‘I Spy’ Inspiration

I felt like I was handing over a bit of my soul when I slipped my well-worn copy of “Harriet the Spy” into my friend Jennifer’s hands.
“I want this back,” I warned, but thought better of adding “and take good care of it.”
I wouldn’t have let her have it if I didn’t believe she would.
This, after all, is the woman who carefully pencils on the first page of each book she buys when and where she made the purchase.
Her shelves are lined with more volumes than the case that makes up an entire wall of my living room could handle.
Still, I was uneasy.
The words “well-worn” can’t describe the state the paperback is in after years of reading, rereading and more rereading.
The book is dog-eared, wrinkled, bent and shabby – and no wonder.
Harriet M. Welsch made me crazy for tomato sandwiches with mayonnaise – a passion that befuddles my husband to this day.
Moreover, a character dreamt up by Louise Fitzhugh more than a decade before I was born let the tween-aged me know that it was OK to be nosy as sin.
And as the end of the book proved, it’s even better to write about it.
Most of us can’t remember the exact moment we finally fell upon what we wanted to be when we grew up – after the fantasies, I mean, after drifting from dreams of firemen and ballerinas to lawyers and doctors and back to rocket ships and superman capes.
But somewhere in the fourth or maybe even the 14th read-through, I like to imagine a seed was planted.
When I grow up, I’ll be a spy, only better. Instead of scribbling away in green composition books (15 from the ages of 8 until 11 in Harriet’s case), I’d write my observations for the world to see.
For all intents and purposes, I grew too old for Harriet and her odd nanny, Ole Golly, her friends Sport and Janie and her regular spy route.
Picking through the library shelves in Jeffersonville a few weeks ago, I came across “The Spellman Files,” which quickly proved to be a grown-up version of my beloved Harriet.
I couldn’t wait to share the news with my favorite fellow bookworm.
“Harriet the Spy?” Jennifer asked. “Haven’t read it.”
For a minute I was quiet, then I sputtered, “what do you mean you haven’t read it?”I raced to the bookshelves and pawed through the pile that I just can’t part with: “Anne of Green Gables,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Nanny Diaries.”
There’s some of everything up there, and in the center was my prized possession – the copy of “Harriet the Spy” I’d had since I was 8.
I placed it in her open hands gently, all the while aware that the melodramatic Harriet of the page had nothing on the real, live Jeanne Sager.
To her credit, Jennifer looked down at the well-thumbed tome and promised in an equally serious voice to return it safely – or at least buy me a less wrinkled copy.
She gets me.
I have a feeling she’ll love Harriet.


  1. Jeanne:As a fellow writer, I just adore your column! You have captured the experience of being swept away by favorite books in childhood, and therefore addicted and inspired to write for the rest of one’s life. My childhood favorites are a generation older than yours: “Little Women,” “Mother West Wind Stories” (if you want to delight your little girl when she’s four, read her these) and “Pollyanna.” The “Harriet the Spy” of my day was Nancy Drew. Keep writing, Jeanne, you have wonderful insight and important things to say.Tina Tessina “Dr. Romance”http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/

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