Recently my family has been re-decorating a set of built-in shelves in our family room. We'd thought that the topmost shelf, which is reachable only if you stand on a stool, was empty except for a few old book jackets--my father has a weird thing about removing book jackets and leaving them where they won't get torn or crumpled. We hadn't dusted this shelf, or even looked at it, in at least twelve years. So when we took down the book jackets and dusted the shelf, we were amazed to discover something else up there:
It's the program and ticket from a 1994 theatrical adaptation of Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins...signed by Ms. Cleary herself!
I was not quite seven years old at the time. I vaguely remembered getting my program signed at intermission, calculating how many of Cleary's books I had read and proudly telling her the number--at least fifteen, I am sure. My mom was even more excited than I was, because she remembered reading Cleary's books when she herself was a little girl. But we thought we'd lost this autographed program forever. Who knew that it was up on some inaccessible shelf, all these years? (Another funny thing I discovered from this program: I ended up going to high school with the girl who played Ramona.)
Northwest Children's Theater was a new company in 1994, so it must've been a big deal for Cleary to attend Henry Huggins--then again, Cleary grew up in Portland and her beloved characters like Henry, Beezus, and Ramona are all Portland kids. She is now 92 years old and lives in Carmel, California.
As you can see, I read Cleary's books voraciously as a young girl--fifteen of them before the age of seven?! And a few years later, I just as voraciously read Cleary's two volumes of memoirs: A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. I would recommend them to anyone who is curious about what life was like for a bright working-class girl/young woman in the 1920s, Great Depression, and World War II. Cleary's life is not full of extraordinary incidents, but her memoirs are a vivid and enjoyable way to take a trip back in time. I can even sense that these books had a hidden influence on my play The Rose of Youth, which takes place in 1934--Cleary belongs to the same generation as the girls I wrote about.
One thing I will always wonder: why is Cleary's boy-hero Henry Huggins just one letter off from Shaw's ill-tempered linguist, Henry Higgins? Click on the photo to get a high-res image and you'll see that even the person who designed the tickets for this Northwest Children's Theater production mixed up the two Henrys...