My life has been greatly influenced by Johanna Spyri and the character she created, Heidi.
I cannot separate them.
I cannot separate them, even, from the book that brought them into my life. I have it here in front of me. The cover has illustrations from other children’s books – Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Pinocchio – in many colors over a gold background. A large blue rectangle in the upper left hand corner displays the title in bold white upper-case letters. The binding is torn and the edges of the pages are discolored. Inside, there is only one color illustration, at the front. There are a very few black and white pictures at the ends of some chapters. Some child wrote “T e e” in pencil on the page that lists the contents; lines in red ink frame the word “HEIDI” on the title page. On the last page, in a childish scrawl in blue ink, I wrote, “A very very good book!” My name is written in cursive on the top right hand corner of the first page, just inside the cover. The “Y” in Cindy has a curled flourish at the end of the tail and the “G” in Ricksgers looks much more like a “Q”. The entire signature looks a little wobbly. I had just turned ten-years-old when I wrote it.
I received the book from my mother and father, for my tenth birthday.
I was an early reader, and enjoyed books, but had never owned one all to myself.
I don’t know if I’d ever read a chapter book before.
Heidi was sassy, smart and kind. She loved animals and the outdoors. She was not intimidated by her gruff Grandfather.
I fell in love with the mountains and the meadows and the wind in the treetops; with Meadow Nuncle, his cabin and workshop, and with the goats. I cried when Heidi was sent to the city, and suffered through all of the horrors of loneliness, confusion and sadness with her. I despised Miss Rottenmeier and pitied little Clara. I rejoiced when Heidi was able to return to her mountain home and read with interest how her new knowledge and worldliness improved the lives of those around her.
I remember the feeling of wonderment, that words on a page had such power over my emotions.
I wonder at it still, though I’ve learned to expect it.
This was the beginning of a lifelong love of books and reading, that has enriched my life beyond measure.