I didn't realize I was taking the month of August off until I just now noticed that my last post was August 2. It was a month full of activity, a lot of pool time, a milestone birthday, and a blissful week in Maine. My husband had never been to Portland, and I had never been north of Portland, so we spent a couple of days enjoying the city before we drove up to Boothbay Harbor, a lovely little village mid-coast.
We decided not to do the six hour drive home in one fell swoop, however, so we booked a room at the Best Western in historic Concord, Massachusetts, about half way. I was the one to settle on Concord for two reasons: 1) my daughter will be studying American history this year and that's where the Revolutionary War began so we could take her to the battlefield; and 2) we could visit Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott.
My husband has never read Little Women, and my daughter, sadly, never got into it. But when I was 9, I immersed myself in it. I felt I knew Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy as if they were my own sisters, and of course I identified with Jo, the sister who wrote stories, like I did. My parents gave me a copy of the book, and I read it so many times the binding broke and the cover eventually fell off it. I've still got it in a box somewhere, although I bought a new copy for my daughter, hoping she'd see the magic in it as I did.
While I knew everything there was to know about the Little Women, I didn't know a lot about Louisa May Alcott herself, the writer, preferring to enjoy the fictional depiction of her own growing up and her own sisters. But a PBS documentary produced last year portrayed a fascinating woman who joined the army as a nurse during the Civil War, enjoyed fame at the level of JK Rowling, and died too young from what was possibly mercury poisoning as a result of medication taken during an almost fatal bout of scarlet fever.
For the first time, I saw the writer behind the story, and when faced with the possibility of seeing Orchard House, where she'd penned her most famous work, I was almost giddy with excitement.
It's a typical New England wooden house, right by the road. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a family friend, lived down the street, and he visited frequently, along with Henry David Thoreau. Alcott's father, Bronson, was a bit of a layabout, a philosopher who fashioned a school using his own educational theories. The house is very much as it was when the Alcotts lived there, even down to the furniture and a chest in May's (Amy's) room with costumes from the plays they'd perform for family and friends, just as the sisters in Little Women did. May was an artist, like Amy, and her drawings are throughout the house. In fact, she had a studio and in the 1980s, it was discovered that behind the plaster on the walls were her sketches of her students. While Louisa's desk where Little Women was created is a focal point of the house, so are May's drawings, paintings and sketches.
Louisa May Alcott came alive for me in our visit to Orchard House, and it brought back hours of joy reading her books, because I didn't stop with Little Women. I read Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom.
I don't think that it's a coincidence that I decided to become a writer the year I read Little Women.
If you're a writer, what book or books helped shape your dreams? And if you're a reader, what book from childhood do you remember reading over and over? Do you feel about Little Women as I do?