Some stories seep into your bones and stick in your memory like marrow, giving life to your emotions. The fortunate, during childhood, have a parent, friend, or teacher who introduces them to at least one of those stories.
When I was in the sixth grade, my class joined another to hear a teacher read us the children’s novel Blue Willow. Written in 1940 by Doris Gates, Blue Willow tells the plight of a migrant farm family toward the end of the Great Depression, and centers around the young daughter Janey Larkin.
This was my first introduction to migrant farm workers and it rallied my sympathy for those poor families constantly on the move, no close friends or roots, working hard and living in less than ideal housing. It would be dishonest of me to say I remember everything about the story, or even the end, but I do remember that Janie’s experiences were a far cry from those of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The book affected me to the point that, for years, I wanted a blue willow plate like Janey’s prized possession. It represented her stability and a former, happier way of life. While my own childhood was secure and happy, it still forged a strange connection between us.
I’ve come close on several occasions to buying a set of the tableware, and still stop to look at the ones I find while walking through antique and collectibles stores. Each time, that connection comes to mind.