Saturday, May 20, 2023

O Di Immoratales! Why I Want to Move to Mankato

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I would love to move to Mankato, Minnesota, the hometown of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy series.  It is a lovely, peaceful, small university town - but not too small - known as Deep Valley in Lovelace's charming novels. The downtown has changed over the years - most of the stores are now vacant - but both Betsy's house and Tacy's house have been restored as museums by the Betsy-Tacy Society. 

I am a fan of the Betsy-Tacy books, as are several celebrities, among them Anna Quindlen, Laura Lippmann, and Bette Midler.  Lovelace's ten-book series is a women's bildungsroman, and  Lovelace is a midwestern Louisa May Alcott.  

Set in the early twentieth century, the Betsy-Tacy series follows the lives and adventures of two best friends, Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly, in Deep Valley, in the early 20th century.  The first novel, Betsy-Tacy,  describes their meeting in kindergarten. and Lovelace takes us downtown, over the Big Hill,  and all the way up to high school graduation, Betsy's trip abroad, and Betsy's wedding. 

We are especially fond of Betsy, the real heroine: Tacy is a quiet, smart Catholic girl, relegated to the role of sidekick.   Betsy has a vivid imagination and lots of plans:  she is also an aspiring writer who works at a desk that was formerly her Uncle Keith's trunk.  (Uncle Keith is an actor). 
Betsy's  older sister, Julia, wants to be an opera singer.  Their mother fosters creativity.
Betsy is  always praised for her writing, but in high school a teacher  criticizes her work.  Betsy's mother and two sisters are indignant, but Mr. Ray is equable: "It wouldn't do Betsy any harm to learn about commas."  This spurs more indignation: Mrs. Ray points out that no one worried about Shakespeare's commas, and Julia suggests that Betsy may be the next Shakespeare!  How wonderful to have such a supportive family. 

 In high school, there is much singing around the piano, making fudge, and going to Christian Endeavor socials to meet boys. I had not remembered that Betsy took Latin, but she and her friends treat it as an amusing secret language.  They often exclaim mysteriously, "O di immortales!"  ("O immortal gods!")  The sophomores, Carney and Bonnie, like to quote the opening sentence of Caesar's Gallic Wars: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres ("All Gaul is divided into three parts," while Betsy, a freshman, can only conjugate the verb amare (to love).  The  girls spend so much time giggling over Latin that Carney's boyfriend Larry calls them a triumvirate.

"Girls, we're a Triumvirate," cried Carney, dimpling.  "I want to be Caesar.  He's so cute in the pictures.  You can be Crassus, Bonnie, and Betsy, you can be Pompey."  

Years ago my husband and I biked on the Sakatah State Trail, a 39-mile trail which starts (or ends, depending on your point-of-view) in Mankato.  In those days, there were no Betsy-Tacy museums, but there was self-guided Betsy-Tacy tour brochure.  We walked past Betsy's house and Tacy's house, and some other landmarks from the books.  Then we rested  on the Betsy-Tacy bench on the Big Hill.  (The third book is called Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill.)  While we were swigging water, a barefoot stranger meandered across the street and offered to take our picture.   She was genial and gabby:  she animatedly insisted  that in Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill,  an old man in Little Syria is  smoking hashish in a hookah.  

May I say that I don't remember this at all, and can't imagine Lovelace using the word hookah.  He was probably smoking tobacco.   Where would an impoverished Syrian immigrant get hashish in Deep Valley, Minnesota?

Such are the problems of post-modern Betsy-Tacy criticism. 

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