Beezus and Me


“Beezus watched Ramona eating her cold mashed potatoes and jelly and thought how much easier things would be now that she could look at her sister when she was exasperating and think, Ha-ha, Ramona, this is one of those times when I don’t have to love you.” — Beezus and Ramona; Beverly Cleary

My cousin Maureen Rogers, whose blog Pink Slip is a daily read for me, noted this week that Nancy Drew had just turned eighty-five. Yowza! I won’t go on about how Nancy impacted my life, or at least my reading habits. Maureen did a fine job of that.

But, Maureen’s blog about Nancy did take me down my own literary path. I’m posting a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, about my personal literary hero, Beezus Quimby, created by Beverly Cleary.

Here it is:

Moe, Larry, and Curly nyucked, nyucked, nyucked from the twelve inch Philco, and Tim squeaked his own “Soitenly, soitenly.”

“Timmy’s doing the fingers in my face,” Michael tattled. Mary Pat and Laura added their shrill, “Mommmmmy!” to the clanking of pots and pans and the radio’s Mitch Miller tune wafting from the kitchen. But I tuned out all of it.

I was holed up in the bedroom I shared with my sister. Earlier in the day, the bookmobile had made its weekly stop in our neighborhood. Now, draped across my chenille bedspread, I soaked up an imaginary life on Klikitat Street. A musty, gluey library aroma tickled my nostrils and the yellowed cellophane book cover crinkled as I turned each page. Absent-mindedly twirling my hair, I absorbed each word of Beezus and Ramona.

Beezus and I quickly became soulmates. Just like me, Beezus was nine, and just like me, Beezus had an annoying four year old sister. Her sister was Ramona; mine was Mary Pat. Beezus had one sibling; I trumped her with four. Beezus, the ultimate rule-follower, sometimes wished she’d be noticed instead of her cute little sister. She felt dull and unimaginative next to the spontaneous, carefree and creative Ramona.

When Beezus complained that her sister ruined a library book, I remembered Tim drawing mustaches on my paper dolls. Mary Pat had embellished my Revlon doll’s face with a ballpoint pen. No coloring book, no box of crayons of mine was safe from the hands of my little brothers or sisters.

When Ramona kept pestering Beezus, I pictured my sister pestering me. “What are you doing?” “What are you reading?” “Can I see it?” Mary Pat’s chatter seemed endless – exasperating, Beezus would say. And, if I tried to ever-so-gently push her out of our room, she’d wail, “Mommy! Ellen’s shoving me!” Then I’d hear all about being patient with my siblings. After all, I was the oldest; I should know better.

In one chapter, Ramona invited a bunch of kids over for a party without telling her mother, and the shock on Ramona’s mother’s face as parents dropped off their children, the scene where the kids paraded through the house had me erupting in helpless giggles, forcing me to put the book down on the bedspread while I wiped tears from my eyes.

This was just like my house, where my little siblings had pulled some goofy stunts too. My sisters sometimes danced around wearing underpants as hats. Sometimes, while my mother took her afternoon bath behind a locked bathroom door, Tim goaded Michael to charge headfirst into the washing machine and bounce off. I guess it was fun to have such lively commotion around all the time!

I zipped through the book, relishing every moment with Beezus. She knew what it was like to be the oldest one. She understood the injustice of it all. It was hard to always be the sensible one, the one who never caused any trouble, the one who was expected to be patient and mature.

Beezus showed me what a book could do. She made me laugh, and she made me see myself. Maybe being the oldest wasn’t so bad; maybe I really did love my siblings, deep down. I wasn’t simply entertained by reading Beezus and Ramona; I found empathy.

And so, I’ve had my nose in a book ever since.