Imagining the Timeless Childhood of Beverly Cleary’s Portland

Fifteen months in the past I traveled to Portland, Ore., to go to the childhood haunts and houses of Beverly Cleary, the beloved and award-winning writer of greater than 40 books for kids and younger adults. I used to be accompanied by my husband and our daughter, all three of us aficionados of Ramona Quimby, us dad and mom having learn all of the books as youngsters, earlier than rereading them aloud to our child.

With an abroad transfer on the horizon, we had determined to go to the town that performs its personal refined however important position within the writer’s hottest novels: Portland, with its moody rain and splashy puddles, its streets named after regional Native American tribes, its welcoming libraries and worm-filled parks. The Oregon of Ms. Cleary’s childhood clearly impressed her creativeness — amongst her books, near half of them are set in Portland.

So within the final days of December 2019, we took a visit to the Metropolis of Roses, visiting the northeastern Grant Park and Hollywood neighborhoods of Ms. Cleary’s childhood. I didn’t know then that it could be our final household trip earlier than the coronavirus pandemic — and I couldn’t have imagined how usually I might return to these reminiscences throughout the months of our confinement.

Credit score…Alamy

When Ms. Cleary died on March 25 on the age of 104, my sorrow on the lack of an adored writer who was declared a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000 was coupled with reminiscences of our journey. Scrolling by the images of our journey, the straightforward scenes of Craftsman houses, verdant parks, and crowded youngsters’s libraries evoked a misplaced innocence.

As a toddler, I cherished Ms. Cleary’s books as a result of they didn’t condescend. Her characters are bizarre children succumbing to bizarre temptations, equivalent to squeezing a whole tube of toothpaste into the sink, or taking the primary, juicy chunk out of each apple within the crate.

As an grownup, rereading the books aloud to my daughter, I used to be struck by their sense of timelessness — sisters fighting sibling rivalry, dad and mom grappling with monetary worries and job loss. The writer’s personal father misplaced his Yamhill farm when she was 6, transferring the household of three about 40 miles northeast to Portland — the “metropolis of normal paychecks, concrete sidewalks as an alternative of boardwalks, parks with lawns and flower beds, streetcars as an alternative of a hack from the livery steady, a library with a youngsters’s room that appeared as large as a Masonic corridor,” she wrote in her 1988 memoir, “A Woman From Yamhill.”

I considered that after I noticed one among Ms. Cleary’s cherished childhood houses, a modest, bungalow close to Grant Park, on a block lined with carefully set homes. She romped with a gang of “youngsters the appropriate age to play with,” and their escapades made her yearn for tales in regards to the neighborhood children. “I longed for books in regards to the youngsters of Hancock Avenue,” she wrote in “A Woman from Yamhill.” In her tales, she modified Hancock Avenue to Klickitat Avenue “as a result of I had at all times preferred the sound of the title after I had lived close by.”

We discovered the Klickitat Avenue of the books close by, together with Tillamook Avenue, each named after Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. As my 6-year-old daughter raced alongside, trying to find classic hitching rings, I pictured Ramona — or perhaps a younger Beverly — on these similar sidewalks, stumping on stilts comprised of two-pound espresso cans and cord, or perching on the curb to observe the Rose Pageant parade.

Over the subsequent few days, we discovered the writer’s former elementary faculty, a brick constructing now named the Beverly Cleary College, Fernwood Campus. We stopped by the Multnomah County Central Library, a stately brick construction downtown the place she did summer time “observe work” as a pupil librarian (and the place the youngsters’s part additionally bears her title). We ate doughnuts and pizza. We visited Grant Park, the place the native artist Lee Hunt created a trio of bronze sculptures depicting three of Ms. Cleary’s cherished characters: Henry Huggins, his canine, Ribsy, and Ramona, posed, as if in movement.

Credit score…Ann Mah

Although it was a typical Portland winter day — moist — nothing might dampen my daughter’s pleasure when she noticed her favourite characters rendered barely bigger than life. She ran to carry Ramona’s hand, beaming, and the image I snapped shall be eternally burned on my coronary heart.

For my daughter, one of the best a part of the journey was our go to to the Willamette Valley city of Yamhill, the place we glimpsed the turreted Victorian home during which Ms. Cleary spent the primary six years of her life. We spent the evening in a classic trailer park close by, sleeping in a 1963 Airstream Overlander, as I imagined the writer might need accomplished together with her personal younger household. For dinner, we roasted sizzling canine and marshmallows, a meal that my daughter nonetheless describes as among the best of her life.

These are the reminiscences I’ve turned to over the previous yr because the pandemic has stolen away life’s easy pleasures. A moist afternoon on the park. Warming up on the library story hour. A cup of sizzling chocolate sipped at a crowded cafe. The rain beating on the steel roof of our camper van, reminding me of the artistic inspiration that Ms. Cleary described in “A Woman From Yamhill”: “Every time it rains, I really feel the urge to put in writing. Most of my books are written in winter.”

Earlier than our journey, I had puzzled if my daughter was too younger for a literary pilgrimage — and maybe she was, for there have been moments when trying to find one more filament of the writer’s girlhood tried her persistence. And but, although it was only some days, our journey has captured her reminiscence. She speaks of it now with crystalline precision, reminiscing of the final days earlier than the strangest yr of our lives started.

Our final morning in Portland discovered us a weary group of vacationers as we waited to board our pre-dawn flight. We queued on the airport espresso counter for muffins and sizzling drinks — however after I tried to pay, the cashier advised me that an nameless stranger had purchased us breakfast.

“Mama! It’s similar to within the e book!” exclaimed my daughter. It took me a couple of minutes to appreciate she was speaking a couple of scene from “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” when the Quimby household — worn down by monetary worries, household squabbles and dreary climate — attempt to cheer themselves up with a hamburger dinner they will barely afford, solely to have a kindly gentleman anonymously choose up their test.

That second looks as if a dream now, disconnected as we’re from each other, all of us present in our bubbles. However sooner or later quickly we’ll meet once more and contact one another’s lives, not simply as family and friends, but in addition as strangers. Within the meantime, now we have Beverly Cleary’s books to remind us.


Ann Mah, the writer of the novel, The Misplaced Classic, lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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