Sincerely, Jonathan

Girl Scout in uniform
Girl Scout in uniform, 1973--Image via Wikipedia--Public domain

Does anyone remember The American Girl magazine? The old one that was published by the Girl Scouts of America?

My mother surprised me with a subscription the year I was nine. I was in my second year as a Brownie, but I didn’t know the magazine existed until it landed in the mailbox with my name on it.

I loved The American Girl.

It provided access to information about movies, fashion, health, etiquette, and, most important, things I didn’t want to ask my mother or didn’t trust her to get right.

It also introduced me to fiction, as Nadine Bonner says, “about teen-aged girls trying to find their place in the world, just like me.”

Of the eighty-one issues I received over the next nine years, theĀ  first is the one I remember best. And I remember it because of a story: “Sincerely, Jonathan.”

I don’t know who wrote it–except that the writer was not Betty Cavanna. I’ve googled and come up empty-handed. Without further research (probably of the paper kind) I can’t offer a citation. But I can tell what I remember:

Rosemary belongs to the “crowd” at her high school. They hang out at Ford’s, the malt shop. They burn up the roads in hotrods on Saturday night. They don’t study. They don’t make good grades. They manage to just slide by. They show no sense of responsibility or compassion. They’re cool.

Rosemary also has a secret. Before she moved here, she belonged to “The Honor Roll and Uplift Society.” At her new school, she had a hard time fitting in, and somehow she found herself taken up by the popular kids. She was embarrassed at first to introduce her friends at home, and she knows her parents worry about the change they see in her. But she does everything she can to protect her new identity. Her friends mustn’t suspect she’s a fraud.

Then one rainy morning on the way to school, she slips up. She sees the new boy, Jonathan Hockersmith, standing in the middle of the street, stopping traffic. With one arm he holds a stack of books; with the other, he holds his cello case as high off the ground as he can. A big Boxer pup is playfully jumping at the cello, blocking Jonathan’s way. Rosemary’s friends stand on the sidewalk, laughing.

On impulse, Rosemary hands her books to a friend and dashes into the street. She takes Jonathan’s books, he lifts the cello above his head, and together they run to safety. Jonathan thanks her, but she gets away from him as soon as she can.

Now she’s worried. She has allowed the crowd to glimpse the real Rosemary.

“I had reverted,” she says, “to type.”

Later, in class, Jonathan passes her a note:

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
I’ll remember you as someone who’s lovely and good and true.–Sincerely, Jonathan.

Rosemary quickly tucks the note into a book, but at the malt shop it falls out and into the hands of her friends. She tries to brush off their teasing, but Jonathan won’t leave her alone. He stops her in the hallway, waits for her after class, offers to help her study.

Spoiler alert: Because the ending is so fine, I’m going to tell it.

One afternoon, caught between protecting her “popular” persona and wanting to defend Jonathan to her friends, she surprises them by announcing that she won’t join them at the malt shop. Walking home, preoccupied, she catches her heel in a crack in the sidewalk and falls, hard, spraining her ankle. As she lies on the concrete, wondering whether her ankle is broken and how she’ll get home, Jonathan appears, picks her up, and carries her to her house. While her mother calls the doctor, Jonathan takes the casserole out of the oven and keeps the baby occupied.

Rosemary’s friends visit, laugh and joke, borrow a sweater and some pearls, and say they’ll be back. On Saturday night, however, they’re absent. Jonathan comes, though, and every night for the next week he brings her assignments and helps her prepare her work. He predicts she’ll make good grades. By the end of the week, she’s tired but happy.

When her friends finally crowd into her bedroom to report on the fun they’ve been having, and to say the pearls and sweater she loaned them are now ruined, they meet Jonathan on his way out. In response to their squeals and jokes, Rosemary tells them she won’t be coming back to Ford’s at all.

“At my last school,” she says, “I belonged to the Honor Roll and Uplift Society. And I aim to make it here.”

That statement breaks up the party. Alone with her thoughts, Rosemary summarizes what has occurred: “I had reverted, permanently, to type.”

That’s a lame account–I’d rather link to the story so you could read it yourself. But I’m surprised, after fifty years, at how much I remember.

At the age of nine, I didn’t hotrod (I never hotrodded, in fact). I was too young for malt shops and jukeboxes and a “crowd.” I was too young for the “needle heels” that Rosemary was wearing when she fell.

And it was years before I figured out what “reverted to type” meant. I didn’t think it had anything to do with a typewriter, but I wasn’t sure.

Still, I knew what the story was about. I read it over and over. I loved it. I tore it out of the magazine and put it away with my treasures.

I have a pretty good idea that it’s in a box somewhere in storage, waiting for me to feel industrious enough to clear things out and read it again.

I wish I thought today’s teen magazines were publishing stories like “Sincerely, Jonathan.” But unless something has changed since I shelved my last batch of periodicals, I know current fiction doesn’t come close. Nor do the magazines come close to matching the quality of The American Girl.

That’s not age talking. It’s fact.

I don’t know when I’ll read that story again. I feel no hint that I’ll be deluged with industry any time soon. Until then, I’ll have to go on depending on memory.

I’ll remember you as someone who’s lovely and good and true.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

Sincerely, Jonathan

***************

Image of Girl Scout in uniform by father of JGKlein, used with permission (Father of JGKlein, used with permission) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 22: Sneaky booksellers

A couple of years ago, while Christmas shopping in a chain bookstore I won’t identify, I flagged down a salesperson and told her I’d like a closer look at a set of Twilight Zone DVDs. She spun on her heel and strode across the store toward the locked media cabinet.

Following, I heard her mutter, “There are only about two dozen of them.”

I knew the set I wanted to look at–I’d scouted it out before seeking help–but I hadn’t realized I needed to be specific before we reached our destination.

Hearing the snide comment, I was tempted to switch into schoolteacher mode: “I beg your pardon? I didn’t hear what you said. Would you repeat it?”

But I didn’t. She was young and it was December. Her feet probably hurt.

(As I re-read that sentence it occurred to me that her youth might have been a good reason to speak up and let her know she wasn’t winning friends and influencing people.)

Anyway, I pointed to the box I wanted and she took it to the counter for me. The whole transaction took less than a minute. I escaped to the fiction section, where merchandise isn’t kept behind lock and key.

Later, at the sales counter, I listened to another salesperson tell her co-worker about the stupid man who called asking for a book whose title and author he couldn’t remember. He said he knew what it was about, though.

This woman–also quite young–told the caller if he didn’t know what he wanted, how did he expect her to know, there were only a few thousand titles in the store.

She didn’t look as if her feet hurt at all. She had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, as if she had enjoyed hanging up on a potential sale.

I was tempted to slide into librarian mode and tell her what I thought of her take on customer service. But I didn’t.

Instead, I thought about what would have happened if the gentleman had called the library where I used to work. We’d have run circles around each other trying to figure out what book he wanted and how to get it.

As a friend once observed, “All you have to do to make a librarian happy is ask a question. They just brighten right up.”

There’s an independent bookstore in Austin where the salespeople remind me of librarians.

BookPeople staff don’t wait for customers to approach them. They sneak up behind you and ask how you’re doing.

When they find you lurking in the mystery section, unable to make up your mind, they ask who your favorite authors are. Then they suggest something else you might like and take off to find a copy.

The day I told the clerk at the upstairs information desk that I was looking for the YA novel about teen-aged girls hunting flesh-eating unicorns, he barked, “Rampant,” and led me right to the shelf.

That’s the reason–one of them anyway–I like BookPeople.

The folks there act as if they enjoy working with books.

In fact, they act as if they’ve even read them.