanner (and the former suspect being a Perfectly Awful Girl would be more fun but are mostly resigned to their fate). As the dimwitted principal of Harkness High once said, “Boys don’t respect a girl unless she has high standards.”
• When a first-time convention attendee mentions The Mousehole Cat is a favorite and learns about an amazing book, The Ghosts, by the same author (what a treat in store for her)
• When your whole table agrees that Edward Eager’s Major or Not and The Well Wishers are weaker than his others but then someone switches sides and says she likes them best
• Where we all sang Everything Pudding so many times that everyone has a tune in her head
Left to right, Perri Klass, Josephine Wolff, and Martha Gershun
Farewell!  “I call on the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in Minnesota!” It is true that we need more youth in this movement, but that is an issue for another day.  In the meantime, Amy Dolnick Rechner was signing her book, Barb was selling cookbooks, while Kathy Baxter and Gretchen held court and signed Kathy’s book (why had I left mine in Boston?). There were many goodbyes and exchanged emails before Mary Koger and I detoured to the Mall of America. One of my favorite moments was meeting Donna Meen who loves some of the same obscure books as I but she was at the other end of the table so our discussion of Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells books and Hilda Lewis’s Ship That Flew will have to wait until I visit Edmonton. Or Minnesota 2022!
Thank you to Josephine and all her helpers, and to Andrea and Michelle for their willingness to plan the next convention.
After the Convention attendees departed, Barb hit the hot tub with Judy Blume (of course, a BT fan).  But is this book as much fun if you can't pass it around with dogeared corners to your friends?

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