As a child, I always wanted to yell that. That’s because I always longed to be friends with Betsy Ray, the protagonist of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Like me, Betsy read books in maple trees. How much fun it would have been if we could have shared a tree!
There are many fictional landscapes of my heart, places I’ve visited far more times than some actual geographic locations you can pinpoint on a paper map. Deep Valley, Minnesota, at the turn of the century, is one of the best.
I wished I could join Betsy, Tacy and Tib on so many of their escapades. Most of all, I always wanted to join them on the “Big Hill” behind Tacy’s house, where they liked to picnic and gather wildflowers. Their picnic food was the best. If I close my eyes, I can practically smell the cocoa made in a pail over an open fire, or imagine the taste of Tacy’s mother’s plain, unfrosted cake.
I recently discovered a wonderful blog (just right for my winter-weary self) called Wildflower Morning. The lady who has created this beautiful space has issued a call for photos and artwork inspired by wildflowers. I knew I would enjoy looking at the lovely entries, especially as winter cold rages on here in my part of the country. I didn’t realize I would post, but how could I resist this week’s call for “literary wildflowers”?
Because one of the funniest scenes in all the Betsy-Tacy books comes in the seventh book, Betsy Was a Junior. Betsy, Tacy and Tib are high school juniors (Deep Valley High, class of 1910) and for most of the book they’ve been having such a fun time that they’ve neglected their studies a bit. (Rabbit trail I won’t pursue: how uninspiring some public education already seemed by this time…these books were based on Maud Hart Lovelace’s real high school experiences in Mankato, Minnesota during the same years.)
The little girls who used to gather wildflowers have now grown up (at least somewhat) and have discovered, to their dismay, that they are all about to fail Mr. Gaston’s Botany class. And why? Because the herbariums he assigned them to create at year’s beginning are due the next day, and none of them has worked on them all year.
”A herbarium,” said Betsy, “is a collection of dried and pressed specimens of plants, usually mounted or otherwise prepared for permanent preservation and systematically arranged in paper covers placed in boxes or cases.”
“You know the definition all right,” said Tib. “But you can’t turn in a definition tomorrow.”
“How many flowers did he say we had to have?”
Thus begins the girl’s merry and manic attempt to create herbariums of fifty flowers each, during the seventeen hours remaining before they need to leave for school the next morning.
”Only nine,” said Tib. “We’re supposed to spend eight of them sleeping.”
“Supposed to spend!...There’s no law about going to bed the night before you have to make a herbarium for botany.”
They do a pretty good job finding flowers in the spring sunshine before the sun sets that evening. Remember, it’s near the end of the school year, so days are long. They find “clover and dandelions, and strawberry blossoms and buttercups, and wild geranium and lupine, and columbine and false Solomon’s-seal.” Hurrying back and forth, they scour across the grass and find “purple violets…(and) the dog-tooth kind…spring beauties and wake robins…bloodroots…Dutchman’s breeches…hepaticas…jacks-in-the-pulpit.”
So many of these flowers I’d never heard of before I came across them in Maud Hart Lovelace’s prose. Some of them I’m still not familiar with entirely, but just typing their names intrigues me and makes me think I should spend some time looking them up!
In the end, of course, Betsy, Tacy and Tib can’t quite find fifty kinds of flowers each, even in Deep Valley in the springtime. But they have a great time trying. They dry them in batches in the oven and stay up almost all night at Tib’s house. They sneak out before the sun is up, cleverly thinking they’ll find more, only to realize to their chagrin that the flowers aren’t open yet. ”Fine botany students we are!” cried Tacy and went off into laughter which made the robins, thrashers, meadowlarks and warblers redouble their efforts at vocal supremacy.
They also finally realize that they could have made good herbariums (at least Tacy and Tib think so) and that they all would have enjoyed it if they’d taken their time and spent the year working on them. They even pass the class...barely, though I always start laughing when I reach that part of the chapter:
”Never, never in my whole life,” said Mr. Gaston (he was twenty-four), “never in my whole career as a teacher,” (he had taught for three years), “have I seen such herbariums! Not a fall flower included!”
But he felt a little guilty, perhaps because he could not identify all the specimens they had presented. At any rate, for whatever reason, he passed them.
So there you have it...one of my favorite literary passages about wildflowers!