there it is, the very page that long long ago cocked and wiggled its finger at me, lured me into the spell, into the nestled place of a book, where one page is sewn to the next, where what spills out, pulls you in. enchants you. stirs you. sets you to dreaming.
in my case, it never let go.
as a child, i sat and stared at page 53 in a book now so fingered its cover is crumbling. but, there, on the pages the old book flops open to, there’s thumbelina in her tulip petal canoe, sailing across the porcelain pond. lily-of-the-valley spilling onto the banks at her back. forget-me-not, and bleeding heart taking the splashes on the windward rim.
it was tasha tudor’s hands, and her heart, that so finely drew, and thus drew me in. dabbed a whole paint box of watercolors, colors she matched from her garden, colors and petals she knew so intimately, she made it be real.
real, certainly to a 5-year-old girl who wished more than anything that all of her life could be like the ones in the storybook.
in fact, i stared so hard at that petal-rimmed bowl, i imagined that maybe i too could plant me a barleycorn just like the woman on page 52–the page where the words are–who wanted a little child more than anything in the world. and then, when a green shoot shot up, just like it did in the story, i might kiss the tight-wadded bud, and sprout me a thumb-sized little friend.
i’ve never quite stopped believing.
i’ve always known that far, far away, on a farm in vermont, there was a barefooted painter, one whose garden was as lush as her storybook drawings, who held the key to my heart.
she put me under the spell, and the spell’s never broken.
only today, the 18th of june, i let out a sigh, a very sad sigh, when word came that, after 92 years, tasha tudor has died.
tasha tudor, you see, spent the whole of her life painting and drawing and dreaming for children. pages and pages, book after book. from “pumpkin moonshine,” in 1938, to “the secret garden,” in 1962, right up till just weeks before she put down her paints, tidied her garden and died.
tasha tudor, in my book, is a national treasure. i mean, was. now here we are in that odd and awkward transition, in those hours when our words can’t catch up to the truth, when we fumble with tense, passing from present to thuddingly past.
i found out through a note, sent out by her children. must’ve been sent not long after she breathed her last breath. all i know is she was circled by those who most love her. and she was at home, in the hand-built, timeworn, new england farmhouse on the crest of a very steep hill, a place she called corgi cottage.
and when i read through the words, realized a very rare story had ended, i felt the light in the room suddenly dim, just barely enough to notice. but i noticed, all right. the sun seemed to slip from the sky, shadowed by the death of more than a friend, the death of the one who launched legions of dreams.
oh, i never met her, dear tasha tudor, although i did call her my friend.
i’ve grown her seeds, her very own forget-me-nots, and her blue-eyed morning glories. i’ve baked her buttery cookies, and wished i too could roast a turkey there on what she called “a tin kitchen,” some old-fangled contraption, a fine one, tucked in the hearth.
i’ve turned the pages of whole shelves of her books. i’ve read her christmas stories to my own children. i’ve kindled her beeswax candles, the ones she dipped in long rows of vats, the wax melted from all of her hives every fall.
i’ve corresponded with her grandson and granddaughter-in-law. and i’d been tempted to go out to meet her. to sip tea, maybe. to peek in her barns.
but something stopped me.
i dared not. couldn’t bear for the spell to be broken. preferred to imagine her, wrapped in her cloaks and her 19th-century aprons and skirts whose hems swept the stones of her garden’s walk, brushed ever-so-barely against her lupine and foxglove and the great spans of cobalt delphinium.
all my life long, there’s been a tasha.
and now, there is not.
tonight, in this room with walls the color of freshly-churned butter, in this room where the glow of but one lamp is shining, i sit and spread page 53 in my lap.
i can practically hear the wisp of thumbelina’s cat-whisker oars slapping the water. can breathe in the perfume of the shore-hugging lilies-of-the-valley.
i reach out to the bookshelf, where another one of my tudor treasures is her 1979 christmas book, “take joy!”
a dear friend of mine found it some years ago in a used book store, the best place to find a tasha tudor treasure, except for the few i bought straight from her farm in vermont.
the book, 159 pages of christmas stories and poems and carols, tells just how to bake the christmas cake, hang the stockings, and bring in the tree. she tells, too, how to remember the birds at christmastime, how to make them balls of peanut butter and raisins and nuts that are chopped. and how the pet canary gets a chicory salad in a wee flower pot.
she opens the book–and, forever, my heart–with a letter of fra giovanni, who writes: “….the gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy. Take Joy.”
joy was taken today.
but because i believe in the world carved, painted, seeded, and stitched by one tasha tudor, because the spell, even now, hasn’t been broken, i will do what tasha would wish:
i will take joy.
in the maiden voyage of a tulip leaf across a soup bowl, or in the feasting each christmas of all my little bird friends, in the unfurling of a wide-eyed morning glory, or the stirring of her old stand-by, corgi cottage soup.
take joy, always. before it’s taken away.
if you too have been touched by the magic of tasha tudor, born in boston in 1915, author and illustrator of more than 75 children’s books, beginning with her first, “pumpkin moonshine,” in 1938, please inscribe a few words. i’ll send this along to her family, all of whom, i’m certain, are very much aching this moonlit almost-summer’s night.
and, always, take joy…
if you need just a little more tasha, i wrote more of her here, back in the winter of ‘007.
goodnight, sweet tasha, good night.