When I was a child, and like many young girls, I loved Lucy Maud Montgomery’s* stories of Anne (with an “e”) Shirley and her guardians, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and of her friends and “kindred spirits” on Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada.
And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit PEI for the first time in 1967, and that it became my family’s annual summer vacation haunt through my high-school and college years. It’s a beautiful land of lovely people, is Canada’s smallest province, fascinating history, rolling and gentle landscape and kind and gracious inhabitants.
One of the things I never anticipated was the importance that Anne Shirley would come to assume in my life during those several idyllic holiday stays, or how often I would hear complete strangers exclaim to each other, “Come see! Here’s a girl who looks just like Anne Shirley!” And then, to me: “Would you mind if we took a photograph with you?”
It’s the closest I ever came to a brush with fame.
And here’s why:
On the left, we have RWKJ, in a boat and on the water (one of my absolute favorite places to be). On the right we have a poster from the Anne of Green Gables musical, which has played every summer at the Charlottetown Confederation Center of the Arts for the last fifty-seven years. It’s a tourist destination in its own right.
It probably helped that we went native for the summer at Rustico Harbour (just a couple of miles down the road from Cavendish, Green Gables and the “Lake of Shining Waters”), working alongside fishermen who became just like family to us. If I’d had a nickel for every mackerel, cod, hake, or flounder I’ve filleted, every lobster trap I’ve pulled, every clam I’ve dug, or every fish I’ve salted, I’d never have needed to work again, ever in my life. One year, Karsh of Ottawa showed up on the wharf and spent the day taking photos for the Department of Tourism to use in their brochures and flyers. I never saw myself in them, but enough people told me I was there that I’m must have been. (Or maybe it was Anne Shirley they saw. I don’t know anymore.)
It didn’t really matter what I was was doing, or where I was, I had my photo taken dozens of times a week, and with thousands of people, over the eight summer seasons we spent on PEI. And that still tickles me. Silly as it was, it made a lot of folks, from all over the world, happy, including me. For just that moment we were kindred spirits, united by our love for the odd red-headed girl in the stories, and for her home on PEI. Nothing wrong with that.**
The older I get, the more grateful I am for the kindred spirits in my life. And I wonder–does everyone have kindred spirits, and are there some, in yours?
*My family has known, since the 1970s, the sad story of the author of the Anne books, as dear friends of ours on PEI were related to Lucy Maud on the Macneill side. The story has been publicly told only since 2008, the centenary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables. That a woman struggling with lifelong mental illness, isolation from her family, and a difficult marriage, could invent such an exuberant and life-affirming character as Anne Shirley, and could write a series of books which have brought such joy, for so long, to millions of young girls is remarkable (it’s probably not too much to say that for many, Anne Shirley helped them to form their own characters), and it’s a testament to Lucy Maud’s own ability to live, and find her dreams, outside of her own dark world.
**It is quite funny that there are all these photos of me that belong to other people. I’ve always been incredibly camera-averse among people who know me, and most of the family photos of me (which I find I’m very glad to have now) were taken when I didn’t know they were being.