I woke up very late this morning, luxuriating in a rare Saturday-morning sleep-in after a rare late Friday night, planning my day, my list of tasks long and including my pledge to write a blog entry about today’s being the vernal equinox, otherwise known as the first day of Spring. I don’t know about you, and all due respect to you Fall worshippers, but there are few calendar dates that bring more joy and hope to my heart.
So I was going to blog about my walk in Elizabeth Park, the sunshine, the blah blah blah observations that everyone’s making about this particular first day of Spring, a year after the last first day of Spring that now, in retrospect, seems to have engaged so many of us in such naive optimism and tricked us into believing things would get much better, soon.
But midway through my day, the phrase “Spring is a New Beginning” sprang to my mind. That is, of course, the title of Joan Walsh Anglund’s 1963 book about, well, Spring. I rushed to my bookcase, hoping hard that I still had my childhood copy. And, yes, there it was. Spring is a new beginning.
I opened the cover and read my own childishly rendered cursive inscription: “From Denny and Lillian.”
Denny and Lillian.
Denny and Lillian were a young, hopelessly fashionable, attractive, smart, and affectionate couple that came into my young life because one, or both, of them was/were a student of my father, Charles LaRue. I wish I knew more, but I simply don’t.
What I DO know is that handsome Denny and gorgeous Lillian had no children, and they gravitated toward me and my brother and made themselves part of our lives. They took us to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for a performance of Peter and the Wolf; we were seated right behind members of the Kennedy family. On the way to the show, they allowed us to sample — this must have been around Christmas time, and I was probably about 10 years old — their home-made bourbon balls, from an airtight container they’d brought along. I loved Denny and Lillian with a passion and wanted to be just like them when I grew up.
And grow up, I did. When I was in college, I worked for Crown Books, at the Rockville, Maryland flagship store of one of the first, if not the very first, of the major discount-book chains that would soon overtake the nation. I have never been so happy in a job as I was at Crown Books; I loved unpacking the boxes, stocking the shelves, manning the cash register and memorizing the discount prices, and recommending — me, at age 20, recommending! — books to customers. It was a heady experience, and in many ways, I’ve never topped it.
I had known for some years by then that Denny and Lillian had split. My mother surmised that the divorce had resulted from Denny’s and Lillian’s diverging, conflicting desires and ideas about children: Denny, it seems, was in favor of zero population growth and did not want children, Ma said, and Lillian, well, she apparently felt differently.
One otherwise unremarkable afternoon at the Crown Books cash register, a woman came to the counter, wishing to pay for her purchase via check. I, the cashier, had to check her driver’s license, which I remember thinking was so silly, as this slight, demure woman with her hair held back by a plain scarf seemed unlikely to be trying to pull a fast one.
My breath caught when I saw her name. Lillian Pxxxxx.
I glanced at her across the counter, wanting to connect, sure that this was the Lillian of my youth. But something about her demeanor told me a reminder of our tiny sliver of shared past might not be welcome, might even be painful.
Regretting the opportunity to bring Lillian back into my life, I pretended I’d never seen her before.
Spring is a New Beginning is a tiny little book that takes less than three minutes to read, so, soon, I was ready to put it back on the shelf. As I prepared to do so, though, the dust jacket slipped, revealing an inscription I don’t think I’d ever seen until tonight, concealed, as it was, by the jacket flap. Why else would I have written, myself, that this was a gift from Denny and Lillian, unless they had neglected to make that clear themselves, leaving me to correct the record?
Lillian (clearly, this was written in a woman’s hand) had written, some 50 years ago, “For Jennifer, a little girl in the spring of life! From Denny and Lillian.”
I thought I was done with this blog entry. Really, I did.
But something compelled me to Google Joan Walsh Anglund, who wrote and illustrated not just Spring is a New Beginning but many other, similarly comforting, uplifting, and seminal books of my youth. I had kept track of her in recent years; as a Connecticut resident and prominent author, she was someone I’d have loved to have featured in one of the author talks I produce for The Mark Twain House & Museum.
My jaw literally dropped when I did my Google search.
Joan Walsh Anglund’s March 9 death at age 95 was reported by The Washington Post.
At 10:48 p.m.