Thanksgiving is now behind us and this is the weekend where for many Christmas shopping and decorating begins in earnest. It also begins the memory season for a lot of people.
I am not a big Black Friday shopper, but yesterday I did spend some time in one of my favorite places, Chester County Book Company. I had a terrific gift certificate waiting for me there having won the County Lines Magazine “Capturing Chester County” photo contest.
I love book stores, and always have. As a child I also loved my school’s annual Christmas Book Fair.
I went to St. Peter’s School in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia at 4th and Pine. It was a wonderful school to be a child in, and Society Hill at the time was being reborn, so while some will allude any child who spent any time growing up there was sniffing rarified air in a snotty sort of way, well sadly for them, they just don’t get it. Yes the air was rarified in a sense, but the sense was that of a very cool and historic place.
Anyway, after Thanksgiving as a child always meant in addition to annual things and pilgrimages like the light show and lunch in the Crystal Tea Room at John Wanamaker’s, the enchanted colonial village at Lit Brothers, the other Christmas displays at Gimbel’s and Strawbridge’s, and picking out a Christmas tree on sometimes snowy visits to what I think were rail yards with my father, it meant the Christmas Book Fair at St. Peter’s.
One nice thing about being a child growing up through the 1960s and 1970s is it was not politically incorrect to call things “Christmas Book Fair” or “Christmas Pageant” or “Christmas Festival”. And the Christmas Book Fair at St. Peter’s was as festive as it sounded. The school was festooned with decorations and greenery….it literally smelled like Christmas in every corner of the school. It was wonderful and everyone no matter what religion, loved it.
It was at the Christmas Book Fair as a little girl that I met a Philadelphia author my mother loved. As a matter of fact when I asked my mother about this today, she laughed and asked me if I remembered her bursting into tears when she met this children’s book author as an adult. I didn’t. But I do remember meeting an older magical woman with white hair who for a few years autographed one of her books to me annually.
The author’s name was Marguerite de Angeli. She was born in Michigan at the end of the 19th century, but moved with her family at the turn of the 20th century to Philadelphia. Her mother, Ruby, was best friends with the mother of my headmistress, Caroline Seamans.
Because of this lucky connection, as students then, we not only were able to become exposed to the wonderful writing and illustrating of Marguerite de Angeli, but to meet and spend little bits of time with her.
I don’t know if any of you have books from your childhood, but I have some. Among the ones I kept were the books of Marguerite de Angeli. Thee, Hannah. Henner’s Lydia. Elin’s Amerika. Skippack School. Bright April. A Door in The Wall. I have loved and cherished these books, and read and re-read them. To me these books meant Christmas.
These books written by Marguerite de Angeli are still magical and timeless. I think every child should read them, and you can still find them on eBay and Amazon. I found copies of the books hidden among my step son’s book shelves a few years ago. They had been the copies that my sweet man’s own mother had read when she was a child, passed to him as a child, and he had passed them along to his son. I have always found that very cool.
These books remain as cherished books in our library. (Probably more cherished by me the closet sentimentalist.) Today, I took my copies off the shelf to dust them and I stopped to read the inscriptions Marguerite de Angeli left for me. Almost instantly I was a little girl again at the book fair waiting for my book to be signed. What a wonderful memory to be revisited by.
Thanks for stopping by today.