Classic Communities

On Father’s Day, Andy and I drove his parents to Naples to have lunch at Evandy’s Boatel with the rest of the family. Farrell grew up in the little town, and we enjoyed seeing the church where he was baptized, the lot where his house was, and the streets where friends and neighbors lived. As we drove out of Naples, I thought about the sense of community that must have enveloped the bustling little river town with its own shops, church, and school. It reminded me of other little communities I’ve known. Maybe some of you will remember these communities, too.

De Smet, in the Dakota Territory, was home to Laura Ingalls in the 1880’s. Do you remember the long winter the Ingalls family spent struggling to warm their home and hand-grinding wheat supplied by Almanzo Wilder while praying the supply trains could break through the ice?. It was in De Smet that Laura studied for the teacher exams, visited with her dear friends Minnie Johnson and Mary Power, and attended literary meetings at the schoolhouse with the rest of the townspeople. Do you remember Reverend Brown, the fiery preacher, and his brown-eyed daughter, Ida? How about Nellie Oleson who schemed for Almanzo’s attention by gossiping with his sister, Eliza Jane? It was in De Smet that Laura went from sewing buttonholes on shirts to riding a sleigh to and from teaching assignments before being married to Almanzo.

Avonlea, PEI, was home to Green Gables, the house where Anne Shirley lived with Matthew and Marilla. Daydreaming Anne found kindred spirits there, like Matthew, Diana Barry, and Mrs. Allan. In Avonlea, she won the respect of Mrs. Barry by saving little Minnie May from croup, and she “properly horrified” Mrs. Rachel Lynde who criticized her homely appearance and carrot-red hair. Can you imagine taking a bite of the cake Anne flavored with liniment instead of vanilla? Or listen to Anne read her dramatic moral stories in Story Club? Against the setting of her adopted village, Anne dyed her hair green, accidentally became drunk on currant wine, and battled Gilbert Blythe to reach the top of the class.

Shabby St. Petersburg, was home to the mischievous Tom Sawyer and the townspeople who were frequent victims of his imagination. It was there that Tom cleverly convinced others to do his chores and pay him for the privilege. Tom eagerly traded trinkets with other boys for tickets to receive a Bible from the very-surprised Mr. Walters. St. Petersburg’s dark and criminal element, with its graverobbers and haunted houses led to the murder trial of Muff Potter, which consumed the little town after Tom witnessed the murder of Dr. Robinson. And who could forget the chaotic Examination Evening when the schoolboys got back at Mr. Dobbins for the frequent punishments they suffered at his hands? Aunt Polly, Widow Douglas, and Judge Thatcher had their hands full with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

I grew up reading these books and enjoyed getting to know the characters and the places in them. Our lunch on the rising river in Naples on Father’s Day inspired me to re-read some of these childhood favorites. What communities would you like to revisit through a classic book? On your next visit to OTB, pick up a favorite to share with a child in your life.

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