Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Off The List: Goin' Rogue with Jessamy

Sorry Ron. I'm going rogue. I know this month the assigned Classic's Challenge reading was a Nobel Prize winner, and I truly was all geared up to read an O'Neill play. I started three, in fact. They just didn't grab me; yet I did intend to press on. But, then I thought and realized that I had read a Nobel winner a few months back (before the assignment was modified to Pulitzer Prize Winner.) And I did both finish that read and post a review. (Click here!) So I decided to choose my own classic this month ... a Jenni Winner. One I would give a prize to, if I could.

As a girl growing in Valparaiso, Indiana, I spent a lot of time at the local library. It was originally a two story yellow-brick building, which expanded as years went on. The upstairs was for adults and the downstairs for children of all ages. I loved the cha-ching sound of the Library Card Machine as it was inserted with a paper card to log the books you took out, leaving that stamp with the due date on the card when was placed in a pocket in the front of the book ... Remember those?

I fondly recall the children's floor. I visited it often and read every single Oz book. I can see them on the stacks even now. I found and checked out every Nancy Drew book available in the 1970s too.

But there was a book I discovered quite by accident when I was 10 years old. It was called Jessamy and written by Barbara Sleigh. And as it was published in 1966, I lovingly bestow is with a "Classic Rating." It may not have earned a Nobel Prize, but since it influenced me and my passion for reading so heavily, I'd give it a nod!

Jessamy is the story of a young orphaned girl shuttled between aunts. But, the summer-time aunt has two children with whooping cough, so she is sequestered away with a friend of the aunt's who is the caretaker of an old house called Posset Place. Jessamy, being a curious but solitary girl, explores the house -- discovering a schoolroom with marks in the cupboard (aka closet). These marks denote the height of all the children in the family who once resided there in 1914. The names and the marks include her own!

This discovery ends up being a time-traveling mechanism, a journey opening the door to family, friendship and mystery.

I read this book many times as a kid. I remember taking it out from the library over and over. I even remember deciding that one day I would name my daughter Jessamy. Well, over time, I forgot all about it ... til my daughter (not named Jessamy by the way) turned 10 and my thoughts turned to this book.

That said, I decided she should read it too! I followed my own footsteps and went to the Royal Oak Public Library. The card catalogs may have changed, but I figured I could find it.

No luck.

Okay, so I would just go to the bookstore and get a copy for her. Couldn't find it at Barnes & Noble. Then, I went on-line to Amazon.com. The discovery was shocking. Oh, I could order it from there ... but at a cost of between $775 - $1000. See, Jessamy had gone out of print.

I was devastated. This book that captured my imagination, shaped my reading direction and led me to the idea of time travel -- an idea Diana Gabaldon continues to foster with her Outlander series -- was not available to my daughter or me any more.

I went to Google and typed frantically, seeking that perfect Christmas present for my daughter. It had to be somewhere! It was then I discovered a heart-warming thing. Jessamy wasn't just a special book to me. It was special to many young girls ... now moms and grown-ups with daughters of their own. The number of comments on Goodreads from women who had read this book and then sought this book on eBay, only to lose it in bidding wars for hundreds of dollars, was fascinating. It was genuinely beautiful to see how a book can touch so many imaginations and hearts ... to see all these people who were drawn to a book that I loved so much.

Angels must have been on my side, though. At one point, I typed in Jessamy and there, amongst the images, was a lovely pink dress. Distracted for a moment.I clicked on the image and somehow -- I can't honestly say exactly how -- it took me to an Etsy Shop where a woman clothing designer from Hawaii had posted a hardcover copy of Jessamy at the "affordable" (well affordable when you consider the current going rate at Amazon.com) of $50. It was a discarded book from the local elementary school. And, after one week in transit, this hardcover copy is now sitting safely on my reading table.

A Classic Book holds up over time. And as I turned the final page this morning to complete this re-read, I had tears in my eyes. It's a beautiful story ... and it's about more than time travel. It's about a journey to self-acceptance, friendship, family, and choosing to live and find joy around every corner.

So, Ron, I hope you will give me credit for O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra -- which I read and wrote a Term Paper on my senior year at Albion College, Hemingway's To Have and Have Not  --which I read this spring, and Sartre's Les Jeux Sont Fait which I read in the original French in college.

I'm sorry more young girls won't have a chance to read Jessamy. But my daughter will. It may not be a Nobel Prize winner, but it's a Prize to me. A prize winner that will be part of my family Forever, sparking imaginations on and on ... for generations to come ...
                                                                                                                   -- Jenni