So I do wish I liked her books better. Unfortunately, they are saccharine and moralistic, like a lot of children's literature published in the early 20th century. But she did have her moments. Polly's Shop (1931) includes a chapter about an old man who went into the children's room at the public library by mistake -- or so it seemed to the children who were there that day. He sat and began reading a book. Some of the children were repelled by him; others defended his right to be there. The old man was a stranger in town, it was learned, visiting his son. Maybe the book he was reading was one he remembered from his childhood, the children speculated. The old man returned every day for a month. That's how long it took him to finish the book he had chosen. ("By then, the children would have missed him had he not come.") As it turned out, the book was Life of Lincoln, whose subject the old man, told them, he had once met when he was sixteen and fighting in the Civil War. It was just after Gettysburg, and Lincoln was visiting his camp. "'Twas a cold night and they sent out for more wood,'" the old man recounted. "'I took it in, and glad I was of the chance. The President was sittin' in an ordinary camp chair, big and sort of sprawlin', for he was a loose-constructed kind of man. I was so scart by the idee of seein' him that I dropped some of the wood. He looked at me then and sort of smiled.'
"'And where do you come from, boy?' he asked.
"'Illinois, Mr. President,' says I.
"So do I,' says he, and then he holds out his hand. 'Shake, Neighbor,' says President Lincoln."
The old man told the children and the librarian, Miss Burt, no doubt based on Miss Brown's own character, "Boys are harum-scarum animals, always into mischief and up to all sorts of unmannerly behavior. It made me stop and think, you know -- that I must keep my hand from bad deeds, because it once held Lincoln's hand."
Miss Burt (a bit "misty-eyed") then asked him to shake hands with all of them, among them a mosaic of nationalities: "Morris from Russia; Tanis from Greece, Rene from France; Katie from Ireland; Jessie from Scotland, together with Polly Winsor and Carola Thorne, whose very-great-grandfathers helped settle New England in the days of the Pilgrims and Puritans.
"Yet they were all loyal Americans, and all were equally thrilled by the honor of touching the hand of the old grandpa who had once held the hand of President Lincoln."
Sentimental? To the core, but it's an awfully nice sentiment to contemplate on this mid-term election day.
To be continued.